Photo Of The Day: Harlem Sunrise

It’s not every day that you see an image of a beautiful sunrise from Manhattan’s Harlem. Shadows from tall buildings and gray skies just get in the way too often. But when this glowing image popped up on a friend’s Facebook feed recently, I wanted to share it. Nadine Hunter snapped this image on Monday. It’s a simple image, but it encompasses some of the best moments that keep New Yorkers going amid their busy commutes. A beaming sunrise setting the buildings of Harlem aglow – masked cars, masked sidewalks and the sky lighting up.

[Photo Credit: Nadine Hunter]

Harlem: neighborhood revitalization paves way for a new Renaissance

Harlem. The very name of this former Dutch settlement conjures up a contrast in images: the cultural Renaissance years of the 1920’s and ’30’s, when the “New Negro Movement” attracted writers and other literary types from all over the world. The rise of a middle and upper middle class of black Americans. The Golden Age of Jazz, when legends like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton could be found playing at iconic venues such as the Savoy Ballroom, Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Lenox Lounge.

After the Great Depression and WWII, Harlem experienced hard times. Once glorious buildings grew neglected; crime and poverty soared in the wake of an increasingly disenfranchised community and the social unrest of the civil rights movement. Then, in the late 20th century, Harlem began to get her groove back, and the neighborhood—which stretches north to south from 155th Street to 96th Street–began to gentrify. It’s still a predominantly black community, which is fueling a growing revivalist movement that’s an homage to the historic neighborhood’s cultural past.

Today, you’re just as likely to see beautifully restored brownstones (at newly jacked-up prices), eclectic boutiques, bars, and clubs, and destination restaurants. But some things are still the same. The inevitable downtown hipsters making the trek to soul food institutions such as Amy Ruth’s and Sylvia’s Restaurant. Street vendors hawking everything from incense to dodgy electronics from blankets spread on the sidewalk. Walking up the subway steps, you’re assaulted by a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells–not all of them pleasant. Welcome to Harlem, 2011. A work in progress, but definitely a destination in its own right.

[Photo credit: Flickr user i am drexel]



One of the biggest changes to take place is the December, 2010 opening of the Aloft, Harlem’s first hotel in nearly a century. The goal of the property has been to work with the community, and enrich the neighborhood by partnering with local businesses, which supply everything from grab-and-go food at the hotel’s 24/7 re:fuel, to floral arrangements.

The Aloft, a division of W Hotels, is a contemporary, more affordable sibling to the swanky, upscale chain, with locations all over North America and a growing number of properties throughout Asia, Europe, and Central and South America. The Harlem outpost is centrally-located on Frederick Douglass Blvd. It’s across the street from the 125th Street subway station, which makes getting downtown a snap.

My room was clean, comfortable, and stylish (with free Bliss Spa Products: yay!), with modern, functioning amenities (read: Wifi is free and actually works). If a view is important to you, best to request a room facing the front of the hotel. On the other hand, if you’re a voyeur or exhibitionist, I highly recommend Room 625. One other note: the ground floor xyz bar is seriously popping on the weekend, and not just with tourists, either. Expect loud music and dancing to go into the wee hours; if you’re sound-sensitive, also best to request a room away from the acoustic zone. Or just join the party.

To See and Do

The Aloft is literally steps away from a number of Harlem’s top cultural attractions. Modern art fans will enjoy The Studio Museum on W. 125th, which showcases local, national and international work by artists of African descent. Also nearby is the Apollo Theater, and the Hip Hop Culture Center, which offers everything from youth activities to historical artifacts, exhibitions, and educational programs. The Jazz Museum is another don’t-miss, over on E. 126th.

Eating and Drinking

Considered some of NY’s best, Patsy’s Pizza in East Harlem has been dishing out coal oven-fired pies since 1933. But a flock of new dining and drinking establishments have opened within the last year or so (all within stumbling distance of the Aloft).

Acclaimed Ethiopian-Swedish chef/Harlem resident Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, named after an infamous Harlem speakeasy, is a homey contemporary restaurant specializing in comfort food that “celebrates the diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood.” Think dinner or brunch dishes like dirty rice and shrimp; fried yard bird with white mace gravy, hot sauce, and shake; cow peas; and sweet potato doughnuts. Don’t forget to loosen up with a Gin and Juice or The Spicy Lady (Plymouth gin, jalapeno/rosemary syrup, lemon juice, and creole bitters), first. P.S. If the name of the restaurant sounds familiar, it may be because Obama hosted a $30,800-a-plate fundraiser dinner there in March. He liked the corn bread.

Harlem’s first beer garden, Bier International, sloshes up domestic and international offerings. It also serves brunch and lunch, and is family-friendly (how is mom and dad tying one on while the kids eat bratwurst not a family activity?). And yes, Virginia, there is fine dining in Harlem. The 5 and Diamond, which opened last year, is a popular spot offering contemporary American fare. It’s located on Frederick Douglass Blvd., which has been declared by no less than Frank Bruni–former restaurant critic of the New York Times– as the new “Restaurant Row.”

If serious mixology–with a laidback vibe and sexy, Prohibition-era style–is your thing, head to 67 Orange Street. I adore any place with craft-distilled and house-infused spirits, made-to-order juices, seasonal, intelligent, well-made libations, and a lack of attitude. Bar snacks run the gamut from oysters to deviled eggs, orange-roasted duck leg, and stuffed olives (at hard-to-beat prices). The name, by the way, is a tribute to the long-gone Almack’s, one of the first black-owned-and-operated bars in New York City.

Harlem is evolving at a fast pace; best to visit now, while it’s still an affordable, uncrowded, diamond in the rough.

Want to learn how to shake up a refreshing Moscow Mule or other classic cocktail? 67 Orange gives you recipes, right here.

[Photo credits: pizza, Flickr user Pabo76; soul food, Flickr user fiat luxe; brownstone, Flickr user gsz]

Harlem welcomes Aloft; first new hotel in more 40 years

Starwood’s budget brand Aloft will make its New York debut this summer, opening up a stylish hotel in Harlem. The Aloft Harlem will be the first Aloft property in New York City and the first hotel to open in Harlem in more than 40 years.

Aloft was created to offer guests an urban-inspired hotel at a budget price. The Aloft hotels feature stylish guest rooms, up-to-date technology and public spaces for guests to mingle and make plans. Currently, there are more than 40 Aloft hotels open around the world since the brand’s launch in June 2008, but New York was a market the hotel was eager to tap.

The 124-room Aloft Harlem will open in August 2010 with easy access to Columbia University some of Harlem’s most frequented tourist attractions, including the legendary Apollo Theater to the acclaimed Studio Museum. The Aloft Harlem hotel is steps away from the 125th Street subway station, which means guests can be in downtown Manhattan within minutes.

To celebrate the pending opening, Aloft held a job fair at the Apollo Theater. Aloft partnered with recruitment firm NYC Business Solutions to draw local candidates to mix and mingle with senior managers, participate in contests, giveaways, and interview sessions.

In addition to the Harlem hotel, Aloft will also open a second New York property in Brooklyn. Set to welcome guests in October 2010, the Aloft Brooklyn is located just next to Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Mall, and offer 176 loft-like guest rooms, as well as a roof terrace bar.

Get desserted in New York

No it’s not a typo. Walking Tours Manhattan has dessert-themed walking tours. They guide you around, feed you, and walk you. It’s like you’re their dog — their sweet-toothed dog.

It’s called their Recessional Special: Free NYC Dessert Fest. And it is indeed free! They request a $1 donation or whatever you feel is appropriate, and the purchase of any desserts is additional, but all you have to do to participate is show up.

The next Free NYC Dessert Fest tour will be on Sunday, March 1st in Harlem.

Meet our tour guide with the red ball cap saying Walking Tours Manhattan on Sunday March 1, 2009 at 11:30am at Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. Then we?ll visit Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant, Lee Lee’s, and our last stop will be Make My Cake. Tour lasts 2 hours. Walking distance is 1 mile.

This is a great way to trek (safely) through historic Harlem and get sweetened up along the way! For more information, visit Walking Tours Manhattan. Their regular walking tours are just $25.