Going uptown to Harlem

Take a look at Harlem One Stop, for information on walking tours, museums, restaurants and cultural events throughout Upper Manhattan. There is also a visitors’ information kiosk in the lobby of the Studio Museum of Harlem, at 125th Street, near Lenox Av.

ArtCrawl Harlem, founded by two dynamic women, runs guided tours by foot and trolley that weave art, music, food and visits to Harlem’s art galleries.

Two historic houses worth a visit are Hamilton Grange, at the corner of 141st Street and St Nicholas Park. Alexander Hamilton was the founder of our banking system and the spokesman for Federalism, bringing the thirteen American colonies together after the Revolution under a strong national government, as opposed to the agrarian society envisioned by Thomas Jefferson. His house is a museum run by the National Park Service, and it houses an informative exhibit and sponsors special events. Heading north, near 160th Street, St Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenues, is the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan and best known as the site of a dinner that President George Washington held there for his cabinet. Register for a guided tour of the house or the neighborhood, or discover the museum on your own.

Gospel church services

Many guests ask about attending a Gospel service during their stay. Here are some of their suggestions. Please note that this has become a very popular tourist activity, with long lines of visitors waiting each Sunday morning to enter the best known Harlem churches. Please be respectful.

Abyssinian Baptist Church, W 138th St between Powell and Malcolm X Boulevards.
If you are interested in visiting a Harlem church and hearing a gospel choir, and you don’t want to join the busloads of Sunday tourists, my guests Olivier and Aude recommend the “quieter” Wednesday 7pm service at perhaps the most famous African-American congregation. Visitors to all Harlem churches and New York houses of worship should download Abyssinian’s Tourist Policy and pay special attention to dress code and expectation that you stay for the entire service. And please be generous when the donation plate is passed.

2013 guests Letitia and Oliver from France thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday morning service at Canaan Baptist Church on 116th Street. Please visit their website and note their visitor guidelines.

Bethel Gospel Assembly,  at 120th Street of Fifth Avenue, is a more intimate alternative for a Sunday morning Gospel service. My guests Leanne and Geoff from Australia were welcomed warmly to the 11 am service, where they were part of a very small group of visitors.  The entire service lasts three hours.

Mama K Soup and SandwichFor additional suggestions, read this New York Magazine article. Recent b&b guests tell me that New Mt. Zion Baptist Church only allows 20 visitors to attend their Sunday morning service, so arrive early. The NY Daily News recently profiled several Harlem houses of worship.

A few restaurant recommendations


Summer 2015: Frederick Douglass Boulevard has gained a reputation as a new Restaurant Row. I love to sit outside, enjoy an excellent burger, and watch the passersby at Harlem Food Bar off 114th Street. Here’s a website that highlights restaurants along FDB, Lenox Avenue, and East Harlem: http://harlemrestaurantrow.com

Spring 2014 update: Every Saturday, the vacant lot between 117th and 118th is turned over to Harlem Eats, a gathering of food trucks and food vendors.

2012-13 update: A recent guest recommended Billie’s Black at 119th and St Nicholas. I like to stop by Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too on 110th when I’m exploring the northern end of Central Park, Columbia U or the Cathedral of St John The Divine. The sister restaurant is Miss Maude’s on Lenox.  Bistro Chez Lucienne, 308 Lenox Avenue and 126th Street, has a lovely atmosphere and French menu. Recommended by Jane and Graham from Scotland. Down the block is the Red Rooster,  for “American comfort food.” Brunch and lunch served, as well as dinner. Between The Parks guests have also recommended Sisters Caribbean Cuisine, at 124th Street off Madison Avenue and for exceptionally flavorful Ethiopian food, Zoma, on Frederick Douglass Blvd and 113th Street. A newcomer (2012) is a tiny place on St Nicholas and 148th called Mama K’s Soup and Sandwich. We had delicious pumpkin shrimp soup and lentil soup, served with corn bread, and a delicious mixed salad with miso sesame dressing. On our way home we stopped in at Margie’s Red Rose Diner, where Margie’s daughter was about to celebrate her mom’s 70th birthday. We couldn’t stay but Margie’s is rated 4.5 stars on Yelp and Google so we feel confident that we’ll return for a meal soon.

Margie's daughter

In East Harlem, where the flavor is more Spanish, I like El Paso, at Lexington and 104th Street. (They also own restaurants on 116th and 97th.) Cascalote Latin Bistro is a charming family-owned and operated restaurant on Second Avenue and 109th.  Loved the churrasco and the yucca fries! Amor Cubano, on Third Avenue and 111th Street, features tasty mojitos and Cuban favorites such as ropa vieja. There is live music Thursdays through Sundays, and on Sundays after 5pm, everyone gets up and dances Cuban salsa in the aisles. Last week I had lunch with a friend at El Paso — huevos rancheros, cactus salad, and delicious fresh lemonade. As we strolled back to the 96th Street Crosstown bus, we stopped into Lloyd’s Carrot Cake to take home exquisite slices of carrot cake, with and without nuts and raisins, and red velvet cake, all with scrumptious white frosting.

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