While this part of the city still boasts some of the best soul food north of the Mason-Dixon line, folks are heading uptown to "the black mecca" for much more: design-savvy boutiques, restaurants serving fusion fare, and richly detailed buildings.
Begin at the top of verdant (1) Morningside Park (123rd St. and Morningside Ave.), whose balustrades drip roses and lilies. Walk south to 116th Street and take in the scene of brownstones, clubs, churches, parks, restaurants, and schools. This is Harlem, a New York neighborhood that was a Native American farming settlement, then a Dutch village (established in 1658). It was annexed to the City of New York in 1873, and African Americans began settling here in sizable numbers in the early 1900s. Add to this history the Roaring Twenties.
Head east across busy 116th Street. Here, Senegalese hair-braiding shops sit side-by-side with music stores, bodegas, and fancy boutiques. Harriette Cole, Harlem resident and editorial director of Uptown magazine, says, "One aspect of the 'new Harlem' is great shopping at places like (2) NHarlem (114 W. 116th St.) and (3) Xukuma (11 E. 125th St.), both with eclectic fashions for men, women, and the home."
You might wonder whether you're still in Manhattan upon entering (4) Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market (52 W. 116th St.), a bazaar comprised of some 85 stalls with a selection of authentic West African goods, including jewelry, clothing, woven and leather bags, aromatic oils, and handicrafts.
For soul food, (5) Amy Ruth's (113 W. 116th St.) is tops. Try chicken and waffles, a favorite of big eaters Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton. For a taste of 21st-century Harlem, go to (6) Ginger (1400 Fifth Ave.), an organic, health-conscious take on Chinese cuisine classics, in Harlem's first "green" building: geothermal heating and cooling, 60 percent recycled building materials, and bamboo flooring. Or satisfy a sweet tooth with marble cheesecake and cappuccino at sun-filled (7) Settepani (196 Lenox Ave.).
Make your way north up Lenox Avenue (also known as Malcolm X Boulevard) for the stately brownstones and churches (Lenox between 120th and 124th Streets is home to five of Harlem's more than 150 churches). If you are a fan of afternoon tea, consider a stop at the elegant (8) Harlem Tea Room (1793A Madison Ave.). Some of the brownstones on 123rd Street, built in the late 1880s and '90s, are distinguished by hand-carved doorways. (9) The Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation (1 W. 123rd St.), an African-American synagogue, occupies an 1890 neo-Renaissance building. (10) Studio Museum of Harlem (144 W. 125th St.) is a must, featuring work from emerging and established black artists rarely shown elsewhere. The first Saturday of every month is free.
Feed your newfound love of Harlem with a biography of one of the Harlem Renaissance greats, which you can pick up at the (11) Hue-Man Bookstore and Café (2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd., between 124th and 125th Sts.). Come cocktail time, the obvious choice is jazz landmark (12) Lenox Lounge (288 Lenox Ave.), though locals also like (13) Native (161 Lenox Ave.), with a great wine list and fare that tastefully fuses French-Moroccan and Caribbean flavors.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.