I’ve lived in Harlem two years long enough to have understood more of less the coolest things to do around Harlem’s 125th Street.
Where to grab a coffee, chat with friends, read your favorite book:
Lenox Coffee [60 West 129th Street]
I used to be a hardcore deli coffee guy until I decided to check out this place. The day I walked in, not only did I see a group of twenty-something friends hangin’ near the back of the bar, but then I saw the place was having a poetry slam the next night, and then I tasted the coffee.
OH. MY. GOD. One sip of a small coffee here alone and I knew my deli days were over. Seriously people, there is a difference in the taste of a coffee that is actually of high quality and a coffee that is just
a deli coffee muddy water. Basically, this place just gives me hope that a life like FRIENDS may actually be possible in New York.
Where to get a dose of classic Harlem:
Apollo Theater [253 West 125th Street]
I’ve said it before and I’ll sure as hell say it again: the best thing I have ever done in New York City is go to Amateur Night at the Apollo. Imagine a performance with undiscovered talent (I’m a sucker for that), the audience dancing together to hip hop music during transitions between the acts, legitimately funny hosts like my boy Lil Bow Wow, and a nice cashier who only made me pay $12 for a Front Row Seat “just cuz.” Now THAT, my friends, is the service you can expect at the Apollo Theater. That, and well, not to mention that this is the birthplace of so many musical legends’ careers like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and of course, Jo’s all-time fav’ Lauryn Hill. That thing, that thing, that thiiiiIIIIIIiiiing.
Where to go to get something off-the-beaten path, bizarre, quirky:
Demolition Depot [216 East 125th Street]
One day I was randomly on my way to 2nd Avenue to take the Select Bus Service downtown (if you live in New York and don’t know what that means, you should learn, because buses change your life in NYC, I swear), when I passed this place. It’s a paradise if you’re a handy-dandy DIY-er or antique lover – two things that I am absolutely not, but yet there was still something I liked about it. The quirky vibe? The cat? The creeky old house?
Where to eat if you’re a broke b!tch:
2 Bros Pizza [113 East 125th Street]
A New York classic, c’mon. $1 is all you need for a slice. Oh, and just to put it all out there so we’re on all the same wavelength: East Harlem is not as tourist-friendly as West Harlem. Of course it’s got a Body Shop, GNC, and other commerical businesses, but nonetheless it’s still a bit interesting in parts…like the time a man burped in my face as I was getting pizza or the time someone yelled “Yaaas you betta eat that McFlurry” as I ate a McFlurry. Be prepared for something interesting to happen.
Where to take your Instagram photo and get lots of likes:
Crack is Wack Mural [East 127th Street & 2nd Ave]
Painted in 1986 by Mr.Keith Haring himself, this mural is probably one of his most famous works of all time. Haring painted the mural to warn inner-city youth about the consequences of using crack. Because Haring had illegally graffit’d the first version on this handball wall, he faced charges and jail time for vandalism, obviously. The media picked up the story and came to Haring’s defense, and Haring left with only a $100 fine. In the meantime, the original mural had been entirely painted over. The Parks Department commissioner apologized and asked Haring to repaint the mural.
If you’re a sucker for pop art…or if you’re just desperate for a unique Instagram selfie, head to the East Side of 127th. It’s hidden in the Crack is Whack park. Yes, that’s the park’s real name.
Where to get classic Harlem soul food:
Sylvia’s [328 Malcolm X Boulevard]
Harlem’s known for it’s soul food – chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, collard greens – and if there’s ONE place you are going to eat, almost anyone off the street would recommend Sylvia’s. The “Queen of Soul Food” is located right off the subway stop and depending on the day, you may see a load of suburban tourists or Harlem locals.
Where to get American food:
Harlem Shake [100 West 124th Street]
Any restaurant that plays Ja Rule and Ashanti while I eat a veggie burger and kale salad is a place that I will forever recommend. This place opened right after the Harlem Shake craze (the most recent one, not the old school one) and the best part is that you can order items like the Hot Mess Burger or menu specials like The Dime Piece Special, Boyz To The Yard Special, Swag Kid Special, and Fly Child Special.
Where to go to get a $2.50 trip to the airport:
M60 Select Bus Service [Along 125th Street]
Select Bus Service is just a fancy word for “express bus.” If you ever need to go to LaGuardia Airport, you can take this express bus for $2.50. However, unlike before, you MUST, MUST, MUST insert your metro card into one of the three machines at one of the bus stops along 125th before the bus comes. Then, you can enter into any door and not have to worry about taking ten years while everyone goes through the front door. Keep your receipt in case the MTA police aboard and require verification that you actually paid to ride the bus. Depending on where you get on the bus on 125th, you should be at LaGuardia anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes.
Where to go to get amazing vegetarian soul food:
Uptown Vegetarian [14 East 125th Street]
I feel somewhat okay with paying so much in rent knowing that this place is in business in my neighborhood. You can get all the soul food classics but in vegetarian form. Add on the fact that they have a juice bar up front and that’s it, I’m sold. I’ll let you in on a little secret though: you can order a two-fruit “Special Smoothie” which comes to $2.18 after tax and which is not on the menu!
Where to admire Harlem art:
Studio Museum Harlem [144 West 125th Street]
If you’re looking for a relaxing way to enjoy Harlem culture, the Studio Museum hosts exhibitions focused around black culture. Oh, and don’t forget to take one of the free Harlem post cards on your way out. Some of the post cards are even miniature models of the artwork you’ll find in the museum. Mine is posted on my refrigerator as I type this.