Manhattan is well known among tourists thanks to the Empire State Building, Broadway, and countless other sights often seen in movies. What’s interesting is that all these sights are located south of Central Park. But, what’s north of it? Among many things; you’ll find the neighborhood of Harlem.
Harlem is one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in all of New York City. Since the 1920s, it has been synonymous with African-American culture, including movements in music, literature, art, and dance.
To get a glimpse of this rich culture and what makes Harlem such an exciting, underrated area of New York, here I’ll share six sights you must not miss while visiting the neighborhood.
1. Apollo Theater
This famous concert hall served as the introductory stage to music icons such as James Brown and the Jackson 5, among others. The theater draws over 1.3 million visitors a year to see the stage where so many stars began their careers on their famous Amateur Night shows.
What’s interesting is that the Apollo Theater wasn’t always the artistic home for African-American singers. Back when it was built in 1914, it served as a “whites-only” burlesque theater, but it only reached its current fame once it became an inclusive stage. Make sure to visit on Wednesday nights at 7:30 pm to see new talents perform. Who knows, will they be the next Michael Jackson?
The theater is located on 125th Street, which is considered the main street and cultural hub of Harlem.
2. El Museo del Barri
While the African-American culture predominates in Harlem; it is not the only culture widely seen there. El Museo del Barrio does an excellent job of preserving the cultural richness of the Latin American and Caribbean communities established in the neighborhood since the 1950's and before.
The museum was founded in 1969 by a group of Puerto Rican artists, educators, and activists to display the artistic talent of Latin Americans – a fresh breath from the dominant European art shown everywhere else in the city.
Like the Apollo theater, El Museo del Barrio is also located on 125th street.
3. Sylvia’s Restaurant
This is probably the most famous restaurant in Harlem. Established in 1962, Sylvia’s makes customers feel at home with its Southern comfort food with classic dishes including fried chicken, barbecue ribs, biscuits, banana pudding with bourbon sauce, and more.
Don’t be surprised if you happen to see a famous face while dining there as artists and personalities often visit Sylvia's. Past patrons have included Diana Ross, Muhammad Ali, and former President Bill Clinton.
4. National Jazz Museum
If you’re a jazz enthusiast, you’ll find this is a must-do. This small museum is a Smithsonian affiliate that hosts performances as well as discussions with several critics and artists associated with this popular musical genre. While visiting the museum’s visitor center, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to some rare jazz recordings.
Originally established in 1938, this swanky jazz club is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. This club served as the setting for a jazz revolution in New York, and some say it is the birthplace of bebop.
Today you can still enjoy live jazz music, played by its superb house band while enjoying a delicious Southern comfort meal of shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and more.
6. Bier International
This is Harlem’s first ever beer garden and one of the clear signs of the gentrification the neighborhood has experienced in the last two decades. But, the beer garden has made a splash in the neighborhood with its low-key atmosphere, sophisticated vibe, and beer variety. Their menu features fifteen European drafts and serves traditional gastropub snacks like baked Bavarian pretzels and bratwurst. But, beyond the European beers, you’ll also find beers from Turkey and Kenya, among others.
Now that you’re aware of these highlights in Harlem, why not plan a day to hop above Central Park to see a different side of New York?
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