09.05.2018

What Is Left Of Harlem

Discovering the new face of New York City’s African-American neighborhood between memory and gentrification

  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem
  • What Is Left Of Harlem

The legendary Reinassance Casino & Ballroom, a.k.a. "The Aristocrat of Harlem", a jazz mecca where Duke Ellington performed, no longer exists. It was demolished in 2015. The Childs Memorial Temple, Church of God in Christ, which hosted the funeral of Malcolm X in 1965, soon encountered the same fate. Whatever happened to the Harlem that the world used to know?

Something has certainly changed. The New York neighborhood which has long been the symbol of Afro-American culture has been undergoing a slow but implacable metamorphosis ever since the 1990s, whose most evident sign is the rise of luxury condos with glass facades among the beautiful Victorian terraced houses dating back to the late nineteenth century, the new resident families of white Americans and hordes tourists from all over the world.

Some call it gentrification, and it is undoubtedly a controversial phenomenon: on the one hand, it causes rents to rise and threatens the authenticity and cultural identity of the neighborhood; on the other hand, it brings along new services and makes the neighborhood more livable for those who keep living there – provided that they can afford it. 
 
So, if upon setting foot in this large area in the north of Manhattan just above Central Park you expect to find music in every corner or to experience the Eighties Harlem maybe, chances are you'll be a little disappointed. On the bright side, the neighborhood has become safer and has seen a proliferation of cafes, shops and restaurants, and some of them are contributing to the preservation of Harlem’s identity and heritage through art, music, craftsmanship and food along with local cultural institutions.
The best thing you can do to truly grasp the spirit of today’s Harlem, suspended between a sometimes overwhelmingly advancing future and the desire to preserve its own memory, is venturing among these places and along these streets in search of tastes and experiences.
 
Experience
Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater
On the legendary stage the hosted James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald, Wednesdays are devoted to the stars of tomorrow, who perform in front of a  “tough” audience, gleefully deciding who will “be good or be gone”.
 
African American art at the Studio Museum
Founded in 1968, the Studio Museum in Harlem is the nexus for artists of African descent locally, nationally and internationally and for work that has been inspired and influenced by black culture. It hosts exhibitions, lectures, seminars and conferences and supports emerging artists. Twice a year, visitors get the chance to preview the works created by "resident" artists temporarily hosted in the museum’s ateliers.
 
A walk in Marcus Garvey Park
Dedicated to one of the founders of the early twentieth century black nationalist movement, this park has been at the center of the public and social life of the neighborhood for 150 years, albeit under a different name, and is the ideal place to immerse yourself in the authentic feel of Harlem, among nature, playgrounds, swimming pools and baseball fields.
 
The Gospel Mass
Although they are often crowded with tourists, gospel masses (usually on Sunday mornings around 11.00 am) in the Baptist churches of Harlem are proper functions, with long and often remarkable sermons. For this reason, it is advisable to stay for the whole service, restraining from sneaking away as soon as the music’s over. Among the most popular churches for gospel choirs is the Abyssinian Baptist Church(132 W 138th St), so overcrowded that it has an area reserved for tourists. If you are looking for something less touristy, try the Salem United Methodist Church (2190 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd).
 
Eat & Drink
Red Rooster
This restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood, although comparatively recent (it opened in the year 2010), this place is a genuine declaration of love towards Harlem, its history and its culture. Beginning with the name, inspired by a famous twentieth-century Harlem speakeasy. Marcus Samuelsson's comfort food, music and warm atmosphere will inevitably win you over.

Sylvia’s
Here is yet another Harlem icon: the legendary restaurant opened in 1962 by Sylvia Woods, the "queen of soul food". Still owned by the Woods family, it still serves traditional African-American dishes, including its glorious fried chicken and buttered corn.
 
Levain Bakery
In 2011, two girls from Manhattan who, despite coming from the world of fashion and investment banks, according to many cook the best biscuits in the city, opened a branch of their legendary Upper West Side bakery in Harlem. It was an instant success, which continues thanks to their huge and delicious chocolate cookies.
 
Harlem Tavern
On the same street as Levain Bakery, Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which is gradually filling up with new cafes, bars and restaurants, the Harlem Tavern has a large beer garden housed in a former auto parts store. Big parties come here to sit outdoors and drink craft beer.
 

Author : The Slowear Journal

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