NYC City Guide: Central Harlem

Harlem near 125th Street has seen a renaissance with the influx of millennials and new stores, bars and nightlife.

Long known for its intimate jazz clubs, soul food institutions and African-American heritage, Harlem draws a diverse crowd of locals and visitors. Trendy eateries, stylish speakeasies and bars make for an energetic nightlife scene. The area features a mix of 19th-century brownstones and modern high-rises. Its main artery, 125th Street, is home to the iconic Apollo Theater, as well as homespun stores and restaurants.


Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson elevates soul food at Red Rooster, which also features live music Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays downstairs at Ginny's Supper Club. This is where up-and-coming stars and business professionals mingle. Deemed the “queen of soul food,” Sylvia’s has been a Harlem staple visited by presidents and celebrities since 1962. This icon remains a culinary must-visit for foodies. Sylvia’s gospel brunch Sundays, live music Wednesdays and daily specials scream home-style cooking, within an at-home environment. For a more refined upscale farm-to-table menu where a jazz club once stood, Clay is a lovely neighborhood gem. The exterior is unassuming and minimalistic, while the interior offers a modern warm ambience perfect for a date night.


Fashion designers pay homage to the rich cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance at spots like Flamekeepers Hat Club, an upscale, locally owned store offering an array of sophisticated hats for men, in many styles. There’s also the Harlem Haberdashery, a retail expression of 5001 FLAVORS, a custom-made apparel company that has created looks for celebrities, recording artists and sports stars for more than 20 years. Trunk Show Designer Consignment curates high-fashion items and gives them a second life at the sleek boutique. Also check out NiLu, where the store name comes from combining the owner’s sons’ names, Nigel and Luke. NiLu sells handcrafted home decor and gifts that showcase the rich culture, amazing artistry and attributes of Harlem and other special places around the world. 


Looking for bars that are quintessentially Harlem? Check out Corner Social, which lies directly across from Red Rooster and draws a diverse millennial crowd for nightly drink specials and a bangin’ brunch. The cozy 67 Orange Street is Harlem’s best-kept secret; the small speakeasy-style bar offers sophisticated cocktails, guest DJs throughout the week and a full eclectic menu. Oenophiles and foodies gravitate to Barawine, which offers a French-inspired menu and an extensive wine list, featuring 25 wines by the glass. 


A trip to the iconic Apollo Theater is a must when visiting Harlem. The legendary theater honors the contributions of African-American artists with live performances and theater history tours. The Studio Museum is a nexus for the exchange of ideas from artists of African descent, and the National Jazz Museum is committed to keeping jazz present and thriving. Both museums offer an in-depth look at the urban experience through several artistic mediums.


Farah Lopez
About the author

Farah Lopez is the Marketing Editor and a French-Canadian transplant living in SoBro (South Bronx). Follow her food-o...