The Uptown New York neighborhood Harlem is a vibrant mecca of African-American culture. Named after the Dutch city Haarlem, the neighborhood has shaped America`s culture in a unique way. From music to arts, fashion & food – Harlem, has been a continuous source of inspiration. There is a saying that “The world grows around Harlem. Everything that Harlem does, the rest of NY does – everything that NY does, the rest of the world does.”
– 125th street –
For a long time Harlem has been fighting poverty, unemployment and crime, but one of New Yorks oldest neighborhoods has always been uplifted by it`s eclectic music, arts & entertainment scene. Especially on 125th Street, the “Main Street” of Harlem, a bustling African-American culture thrives.
The iconic Apollo Theater is one of America`s most important cultural institutions and a continuous source of pride and identity. The 80-year-old concert hall has introduced music icons such as the Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, Quincy Jones, James Brown and Prince. Today, showbiz legends as well as amateurs take the stage at this famed music hall – “The Soul of American culture”.
The Soul of American culture
Apollo Theater (Photo Credit: Think Wide)
Just steps away from the acclaimed Apollo Theater, Studio Museum is located. As a nexus for artists of African descent, the museum showcases contemporary art that has been inspired and influenced by black culture. During the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem during the 1920s, a new ethnic pride and the rebirth of African-American arts was fostered.
Studio Museum (Photo Credit: Sarah Johanna)
The movement with prominent supporters like Jospehine Baker embraced Dance, Music, Literature, Fashion & Film. Savoy Ballroom was the first dance club during the Harlem Renaissance, where black & white could walk through the door together. The famed ballroom brought together people independent from color and class over one common interest – Swing. Today, only a memorial plaque at Lenox Avenue reminds of the legendary institution, which once used to be the “World`s finest Ball Room”.
Barber in Harlem (Photo Credit: Amanda Russhell Wallace)
Harlem is a stage. It `s like it `s own planet, from the way we dress to the swag in the way we walk and talk.
Harlem has never been about the buildings, it’s never been about the place, it’s been about the people, the community and the vibrant life on the streets. The birthplace of popular Hip Hop dances like the Harlem Shake and Hip Hop moguls Tupac Shakur & Puff Daddy is also home of the world-famous basketball-team Harlem Globetrotters.
At iconic Rucker Park many professional basketball players have gained their court skills. The famed park, which is a popular scenery for film productions and Hip Hop music videos, has produced several streetball legends and NBA players including stars like Kobe Bryant.
Rucker Park (Photo Credit: Jah Swish)
Music has always played a vital role throughout the history of Harlem. From Jazz to modern day Rap & Hip Hop, Harlem has contributed to America`s music culture in a unique way. With a thriving live music scene, Harlem is a mecca for musicians and entertainers from around the world. The best nightlife takes place at one of Harlem`s many live music venues. Smoke Jazz-Club, the arts & performance space Shrine and the historic 1940s nightclub Minton`s provide the stage for jamming Jazz sessions and aspiring talented artists.
Harlem is a mecca for entertainers from around the world
Photo Credit: Smoke Jazz Club
Photo Credit: BLVD Bistro
During the Great Migration many African Americans descendants moved North to escape the institutionalized racism of the South. Southern Soul Food brought along by the migrants from South Carolina and Alabama has strongly influenced Harlem`s food culture. Sylvia`s restaurant is one of Harlem`s landmarks where the “Queen of Soul Food” serves Southern delights to her guests, ranging from Harlem locals to world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.
In the past years, Harlem has turned into one of New York’s best food neighborhoods. Numerous upscale eateries and new dining hotspots have popped up. Marcus Samulesson`s acclaimed Red Rooster has brought glamour and chicness to the neighborhood, at BLVD Bistro Chef Carlos Swepson is creating “food memories” with savory chicken and some of the best buttermilk biscuits.
Many traditional Soul Food restaurants, however, haven`t survived Harlem`s culinary renaissance and were displaced by newer and sleeker restaurants. Funky new spots like the chicken rotisserie Streetbird, Taco Dirty Cash, a bright Mexican eatery and the diner-like burger restaurant Harlem Shake have spiced up Harlem`s restaurant scene that is now attracting outside visitors as well as local food lovers.
A New Harlem Renaissance
The fact that Downtown restaurant persons are now looking for a space on Harlem`s Amsterdam Avenue unveils that Harlem has established as a new dining hotspot. Harlem`s transformation is part of a wider progress that the neighborhood has been undergoing. The influx of new shops, music halls and fancy eateries has changed the face of the neighborhood. Locals are having access to new amenities and the opening of a Whole Foods Market in early 2017 reflects Harlem`s ascent from a former shady corridor to one of NY`s next hot neighborhoods.
Photo Credit: Next Door Creators
Since Harlem has caught the attention of investors and national retail chains, however, rents have been rising. The black population & small business have been moving out and more wealthy individuals from outside have been moving in. Harlem is fighting a gentrification problem today and it is questionable if the fancy restaurants and upscale products are indeed foreseen for the long-established residents. But what will happen when the people that have shaped Harlem most will leave? Hopefully the neighborhood won`t loose it`s heart
– a colorful mecca of music, art & culture.