Yesterday, my aunt and I were back up in Harlem, this time for a walking tour through Welcome to Harlem.
Despite venturing up to Harlem last Sunday for dinner at Red Rooster, we didn’t have any time to really explore the area. Harlem was still a mystery to me – and frankly, the neighborhood is so large, even after this tour, there’s still so much to see.
As you can see, our walking tour only took us through a small section of central Harlem.
We had a blast though. Our guide Cheryl was informative about Harlem’s history from the days of the Harlem renaissance up until today.
For instance, she told us about the early days of the Apollo Theater and amateur night. Also, the outpouring of community when James Brown passed away – his body was on view for several days at the Apollo with lines around the block to see him one final time, among other anecdotes.
But, she was also up to date on community news as a Harlemite herself. She introduced us to this new business, Celebrity Boutique Mobile, which sells jewelry out of a converted Cheetos truck. She also lamented many of the recent closings of Harlem institutions – the Lenox lounge or Hue-man books for example – due to rising commercial rent and gentrification and the news in the community of what chains will be coming to Harlem next (Whole Foods? Red Lobster?).
You could tell how much she loves the community and neighborhood and how active she is in it – taking advantage of the culture and events offered.
What struck me most through this walking tour though was the diversity in Harlem – specifically, the different neighborhoods within the small section we walked. 125th street has discount and chain stores with lively, bustling street vendors and activity. But, as we walked farther down and towards Marcus Garvey Park or Mount Morris Park it’s quieter with gorgeous brownstones lining the streets. And this isn’t just Harlem really – what I love most about New York are the changes in artitechtural styles and the vibes between neighborhoods throughout Manhattan.
At the forefront though – from everything I’ve been reading about Harlem and what kept coming up on the tour – is the sense of community. Harlem has gone through periods of highs and lows, from its heyday to riots in the 70s and its deterioration, but, Harlem is coming back. I’ve read a lot about the food renaissance going on (if you can find this Food Network special, Savoring Harlem, check it out!). And from talking with Cheryl its clear how Harlemites are fighting to keep Harlem Harlem and to preserve it’s cultural history.
And, of course, after our tour we went to Red Rooster again – to try more things from the menu, but also in hopes of seeing Chef Samuelsson. No luck on seeing my new chef crush sadly, but the food was still amazing! (Don’t worry, next time in Harlem we will try a different restaurant, even though I love the Rooster).
Fried Yard Bird – fried dark-meat chicken with mace gravy and hot sauce, served with mashed potatoes
Hoagie Svenska – Helga’s meatballs, quick pickles, ligonberry mayonnaise on a buttered sub roll with parmesan frites