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Trip Ideas

Why Harlem is the Coolest NYC Neighborhood

Here, one local's guide on where to eat, sleep and relax above 110th Street.

See recent posts by Andrew Skwarek

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Best Low-key Bar: Mess Hall

On Frederick Douglass Blvd (often dubbed Harlem’s restaurant row), this cozy watering hole is a go-to joint for locals. The rustic-chic space has exposed wooden beams, taxidermy on the walls, burlap rope accents and glossy mosaic flooring. Choose from 18 different bourbons, or sip bespoke cocktails such as The Messy Lady (gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh lavender and lemon) and craft beers like Ommegang Witte and Allagash Island IPA.

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Photo courtesy of Amy Ruth's


Best Comfort Food: Amy Ruth’s

If there’s one New York City neighborhood that knows how to pair chicken and waffles, it’s Harlem. Opened in 1998, this down-home Southern spot on 116th Street is packed with artery-clogging deliciousness. Expect a casual diner-like atmosphere with murals of prominent African American historical figures including Muhammad Ali, President Barack Obama and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. And no matter what syrup-smothered protein you pick to have with your waffles (fried shrimp, catfish, chicken wings, rib-eye steak, bacon or pork chop), Amy Ruth’s is sure to be finger-licking good.

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Best Sweet Spot: Levain Bakery

Have a sweet tooth? Head to Levain Bakery for some of the most addictive cookies and baked goods in Manhattan. While the line at the other two outposts can wind out the door, the Harlem location is still under-the-radar, so you can be in and out in no time. The must-trys are the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip walnut cookie (still warm from the oven), as well as the dark chocolate peanut chip cookie and the chocolate chip brioche. Don't like chocolate? You can’t go wrong with the oatmeal raisin scone or cinnamon brioche.

Where to Stay in New York City

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Best Jazz Joint: Paris Blues

If you’re going to visit Harlem, you have to spend a night listening to live jazz at Paris Blues. This no-frills dive bar was opened in 1969 by Samuel J. Hargress Jr., and he’s still managing the place today. While you’re throwing back a few beers, he’ll tell you all about what Harlem was like in the ‘60s. It’s also a real steal, with no cover charge and free food on the regular. Just remember to bring a few bucks to tip the musicians.

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Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservancy


Best Park: Conservatory Garden

When it comes to Central Park’s 843 acres, tourists tend to overlook the northern section — and they’re seriously missing out. Perhaps one of the most underrated areas is the Conservatory Garden, a six-acre, green escape with sculptures, gurgling fountains, a water lily pool and gorgeous seasonal blooms such as lilacs, black-eyed susans, roses and geraniums. It’s also an official “quiet zone” (yes, they do have those in NYC!), so you can easily doze off in the summer sun or get lost in a good book.

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Best Bar for Friends: At The Wallace

Further uptown, At The Wallace is the perfect spot to catch up with your buddies. The decor is hip and eclectic (think phones hanging from the ceiling, mannequins, exposed brick and graffiti walls, as well as a photo booth) and there's a giant-sized Jenga set and other old-school games like Hungry, Hungry Hippo, Trouble and Operation to play while you sip suds.

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Best Sandwich: B&K French Cuisine

Opened by Frenchman Benjamin Baccari Kebe last winter, B&K has quickly become a hot-ticket item in Harlem. The take-out eatery (it’s a very small storefront with just a few tables outside) has a cult following who come for the classic sandwich: grilled chicken on a baguette with arugula salad, homemade mayo, pesto and shaved parmesan cheese. Other crowd-pleaser we love: the salmon burger with arugula, tomatoes, red onions, cheese and chipotle mayonnaise, as well as diet-busting desserts like strawberry tartelettes and nutella caramel tiramisu.

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Best Brunch: Angel of Harlem

Just a few blocks south of 125th, Angel of Harlem debuted in July 2015 and serves contemporary American dishes with a Caribbean and Latin twist. The scene is cool and lively (there’s even a DJ booth), and for $20 you can have a 1.5-hour bottomless brunch of rum punch, sangria and mimosas. Our favorite dishes are the lobster ravioli, crab cake and eggs, shrimp and grits, and filet mignon benedict with spinach, hollandaise sauce, an English muffin and a potato croquette.

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Best Pizza: Sottocasa

With two successful venues in Brooklyn, Sottocasa has finally moved into Manhattan. The space has exposed brick walls, candlelit table tops, a wooden bar and a mounted chalkboard listing the day’s wine specials. Start your meal with the prosciutto and mozzarella plate (it’s served with a side of arugula salad) before ordering a pie or two to share. We're fans of the Boscaiola (tomatoes, mozzarella, hot Italian sausage, gorgonzola, mushrooms and basil) and the Taleggio (mozzarella, taleggio, prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano and basil).

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Best Coffee Shop: Double Dutch Espresso

Sharing a back patio with Mess Hall, Double Dutch Espresso feels like the well-decorated living room of a design-savvy friend. Cups are neatly stacked on shelves, and there’s an Edison-bulb chandelier, white tin ceiling, and framed mirrors adorning the walls. The baristas behind the subway-tiled counter serve up chai lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos and light bites such as the Mayflower (oven roasted turkey breast with melted swiss and cranberry jam on sourdough bread).

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