Friday, July 31, 2009

☞ BESPOKE: Sidewalk Sheds

Garbage is a reality of all city dwellers, and disposing of it is often an unsightly business. Many buildings just pile it up on the sidewalk, while smaller brownstones have made plywood sheds to conceal it. We snapped this shot of a very bespoke garbage shed on the landmarked Astor Row this past spring. With its trellis front, turned-wood spindle top vent, porcelain knobs and circular moulding, this wooden shack is undoubtedly the best looking in the entire city. There is another one on the block with one door missing, and hopefully a carpenter will be on call to get it back together. Read more on Astor Row in the past post: LINK. Take the 2,3 express train to 125th street and walk on Lenox to 130th street.

☞ READ: The Monterey in the NY Times

The Monterey, a distinct Thomas O. Speir building finished in 1892 on the corner of 114th Street and Morningside Avenue, has a write-up today in the New York Times. We found a photo of the building in 1904 taken by George L. Balgue, which shows the triangular Lafayette Square Park in front. Morningside Park can be seen to the right, a few trolleys to the left and dirt roads everywhere. The last two photos are from the NY Times article showing the building, especially known for its deep entrance arches, today. Color photos by Konrad Fiedler. To read more on the history of the Monterey, go to the NY Times article: LINK

Thursday, July 30, 2009

☞ SLEEP: The Sugar Hill Harlem Inn

Bed and Breakfasts can be a more affordable and often times better option than a depressing cheap motel. The Sugar Hill Harlem Inn is on a brownstone block and provides an integrated experience as far as living in a landmarked neighborhood. Located on 460 West 141st Street, (between Amsterdam Ave. and Convent Ave.) a few blocks away from the A express train on 145th Street, this inn is a bit out of the way, but the train will get one to midtown within 20 minutes. Rooms start out as low as $125 per night. Go to the website for more information: LINK

☞ REMEMBER: Olga Mendez

Former Senator Olga Mendez was the first Puerto Rican-born woman to have been elected to the State Senate, representing East Harlem and eventually the South Bronx for 26 years.  Mrs. Mendez would become a role model when she won the Senate seat in 1978 and would lead as both a Democrat and as a Republican in later years.  She passed away this week in her East Harlem apartment at the age of 82.  The service will be this coming Monday, August 3rd, 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM at the Church of the Holy Agony, 1834 3rd Avenue at 101st Street. Original photo by Lombard for the NY Daily News.

☞ PROTECT: 163 Lenox Avenue

On the corner of 118th Street and Malcolm X/Lenox Avenue, we wondered what was going on with the building next to local favorite restaurant, Native. Here was a great contemporary restaurant alongside what looked like a deteriorated building with scaffolding holding it up and plywood in place of windows. Soon discovered was a work permit issued this month to restore all of the units in the building (163 Lenox Avenue) as apartments. We ran into the contractor, and he mentioned that the building would be a co-op and that all the former residents will be returning once everything is fixed up. A sign on the front scaffolding also mentions the affordable housing element of the project. This is really the sort of thing that's great for the community since it preserves historic buildings, keeps the neighborhood intact and provides affordable housing. Also, if you haven't been to Native recently, drop by for the lunch, dinner or weekend brunches and support this local restaurant through this recession period. Take the 2,3 to 116th Street and walk to blocks north to 118th Street and Lenox Avenue. See more on Native in our previous post: LINK

☞ INTRODUCING: Frizzante Italian Bistro

The French doors have been up and painted for awhile on the southeast corner of 117th Street and FDB/8th Avenue, but it wasn't until the past week that the awning has gone up to announce the future arrival of Frizzante Italian Bistro and Bar. It looks like the finishing touches are being added, so watch for an opening announcement next month. This will be the third major restaurant to arrive in Harlem within the past four weeks, so things are shaping up nicely. Take the B,C to 116th Street to get this corner of South Harlem.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

☞ EAT: Il Caffe Latte Reopens

We were saddened to see Mount Morris Park's Il Caffe Latte closed when meeting a friend at the coffee house a couple of weekends ago and wondered what the sudden dormancy portended. Business had been pretty brisk at this popular, new cafe, and most who visit are pleasantly surprised, so it was an odd thing to see the doors shuttered. The culprit was a couple of weeks' worth of electrical issues with ConEd, but the eatery has now finally opened again. Come and support this neighborhood gem (which has ample seating) for coffee and a quick bite. The savory sandwiches and fresh greens are especially good here for those who want something more substantial than the usual baked goods. 189 Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Avenue between 119th and 120th Street. Phone:212.222.2241 or 347.528.8101. Closest train is the 2,3 at 125th Street.

☞ WALK: The Lions of Jerusharlem

One of the architectural surprises to be found while strolling south of 125th Street are the pair of striking lions' heads on the building at the corner of ACP/7th Avenue and West 121st Street. While the regally crowned busts adorned with star of David necklaces may allude to the building's Jewish Harlem origins, the base is engraved with E.O.C.C., an acronym that stands for the Ethiopian Orthodox Coptic Church. That church should not be confused with the several Ethiopian Jewish congregations that have worshipped in Harlem since the early half of the 20th century. As a result, the best we can conclude is that the entrance pillars represent a mixture of faiths in the neighborhood.

The photos of the statues were originally taken in early spring, but we have since noticed a chip in the left lion's jawline a couple of weeks ago. It seems either nature or local vandals have been chipping a bigger hole in the bust as the weeks go by. The lions' eyes currently have red glass rubies in them, and those may too disappear in the next few months. Come see it before it's all gone by taking the 2,3 train to 125th street and walking south on Adam Clayton Powell to the west corner of 121st Street.

☞ LISTEN: La Res

La Res at Shrine, Wednesday, September 29th, at 8:00 PM. See this New York rock trio and their 70's and grunge sensibilities at Harlem's youngest music venue. ee more of the weekly schedule on the official website: LINK. 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807. Take the 2,3 train to 135th Street.

☞ DRINK: The Bronx Cocktail

The folks at the Museum of the City of New York are offering the classic but forgotten Bronx Cocktail at their Speakeasy event. Every Wednesday, the East Harlem museum sets up their Speakeasy cocktail hour from 6-9 PM out in the front courtyard with views of Central Park. Stop by and try the gin and orange juice concoction, or make it at home from the recipe on the flyer (click on photo to enlarge). Speakeasy continues every week from July 15th to August 26th. Members pay $10 at the door, and non-members shell out $12, which includes a free drink and access to the first floor gallery. 1220 5th Avenue between 103rd and 104th Street. Tel.(212) 534-1672. Take the 6 train to 103rd Street. For more information, go to the museum website: LINK

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

☞ INTRODUCING: Cafe Bagutta

Back up the hill of Morningside Park, one will find the the former Cafe Fresh has been replaced in less than three weeks of its closing by the brand new Cafe Bagutta. Just opened this week, the former contemporary space has been replaced by a decidedly more European, old-school feel with an aged copper storefront and striking gold leaf signage. Fashionista Marc Bagutta (founder of the famous 1990's Soho uber boutique, Bagutta, to which all Parsons students went for research) opened the space with the ambitious goal of bringing downtown Manhattan uptown. We have yet to stop by, but the service issues that plagued the former Cafe Fresh should all be rectified at this well-appointed establishment. Cafe Bagutta is located at 1241 Amsterdam Avenue between West 120th and West 121st Street. Tel.(212) 222-6340. Take the A, C, B, D to 125th Street or the 1 train to 116th Street. Photo by Ulysses

☞ DWELL: 363 West 120th Street Brownstone

The brownstone between Morningside Avenue and Manhattan Avenue is narrow at 17" wide but makes up for it through its prime location. The brownstones on the side streets of Morningside Park off of Morningside Avenue have been slowly transformed in the past ten years, and this section of West Harlem, though not landmarked, is pretty impressive in its historic architecture. The golden standard of 20" wide may not have been reached, but the exterior has some lovely details along with an intact interior that does not look like it would take much to spruce up. Note, though, that the building faces an elementary school across the street, so the view is not that of a full brownstone-lined street. The asking price is $899K, which ultimately may not be such a bad investment for this part of town right off of a landmarked park. Closest subway is the A,B,C,D at 125th Street which gives the option of getting downtown in 15 minutes.

☞ WALK: Amsterdam News

While strolling around FDB/8th Avenue, one might notice the landmarked Amsterdam News building at the corner of 126th Street, but many might not remember its origins. Formerly one of the big four African-American newspapers in the United States, the Amsterdam News was founded in 1909 by James Henry Anderson and originally established in a brownstone on 2293 Seventh Avenue and 135th Street. Past writers for the still-weekly paper have included W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X. Take the the A,B,C,D to 125th Street.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Of all the adjacent Riverside Drive prewar buildings above West 110th Street, the colosseum-like Paterno is probably one of the most striking. This turn of the century building, located at West 116th Street, holds court on the block between Claremont Avenue and Riverside Drive. The elegant curve of the building entrance faces east while the western Riverside Drive facade has a built-in, circular driveway for carriages and buggies alike. Another feature unique to the building is the three-story coppery water tower shed that alludes to the roof of a French chateau. Take the 1 train to 116th Street and walk west towards Riverside Drive.


The organization artHARLEM is looking for local artist to participate in HOAST 2009 (Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour), to be held on October 10th-11th this year. HOAST is an art event in tandem with Open House New York and showcases Harlem's established and emerging artists to over 2,000 guests during the annual walking tour event, now in its 5th season. Local artists can sign up to be part of HOAST with a $40 participation fee and on-line registration at We will definitely include this as one on our must-see list during this year's Open House weekend.

☞ DWELL: 5 Mount Morris Park West Condo

The 5 Mount Morris Park West listing is actually a condo for one of the floors in a brownstone. For the asking price of $699K, one gets a two-bedroom, one and a half bath residence on the renowned Mount Morris Park West address between West 120th and 121st Street. The interiors have been gut-renovated, so all is brand-new and pristine, but for the asking price, we would expect a little bit of original detail. More perks include reasonable maintenance charges at $480 and additional space in the garden patio that comes with this ground floor unit. The nearest subway line is the 2,3 on 125th Street, which gets to midtown in less than 15 minutes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

☞ EAT: The Morningside Park Farmers' Market

This weekend's EAT post focuses on local grown and home prepared ingredients. For those who want to control what they are eating and help out the local economy, the Farmers' Market at Morningside Park is a good option.  Although on the small side, there are enough vendors to provide fresh organic goods to this part of Harlem.  Migliorelli, from Tivoli New York, has a wide assortment of seasonal vegetables. There is also an organic bread stand, another stand sells various organic honey and let's not forget The Chocolate Muffin bakery stand for those with a sweet tooth or in need of some lemonade while strolling through adjacent Morningside Park. Open every Saturday from 9:00-5:00 from May through December and located on West 110th Street and Morningside Avenue.  Take the 1 train or the B,C train to 110th Street.

☞ SEE: James Baldwin's Harlem

August 2nd, starting at 5 PM at the Faison Firehouse Theater. For James Baldwin's 85th Birthday, the Faison Firehouse will have a special presentation on James Baldwin's Harlem. The posters are all around town and booking in advance will guarantee a seat and also a discount. Admission $25 at the door and $20 in advance.  6 Hancock Place which is west 124th Street between St. Nicholas and Morniside Avenue.  Tel. 212.665.716. Read more about the Faison Firehouse Theater in our previous post: LINK or go to the website:

Friday, July 24, 2009

☞ MEET: Sheila Bridges

Harlem's celebrity designer, Sheila Bridges is also one of its biggest fans.  Moving into the historic Graham Court building over 15 years ago, Ms. Bridges was a true believer in Harlem before many rediscovered the neighborhood.  Noted for her bold use of colors, the designer's eclectic style blends historic Harlem with vintage 19th century Paris and a mix of retro mid-century for a modern twist. An example of her dedication to preserving Harlem history can be seen in the adaptive reuse of the original details of the apartment such as the 100 year old wainscot panel on the walls that have been given an update with some refinishing and a fresh hit of color (top photo).  Read more about Sheila Bridges in the New York Social Diary website: LINK.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

☞ DWELL: 17 East 128th Street Row House

This week's brownstone pick is not a brownstone but a rare wood frame house built in the mid 19th century. Newer New York prewar brownstones neighborhoods sprouted up around 1900, taking over traditional wood construction buildings, when the subway extended its reach from the crowded downtown of the city. As our previous post reviewed, West 128th Street had many of these homes at one point but most have disappeared or deteriorated. One block east of 5th Avenue, a well preserved house exists that has been beautifully maintained. The interior has original details, and minimal cosmetic upgrades will be needed for this charming cottage. This is also the more well-preserved part of East Harlem that is in the 120's right off of 5th Avenue, so the steep asking price of $2.35 million might have some merit. However, it's yet to be seen if this type of price tag can perform outside of the more desired historic districts. Closest subway is the 2,3 express or the 4,5, 6 on 125th Street.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

☞ SEE: The Young Savages

John Frankenheimer's 1961 film stars Burt Lancaster and was shot in East Harlem for many of the street scenes.  The crime drama centers on the clash of old Italian Harlem with the newer Puerto Rican residents, albeit with teenage gangs as the focus.  What seems to be a cut-and-dry hate crime turns out to be more complicated than it seems when the D.A. from the old neighborhood delves into the case. Sort of a West Side Story without all the singing and dancing, set in East Harlem.  The re-mastered DVD just came out a couple of months ago and is on our Netflix list.

☞ INTRODUCING: Barnard's Diana Center

Near completion, the formerly named Nexus building at Barnard between 116th and 117th Street on Broadway has been rechristened the Diana Center after alumn Diana Touliatou Vagelos '55, who donated $15 million for the new building. The glass is completely up, and the building is in its last phase of construction with a green roof planned to top it off. The low-scale of the building and touch of color is definitely better than the looming new science building going up across the street, which overwhelms the architecture of the immediate area. Hopefully, Columbia will eventually recognize the difference between the two new buildings and make plans accordingly for any construction on the Manhattanville campus of the future.

☞ LISTEN: Patience Higgins at Minton's

This clip is that of local jazz group, Patience Higgins and the Sugar Hill Quartet playing at the one and only Minton's Playhouse.  We love the classic wall mural in the background that illustrates a group of jazz greats lounging about inside a Harlem interior (the full mural is in view at the one minute mark).  For those interested, the band plays at Minton's most weeks and happens to be performing tonight, Wednesday, July 22nd at 9:00.  Two drinks and $5 will get you in during the weekday, with $10 the fare on weekends.  Located at 206-210 West 118th Street between 7th and St. Nicholas Avenue. Tel.212-864-8346. Take the B,C or 2,3 train to 116th Street. See more on the schedule at the Minton's Playhouse website: LINK

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

☞ REVIVE: The Brownstone Stoop

Nothing is more Harlem than the brownstone stoop and they often are not in great condition. We occasionally see the tell-tale sign of stoop resurfacing by the scratch coat finish that the restoration entails before applying the final, smoother, brown coat. The stoops on first photos are from our West 132nd Street tour and the lower photo is a stoop in progress from the owner of a NYC brownstone at The owner paid $10,000 for a responsible contractor but admitted it could cost less if one was willing to take a quality risk. So there you have it. A good chunk of change but worth it in the long run for the those lazy summer conversations on the steps.

☞ LISTEN: Tarrah Reynolds

Tarrah Reynolds at Shrine, Wednesday, July 22nd performing at 8:00. Violin prodigy at the age of seven, performing for a major symphony orchestra at twelve, the beautifully talented Ms. Reynolds finally made a push to become a singer/songwriter after working for the likes of Maxwell and Kanye West in latter year. Tarrah's acoustic style has been compared to Joni Mitchell in the past but is in itself unique. Check out the Shrine website for more information on the youngest of Harlem's live music venue.2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), between 133rd and 134th Street. Tel.(212) 690-7807.

Monday, July 20, 2009


That was quick. Revival shut down this month, and BBQ Harlem is officially open in its place! A Bespoke reader saw the restaurant in business for dinner last night, and we walked by their packed take-out counter today at lunch time. The word is not out yet on the food, but it already seems to be an instant neighborhood favorite. 2367 Frederick Douglass Boulevard/8th Avenue at West 127th Street. Tel. 212.222.1922. Take the A,B,C,D or 2,3 to 125th Street.

☞ EAT: Patsy's 76th Anniversary Celebration

Notices have been going out to everyone to mark their calendars for the big day,  Wednesday, August 26th, from 11 AM-5 PM, when East Harlem's Patsy's will revert back to their original 1933 prices.  Whole pizza pies for 70 cents, steaks going for 90 cents and sodas will be going for recession proof 1 cents!  This event gets a lot of press in the past but worth the wait for these prices. For more impatient folks willing to shell out good money for a great slice, see our previous post on Patsy's: LINK.   2287 1st Avenue between 117th St & 118th Street. Tel. (212) 534-9783 Take the 6 train to 116th Street and walk east for three avenues and one block north. Photo by Home Slice Pizza on Flickr.

☞ REMEMBER: Jimmy Smith at Kate's

This jazz great Jimmy Smith's album cover is also a record of another institution in Harlem. Kate's Home Cooking was a luncheonette on 2355 8th Avenue (FDB and West 126th Street) as one can see in the window sign of the album.  Lore has it that because the restaurant was on the street closest to the back entrance of the Apollo Theater, all the bands used to drop by Kate's after performing each night.  The Unity Chapel which the same sign references is still there this day
but the charming eatery has long since been closed.  The now defunct Harlem Fragrance (lower photo) had most recently inhabited the space and maybe someone today can come in and revive this central Harlem favorite.  Click on top photo to enlarge. Thanks also to Bespoke reader Jamal on the fantastic tip.

☞ SEE: North Brother Island

Parallel to East Harlem, past the Bronx and in the East River, one will find an Island that most New Yorkers have forgotten. The City Concealed Series from Channel Thirteen explores the island once used for a quarantine hospital whose most notable resident was Typhoid Mary but today has gone to nature as a bird sanctuary amongst the old 19th century ruins. The video provides a fascinating looking at a truly lost island that few now have access to. Catch up with the amazing City concealed series on the Channel Thirteen website: LINK.  To read more about North Brother Island, go to the Ephemeral New York post: LINK.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

☞ INSPIRATION: The Modern Harlem Townhouse

Harlem Bespoke rarely promotes total gut renovations of classic interiors, but sometimes a shell is all that remains of a historic home. Modern, yet warm is a hard feat to achieve, but Brooklyn-based design firm Delson or Sherman has come up with an agreeable combination for the above East Harlem townhouse. With restoration costs up to $500K for a building that needs a totally new interior, minimal is sometimes the way to go. The focus of the modern compromise is original-looking or reclaimed flooring that provides character to the entire house. A dark, high-gloss finish to floors adds a sense of newness while retaining a historic charm enhanced by a period-appropriate stairwell. The walls are brand-new with subtle moulding details and are softened by classic touches such as bookcases and an updated fireplace. The mid-century modern furniture provides a contemporary mood to the pad but still conveys a vintage feel to the space. See more from the