Monday, September 30, 2013

☞ REMEMBER: A Great Day in Harlem Revisited

There probably have been several post written about Art Kane's famous Great Day in Harlem photo taken in 1958 but we like updating the story to show folks what the block actually looks like today.  The top photo is probably the most famous post-jazz era portrait of the many musicians who had their start uptown in front of a stoop on 17 East 126th Street along with some of the local kids on the block.

Gordon Parks took another famous photo almost 4 decades later in 1996 that shows a stark image of what had survive of Harlem and its great Jazz artists along with a single boy from the block of the original photo.   We walked by this house located between Fifth and Madison Avenue over the weekend and felt the spirit of the all that once congregated on this historic front stoop that great day and marveled at the many changes that this brownstone had gone through in its many decades.

☞ INTRODUCING: Egg Meurette at Barawine

We have not been able to really have a proper evening meal at the new Barawine on Lenox and 120th Street but were able to stop by for a bite of brunch on the weekend.  This corner of the Mount Morris Park Historic District almost seemed doomed for failure after a couple of restaurants have closed quickly in the past years but Barawine is consistently packed these days.  Notably on our particular day visits, there were not enough outside tables for the tourists or locals who seem to keep pouring in during the weekend lunch hours.

There is not a full brunch menu up yet at Barawine but egg specials are offered up on the weekends.  We tried out the Oeufs Meurette which is basically two poached eggs served with a savory wine reduction over crusty toast.  Most of the brunch found in the city consist of poached eggs with white sauces so the red wine sauce really got our attention and did not disappoint.  This French variation of Eggs Benedict was like a Coq Au Vin sauce served up with the richness of the poached eggs.  Overall the service, food and ambiance is up to par with Barawine so we will most definitely be dropping by for dinner service in the near future.

☞ QUESTION: What's Up with 77 West 126th?

Number 77 West 126th Street has been inactive for at least 3 years now but the development just behind the Red Rooster at the corner of Lenox Avenue appears to be making some progress in the past week.  Based on public records, the partially constructed building was sold about a year ago for $1.42 million so we assume that a new developer has taken over.  We could not find much else on the Number 77 but this location adjacent to Sylvia's and all of the major shops showing up on Lenox should make it a big contender on the housing market once it finally finishes up.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

☞ INTRODUCING: Mountain Bird Debuts on 145th

The new eatery called Mountain Bird has debuted on Harlem's West 145th Street (on the north side) between FDB/8th Avenue and ACP/7th Avenue.  A Japanese duo runs the restaurant that specializes in all things poultry done in the European school but with a slight Nippon inflection.  Foodies will appreciate the Head to Toe chicken appetizer plate which appears to be similar to the offal offered at yakitori restaurants but with an upgrade (click on menu to enlarge).  Dinner service is now being offered from 5:00PM but folks should expect brunch in the near future.  Right now, Mountain Bird is BYOB, cash only and closed on Mondays also.

As far as the ambiance of the space goes, Mountain Bird feels like that cool downtown restaurant that is missing uptown.  The ceilings are nicely coffered which is a rare element to be found in Harlem and the trendy black hex tiles can be found on the flooring finishes. Marble bistro tables, vintage mirrors, wall sconces and lace curtains all add to the successful charm of the new establishment which will sure be a destination spot for Fall 2013.  This intersection of Central Harlem at 231 West 145th Street really has not changed much in years so Mountain Bird is definitely one to watch out for.  

☞ DWELL: 399 Manhattan Avenue Townhouse

An estate sale just arrived this week on the highly desirable Manhattan Avenue in South Harlem.  Number 399 Manhattan Avenue (at right) is currently asking for $890K which is basically a low ball amount regardless to the fact that the townhouse needs work.  The building by West 117th Street already has 14 interested parties saving the details on Streeteasy and there probably will be quite a few bidders at play before the contract gets signed.

Checking the DOB website, Number 399 appears to not be an SRO so that will help the potential buyer get the property in order more quickly.  Apparently original details also remain on the interior and that could help out immensely if the right owner steps in to have a proper restoration come about.  Based on all of the other high end renovated home sales with intact details in the immediate area in the past year, this brownstone might just end up being worth the $2.5 to $3 million range once finished up correctly.  More on Streeteasy: LINK

☞ EAT: Brooklyn Bean at the Farmers Market

Saturday, September 28th, 9:00AM-5:00PM, Brooklyn Bean at The Morningside Farmers Market, 110th Street at Manhattan Avenue.  Vegan's and healthy foodies in Harlem should check out Brooklyn Bean this Saturday at the Morningside Farmers Market.  This Brooklyn company specializes in artisanal black bean burgers and chili that will be sold at their stand.  Come by and shop for some great food if you would like to see more of this type of business pop up at the local market!  Brooklyn Bean also has a website for those interested in more details on the vendor: LINK

☞ QUESTION: Is the Museum of African Art Open?

We received a couple of tips about the Museum of African Art on Fifth Avenue by 110th Street and one Bespoke reader wondered if last night's festivities indicated that the establishment has finally opened.  Another tip sent to our inbox from another reader this week gives us the answer to the previous question:

Just a neighborhood tip. There is a party being hosted for African diplomats at future Museum of African Art on 1280 Fifth Ave- East Harlem. You can see a lot of activity as party is setting up and trucks of tables and catering equipment can be seen going in and out of the building.

As far as the Museum's opening date goes, it has been delayed several times because of funding issues at each phase.  Does anyone have an other updates?

☞ SHOP: Expansion of Ambassades on Lenox

Things are rather going slowly for Les Ambassades on Lenox over the summer but we noticed that a big part of the expansion was coming along nicely as of recent.  There used to be a new bodega on this corner of West 127th Street but that business quickly shuttered within a years time and the Senaglese-French eatery next door apparently took over the lease back this spring.

Plywood has been up out front for some time but now it looks like a nice arched entranceway has been carved out between the two spaces.  The interior design of the restaurant has been rather moderate in past incarnations so we are curious to see how things end up with the two spaces combined.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

☞ ARCHITECTURE: Flatirons of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas Avenue's diagonal path uptown really creates interesting triangle intersections by the major boulevards and developers had to work with these unique parcels of land over a century ago.  What one will find today are little miniature flatiron buildings like the one downtown that are wedge shaped with very ornate facade.  The above photo shows the residential apartments at the 116th Street intersection and the curvy cornice is surprisingly still intact.  We always tell folks to look up in NYC to discover beauty since many just go about their daily bustle without any regard to architectural wonders that surround them.

☞ EAT: Signs Up for Cheri on Lenox

Walking by Lenox and 121st Street yesterday, we noticed that signs were up to finally announcing the arrival of Cheri.  As folks might remember, Harlem Bespoke got the inside details on the Table D'hôte style restaurant that will be opening in the next couple of weeks or so.  This new style of dining is going to be the first of its kind in Central Harlem with the introduction of Cheri and there will also be an outdoor dining area in the back. We have more details  about Cheri in our past post: LINK

☞ BESPOKE: A Celebration at Maison Harlem

Maison Harlem on the corner of 127th Street is one our favorite restaurants in Harlem and apparently a notable downtowner has the same sentiment.  Management at Maison Harlem sent us the above photo of Barbara Walters (dressed in a chic leather pieced cardigan) who decided to drop by to host her birthday event at the French eatery right off of St. Nicholas Avenue.

Maison Harlem does not have the big PR machine behind them like some of the more high profile Harlem restaurants so having Ms. Walters celebrate an auspicious occasion at the bespoke bistro really is a confirmation of the great qualities of the new business.   Read more about the owner of Maison Harlem in our past post: LINK

☞ CONTACT: Got a Harlem Bespoke Tip?

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

☞ DRINK: Espresso at Serengeti Teas & Spices

Serengeti Teas & Spices is affordably priced so the shop that just debuted on FDB/8th Avenue by 122nd Street has us dropping by quite often and noticing something new each time.  We knew the owner was a rockstar when it comes to finding the best blends in African and Asian teas but the little skull espresso cups on the counter had us stay for a shot of coffee to see what they were all about on our last visit.  This espresso offering is topped off with the whipped milk of your choice and sprinkled with a few saffron threads to finish things off.  Needless to say, everything was on point.  Read more about Serengeti Teas & Spices in our past post: LINK

☞ DWELL: 237 West 138th Street in Contract

A rare shell on Strivers Row in Central Harlem with an initial asking of $879K has sold after arriving on the market last month.  Number 237 West 138th Street was one of those mystery houses that should have been a viable home on this notable landmark neighborhoods of Harlem but nothing has been happened to the townhouse in recent years.  The listing required an all cash transaction since the property is still an SRO with no certificate of non harassment in place: LINK

☞ SHOP: Native Shutters Temporarily

A Bespoke reader mentioned that Native at 118th on Lenox had a going away party of sorts on Sunday night and is now temporarily shuttered.  Apparently a renovation and new look will come about soon if word on the street is correct.  Any other tips out there on what's going on with Native?

☞ QUESTION: Ask Harlem Bespoke

If any readers out there have a question they would like to throw out to the Bespoke audience on neighborhood organizations, restoration services, property search or history, just send them over and we can possibly have it written up as a future post:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

☞ INTRODUCING: Chef Joseph Johnson 2013

Below is our most recent interview with Chef Joseph Johnson of the newly opened The Cecil supper club on St. Nicholas and 118th Street.  The graduate of the Culinary Institute of America was inspired to pursue his love for food by the cuisine of his Caribbean grandmother and would eventually work at notable restaurants such as Centro Vinoteca, Jane and Tribeca Grill.  As we mentioned in our first interview, Chef Johnson was introduced nationally back in 2011 at the age of 26 as one of the first winners of Rocco Dispirito's cooking competition on the Bravo cable network.  

HB: Chef Marcus Samuelsson changed the food scene uptown and we expect that Minton's and The Cecil will do the same. What should folks expect? 

JJ:  Great food. We are introducing a new cuisine to the food world as a whole, but it just happens to be in Harlem. For me; Harlem is the place to be right now, to live, to hang out, and of course to cook.

HB: What was the process of creating the new menu like? 

JJ: The process was great! I went to Ghana, Africa with chef/restaurateur Alexander Smalls to really understand African cuisine and better understand his vision of Afro-Asian cuisine. I was in Ghana for 16 days cooking and learning the foundation of West African food. I loved it!

It was one of greatest experiences of life. We made 37 different menus for Cecil. It was a hard and long journey to get here, but we really have something special. I am proud to be able to say I am a part of this.

HB:  Will the food at the The Cecil overlap with the menu at Minton's Playhouse? 

JJ: The Cecil is its own Restaurant with a separate menu and kitchen. I am Chef de Cuisine for The Cecil which is an Afro Asian American Brassiere, celebrating the foods of the African Diaspora. The Minton's cuisine is Southern Revival Cooking with low country notes , run by chef/restaurateur Alexander Smalls and chef de cuisine Banks White.

The overlap is we all work together as a team...taste masters running two separate restaurants under one roof. We are dedicated to the foods of the African Diaspora and it's contributions to the culinary landscape and conversation. I am excited and happy to work with such a knowledgeable, skilled and professional team.

HB: We always ask a fashion question for our Bespoke interviews. Who are your style icons or influences? 

JJ: HaHa! Honestly I'm really into cool chef coats right now that crooked brooks makes for me and I love a colorful sneaker. 

HB: What has surprised you the most about all the changes happening uptown? 

JJ: That people have actually realized that Harlem is in Manhattan. I think before people treated it like it was its own borough. It's nice to see people come here just to hang out.

HB: You had mentioned that you had many relatives that live in Harlem. How excited are they for you? 

JJ: My family is super excited that I have this opportunity to be a part of history. Many of them remember The Cecil and Minton's Playhouse, so they are proud that I am helping to bring them back to Harlem. Cooking in a historic building, that means something to this community.

As they say "Harlem has your back, and makes us proud."

☞ REMEMBER: 125th Street Storefronts c. 1939

An archival photo from 1939 shows the mom and pop stores that used to line 125th Street before some major changes started to happen.  We always wondered what those low level buildings on the commercial corridor used to look like back in the day and they were actually quite charming.  A lot of business left when half of Central Harlem's population fled to live elsewhere from the 1950s up until the end of the 1990s but today 125th Street is starting to pickup once.

Image courtesy of the digital collection at NYPL

☞ BESPOKE: Carved Doors on Lenox

The Mount Morris Historic District block just north of 122nd Street on Lenox Avenue has gone through some major changes in the past couple of years and the newly restored house on the corner is a testament to the contractor's dedication to keeping the integrity of the neighborhood.  We noticed that the entrance doorway to the building now has the requisite front glass door with a second decorative carved doorway which is quite standard for the landmark neighborhood.  This building was one of 3 on the corner that were entirely burnt out shells but have since been finished beautifully in a historically accurate fashion. Check out what this particular block used to look like in our past post: LINK

☞ REVIVE: Another Astor Row Restoration

There are still a handful of Astor Row townhouses in pretty rough shape but apparently another one of the landmark buildings just east of Lenox Avenue will be restored in the upcoming year. The 9-unit SRO at 52 West 130th has been neglected for a long time and the owner tried to get the abandoned New York City landmark converted into a community center back in 2011 but that proposal was rejected.

Now it appears that a full facade and window restoration has been approved so expect this shell to finally get the attention it has needed for at least the past decade.  Astor Row was named after the Astor family of New York since they founded the landmark block in 19th Century and the late Brooke Astor created a fund to renovate all of the houses on the block in 1990s but several of the owners declined the charitable offer at the time: LINK

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Monday, September 23, 2013

☞ MEET: Chef Joseph Johnson

The new Cecil supper club has its big opening today in Harlem and notably has a rising star in the kitchen that Harlem Bespoke happened to have interviewed in 2011.  Chef Joseph Johnson had just won a competition on a Bravo TV show hosted by celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito which also had Marcus Samuelsson on the panel as one of the guest judges.  Fast forward a couple of years later and Chef Johnson has returned uptown to be included in a dynamic team that will part of Harlem's ever evolving dining scene.  See below for the full Harlem Bespoke interview from 2011 when we first talked to the young chef:

HB: How did you get into the cooking profession?
JJ: I started cooking around age 7 with my grandmother in the kitchen. I saw a commercial for the Culinary Institute of America and instantly knew that was where I wanted to go for school. From that moment I would work as a dishwasher in country clubs and hotels in my local town in Tobyhanna PA (Poconos), just to get the experience of being in a kitchen.

HB: What are you working on these days?
JJ: I am working on a food social platform for chefs called and a healthy lifestyle oatmeal juice drink called OMJ that I am going to bottle myself.

HB: Has appearing on Rocco's Dinner Party opened new doors for you?
JJ: Yes it has. I've been offered to do an online food show, some pretty cool write ups and also working on a pop up restaurant that will take place over the summer.

HB: What are your family connections to Harlem?
JJ: This makes me laugh...are we talking old Harlem or new Harlem? My grandfather and aunt live on 147th and 7th. Another aunt is on117th and St. Nick. My grandmother lives in an area now called Manhattan Valley. So, ever since I was a kid I was always in Harlem visiting relatives.

HB: Are there any plans for opening a Harlem restaurant?
JJ: Not at the moment but if some one said they wanted me to partner up of course I would look into. I am totally open to the idea.

HB: What are your thoughts about all the new changes in Harlem?
JJ: I think it's great! The prospect for Harlem to be what it is now has always been there, it just took some people to really believe in it again. It was the place to be back in the day. I'm glad it's becoming a "hot-spot" in NYC again.

For more on Joseph Johnson, check out the chef's official website

☞ BESPOKE: Classic Design at Serengeti Teas

The new Serengeti Teas & Spices shop at 122nd and FDB/8th Avenue is a good example of a Harlem businesses catching up with the current trends that are happening city wide.  Antique and vintage packaging can be found all throughout the store that is reminiscent of European boutique tea parlors like Marriage Frere or imported products found at high end specialty grocers such as Dean and Deluca.  The owner has a family import business specializing in African and Asian tea but is also a graphic designer with a keen eye.  All of the packaging that has a decorative early century wallpaper feel to them is designed in house and custom made for each product.  Read more about Serengeti Teas & Spices in our past post: LINK

☞ INTRODUCING: El Boar-rio at La Marqueta

Sunday, September 29th, Noon-6:00PM, El Boar-rio Pig Roast at Flea Marquetta, 116th and Park Avenue.  Flea Marquetta at the La Marquetta underpass market on Park Avenue started up their Sunday fall pig roast for the first time this weekend and apparently it was a great success.  Folks should drop by the flea market next week and also get a serving of the pig roast, along with Sugar Hill Ale for only $10.  More at the Flea Marqueta site: LINK

☞ READ: Michelle Obama to Visit Studio Museum

The FLOTUS will be in town this Tuesday and will be hosting an event for all of the wives of the members of the UN General Assembly at the Studio Museum in Harlem.  Uptown's historic neighborhood has seen major support from the President and the First Lady in the past few years with visits to the Red Rooster for fund raising events and now this prominent event The Studio Museum. For more details on tomorrow's big event that will entertain an international crowd with a bit of local Harlem talent, check out this link: LINK

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Friday, September 20, 2013

☞ QUESTION: What's Up with 721 St. Nicholas?

A Bespoke reader asked us what is going on with the condo conversion for the landmark building at 721 St. Nicholas Avenue.  As many might remember, the developers who purchased the building tried to build an addition on top of the corner tower by 146th Street but was rejected a couple of times back in 2012 by the city's Landmark Commission.  Not much has happened since then and it has been almost a year since the last proposal was submitted for approval.  Looking at the DOB website, nothing seems to be happening at all and thus this restoration is once more in limbo.  Read more about the aforementioned addition here:  City Land

☞ BESPOKE: Decoupage on West 122nd Street

Local blocks have their way of decorating old tree planters and a creative variation on West 122nd Street just by ACP/7th Avenue seems to have come about.  We have seen picket fences, cast iron variations and now it appears that decoupage has made its debut.  Decoupage is the art of cutting out various pattern or printed paper and glueing them on to a surface for a decorative affect.  Everything is then sealed with some sort of clear coat and thus the final work of art remains intact.  Based on the quirky selection on this particular example of decoupage, we think certain designer duo on the block might have something to do with this one since the YSL cutting is quite remarkable to our fashionable eye.

☞ SHOP: A Storefront at 264 West 124th Street

The adaptive reuse residential building at 264 West 124th Street has one of the most unique commercial spaces on the FDB corridor but has been vacant until now.  Work permits have recently been placed at the shop which announces the arrival of a nail salon.  These beauty establishments have been showing up all around Harlem but pretty much have the same clinical aesthetic to them.  With the height of the ceilings and the unique quality of this building, maybe something a little more interesting as far as a better beauty concept will come about when this place finishes up.

☞ SEE: The Common Ground Festival 2013

Saturday, September 21st, 2:00PM, The Common Ground Festival at Morningside Park, 114th Street and Morningside Avenue.  Summer might be almost officially over, but you can still have plenty of fun in the sun. This family-oriented festival affords kids the opportunity to do just that this Saturday. Presented by Friends of Morningside Park (and taking place by the park’s Morningside Pond), the fete features face painting, balloon animals, puppet shows, live music and more. At 8pm, check out the giant handmade paper lanterns of the Morningside Lights procession, which winds through the park and illuminates the night.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

☞ INTRODUCING: New Awnings at The Cecil

The final finishes for The Cecil supper club happened yesterday as crew installed several gray awnings to the corner building in preparation for soft opening parties this weekend and the official debut on September 23rd.  Everything on this corner of 118th and St. Nicholas Avenue is now pretty dressed up and the exterior looks like it has been around for several decades which is a good thing.  Another interesting point is that the new logo shown in the second photo takes directly from the historic neon lights of the notable building.  Unfortunately the more famous signage at Minton's located around the corner was not restored in the same manner as the sister storefront: LINK

☞ EAT: Red Chili India Cafe on 116th

The fourth Indian restaurant to arrive in Harlem for 2013 will debut on 116th Street just west of Lenox Avenue.  A Bespoke reader sent in the above photo and mentioned that Red Chili Cafe is basically across the street from Amy Ruth's.   We definitely like the name of the new eatery which kind of has an old commercial charm to it even though its rather basic in aesthetics.  Central Harlem now has 3 Indian restaurants and West Harlem should get its first one in the coming months: LINK

☞ REVIVE: Cornice Replacement Options

This new wave of revitalization in Harlem is now bringing better quality restoration to the neighborhood and a missing cornice on a building is really not an option for many folks.  We alway link this article for those interested in having a new cornice installed to replace a missing one on their townhouse.  An average 20 foot cornice (without decorative mouldings) like the building at the right should run around $1,500 to replace in stamped steel. This in our opinion is much better option than nothing at all: LINK

☞ BESPOKE: The Mayor of Harlem on 145th

Surprisingly, Harlem does not have a more established street art scene (aside from the occasional amateurish building tagging) so we are always glad to discover any new cool artwork when walking the neighborhood.  With that said, we really appreciated a piece dedicated to one of the notable local jazz artists called The Mayor of Harlem which recently made an appearance at a building on West 145th Street in Hamilton Heights.  One of the decorative windows that had been sealed off at the said apartment residence made a perfect frame for a charming dedication to a local music legend.  Does anyone know the artist?