Thursday, October 31, 2013

☞ BESPOKE: Retro Views by Manhattan Avenue

This great vintage convertible was parked by lower Manhattan Avenue this past weekend and the architecturally intact block almost looked like a movie set for a split second.  This reminded us that a location scout previously asked us if there were any specific blocks in Harlem that would be good for a mid century video taping and we could only think of a handful that had actual appropriate signage.  In the past it would have been Lenox Lounge or Minton's but both those signs had been removed in 2013. We thus instead recommended Harlem Shake's facade or even the neon signage at The Cecil as a possible alternate option.

☞ LISTEN: Local Authors at Il Caffe Latte 145th

On Friday, November 1st, 6:00PM-9:00PM, the Harlem Works Co-working Space and Artists Collective will have a reading at Caffe Latte on 458 West 145th that will celebrate Harlem-based writers Milton Washington and Marc Polite . Taneeka Wilder, author of On the Precipice of Love Luminated: A Collection of Poems and Stories Sung From the Heart, will serve as M.C. The event is free, open to the public and will feature drink specials.  Readings will be begin at 7:00PM.

☞ REVIVE: The Alexandria Market

The unique bodega space at 112th on St. Nicholas Avenue has been shuttered for as long as we can remember but the old signage out front still adds a lot of character to this corner of South Harlem .  This space does not ever seem to be up for lease but could easily be a cool little cafe or lounge that reuses the original signage in a speakeasy sort of fashion.  Does anyone have any details on the Alexandria space?

☞ CELEBRATE: Halloween 2013 at Ginny's

Thursday, October 31st, Starting 9:00PM, The Third Annual Red Rooster Halloween Celebration at Ginny's Supper Club, under the Red Rooster at 310 Lenox Avenue, $15 at the door.  DJ Stormin Norman will be providing the groove for the Red Roosters popular annual party: LINK

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

☞ REMEMBER: Turk's Bar on 7th Ave circa 1958

A photo from 1958 shows some impressive neon at the corner of 118th and 7th Avenue.  If this lounge was still around today, we would most definitely stop by for a drink but Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard has yet to come up with anything as elaborately designed as Turk's Bar.  With the demise of the old signage at Lenox Lounge and Minton's, this sort of historic look is vanishing quickly in Harlem but new places such as Cantina or Harlem Tavern have distilled some of the nostalgic spirit.

Image courtesy the Museum of the City of New York


☞ BESPOKE: More Young Families in Harlem

We realized that the there are a lot more young families moving to Harlem after going to recent fall festivals and new restaurant openings.  It now seems every public outdoor event has some sort of kid friendly activity and some of the less formal restaurants are often packed with strollers.  On our first visit to the new Mountain Bird eatery on 145th Street, there were at least two families in the restaurant having a night out with the kids.

This is probably one of the untapped businesses ideas uptown since there are not many places specifically to go to for families to have a night out.  An ideal establishment would be accessible enough for a young family to go to lunch or an early dinner but also stylish enough for the younger crowd that eventually go out later in the evening. Bier International, Il Caffe Latte, Harlem Shake and Corner Social are a few places that get this mix right.

☞ SEE: Paranormal Evening at Morris-Jumel

Saturday, November 2nd, 8:00PM-9:00AM, Paranormal Evening at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace between 160th and 161st Street. Ever want to know what happens after hours at MJM? Do the spirits come out to play? Well now you can as the team from “Acoustic Archives” presents their recent eerie findings and invites you to spend the night with them as they investigate further. Please bring a sleeping bag and suitable sleep in attire. A light breakfast will be provided. The event is appropriate for adults & families with children ages 16 & up. Tickets are $50 per adult, $25 for children, advanced registration is required.Call 212 923 8008.

☞ CONTACT: Got a Harlem Bespoke Tip?

Send any tips and especially photos over our way if you have stories on your section of Harlem: harlembespoke@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

☞ EAT: Dinner Service at Il Caffe Latte 145th

Il Caffe Latte's second location on 145th Street was opened until only 4:00PM during the weekdays but now has debuted dinner service.  The cafe is still probably on the weekday schedule of Monday-Fridays but folks can now swing by up until 9:30PM to grab a bite after work.  Check out more interior photos of Il Caffe Latte in our past post: LINK

☞ DWELL: 160 West 136th Street in Contract

Number 160 West 136th Street has a contract out after reducing the asking price to $1.4 million.  The more modest townhouses in Central Harlem from 126th Street to 135th Street have been going for around this price range but above 135th Street now appears to be making some progress in the brownstone market.  This renovated property probably fared well because the finishes are of a higher standard than some of the more basic renovations found further south and there appears to be a lot of original details in the 1-family home.  More can be found on this brownstone on Streeteasy:  LINK

☞ SHOP: DSW Opens on 125th Street

Another major chain has opened on 125th Street in the past couple of weeks and DSW's arrival is indicative of the continual commercial interest in Harlem's main shopping corridor.  DSW Warehouse sells designer shoes at a discount and notably has a presence in Union Square downtown.  Most of Harlem's boutique businesses are now opening along the main boulevards or smaller side streets while 125th has become the more commercial element in uptown's retail mix.

☞ DRINK: Halloween Night in Harlem

Maison Harlem at St. Nicholas by 127th Street and Barawine on Lenox by 120th have set up a festive Halloween night for October 31st.  Both restaurants will give out complementary drink bracelets to revelers who dress up at both locations and a best costume grand prize will be awarded at midnight.  Click image to enlarge for details.

☞ FOLLOW: Harlem Bespoke Via Twitter

Harlem Bespoke also has a Twitter account for those who want daily updates about stuff that's happening in the neighborhood. If you Twitter, check out our Harlem tweets and join here: LINK.

Monday, October 28, 2013

☞ BESPOKE: The Fordham Cliffs of Harlem

The major landscape border for central Harlem are the Fordham Cliffs which are the elevated rocky formations to the west of all the main parks uptown.  Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park and Jackie Robinson Park all have the Fordham Cliffs as their western most wall.  Anything below the geological formation is considered Central Harlem from 110th to 155th (with Fifth Avenue is the east border).  Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights in West Harlem get their names because they are above the cliffs and thus in height of the neighborhood.  We constantly see the area below Morningside Park being named as a non-Harlem neighborhood and this not a correct perspective.

☞ SEE: The Graphics of the Apollo

Wednesday, October 30th,  6:30PM to 8:00PM, Harlem Focus | The Apollo Theater: Conveying "Soul" through Graphic Design, Cooper-Hewitt Design Center 111 Central Park North $10 General admission/$8 Senior Citizen/Free for students Graphic designer Araba Simpson of design studio ASENYA has worked with Harlem's historic Apollo Theater to convey its history, culture, and soul through printed and promotional materials. Simpson will discuss her path to design and the challenge of expressing the Apollo’s rich history through the medium of graphic design: LINK

☞ DWELL: 185 Lenox Avenue Townhouse

Number 185 Lenox arrived on the market in the past month for the asking of $3 million in the Mount Morris Park Historic District.  This location by 119th Street is one of the best ones below 125th Street but the 5-unit layout is really more for investors since it is fully occupied.  The interiors are updated with renter grade finishes without any original details: LINK

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Friday, October 25, 2013

☞ ARCHITECTURE: The Harry Houdini House

In honor of Halloween, we always like to republish one of our most popular post about Harlem's own Harry Houdini:

Upon becoming successful in both fame and love, Harry Houdini moved into a Harlem brownstone that he would live in until his death in 1926. The house was just completed in 1904 in a predominantly German and Jewish portion of the newly developed neighborhood of Harlem. Houdini bought the property for $25,000 and moved in with his wife Bess. Not only was it his home space, but also his office and work studio. The Harry Houdini House is located at 278 West 113th Street, between ACP/7th Avenue and FDB/8th Avenue.

☞ INTRODUCING: The Harlem Food Festival

Sunday, October 27th, 11:00AM-5:00PM, The Harlem Food Festival, on FDB/8th Avenue between 117th and 118th Street.  Check out the stands at the Harlem Food Festival this weekend in South Harlem.  New vendors such at the Luke's Lobster truck will be on hand along with local favorites such as Melba's, Serengeti Teas, Settepani, Lido and more.  There will be live music, children's activities and plenty of food.  Cash only.  Check out the full list of vendors for this event here: LINK

Photo courtesy Luke's Lobster via Twitter

☞ SEE: The East Harlem Harvest Festival 2013


Sunday, October 27th, 10:00AM-6:00PM, East Harlem Harvest Festival and El Boar-rio Pig Roast at Flea Marquetta, 116th and Park Avenue.  The 2nd Annual East Harlem Harvest Festival will happen this Sunday at the La Marquetta underpass market on Park Avenue.  Celebrate Fall with shopping, live entertainment, children's activities and workshops, games, food and fun for everyone.  The last El-Boar-rio Pig roast for the season will also be happening and the roast pig tacos along with Sugar Hill Ale for only $10 will be served up by 2:00PM in the afternoon.  More at the Flea Marqueta site: LINK

☞ SHOP: Harlem Yo Almost Ready to Open

Folks have been noticing that Harlem Yo on FDB/8th Avenue by 115th Street appears to be ready to open soon.  We have not heard any news yet but know that the owners are shutting down their Chill Berry frozen yogurt shop on upper Lenox and Harlem Yo will be their only storefront now.  It might just be getting a little cold for frozen yogurt but apparently the new shop will also have burritos and salads as part of the offerings.

☞ 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: HarlemBespoke@gmail.com

Thursday, October 24, 2013

☞ CELEBRATE: Halloween 2013 at Ginny's

Thursday, October 31st, Starting 9:00PM, The Third Annual Red Rooster Halloween Celebration at Ginny's Supper Club, under the Red Rooster at 310 Lenox Avenue, $15 at the door.  DJ Stormin Norman will be providing the groove for the Red Roosters popular annual party: LINK

☞ REMEMBER: The Clover Leaf Bar at Small's


A postcard showing Small's Paradise on 135th Street back in 1943 was probably the inspiration for the new interior of the one of Harlem most popular eateries.  This dynamic curved barrel design can be found today at the Red Rooster on Lenox Avenue but with a slight finish modification.  We especially like this trend of designer taking cues from early century decades and updating them slightly for modern times. The Clover Leaf Bar was probably one of the most unique ones to be found in Harlem back in the day and it now has a second life thanks to the design direction of Chef Marcus Samuelsson.

☞ EAT: Oysters and Jazz at Maison Harlem


Maison Harlem is celebrating its first year anniversary this week and we stopped by Monday to try out the $1 Oyster Happy Hour from 5:00PM-7:00PM.  The French bistro on 127th and St. Nicholas was one of our top picks for 2012 and continues to impress.  We expected just a typical evening out on the town but the jazz players started setting up at around 8:00 PM and some live music became the other order of the night.

This Happy Hour with the oyster special happens only on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Also make sure to tell the waiter that you want the special since they ten to mix it up with the standard oyster order which cost twice as much.  More details on Maison Harlem can be found in our past post: LINK

☞ DWELL: More Contracts at One Morningside

The new South Harlem construction called One Morningside appears to be doing extremely well even before completion.  About sixteen contract were out already over the summer and now it appears that twenty one units are accounted for.  Ten more condos have been released out of the 55 total and at this rate, the building should be doing quite well once it finally finishes up.  There are not a lot of new developments uptown these days so the market for this prime location (and yes this is Harlem) appears to be doing quite well.  More on Streeteasy: LINK

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

☞ BESPOKE: Can Harlem Compete with Brooklyn?

Reading a recent article on the opening of Minton's that compares the historic spot's revival to the internationally recognized Brooklyn food scene just had us concerned with one major misstep.  Part of  the dining experience is equally divided into quality of food, service and overall ambiance.  When Brooklyn comparisons are being made nowadays, owners talk about artisanal food trends but leave out the other major point that has put Brooklyn on the map.

Brooklyn a decade ago was much like Harlem in appearance but reinvented itself to look like the more trendy neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan that the young and fashionable could not afford anymore.  Old shops with drop ceilings, fluorescent lights, clinical drywalls and linoleum floors were replaced by new finishes that looked like they were as old as the building they resided in.   This to the well traveled crowd looked like the historic boutiques and eateries in Europe but was the New York City version.

Restauranteur Keith McNally really invented the downtown look which eventually became the Brooklyn aesthetic.   Odeon, Lucky Strike, Balthazar, Pravda or Pastis (to name a few) set the pace for what the new New York dining space would like in the new century.  This in turn was more a vintage look that fit well with the historic architecture of the big city.

So how does this all apply to Harlem?  The challenge now is that Harlem has a lot of historical spots but somehow the majority of interiors are still lagging behind.  If Harlem is to compete with the new Brooklyn, then uptown businesses need to look at the entire picture.  Some of our designer friends call that midtown hotel interior look "hospitality decor."  We all went to those types establishments over a decade ago but the dining scene has become more informal and more accessible since then.

If Harlem is to be more like downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn, there really has to be a major movement to move away from 90s hospitality aesthetics and move into more historically contextual design.  Food and service definitely have to hit the mark also but many folks will not step into a restaurant because the eatery has an outdated appearance.

☞ SHOP: Community Tree Giveaway at UGC 2013

Sunday, October 27th, 10:00AM-11:00PM, Urban Garden Center's MillionTreesNYC Community Tree Giveaway, 1640 Park Avenue at 116th Street. As part of the MillionsTreesNYC initiative, the Urban Garden Center in East Harlem will be giving away 100 trees for those who register online: LINK.  Trees will be available for pick up at the garden center under the overpass located at in Manhattan. Limit one tree per household**.

Signing up with this form will ensure a tree of the species you chose will be available between 10am-11am on Sunday May 6th. If a reserved tree is not picked up by 11am at Urban Garden Center 's Community Tree Giveaway your tree will be made available to attendees on a first come, first serve basis.

☞ CONTACT: Got a Harlem Bespoke Tip?

Send any tips and especially photos over our way if you have stories on your section of Harlem: harlembespoke@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

☞ REMEMBER: Crossing 117th & Lenox c. 1957


A photo from 1957 shows how busy the streets by lower Lenox Avenue used to be before the major population decline in Central Harlem.  From the 1950s until the end of the 1990s, Harlem would see half of its population leave for the suburbs or other parts of the city.  Over 100,000 left Central Harlem during those decades when crime and lack of opportunity drove many away.  Nowadays, the shops have returned to the boulevard that is the heart of Harlem but shoulder to shoulder pedestrian traffic is a thing of the past.  The lower photo was taken yesterday and the view of the landmark historic district has not changed much since then.

Image courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

☞ SEE: A Great Day on Strivers Row




The first annual Strivers Row House Tour was a great success this past weekend the landmark community made sure that all guests received some good old Harlem hospitality.  Strivers Row on 138th and 139th Street in Central Harlem has some of the most beautiful architecture in all of New York City but have rarely been shown to the public until now.

Some of the highlights included a personal walking tour by notable Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams (who was dressed up the for occasion in his distinct style), live jazz at one of the homes on the tour and some  Sugar Hill Ale for all to try out.  Mount Morris Park has consistently had a great yearly house tours but Strivers Row may now possibly be the other annual home event to watch out for in the future.

☞ DWELL: 453 Convent Avenue Townhouse

One of the townhouses on Convent Avenue just south of 150th Street is currently on the market for $1.2 million.  Apparently it has been in the same family for many generations and much of the original details have been preserved within including working gas fireplaces.  The single family home is on a quiet block adjacent to Sugar Hill's main historic district but the condemned houses surrounding the building might not make this one an easy sell.  More details on Streeteasy: LINK

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Monday, October 21, 2013

☞ QUESTION: Is Lenox below 125th Safe?

The question we receive often is whether a certain block in Harlem is safe.  One new reader who was planning to move to Harlem contacted us and wanted to know specifically if the 120s were safe around Lenox Avenue.  We in return mentioned that the area is safe enough for Whole Foods to decide to break ground on 124th Street in the upcoming months.  With that said, we also will mention that this is still New York City and no matter how improved a neighborhood becomes, everyone should be aware of their surroundings.

We always tell folks to pick a nice day, have lunch in the neighborhood, walk around the blocks that they are interested in and also head up to 125th Street to check out the scene.  Any seasoned New Yorker will recognize that Harlem is easily manageable especially if they have lived further downtown or in midtown before all of the major gentrification took over.

☞ ARCHITECTURE: Cornices on 126th Street

The blocks on 126th Street just east of Lenox Avenue have been going through major changes and the rooflines tell the story of the construction boom of the past decade.  Original cornices can be seen at many of the restored brownstones but some have had to be replaced because they probably were removed at one time.  Usually the entire line on the block will match if all is intact but one can see the variation in the above photo.

Cornices that are not intricately embossed are more affordable and some homeowners have gone this route than to fabricate an exact copy of the original which can be quite costly.  We rather prefer this route as apposed to leaving the top of the building bare which many have decided to do (especially when adding an addition).   Read more about cornice replacement in our past post: LINK

☞ SHOP: Scientology Arrives on Fifth Avenue

The Scientology branch in Harlem shuttered a small storefront on East 116th streets some time ago but now it appears that the controversial church is back bigger than ever. We walked by Fifth Avenue and 126th Street this past weekend and noticed that the signs were up for the religious group at this section of Central Harlem (which is technically the east side).  The original space was much more modest and this apparently is a move up since a couple of celebrities have also moved into this part of the neighborhood.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

☞ REMEMBER: Jitterbug at The Savoy c. 1939

A photo taken in Central Harlem circa 1939 shows the energy of the crowd at The Savoy Ballroom during the height of its popularity as one of the great social venues of New York City.  The dance was the jitterbug and a big band would have been playing in the background. One can always discern The Savoy interiors in these old Harlem photos because of the curved, art deco walls in the background which were very unique to the space.  As we have mentioned in the past, the building on 140th and Lenox was torn down for middle income housing several decades ago and the only thing left to indicate the lost landmark is a bronze plaque: LINK

Archival image courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

☞ DWELL: 27 West 127th Street in Contract

Number 27 West 127th Street is in contract after being on the market for one month at an initial asking of $1.499 million.  This appears to be the price range working for a modest Central Harlem brownstone on a decent enough block that is near to Lenox Avenue's commercial corridor.  As far as interiors go, everything is renovated but the updates are on the moderate side with not much original detail.  More on Streeteasy: LINK

☞ INTRODUCING: Minton's Opens on Monday

The revival of Minton's at 118th and St. Nicholas Avenue will open on Monday, October 21st.  Everything appears to be very formal in the new, modern interior and the menu is a Southern prix fixe offering at $55 or $90 per guest.  Minton's Playhouse was originally a jazz venue so folks can expect live music every night of the week. More details can be found on Grub Street: LINK

☞ SEE: The First Annual Strivers Row Home Tour

First Annual Historic Strivers Row Tour, Sunday, October 20, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM, West 138th and 139th Street between ACP/7th and FDB/9th Avenue.  The Strivers Row landmark neighborhood is rarely open to the public but now folks can check out the magnificent homes at the first annual house tour.  Tickets are $25 and may be purchased in advance on the official website: LINK

Below is the official schedule of this historic event in Central Harlem:

11:00AM to 4:00PM: Follow the Self-Guided Tour of Stately Striver's Row Homes at your leisure. Visit 8 or more venues including inside brownstone homes, urban live/work apartments and landmark churches.

11:30PM and 2:00PM: Attend our Seeing Striver's Row: A Private View! with renowned historian Harlem Lost and Found author, Michael Henry Adams. You'll examine three extraordinary houses in the King Model Houses Historic District which are not included on the regular tour and ordinarily are strictly private.

1:00PM and 3:00PM: Join the Architectural Walking Tour: explore this historic neighborhood's rich exterior architectural detail and history.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

☞ EAT: Lunch at Il Caffe Latte 145th Street


Il Caffe Latte 145th Street opened about a month ago on 145th Street and we dropped by for lunch one afternoon to try out the new chicken burger on the menu.  This second branch of the original Lenox Avenue shop is located just east of Amsterdam and serves up a pretty straight forward menu.  A customer had mentioned the new burgers on a past visit so we tried out the savory addition and would recommend it over their standard beef burger.  Il Caffe Latte is only open from 8:00AM-4:00PM from Mondays through Fridays now so make sure to drop  by and support this local business. More details on Ill Caffe can be found in our past post: LINK

☞ READ: New Lenox Lounge Space Delayed

A recent article in DNAinfo confirms that the new version of the former Lenox Lounge will not be ready to open until January 2014 at the earliest.  Past reports mentioned that the iconic space at 124th and Lenox Avenue could possibly debut again by Holiday 2013 but this does not seem to be the case.  A landlord dispute between the former tenant has ended up in a disfigurement of the iconic jazz joint and a multi-million lawsuit is still being worked out because of this issue.

Notable restauranteur Richard Notar planned to reinvent the space as a viable new business with serious old school aesthetics and an accessible menu but the vandalism of the lounge has stalled that vision somewhat.  From what we can gather from the article, Mr. Notar still has hopes having the Lenox Lounge name returned to its original location but only time will tell if that wish will ever happen: LINK

☞ INTRODUCING: 220 St. Nicholas Ready to Rent

The development known as 220 St. Nicholas Avenue was stalled for a couple of years but new investors have turned the building around quickly in 2013.  This new construction at the corner of 121st Street is at one of the best locations on the lower FDB corridor in South Harlem and apparently is asking for market rate rents because of that fact.  There currently are 5 active listings on Streeteasy ranging from $3,000 to $8,000 per month for 1 bedrooms and 2 bedroom units: LINK

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

☞ DRINK: Ginger & Rooibos at Serengeti Teas


Those uptown who find themselves getting a bit of sore throat because of the cold season should drop by Serengeti Teas & Spices on FDB/8th Avenue by 122nd Street.  The owner of the bespoke shop recommended a hot cup of the red rooibos tea with ginger and honey as a natural remedy when asked for the best choice.  We were given sample of the ginger and honey before the tea was served up and have to say it really was refreshing.

The tea itself really was perfect and had a large piece of ginger floating in the cup to add an invigorating kick which definitely made one feel instantly better when sipping the brew.  This little tea shop is one of the best new businesses of 2013 and we highly recommend it for those looking for something a little soothing during the fall season. Read more about Serengeti Teas & Spices in our past post: LINK

☞ DWELL: 465 West 141st Street Townhouse



Number 465 West 141st Street has been on the market since last year even though it is one of the better townhouses on the market.  This 18.8-foot-wide, single family home has had its price reduced to $2.295 million which appears reasonable since all of the original details have been restored within the interior and the updated features are all contextual but modern.

As far as location goes, this block in Hamilton Heights is one of the best kept ones and not too far from the express trains at 145th Street.  In just the past year, better restaurants such as The Grange have opened nearby so this home might now just be more attractive to higher end buyers than it was back in 2012:  More on Streeteasy: LINK