Friday, February 28, 2014


The cold weather is back again and the idea of eating or drinking by a warm fireplace might sound quite right but apparently only one place in Harlem has one.  Actually, Harlem Public in Hamilton Heights at Broadway and 149th Street has a wood stove at corner nestled between a couple of old church pews from Mt. Moriah.  


We have been receiving messages to our inbox about that one Harlem church which tends to put up controversial messages for public viewing and thought it was appropriate to review some of the great gay black history of the Harlem Renaissance years.  This old post card of the Ubangi Club within the former Lafayette Theatre complex not only shows that these racy men of color had a lot panache but also apparently invented twerking by the early 1930s (although the duo saxophone embrace evidently never caught on). Gladys Bently was a legend in those years and the black lesbian pioneer owned the Clam House on west 133rd Street which definitely was a euphemism of sorts.  From what we would gather, Miss Bentley's impressive frame and predisposition to wearing men's suits probably had more than a few husbands uptown keeping a careful eye on their wives.

Another great gay Renaissance moment was when the daughter of W.E.B Du Bois married Countee Cullen in Harlem's celebrity wedding of the century but soon divorced because the famous poet spent all of his special moments with his best man Harold Jackman.  The true marriage of beauty and intellect was definitely between these two African-American men based on what was said behind closed doors.  Langston Hughes of whom Harlem remembers fondly was also a gay icon of the period even though his personal life was mostly kept secret during those times.  It has been written that"Virile young men of very dark complexion fascinated him."

We can go on with all the great stories but folks will believe what they will believe and the sign after the jump has caused quite a stir as of late.   We just tell our gays of Harlem to be out and proud whether you are black, white, lesbian, transgender or whatever since uptown has always had a rich, diverse community.


A few years back, butcher shops were trending in Central Harlem but now only one has stood the test of time.  It all started with Harlem's Meat on St. Nicholas Avenue at 124th Street back in 2010 and then Meat Market opened on upper Fifth Avenue a year later.  Harlem Shambles would then arrive on lower FDB by the end of 2011 but now is the only one remaining.


Bespoke admirers who appreciate design and history should catch the ongoing Gilded New York exhibit at MCNY.  The concise collection has fashion, room vignettes, lots of wallpaper and a nice collection of Tiffany jewelry from the era.  This East Harlem Museum facing Central Park is one of the best in the city.

Gilded New York at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street. Inaugurating the Museum’s Tiffany & Co. Foundation Gallery, Gilded New York explores the city’s visual culture at the end of the 19th century, when its elite class flaunted their money as never before. In New York, this era was marked by the sudden rise of industrial and corporate wealth, amassed by such titans as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould, who expressed their high status through extravagant fashions, architecture, and interior design. The exhibition presents a lavish display of some 100 works, including costumes, jewelry, portraits, and decorative objects, all created between the mid-1870s and the early 20th century: LINK


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Thursday, February 27, 2014


A few friends had mentioned that the bathrooms at the Red Rooster were quite special but we did not get a chance to check them out until a recent visit.  Most of finishes at the top floor of Marcus Samuelsson's famous eatery are decidedly modern but the white walls of the two water closets towards the back are a little more classic and have intricate moulding along with some nicely framed art.

What is exceptional about the aesthetic mix here is that each frame is vintage but everything comes out more modern because of the mix of different details.  Bamboo, deep bevels, gold rimmed and decorative carved elements are all represented. Then there are the portraits contained within that tells the story of generations and reminds us all of the great people from our collective histories.   With that said, we recommend anyone stopping by for a drink at the main bar to definitely make it a point to head towards the back to see the hidden artwork of the Red Rooster


The Daily News has a story on how one fashion magazine editor who lives uptown is now launching the movement to get Citibike to arrive in Harlem.  William Buckley who moved from London to East Harlem has started a campaign through Change.Org that requests the city to not neglect Harlem in the popular Citibike program that has sprouted all over Manhattan in the past few years but has missed the more northern reaches of the island completely.  Queens and Brooklyn are even set to get their own bike stations in the near future but somehow uptown's iconic neighborhood has been left out once more.  With all the local residents who want to be less dependent on cars and also the many tourist that visit Harlem, this would make total sense for the city in our opinion.  A day after the story went up, 100 signatures have been received and those who want to support this idea should sign here:  LINK


A former SRO brownstone just by Lenox Avenue has been gutted for quite some time at 107 West 118th Street and some neighbors might just be wondering what is to come along when the work finishes up. We have a picture the permit after the jump.


Send any tips and especially photos over our way if you have stories on your section of Harlem:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Custom Fuel Pizza opened in South Harlem today to a decent crowd and we were able to get the first review in before lunch hour ended.  Everything we have heard about the DC chain turns out to be true and our first Custom pizza experience has left us curious on the variety of other offerings on the menu.


Food critic Alan Richman takes a tour of Harlem's top three new restaurants including Minton's, The Cecil and Mountain Bird.  After reading the GQ article, one gets that the food critic really has a high taste level and pretty much knows what he is talking about.  Out of the three eateries, one of them receives the best overall review for food, decor and service while the other two reviews are a bit more mixed.  Read more of the feature which is a one of the better articles on the Harlem dining scene that we have read in some time: LINK

New York Magazine's Grub Street sums up the Richman article today also for those who want the edited version: LINK

Here is Eater's translation of the long article: LINK


The most expensive asking price for a townhouse uptown is apparently in East Harlem at 16 East 129th Street for the asking of $3.89 million  At this price point we, expect a lot of restored original details and high end, contextual finishes that one would find within a house featured in Architectural Digest.  This house apparently is not that home and even has a tenant living on one of the floors already.  Not too far away, actor Neil Patrick Harris purchased Harlem's most expensive townhouse for $3.6 million last year but that interior was quite spectacular.  Check out this pricy East Harlem brownstone's interior on the broker site: LINK


One of the most distinct early century passage tunnels in the city has been hidden away over by the Hudson until recently.  We happened to walk by the area along the south border of West Harlem over the weekend and noticed how this architectural structure could really be great for a location scout working on  film or photography.


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Tuesday, February 25, 2014


This rare photo from 1933 shows a very dapper Langston Hughes posing glamorously. Consuelo Kanaga captured the Harlem Renaissance artist in this closeup which looks almost like a fashion editorial.  Most portraits of Hughes are at a distance and were often more formal in his early years.  There is definitely something about black and white film that captures a certain mood and this photo is a prime example.

With that said, It was time to rework the blog into a cleaner format as is fashionable with the times.  Black and white graphics are quite in style now for web design but we did leave a bit of color and imagery to keep things a little unique.


A recent article in DNAinfo reveals the efforts of Community Board 9 to save the interior of the Hamilton Theatre at 146th and Broadway.  Working with the Landmark Preservation Comission,  CB9 has made it possible to have luxury towers built behind the theater in hopes to getting a residential developer in who will help fund the complete restoration of the intact interior.

The main issue here is that the commercial developer who purchased the grand landmark never intended to fix up the facade and only wanted to attract a large retailer for the Broadway portion of The Hamilton.  CB9 has now put forth an ambitious plan to aid in restoring the back theater by suggesting that condos be built. Condos are being developed in the neighborhood with the purchase of historic property but most of the old structures are being demolished.  This development idea will not only help restore the building along with the ornate interior, but also will bring in a community space worthy of banquets and grand cultural events.

What needs to happen now is a partnership with a residential developer (since the current owner deals solely in retail) and also some sort of non-profit like Friends of the Highline to come in and run the financing along with the operations of the community theater space.  Anyone with connections should really check this development out for it could be one of the most breathtaking adaptive reuse concepts uptown.  Outside of the Apollo, we do not know of any other Harlem Theater that has faithfully been restored to its original design on the outside and inside.

More details in DNAinfo: LINK


We have been focusing on the lack of better retail in Harlem this year and the only exception uptown that is doing well is MAC cosmetics.  Most folks who shop in the neighborhood have multitude of affordable options such Old Navy, H&M, American Apparel, The Gap Outlet Store and DSW to choose from but an actual elevated brand is a rare find on 125th Street.  The MAC 125th Street location just west of ACP/7th Avenue is always busy and might just be the right retail formula for the better market businesses uptown to follow.  Women will spend $16 on the designer lipstick because it is an affordable luxury and the brand has campaigns that are very inclusive to all demographics.  Anything overly far reaching has failed so far uptown so finding the right balance between status and price is still a key issue at this point in time. Any suggestion on what other shops could do well in Harlem's retail environment (besides Trader Joe's)?


After a bit of a delay, Custom Fuel Pizza at 123rd Street and FDB/8th Avenue has announced that they will be opening tomorrow, Wednesday, February 26th.  The notable DC chain first announced an debut several weeks back via their official website but signage announcing that fact at the new shop never materialized.  Walking by the South Harlem corner in recent days, we noticed that an opening date sign has since been posted.

Custom Fuel looks like a casual spot but has pizza made for adults with discerning taste so we are not sure if it will be kid friendly which has been an issue with the other Harlem pizzeria on lower FDB: LINK

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Monday, February 24, 2014


This article original appeared in 2010 and Harlem Bespoke is publishing the video once more in memory of The Nest Club.

Channel 13 has their new City Concealed series up for the 2010 season with the first story on the main Swing Street of Harlem in the 1920's and 1930's.  The blocks between Lenox and 7th Avenue at the time had the most dense concentration of speakeasies in the entire uptown village. Unlike many of the bigger established clubs (i.e Cotton Club), these business were owned by African-Americans and served an integrated clientele. Mae West apparently dated one of the owners at The Nest, Tillie's Chicken Shack founded its first outpost, and Glady's Clam Bar was owned by lesbian proprietor Gladys Bentley. Check out the Channel 13 site for more details:


Another historic Harlem building has been torn down and replaced by a new glass structure.  We walked by 169 West 133rd Street this past weekend and notice a condo-like new construction on the spot that The Nest club was located at.  This African-American owned speakeasy just east of ACP/7th Avenue launched all of the smaller, integrated clubs on the block known as Jungle Alley during the Prohibition Era and celebrities such as Mae West used to drop by to check out the scene (which apparently included one of the owners).  DOB paperwork has it that this is a new community space but we personally would have thought it best to building up on the old structure so that the future generations could have had at least a glimpse of this street's great past while participating in planned local activities.


The Landmarks Preservation Commission is meeting with homeowners within the current Mount Morris Park Historic District today at the Head Start at Ascension Presbyterian Church on Mount Morris Park West to discuss the much talked about extension of the neighborhood.  Most of the protected area of Mount Morris Park is located between Lenox and the actual park but the extension would reach all the way west now to ACP/7th Avenue.  Below is part of the letter LPC has sent out prior to the meeting:

In 2013, Commission staff surveyed sections of the Mount Morris Neighborhood adjacent to the existing Mount Morris Park Historic District. The Commission staff identified boundaries they recommended should be brought forward for consideration as the extension of this district. Last Year on April 22, 2013, Commission staff presented information about the proposed historic district at a community meeting in your neighborhood.

On Monday, February 24, 2014 at 6:00pm, the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association is holding a meeting at which Commission staff will again present information about the proposed historic district. If you were unable to attend last year's meeting, the February 24th meeting will provide another opportunity for you to learn about the proposed district and the Commission's designation and regulatory processes. If you would like more information, please contact Community Outreach Coordinator Michael Own at (212)- 669-7889 or by email at to arrange a meeting or a conference call to discuss the proposed historic district and potential regulatory impact on your property. 

We have been hearing about the Mount Morris Park Historic District Extension for several years now and it finally seems that LPC is seriously doing something about it.  Mount Morris Park was our Number 1 pick for best Harlem neighborhood in 2013 and deserves to be protected in a bigger way: LINK

The full PDF Map can be found here: LINK


The abandoned tenement buildings at 108-110 East 116th were apparently sold over a year ago and now has gone through an incredible transformation.  We walked by the block just east of Park Avenue a few months back and noticed that the entire facade has been meticulously restored.  In the not-too-distant past, budget developers would take down expensive building details such as the cornice or remove old decorative carvings but this has been a full restoration project for the East Harlem residential buildings.  Currently the lower retail space has finished up but an anchor tenant has yet to arrive.


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Friday, February 21, 2014

☞ SHOP: Sugar Hill Market Launches March 30th

Our sister spinoff retail site Sugar Hill Market announces the first indoor boutique event date will be March 30th.  More details to come but those interested should read more in today's update: LINK

☞ REMEMBER: Inside The Palm Cafe circa 1950

We just added this old postcard of The Palm Cafe on 125th Street to our archival collection and one can see what the historic music spot looked like back around 1950. This establishment was apparently considered a modern luxury at the time and one can see huge murals, a checkered floor, a long bar, well appointed booths and actual palm trees along the back walls.  Jimi Hendrix apparently had his start here but somehow the establishment shuttered in the following decade or so and is mostly forgotten.  The building still stands today and we have an exterior photo up in our past post: LINK

☞ EAT: Mountain Bird Makes More News

Critics have been discovering Mountain Bird on 145th Street and we definitely think the tiny restaurant in the northern reaches of Central Harlem should be the model of success for future eateries uptown.  The New York Observer previously published a scathing article about Red Rooster in the past but just posted a review touting that Mountain Bird serves up the Best Poultry in the City.  Then there is the write-up in Serious Eats which points out that most of the other restaurants opening in Harlem have a lot of hype and fail to deliver but Mountain Bird is the real deal.  A feature in the Village Voice published this week calls the 19-seat boutique restaurant Harlem's newest destination spot.

While bigger flashier establishments have opened in Harlem, Mountain Bird has come out on top because it has done exactly the opposite of the heavy hitters.  First of all the location between upper FDB and ACP is really random and not one of the prettiest areas in town but lines have been formed outside because the strong word of mouth (diners should make a reservation or be prepared to wait).  The focus here is also on food in an approachable environment.  Soft opera music plays in the background instead of loud, trendy current music and there are no television screens.  This all points out to a fine dining experience which has guests paying attention to what's being served and not having diners feel like they are having a night out at the club which is a refreshing change.

Another factor pointed out with all of the reviews is that the cost is really affordable for this quality of better dining.  Most items on the menu are well under $20 and the one or two items that are slightly higher do not even get close to $30 a plate.  Original dishes such as the "head to toe" appetizers or the  ostrich tartare are a revelation to the weary foodie but standards such as cassoulet are approachable to less adventuresome eaters.

Then there is the authenticity of the establishment.  Mountain Bird's husband and wife team literally run the place without much additional help.  Big restaurants have larger staff in the back and front of their businesses but somehow service uptown can be quite spotty.  MB's service is impeccable on all areas and proves that efficiency is more important than having a large staff.  So here's to hoping that those opening restaurants uptown in the near future pay attention to what's going on at Mountain Bird for the formula absolutely works and should be the standard for Harlem.

☞ SEE: Club Harlem at the Apollo 2014

February 21st-23rd, Club Harlem at the Apollo, 253 West 125th Street between FDB and ACP.  The Club Harlem series will be showing this weekend at the Apollo which features the legendary Maurice Hines and Margot B of Boardwalk Empire.  There will be a big band in the background also for the this production which provides a bit of Broadway theatrics to its look back at the Harlem Renaissance.  Check out the video and get tickets on the Apollo site: LINK

☞ DWELL: 58 West 129th Street Rises

Another round of condos are now arriving in Harlem after a relatively quiet period in the past couple of years and 58 West 129th Street is well on its way.  This new construction broke ground last year but has not started to rise vertically until the past month or so.  The location next door to Lenox Coffee used to be a nondescript, single level building that was the meeting hall where the Harlem Mormons congregated until a bigger temple was built on Lenox Avenue.  Check out the final rendering of the forthcoming 7-story building in our past post:  LINK

Thursday, February 20, 2014

☞ REMEMBER: The House Beautiful of Harlem

If there ever was a building that needed an individual landmark designation in Harlem, The Lafayette Theatre should have been the one.   This central Harlem establishment was called The House Beautiful by locals and had numerous clubs such as Connie's Inn and The Ubangi Club along with being the birthplace of Harlem's black theater on a national level thanks to non other than Orson Wells.  So what happened?

It probably would be easy to blame the developer for tearing down the building on the corner of 131st and ACP/7th Avenue but the neglect of the landmark had been many decades in the making.  By the 70s, one corner of the building had been demolished and by the time the 90s rolled around the church that owned the theater decided to remove all of the ornaments on the main facade.

The land was finally sold by the mostly shuttered church over a year ago, the remaining structures demolished and the pretty standard glass residential building rising on the spot will now have a new house of worship within.  It appears that all involved will have something to gain but Central Harlem will be the big loser as far as its historic past is concerned.

☞ EAT: Salon Dining and Food History at Ginny's

A Conversation in Literature & Food, featuring writer Hilton Als and hosted by Marcus Samuelsson, on Monday, February 24 at 8:00 PM at Ginny's Supper Club underneath Red Rooster Harlem (310 Lenox Avenue at 125th St), as the second event in a newly-launched series of salon style dinners. In honor of Black History Month, the evening will feature a discussion about African-American literature and its celebration of food. A four-course dinner menu paired with wine will be served during the conversation, with dishes inspired by the literary works discussed.

Guests should expect island flavors, Southern American influences and Harlem Renaissance inspired indulgences. Highlights will include: Camarones, Tostones, Chicharone & Frijoles Negro Salt Baked Red Snapper with roasted corn cous cous & coconut broth Braised Bacon with butter beans, fried egg, crispy cookscomb & cornbread Tenderloin of Beef with brisket croquette, morel-savoy cabbage ragout & marrow sauce Tickets are $75 per person and can be purchased here or by calling Ginny's Supper Club at 212.421.3821.

☞ DRINK: A'dar Lounge Opens by 116th

A tip came in that a Moroccan lounge called A'dar has opened on Lexington Avenue by 116th Street. The location is a bit odd but this lounge and hookah bar looks a lot better than the less finished looking establishment that opened on lower FDB last year.  We kind of wish instead of all the neon, that there were more ethnic flourishes such as the decorative tiles that are so amazing in Morocco but some of the detailing is a least there within.  Check out all of the interior photos on Yelp: LINK

☞ INTRODUCING: A Coffee Grinder Anniversary


Thursday, February 20th, 9:00PM -1:00AM, Coffee Grinder @ Lenox Coffee with DJ Tad Haes of Occupy Disco, 60 West 129th, east of Lenox Avenue.  Congratulations to the monthly party Coffee Grinder for bringing a bit of gay diversity back to Harlem.  The Thursday night event features new DJs and is the meeting spot for the LGBT community of Central Harlem.   Get ready to dance and drink...and walk home! Come meet the neighbors at this gay mixer that is free and open to all:

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

☞ BESPOKE: An Inspiration From Connie's Inn

Italian fashion powerhouse Prada released a series of photos this week inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and the one most distinct point of reference can be found in old photo's of Connie's Inn.  As one can see, the clothes in the collection are mainly modern but the hair and the setting of the campaign refers to Harlem's Jazz years.  We picked out Connie's Inn because old photos always show a circular decorative ceiling which often had plush fabric radiating out from the center light fixture.  As far as modern day Harlem goes, these clubs have been slowly dismantled over the decades and the building that housed Connie's was sold and demolished to make way for condos in the past year.

How great would it to have a new establishment in Harlem that actually takes a fashionable example from some of Harlem great old clubs?  Ginny's Supper Club at Red Rooster comes to mind but nothing else quite comes close to the romantic qualities of early 20th century interiors that seem be making its way to other establishments in the city but has skipped Harlem for the most part.

☞ INTRODUCING: A Charter School for Sugar Hill

There are a lot of charter schools in Harlem especially closer to and below 125th Street but we noticed that the Global Community Charter School has now opened next door to the corner church at 421 West 145th Street by Convent Avenue.  There have been a lot of rhetoric on charter schools in the past but the local demand for them appear to keep the movement going.  More on Global Community Charter on the schools official website:  LINK

☞ READ: Is Lower FDB the New Park Slope?

A DNAinfo article came out recently that reports on a controversy that has the many of the new families uptown in an uproar because of a child seating policy at one local restaurant.   Bad Horse Pizza opened a few years on FDB by 120th Street and has now made headlines for refusing to seat a 12-party reservation which consisted mostly of kids from the neighborhood. The article points out that this part of South Harlem was full of empty lots and crime not so long ago but now it appears that an army of families have arrived in recent years who in turn have not taken kindly to this particular eatery because of a less than child-friendly point of view.  Bad Horse Pizza is also priced more than the typical take-out place with toppings that include gorgonzola cheese, garlic shrimp and skirt steak.  This situation reminds us of when Park Slope in Brooklyn went through major gentrification several years ago and stories like this one was all too common.  Any thoughts on the matter?

More on the story in DNAinfo:   LINK

☞ REVIVE: Land at 535 Manhattan Avenue

The only brownstone lot on Manhattan Avenue down by 122nd Street is apparently up for sale again.  This 15-foot-wide piece of land has been on the market in the past 4 years but there has not been any progress in the sale of the parcel.  DOB records shows that a brownstone was demolished on the site back in 1967 so the land has been unused for quite some time.  This part of South Harlem by Morningside Park was our Number 2 pick for best micro-nabe in 2013 but the asking price was quite hefty a few years back for such a narrow space: LINK

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

☞ REMEMBER: On 125th & 7th circa 1950

An old magazine page from around 1950 shows a fully intact 125th Street before some of the major changes would happen in the next decade.  The Apollo Theater can be seen in the background along with the Victoria Theatre which would have still been open for business.  Other major landmarks such as The Harlem Opera House can be seen along with the arched entrance of the bank that was located on the same side of the boulevard.

From this period on up until the end of the 90s, Central Harlem would start losing almost half of its total population and thus would not be able to sustain the economies needed to maintain these cultural centers.  Now slowly, but surely, theaters are starting to open again on 125th Street and people are returning to Central Harlem but the overall population today is still not as substantial as it was during the 1950s.

☞ DWELL: 465 West 141st Street Sold Higher

UPDATE:  Public Records/estimate on Trulia has changed to an even higher number since this post was written and the data entry to that site seems to be in question for the number listed.  This property was pulled off the market recently and ACRIS does not officially show a sale.  The post has been removed and Harlem Bespoke  regrets any misunderstanding within the report.

☞ LISTEN: Dandy Wellington at The Grange

Sunday, February 23rd, 6:00PM-9:00PM, Dandy Wellington and his Band at The Grange, 1635 Amsterdam at 141st Street, no cover.  Dandy Wellington is a Harlem original who has a big band in the Jazz Era tradition of the 30s and 40s.  We see Dandy perform downtown quite often but now the bespoke bandleader will be introducing the Sugar Hill Stomp this Sunday at the Grange.  Make sure to book a reservation and experience this one of a kind performer who brings back the heady times of old Harlem.  Reservations at the Grange Tel: (212) 491-1635

For a preview of Dandy Wellington and his band, check out this short video of performances around town:  LINK

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☞ SHOP: BTH Restaurant in Manhattanville

A tip came in that BTH (By The Hudson) restaurant and lounge will be arriving at the commercial space just behind Dino BBQ at 125th Street and 12th Avenue.  The newly renovated storefront with river views has been empty for 5 years and now a restaurant just off the Hudson will arrive apparently this year.  This corner of industrial Manhttanville faces the West Harlem Piers park and should be a pretty interesting destination especially during the summer months.  We could not find much else on the establishment so if anyone else has more details, please do share.