Thursday, April 30, 2009

☞ REMEMBER: 1923 Studebakers

During the year that Manhattanville's Studebaker Factory was built, cars still looked like carriages. The wheels started to get smaller and covered, but the top section still looked like a horse could pull it. Not many of these are left, and only serious collectors have complete vehicles. Very handsome, indeed. See previous post on the Studebaker Factory: LINK

☞ EAT: The Studebaker Cafe

Opened for almost one year now, the Studebaker Cafe has made a quiet debut in Manhattanville's premier manufacturing building. The interior has been fully restored on the bottom floor with serious coffee being served. The food selection seems a bit pre-packaged, but the spot is worth dropping by if one needs a quick break in the area before heading to the West Harlem Piers. The Cafe apparently is open only during the daytime. Located at 615 W 131st Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue. Tel.(212) 926-1999. Take the 1 Train to 125th Street.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

☞ TOUR: The Little Red Lighthouse

Another spectacular run in we had while bicycling this weekend was seeing the Little Red Lighthouse at the base of the George Washington Bridge. Along the bike route of Riverside Drive, many cyclists and joggers take a detour around 178th Street to take a look at the lighthouse and the spectacular Hudson views. Built in 1880 on the New Jersey side, the lighthouse was dismantled in 1917 and erected on the New York City side in 1921.

By 1947, the government made the decision to no longer use the lighthouse and thus proceed the process that would eventually result in the demolition of the structure. By the time the famous children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge had already been written and locals rallied to preserve this icon of the past. This was extraordinary, for the powerful Landmarks Commission was yet to be formed and the sheer number of local preservationists saved the lighthouse on their own volition. The main underpass to the bike trail along the Hudson is at 96th Street, so rent your gear at West Side Bicycle and head up north. See previous post for bicycle rental information: LINK

☞ READ: The Little Red Lighthouse

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge is a children's book classic that is based on a true structure north of Harlem. Written in 1942 by Hildegarde H. Swift, the book is a great introduction to an iconic piece of landscape uptown. We recently rediscovered the aforementioned tower of rouge and thought a refresher down memory lane would be apropos.

☞ TOUR: Riverside Drive Arcades

There have only been a couple of these neo-classical viewing arcades left on Riverside Drive. The arcade in the photo is known as Inspiration Point and can be found somewhere between 180th to 190th Street adjacent to the Riverside Drive bikeway. Built originally for pedestrian viewing of the Hudson River, the columns support a trellis and jut out onto an elevated section of Riverside Drive. For those less inclined to cycle that far north, there is a similar outlook structure currently being restored about a block south of Grant's Tomb at Riverside Drive and 122nd Street. Take the 1 train to 125 Street for this location or rent bicycles at West Side Bicycle: LINK

☞ MEET: Marcia Gay Harding

Maya Angelou's neighbor, Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harding has resided in Harlem since 2002. Mrs. Harding, her husband and three children live on a, brownstone block and moved from sunny California so that their family could be surrounded by culture and diversity. A strong supporter of the community, Mrs. Harding has also helped sponsor the local Hale House organization when it ran into funding problems. To read more on the actor who is currently in the Broadway production of "God of Carnage," see this April's NY Post article: LINK

☞ ARCHITECTURE: Mount Morris Park West

House numbers 11 to 14 on Mount Morris Park West and 121st Street are landmarked buildings that once were the grandest private residences in the area. Facing what is now known as Marcus Garvey Park (originally Mount Morris Park), the 18th century inspired, French-style buildings were built in 1889 by architect James E. Ware. Originally designed for the wealthy elite, the homes had servant quarters but were later divided into smaller apartments during the Great Depression. As luck would have it, one of the buildings is now a bed and breakfast, so you can enjoy living inside yourself! See the previous post on the Mount Morris House for more information: LINK. Take the 2,3 trains to 125th street to get to Mount Morris Park West.

☞ BESPOKE: Thomas Edison Light Bulbs

We were just downtown recently and noticed how so many restaurants have incorporated the Thomas Edison lightbulbs into their design. These crystal clear bulbs with long carbon filaments were invented in 1879 but not readily available to the public until the 1880's. This coincides perfectly with the housing stock of Harlem, so it makes sense that the trend returns. Chez Lucienne and 67 Orange are the first Harlem restaurants to incorporate these light bulbs that emit a romantic, soft light. See previous post on 67 Orange for more visuals and a great place to have a drink: LINK

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

☞ SEE: Bobby Flay at Mobay

Bobby Flay just wrapped up filming the Food Network episode of "Island Flavors, City Cooks" at Mobay a couple of weeks ago. Shot live at the restaurant, this show is part of a series of programs that the Food Network has cooked up to showcase the culinary diversity of Harlem. No air time specified at this point, but we will be on the look out for it. See previous Mobay post: LINK

☞ EAT: Mobay

On 125th Street's busling north side, one will find the charming sanctuary of Mobay, featuring updated southern cooking with a generous Caribbean accent. Along with the jerk chicken dishes, there's an Escovisched fish recipe on the menu that makes this place a standout from other island restaurants. Open for lunch, brunch and dinner, with live jazz on some nights. 17 West 125th Street between 5th Avenue and Lenox Avenue. Tel.(212) 876-9300. Take the 2,3 or 4,5,6 train to 125th Street.

☞ PROTECT: Morningside Avenue

With its proximity to Morningside Park and the encroaching developments on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the once serene Morningside Avenue may need protection in the future. Morningside Park was just landmarked a year ago, but this designation does not protect the property surrounding the park. An incongruous glass high-rise building has grown in the southwestern border of the park, and Morningside Avenue is the eastern thoroughfare with pristine park views. As mentioned in a previous post, the Church of the Master had their 100-year-old founding institution demolished for new development. Grand, aging apartment buildings in the Beaux Arts style of the late 19th century line the avenue, with a few abandoned over the years. Condo conversions or affordable housing could be a great way to have adaptive reuse of the buildings and keep the historic continuity of the neighborhood. Scenic Morningside Avenue from 110th Street to 124th Street can be reached by the 1, B or C train at the 110th Street stop. See following link on how to protect Harlem historic buildings or districts: LINK

☞ LISTEN: Finotee At Shrine

Finotee performing at the Shrine, 9:00 PM on Friday, May 1st. The band with the Ethiopian name means "the way" and is a blend of soul, reggae and funk. After their initial start in Miami, band members wanted more musical diversity and established themselves in New York City. 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, April 27, 2009

☞ EAT: Absolute Bagels

Steven Jenkens, the food purveyor at Fairway, the incomparable New York supermarket, states that, “Anyone who tells you that H & H bagels are their favorite has no business having an opinion.” This is the best bagel in town and is hand-made on the premises. Absolute Bagels is worth the wait for one right out of the oven. The building and interior are not much to look at, so just look past it to have a true New York experience. Take the 1 train to 110th Street to get to 2788 Broadway between 107th and 108th Sts. Phone: 212-932-2052.

☞ READ: Thanks for the Omission

Time Out magazine's big New York City rental issue is on the news stands and has left Harlem out. Actually, this is a good thing since this issue aims to find the cheap, "Next Hot Neighborhood" to find a good real-estate deal. The analysis includes "pros" of such areas (that rents are cheap), but also the "cons" (such as loud block parties, no shopping or restaurant options and hour long commutes). This year's neighborhoods include Inwood, Bushwick, Jackson Heights, Sunset Park and the South Bronx. Harlem is not only left out, but an Inwood resident mentioned that he had to go to Harlem for decent groceries. Yes, folks, we finally have amenities and options in Harlem, and the commute to midtown is less than 20 minutes. Photo courtesy of Time Out New York.

☞ ARCHITECTURE: West 96th Street Station

What's even more amazing than the beginnings of Manhattan's newest subway station is that it took little time to execute.  The previously mentioned below-station wall tiles took over a year to get about 75% complete while the above station's steel girders went up in less than a week. A welcomed addition to this part of town since its being swallowed up by some pretty mediocre, post-war rental high rises. This station is the quintessential stop for anyone traveling to West Harlem since it is the main central station for the uptown 1, 2 and 3 trains.

☞ WALK: West 96th Street Station

Anyone taking the 1, 2, 3 trains uptown knows very well that delays have been caused by construction on the weekends.  The original subway tiles can be seen only at far northern end of the station (last photo) while the rest of the 1980's beige tiles are being covered up with brand new subway tiles and mosaic tile numbers.  One can see the ugly beige 80's tiles at the borders of the top photo since they have yet to be concealed.  They usually incorporate the old LaFarge hand-made tiles with the big station numbers into the new design so let's hope there on it for this station.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

☞ WALK: West Side Parks

Saturday, April 25th at Sakura Park. Harlem Bespoke has been following this small park's blooming cherry trees and lamented on how underused it seemed to have been. This past weekend, young groups of families and friends showed up to picnic, sunbathe, play volleyball, walk tightrope, and even rehearse a wedding procession. Who new? See previous post on Sakura Park: LINK

A few blocks north, the new West Harlem Piers (bottom photo) witnessed its first spring, and the locals noticed. Bicylist, fishermen, couples, families and sunbathers took advantage of the newly planted lawns, the piers and the Hudson River view. The extreme northern and southern lawns seem to be the place that folks are gathering to get some rays. The center of the park has those geyser ground fountains that the kids and dogs go crazy over. See previous post on the West Harlem Piers: LINK


The best thing to happen to the questionable mall-like structure of Harlem USA on 125th Street is undoubtedly the New York Sports Club. After going to the NYSC on 96th Street for three years, we were tired of that location's cramp space and its endless supply of enthusiastic females taking up all the aerobic equipment in sight. The 125th Street location is five times larger and ample in its cardio facilities, along with weight machines and stations. The crowd is pleasantly diverse with various ages, genders, body types and fashion sense to inspire all who workout at this location. 2311 Frederick Douglass Boulevard/8th Avenue between 125th and 124th Street. Tel. (212) 316-2500. Take the 2,3 or A,B,C, D to 125th Street.

Friday, April 24, 2009

☞ EAT: Max Soha

This reliable West Harlem restaurant provides a West Village vibe, even though its name refers to the southern regions of central Harlem. Max SoHa is a Columbia student magnet for its bricked, vintage interior with its multi-light windows and reliable Italian menu. Plates such as black ink seafood pasta make this restaurant a standout amongst the many mediocre red sauce restaurants uptown. Visit the ATM before you get here; it's cash only. 1274 Amsterdam Avenue, between 122nd Street and 123rd Street. Tel.(212) 531-2221. Take the 1 train to 125th Street or 116th Street for the more scenic route of Columbia's campus.

☞ SHOP: The Demolition Depot

One of the ultimate ways to be more green in New York City: recycle. If one is looking for that authentic gas light fixture or the one of a kind clawfoot tub, East Harlem's Demolition Depot is the place to be. Occupying three stories of a 19th century warehouse, one can spend hours at this emporium. Since Good Olde Things in Chelsea is shutting down, head up to 125th Street to buy and trade in those hard to replace antique pieces. As per the above photo, anything from lamp posts to marble pet gravestones can be found here. 216 East 125th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Tel.(212) 860-1138. Take the 4,5, 6 train to 125th Street.

☞ UPDATE: Muddy Waters Cafe

We went by the anticipated Muddy Waters Cafe on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard at 129th Street yesterday, and it seems to have missed this week's predicted opening. No signage and just paper up on the window sill. More updates in the coming week. For past details on Muddy Waters, read the previous post: LINK

Thursday, April 23, 2009

☞ WALK: Harlem River High Bridge

The High Bridge on West 173rd Street is notably one of the most undiscovered landmarks to downtown New Yorkers. Easily accessible to Harlemites for many decades, the High Bridge was finished in 1848 and provided water from the Croton River to the City of New York. Based on the ancient Roman aqueducts, the bridge was originally built with pipes embedded inside and then paved over at a later date for the public to walk on. The bridge is the oldest standing bridge in New York City, connecting upper Manhattan to the Bronx (which looks so idyllic in the second photo). Originally built solely as a series of stone arches, the part straddling the river was replaced in 1920 with the steel girders as seen in more recent photos. The High Bridge Tower on the Manhattan side is also a visual wonder that was a pressure tank for the aqueduct, but it is now used as a tower opened periodically to the public. At the tower's base is the expansive High Bridge Park. Although the bridge has been closed to pedestrians since 1960, it is currently wrapping up a $20 million restoration and should be open by summer 2009. Take the 1 or A,C train to 168th Street and walk east to Amsterdam and 173rd Street.

☞ SEE: Harlem River at High Bridge

Ernest Lawson's 1915 oil painting Harlem River at High Bridge captures the wild nature of the terrain on the extreme Northern borders of Harlem. Notice the train in the foreground alongside the dirt roads on which carriage racing had been popular. The painting also illustrates the importance of the waterways as a transportation route with steam power reigning on the waters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

☞ BESPOKE: Michael Henry Adams at Home

If there ever were a modern-day Harlem gentleman, it would be historian, writer, activist Michael Henry Adams. The recent article in the Huffington Post showcases Mr. Adam's immaculately charming duplex on Convent Avenue. As a writer, Adams published the ultimate guide to historic Harlem in his book, Harlem Lost and Found. This book is indispensable for those livng or moving to Harlem and have an interest in its 19th century history and architecture. One may find Mr. Adams writing his column in the Huffington Post, being quoted in the New York Times, or working on future books about Harlem history. See sidebar for the link to purchase Harlem Lost and Found, or go directly to the Huffington Post article with more on Mr. Adams at home: LINK

☞ EAT: Covo Trattoria

Viaduct Valley's Italian restaurant has many grand gestures but could work on some of the finer details. The good news is that the place is cavernous and built into an old industrial warehouse with old-world, painted signage out front and a brick pizza oven in the back. Alfresco dining, another novelty for this part of Harlem, awaits during the warmer weather along with a breathtaking view of the viaduct on the more picturesque Northern end. Pizza is a must here, and there is also an upstairs lounge popular for the after-dinner crowd. Some minor changes that could be made is that a bit of the decor seems like clutter, especially up-front, and the menu seems too far reaching. Nevertheless, a great new addition to the food scene -- and worth the walk over on a warm day for brunch or a large gathering at night for dinner. Covo is located at 701 W. 135 Street and 12th Avenue. Tel.(212) 234-9573. Take the 1 train to 137th Street or 125th Street, depending on the direction you are coming from.

☞ REVIVE: The Victoria Theater Restoration

The above photo shows how the original 125th Street theater row looked in the 1930's with the Harlem Opera House in the foreground, the Victoria in the center and the Apollo at the far distance. Today, the Victoria's exterior and interior are still intact and waiting for the next incarnation in an ongoing struggle to come up with a plan that would placate all parties involved. On one side, government agencies want to lure big corporate contracts in to develop a high rise condo or hotel complex on top of the theater with only the shell of the facade at its base. Preservationists would like the entire building landmarked and the interior restored as a single theater (the majority of the interior is covered over from the 1980's renovations). Community activist Ethel Bates has been trying to not only preserve the original building, but also have community centers, condos, schools, museums, and four-star restaurants built up on the site.

Both of the development plans seemed plausible in 2007, but are a bit extreme and overly idealistic in 2009. Large scale projects in the most overly priced part of the city have halted, and the idea that building a large structure will automatically bring in jobs is a faulty one. Office spaces are empty in most new constructions, condos are not selling and the only restaurants opening in many luxury buildings are of the fast-food kind; Subway's the new retail tenant in the one of the luxury condos on Central Park North. What's the point of building anything new if "more of the same" will be the result? Smaller scale and more authentic to the Victoria is the way to go. There are more than enough empty lots and abandoned buildings on 125th Street to build new condos or convert into hotels and schools without all the counter-productive politics. See the previous post on the Victoria for more details: LINK

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

☞ SEE: The Harlem Opera House Mosaic

The Harlem Opera House makes a modern day appearance on the 125th Street subway station walls. Photo by i mei on Flicker.

☞ ARCHITECTURE: The United Palace Theatre

North of Harlem's boundaries exists one of the only landmarked movie palaces remaining in Manhattan with a complete exterior and interior: the grand United Palace Theater, one of Loew's Wonder Theatres from 1930. Channel Thirteen's ( series, "The City Concealed," allows us to imagine what lost theatres such as The Victoria and the Harlem Opera House might have looked like today if properly restored (in the former case) or still standing (in the latter case). The Opera House was converted to a moviehouse in the mid-20th century but ultimately closed up shop due to a faltering economy. However, the United Palace, which started as a vaudeville house and then showed films, reinvented itself once more as a live music venue and has recently hosted the likes of Bob Dylan and Beck, proving that adaptive reuse can indeed work for these cultural treasures. See the previous post on the Harlem Opera House for more.

☞ MEET: Mayor Daniel F. Tiemann

In the 1850s, Wall Street financier Robert Lowber sold land to the city for exorbitant prices and arranged to share his graft with city officials, including Mayor Fernando Wood. Before Lowber got his money, paint manufacturer (and nephew of industrialist and Cooper Union founder Peter Cooper) Daniel Tiemann succeeded the corrupt Wood as Mayor and rejected the bill. When Lowber sued and won for a total of $228,000, the city comptroller said there were no funds available, leading the sheriff to announce he would seize and auction city property, starting with City Hall, to pay the debt. Mayor Tiemann ended up buying City Hall himself (through a clerk) for $50,000, and the city later reimbursed him. Tiemann served one term in office before returning to his homestead here, in what was then known as Manhattanville. Read here for a fuller history of Tammany Hall and all its corrupt glory.

Monday, April 20, 2009

☞ ARCHITECTURE: The Museum of the City of New York

The Neo-Georgian building of the Museum of the City of New York was completed in 1930, seven years after the museum was founded. Design by Joseph J. Freedlander, this symmetrical building with its limestone pediment , ionic columns, red brick and marble steps, is the most northern of the institutions on the east side's "museum mile." Housing an art gallery, permanent new york interiors and a trade exhibits alongside rotating shows, the museums is a handsome addition to East Harlem's cultural landscape.  A must see for all New Yorkers. 1220 5th Avenue between 103rd and 104th Street. Tel.(212) 534-1672. Take the 6 train to 103rd Street.

☞ SEE: Stoops of Manhattan

The recent works of Andrew Berrien Jones, now on display at East Harlem's Museum of the City of New York, focus on the quintessential icon of New York City: the stoop. The show, "Stoop and Shadows," not only shows Mr. Jones' deft hands, but it also illustrates the history of 19th century cast-iron works. Shown in the galleries on the second floor of the museum dedicated to New York's history, the show is a must for city and art lovers alike. 1220 5th Avenue between 103rd and 104th Street. Tel.(212) 534-1672. Take the 6 train to 103rd Street.

☞ EAT: Mojo

Harlem's first boutique restaurant. This weekend's warm weather brought out the well-heeled crowd to the area's newest dining spot, Mojo. The interior is definitely high on Hollywood Regency glamour and actually feels more like a new restaurant in London with its more daring design sensibilities. Even more exciting is that the food is just as bold and successful. Contemporary Southern could be an appropriate description of the menu, with an emphasis on the contemporary part. For dessert, check out the Belgian chocolate sliders with sliced strawberry and kiwi, encased in miniature sweet rolls. Visually provocative--and a wonder to experience. This restaurant should top your list for this week's dinner reservation. 185 Saint Nicholas Avenue, entrance on 119th Street. Tel.(212) 280-1924. Subway 116th St (B, C), 125th St (A, C, B, D), 116th St (2, 3).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

☞ ARCHITECTURE: 159th Street Cottage

In 1937, the famous chronological photographer Berenice Abbott traveled up north to visit 857 West 159th Street and discovered this seaside cottage as it was to be engulfed by 20th century buildings. The "widow's walk" on the roof is the most telling thing about the building's past since the hillside view on the banks of the Hudson would enable a mariner's wife to watch for his ship's return, albeit in sometimes tragic circumstances. Today, the porch has only a small remnant of its past, which can be seen on the left side of the house; the wood siding has been covered by vinyl "faux stone," and the widow's walk is a collapsed heap on the roof. Surprisingly, the rest of West 159th Street has barely changed, but the most fanciful house on the block altered itself so that it is now a stand-out for other reasons. 857 West 159th Street and Riverside Drive. Take the 1 Train to 157th Street.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

☞ DRINK: Talay

The fiery golden gods await you at Talay. Actually they are Asian Foo Dogs with golden orbs for eyes and coral flame-like appendi. These two guard this in demand, Thai-Latin restaurant with an upstairs lounge club. A bit on the ostentatious side but well-appointed in intent, the restaurant provides the bang for the buck when it comes to impressing Manhattanville's naysayers on what the possibilities might be for the area. The restaurant gets some authenticity from co-chef King Phojanakong of the Ludlow Street Pan-Asian restaurant, Kuma Inn. As far as the club lounge goes, it's a strict formal dress code especially for the guys. No work boots, sneakers, tee-shirts or ripped jeans, so show up polished. This two-tiered restaurant is part of the northern Viaduct Valley, which Columbia does not own, and is one of the pioneer establishments along the row. 701 West 135th Street and 12th Avenue. Take the 1 train to 125th Street or 137th Street, depending on which direction you are coming from.

☞ REMEMBER: Minniesland

John James Audubon's beloved estate (named after his wife) was a city treasure that mysteriously disappeared in the 1940's. Originally a sylvan-like estate in what would be the West 150's, the naturalist was already famous when Audubon decided to settle down in northern Manhattan in 1839. The top print is from the 1856 Valentine's Manual of New York, showing the estate as it was five years after Audubon's death. The area was known as Carmansville at that time, and family would remain in the house until 1920. The second photo, shot also in the 1850's, is a rare, early type of photo called a Calotype that uses photo paper instead of glass or film. Although the detail is not clear, one gets a sense of the natural, woodsy surroundings. The last photo is from 1917, and one can see the wall encasing the estate in the back with the new Riverside luxury apartments in the background (which have just been landmarked as part of the district).

By 1931, the house was slated for demolition, even though it was known to be a valuable landmark to preserve. A mysterious benefactor helped a writer of New York Times buy the house the day that the roof was being dismantled, but what happened next is a bit unclear. Historians have indicated that the plans to move the house to 161st and Riverside were executed, but photos do not exist that could confirm this action. Apparently, after the house was moved, the wood became rotted beyond repair, so presumably Depression-era New York City did not have the funds or foresight to prevent John James Audubon's family legacy to return to nature. Photos courtesy of Take the 1 train to 158th Street to see the Audubon Park District at Riverside Drive. More photos on the site: LINK