NEW YORK, N.Y. - Opulent velvet shawls. A necklace made of chunky Peruvian opals. Handmade quilts in a kaleidoscope of vivid designs. Photography, ceramics and hand-painted cards. These are just some of the wares at Straight Out of Harlem on St. Nicholas Avenue near 145th Street, where even the security gate is a piece of sculpture.Eleanor Berman
Harlem's fine brownstones are being restored -- part of the renaissance taking place in the neighborhood.
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A sign on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard reads simply "Hats. By Bunn." That says it all for those who already recognize this creative Harlem milliner whose hand-sewn originals have drawn a cult of followers.
Straight Out of Harlem and Bunn are just two of many imaginative, sophisticated, new shops in Harlem, a neighborhood undergoing a remarkable renaissance.
New shops, new restaurants, new condos and restored townhouses are appearing everywhere in the resurgent area centered roughly between 116th and 155th streets and between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Added to the jazz and gospel music, soul food and other traditional lures of America's largest, most colorful African-American neighborhood, they make a trip to Harlem an eye-opening treat. In the last decade, crime rates, which once kept many visitors away, have plummeted. With safety no longer an issue, daytime strollers will find plenty of tourist company on Harlem streets.
For most visitors, Sunday is the preferred day to visit Harlem because it offers the chance to hear one of the gospel choirs found in churches large and small around the area. Attending these services is a joyful way to share in the love of music, religion and zest for life that fill this community. Visitors are welcome everywhere, but the most famous of the choirs is at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on Odell Clark Place (formerly known as West 138th Street). The 11 a.m. service leaves time for a walking tour before, followed by brunch and more exploring after services.
Another good choice for a Sunday gospel service is the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ on W. 116th Street, where the service starts at 10 a.m. from July through September and at 10:45 a.m. the rest of the year.
One day is not nearly enough to take in all of Harlem, but even a short walk can show some of the history. Development began in the 1830s, when wealthy, mostly German-Jewish businessmen moving up from the crowded Lower East Side began building substantial brownstone homes. The coming of the IRT subway line along Lenox Avenue in 1904 brought a construction boom that led to overbuilding. An alert black real estate agent, Philip A. Payton Jr., saw an opportunity in the many vacant apartments and took over their management by promising premium rents to landlords. He then was able to move black tenants into this very desirable housing. By 1914, Harlem's black population had swelled to 50,000. By 1930 it was over 200,000.
Harlem's heyday came after World War I, the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. The arts flourished with writers including W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes and artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Jazz was at its peak, and clubs featuring greats like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway brought white patrons flocking uptown.
The Depression ended this glorious period. Unemployment was widespread, rents were high and fine homes were divided into ever-smaller units. Many buildings suffered, but handsome neighborhoods remained. Harlem boasts four historic districts, numerous fine blocks of townhouses and many beautiful churches. With real estate going for record prices, many say that today is the second Harlem Renaissance. Where boarded-up buildings once meant decay, now they are usually a sign of renovation and new affluence.
A good place to stroll before church is the St. Nicholas Historic District, West 138th and 139th streets between Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Avenue) and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Avenue). These fine row houses were built in 1891 by three separate architects (including Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White) but carefully designed so they would create a harmonious whole. When blacks began to arrive, the successful were attracted here, giving rise to the nickname "Striver's Row." Among the prominent residents were lawyers, physicians and musicians W.E. Handy and Eubie Blake.
Take the short walk to the Abyssinian Baptist Church early, as lines sometimes spill out onto the sidewalk waiting to hear the magnificent choir and organ. Founded in 1808, this is one of the oldest and most influential congregations in the city, known for charismatic leaders such as the late Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Jr. and the present influential pastor, Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III.Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Hats. By Bunn is among Harlem's many new, upscale shops.
Click photo for larger image.Yuien Chin, HarlemOneStop
One of many quiet, residential streets in West Harlem with handsome, hundred-year-old townhouses.
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Fortified by a soul food lunch or brunch after church, shoppers may want to head to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard between 134th and 136th streets for shops that include Hats. By Bunn; Montgomery, featuring exclusive fashions made from antique fabrics; B. Oyama for stylish men's wear; and Pieces, a chic boutique whose clients include MTV and actress Rosie Perez.
Just a few blocks south on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, Big Apple Jazz and EZ's Woodshed Cafe, in a storefront between 131st and 132nd streets, offers free impromptu jazz sessions from 2 p.m. daily. Performers known and unknown come here to jam. Some are drop-ins, some are pre-booked. This great little place, which also sells books and hard-to-find jazz CD's, is less than a year old.
Then it's down to 125th Street, the nerve center of Harlem. No block more vividly shows its changing face. A new shop, Carol's Daughter, offers natural beauty products, stunningly displayed, while sidewalk vendors outside peddle traditional scents and potions. Older merchants display wares spilling onto the sidewalk, while down at the corner of 8th Avenue, the big Harlem USA development offers national chain stores and a 10-screen movie theater. One of the shops here, Hue-Man books, has a stock of over ten thousand African-American books, and readings are a regular feature.
Two Harlem landmarks are on 125th Street. The best known is the Apollo Theater, where many stars including Sara Vaughn and Pearl Bailey got their start at the theater's legendary amateur nights. The contests are still held every Wednesday night, with as many as 300 contestants. Another important stop is the handsome, contemporary Studio Museum in Harlem, a showcase for the work of black artists.
For those who wonder where former president Bill Clinton established his offices, they are on the top floor of the building at 55 W. 125th, near Lenox Avenue.
Further east on Fifth Avenue are two more shops of note, Nubian Heritage, a mix of clothing, housewares, books and spiritual items, and The Brownstone, showcasing some 40 independent women's clothing designers with a charming, small cafe upstairs where Jamaican chef Sam Murray serves full meals and some of the best rum cake in town.
A walk on Lenox Avenue passes the Art Deco facade of the Lenox Lounge near 125th Street, a fixture for music in Harlem since 1939. The Mount Morris Historic District lies between Marcus Garvey Park and Lenox Avenue between 124th and 120th streets. This was once a favorite Jewish neighborhood -- the boyhood homes of composer Richard Rodgers and New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, among others -- and it is plain to see that the late-19th-century town houses were grand. This is also an area to appreciate some of the fine churches of Harlem and the layers of history they represent. The columned Mount Olivet Baptist Church at the corner of 120th Street, for example, was formerly Temple Israel, one of the city's most imposing synagogues.
More interesting stops are found along these blocks, including Xukuma, a stylish home design store, and Settepani, a bakery and cafe with a large outdoor seating area on the broad sidewalk facing Lenox Avenue.
On 116th Street, a street sometimes called Little Senegal for the large number of West African immigrants who have settled here, shops selling traditional African robes have been joined by "N," where exclusive designer clothing for men and women displayed in elegant surroundings reflects the changing clientele. A green dome on Lenox Avenue marks the site of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque No. 7, named for Malcolm X, who worshipped here.
A final shopping stop is the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market on 116th between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. Past the gates topped with gaily painted minarets are more than 100 stalls selling African art, drums, masks, dashiki shirts and colorful African print fabrics. It's the perfect place to pick up a final souvenir.Terese Loeb Kreuzer
EZ's Woodshed Cafe on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard offers free jazz daily.
Click photo for larger image.Yuien Chin, HarlemOneStop
Night at the Lenox Lounge.
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GETTING AROUND HARLEM
The No. 2 and No. 3 subway lines stop along Lenox Avenue, the heart of Harlem. The A, B, C and D lines traverse western Harlem along St. Nicholas Avenue, while the No. 1 train goes through western Harlem along Broadway. The No. 102 and No. 7 bus lines stop every few blocks along Lenox. The M2 bus runs along 7th Avenue (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard). Car services such as DayNight (212-694-400) offer door-to-door service from other parts of the city to and from Harlem locations.
Harlem street signs give names, but understanding the layout is easier if you know the equivalent numbers. Frederick Douglass Boulevard is 8th Avenue, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, 7th Avenue, Malcolm X Boulevard, also known as Lenox Avenue, is 6th Avenue.
ADDRESSES OF SITES MENTIONED
Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 Odell Clark Place (formerly W. 138th St.), between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards (also known as 7th and Lenox avenues); Phone: 212-862-7474, www.abyssinian.org.
Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, 132 W. 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards, (also known as 7th and Lenox avenues); Phone: 212-866-0301; Pastor: Rev. Thomas D. Johnson Sr.; Sunday service: 10:00 a.m. (July-Sept.); 10:45 a.m. (Oct.-June); www.canaanmail.org.
Hats. By Bunn, 2283 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., (7th Avenue) between 134th and 135th Streets; Phone: 212-694-3590; www.hatsbybunn.com.
Montgomery's, 2312 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue) at 136th Street; Phone: 212-690-2166; jolinda-nyc.tripod.com/jolinda.html.
B. Oyama, 2330 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue at 137th Street); Phone: 212-234-5128; www.boyamahomme.com.
Pieces, 228 W. 135th St., (between 7th and 8th avenues); Phone: 212-234-1725, www.piecesofharlem.com.
Big Apple Jazz and EZ's Woodshed Cafe, 2236 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.; Phone: 212-283-JAZZ (212-283-5299); www.bigapplejazz.com. Open daily 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Jazz from 2 p.m.
Nubian Heritage, 2037-2033 Fifth Ave. near 125th Street; Phone: 212-427-8999, www.nubianheritage.com.
The Brownstone, 2032 Fifth Ave. near 125th Street; Phone: 212-996-7980. Open Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
Straight Out of Harlem, Creative Outlet, 704 St. Nicholas Ave. (between 145th and 146th streets); Phone: 212-2345944; www.straightoutofharlem.com. Open noon-6 p.m., Wed., Sat.-Sun. and noon-8 p.m., Thurs.-Fri.
Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 W. 125th St. between Lenox Avenue (6th Avenue) and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Avenue), Phone: 212-864-4500, www.studiomuseum.org.
Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St. between Lenox Avenue (6th Avenue) and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Avenue), Phone: 212-864-0372; www.apollotheater.com.
Lenox Lounge, 288 Lenox Ave. (Malcolm X Boulevard, between 124th and 125th streets); Phone: 212-427-0253; lenoxlounge.com. Open for dinner. Music nightly except Tuesdays, at varying times and with varying cover charges. Call for information and reservations.
Settepani Bakery and Cafe, 196 Lenox Ave. (120th Street); Phone: 917-492-4806; www.settepani.com. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Breakfast and lunch menu daily.
Xukuma, 183 Lenox Ave. (119th Street); Phone: 222-0490; www.xukuma.com.
N, 114 W. 116th St., between Lenox Avenue (6th Avenue) and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue); Phone: 212-961-1036; www.nharlemnewyork.com.
These pleasant Upper West Side Manhattan hotels give easy access to Harlem as well as midtown via subway or bus.
Excelsior Hotel, 45 W. 81st St., New York, NY 10024; Phone: 362-9200. www.excelsiorhotelny.com, $239-$299.
Lucerne Hotel, 201 W. 79th St., New York, NY 10024; Phone: 212-875-1000, www.newyorkhotel.com, $210-$310.
Hotel Beacon, 2130 Broadway (at 75th Street), New York, NY 10023; Phone: 212-787-1100; www.beaconhotel.com, $235-$265.
Amy Ruth's, 113 W. 116th St., Phone: 212-280-8770, www.amyruthrestaurant.com. Fried chicken and waffles ($9.50), the house specialty. Served with maple syrup or "Harlem rooftop honey" from beehives kept on the roof. Unpretentious, convivial atmosphere. Entrees (including fried chicken, barbecued spare ribs, smothered pork chops, baked catfish), $12-$19. Also, soup, salad, sandwiches, desserts such as red velvet cake and peach cobbler. Open Sun.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 24 hours.
Wimp's Bakery, Sky Cafe and Martini Bar, 29 W. 125th St. between 5th and Lenox; Phone: 212-410-2296, www.wimpsbakery.com.
Cajun-Caribbean, Southern. Good curry dishes. Take home some home-made cobbler from the bakery. Entrees, $13-$24.
MoBay, 17 W. 125th St. (between Fifth and Lenox Avenues); Phone: 212-876-9300; www.mobayrestaurant.com. Stands for Montego Bay. Caribbean-Southern. Don't miss the wood-smoked baby back ribs with honey rum barbecue sauce. Live music. Dinner entrees, $16-$22. Open Mon.-Wed., until 11 p.m.; Thurs. and Fri., until midnight; Sat., 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Miss Maude's Spoonbread, Too, 547 Lenox Ave. (between 137th and 138th streets); Phone: 212-690-3100, www.spoonbreadinc.com. All the Southern favorites. Entrees, $9.50-$15.
Londel's Supper Club, 2620 Eighth Ave. at 140th Street; Phone: 212-234-6114. Upscale old-timer for Southern standards, music Friday and Saturday nights. Dinner entrees, $12-$22. Bountiful Sunday brunch, $19.95.
Sabeena's, located at The Brownstone, 2032 Fifth Ave., 2nd floor (near 125th St.); Phone: 212-444-8092. Intimate cafe on the second floor of a 100-year-old brownstone. Entrees such as jerk chicken, curry goat, lamb chops, red snapper, $10-$16. Fabulous rum cake, $5. Open Tues., noon-3 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., noon-8 p.m.; Sat., 1 p.m.-8 p.m.
Baton Rouge, 458 W. 145th St. (between Convent and Amsterdam Avenues); Phone: 212-281-2336; www.batonrougeny.com.
In a converted townhouse with parquet floors, carved balustrades, fireplaces, outdoor seating. Live music, Friday and Saturday nights. New Orleans-style cooking. Try the smoky, authentic seafood gumbo. Dinner entrees, $14-$24. Gospel brunch, entrees $14-$17. Open Wed.-Sat, 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
The River Room, Riverbank State Park, 145th Street and Riverside Drive; Phone: 212-491-1500, www.theriverroomofharlem.com. Panoramic Hudson River-George Washington Bridge views. Entrees $19-$28 (Directions: Long walk from No. 1 train 145th street subway stop. M11 Amsterdam Avenue bus stops in front as does BX19 bus running across 145th Street. Valet parking, $4.)
Sugar Hill Java and Tea Lounge, 344 W. 145th St. (between St. Nicholas and Edgecombe avenues); Phone: 212-281-3010; www.sugarhilljavatea.com. Brick walls, historic photos, fireplace, gourmet coffee, tea, pastries, salads and wraps. Open Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Harlem is Home, 90-minute walking tour of Central Harlem, Saturdays. Purchase a hop-on, hop-off Uptown Loop tour from Gray Line (777 Eighth Ave.) for $39 plus a $10 add-on for the walking tour. Tour begins at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue at 11:30 a.m. Gray Line hop-on, hop-off bus also stops at the Apollo Theatre on 125th Street and the African Market at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue. Walking tour alone, $15 per person. Call 212-658-9160 for information and reservations. Reservations required.
HarlemOneStop. Tours of historic Harlem neighborhoods such as Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill, Morris Park. Call 212-658-9160 for information and reservations. $25 a person. Tour participants receive discount coupons good at Harlem shops. For groups, the tour can include a meal at a Harlem restaurant.
Sept. 9-10: 2nd Annual Harlem Open Artist Studio Tour. Sat., noon-6 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.-6 p.m.; www.hoast.org. Last year, almost 100 Harlem visual and performing artists participated.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
HarlemOneStop: www.HarlemOneStop.org. Comprehensive Web site with information about shops, restaurants, upcoming events and walking tours.
Eleanor Berman is an award-winning writer whose travels have taken her to 68 countries and seven continents. She is the author of six non-fiction books and 12 travel guides, including "New York Neighborhoods," winner of the Independent Publishers award as best guidebook of the year.