Since the 1920s, Harlem has been regarded as a neighborhood rich in African American culture and history. The Harlem Renaissance created movements within music, art and literature that inspired legends such as Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes. Harlem is a fabulous neighborhood if you want to understand the heart and soul of the South. Slip into your Southern shoes with our fun list of activities.
Concert Hall, Theater
This world-famous concert hall launched the careers of iconic musical artists like the Jackson Five and James Brown. The Apollo draws in over one million visitors each year, and for good reason. Originally opened in 1914 as ‘Hurtig & Seamon’s’, a ‘whites only’ burlesque theater, the Apollo came under the management of Sidney S Cohen in 1932. Cohen transformed the theatre into a Harlem landmark, putting black performers on stage at a time when African Americans were banned from most theaters throughout the US. Now known for its famous Amateur Night, the Apollo is a place where talented performers sing their hearts out in the hopes of becoming a star.
Founded in 1994 by two best friends, Levain Bakery is known worldwide for their chewy chocolate chip walnut cookie. The soft crunch of the cookie mixed with smooth chocolate and crunchy walnuts makes for a perfect dessert bite. The bakery gets its name from the French word levain, meaning a leavening agent that kick-starts the baking process for wholesome artisanal breads and other baked goods. Be sure to try the other favorites like the oatmeal raisin cookie, banana chocolate chip bread, and freshly made baguettes.
Whether through its location, clientele, or eclectic menu, the Red Rooster Harlem represents a triumph in cultural diversity. Born in Ethiopia and raised in his adoptive Swedish grandmother’s kitchen, Red Rooster’s head chef Marcus Samuelsson’s venture into neighborhood dining took him to Harlem. With a menu featuring home-cooked Stockholm favorites like Swedish meatballs, paired with Harlem staples the likes of oxtail stew and mac and cheese, Red Rooster’s patrons receive an unforgettable multicultural experience. The wine selection weaves in and out of Old and New World varieties, yet is skewed ever so slightly towards South African favorites, an unmistakable nod to Samuelsson’s heritage. Doubling as a gallery space, the walls are decorated with curated pieces by Harlem artists and tasteful neighborhood artifacts.
With extensive collections and exhibits aimed at preserving the cultural richness of the Caribbean and Latin population in America, El Museo del Barrio strives to educate both artists and individuals about Latino culture and its unique contributions to North America. Founded in 1969 by a large group of Puerto Rican artists, educators, and activists, this museum offers a fresh breath of artistic talents that sway away from the dominant European art forms.
Dedicated to African American artists, The Studio Museum in Harlem offers collections of vibrant and inspiring artworks of the 19th and 20th centuries. An impressive 2,000 photographs, paintings, and sculptures are displayed throughout the museum along with the permanent archival collection of work from James Van Der Zee, an honored Harlem Renaissance photographer. One of the museums founding initiatives is their artist-in-residence program, where artists of African American or Latino descent are given the opportunity to create and develop art works, which are later shown in an exhibition. Talks, tours, and performance events are just a few of the activities both families and couples can enjoy.
Harlem is home to a variety of different cuisines, from soul food to Caribbean and African flavors. Want to try them all? This six-stop restaurant tour offers the best of Harlem’s renowned food staples while viewing the neighborhood’s rich heritage. Taste the flavors of soul food classics like fried chicken and homemade biscuits to Latin favorites like flan, a creamy dessert made with sweetened condensed milk. Taste Harlem Food and Cultural Tours offers tours Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and cost around $75 (£54) per person ($35 (£25) for children between six and twelve).
Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
With 16 beers on tap and over 20 by the bottle, there’s plenty to choose from at Bier International, Harlem’s first beer garden. Though the beer menu is heavy on the German beers, there are some great domestic offerings too, such as Bronx Pale Ale and Southern Tier IPA.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, American, Mexican, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean, $$$
Inspired by the cultural soul music of Harlem, Shrine is one-part cocktail lounge and one-part live jam joint, showcasing its creative side with original album covers lining the ceilings. Customers are treated to a variety of musical genres, from American funk to traditional jazz to reggae beats. Shrine bar is not only known for their musical tastes but also for creative drink combinations, like the Afro Trip—a fruity drink with Jamaican rum topped with fresh lime juice and ginger beer. Order the Jerusalem toast that comes topped with olive paste, feta cheese, tomatoes, and za’atar spices for a Mediterranean kick.
Established in 1962, this Harlem landmark restaurant makes customers feel at home with Southern comfort food classics, including fried chicken with grits and barbecue ribs. For dessert, try the banana pudding or the strawberry bread pudding served with a rich bourbon sauce. Stop by for soul food favorites, and you just might run into some famous faces, as Sylvia’s has served everyone from Muhammad Ali and Diana Ross to former president Bill Clinton.
This swanky jazz club is a hit with both tourists and locals. Live jazz plays throughout the nightclub and reminds customers of the Harlem Renaissance, transporting them back to the 1920s. Southern comfort cuisine classics like shrimp and grits, along with crispy fried chicken are a definite must-try. Elegant décor and crisp white tablecloths elevate the restaurant, and customers are more than willing to dress up to fit in with the classy atmosphere. Minton’s is a perfect spot for date night or a girl’s night out.