If you want to explore an influential piece of American history while you’re in New York City, head north of Central Park to the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s led to significant changes in the arts, music, culture and food, and its impact still continues today. Here is how to spend 24 hours in Harlem.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to fuel up before taking on a busy day trekking around town.
Amy Ruth’s opened in 1999, inspired by the memory of a caring grandmother and paying homage to traditional Southern cooking. The restaurant is known for its dishes named after famous African-Americans, and has become something of a celebrity itself thanks to menu items such as The Rev Al Sharpton (fried chicken and waffles), The President Barack Obama (a barbecued chicken platter) and fan favorite mac and cheese.
If the weather is nice, stop by Marcus Garvey Park before taking in some culture at some of the museums and institutions in the area. If it isn’t, you’ll have more time to spend indoors at the likes of The Studio Museum, El Museo del Barrio or the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The 20 acres (eight hectares) of Marcus Garvey Park, named for the famed politician and advocate, span from East 120th Street to East 124th Street in Harlem. There are two playgrounds where children can romp around in the park’s slides and drawbridges and jump in the fountains. Swimming lessons are offered in the summer, while various classes including kickboxing, yoga and karate are available throughout the year.
Dedicated to African American artists, the Studio Museum in Harlem offers collections of vibrant and inspiring artworks of the 19th and 20th centuries. A collection of 2,000 photographs, paintings and sculptures is displayed throughout the museum, along with the permanent archival collection of work from James Van Der Zee, an honored Harlem Renaissance photographer.
The long-reigning queen of soul food in NYC, Sylvia’s has been a Harlem institution since 1962. Known for its world-famous barbecue ribs (smothered in Sylvia’s Original Sassy Sauce) and its gospel brunch on Sundays, there’s no better place than Sylvia’s to get southern food with a side of soul.
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 artists and visitors about Latino culture and its contribution to North America. Founded in 1969 by a large group of Puerto Rican artists, educators and activists, this museum offers a wealth of artistic forms that veer away from the dominant European traditions.
This branch of the New York Public Library is devoted to the preservation, research and exhibition of African American, African diaspora and African experiences. Founded in 1926 by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the center hosts jazz concerts, films, lectures and more. The research division of the NYPL features collections and programming that span more than 11 million items.
The best bistro in town isn’t in Francophile-favorite Midtown, but in West Harlem, where chef Marcus Samuelsson opened Red Rooster in 2010. Cooking up a mix of southern, East African, Scandinavian and French flavors, this trendy destination is known for rich dishes such as parmesan and cheddar mac and greens, hot honey yardbird with dirty gravy and biscuits and gravy soup. An infectious jazz soundtrack and memorable craft cocktails are just the icing on the cake – or cobbler.
After checking Red Rooster off your must-visit list, it’s time to see another iconic Harlem landmark: the Apollo Theater.
Attend a concert at the Apollo Theater
Concert Hall, Theater
Courtesy of Sanden Wolff Productions
This legendary theater has played an integral role in the emergence and popularity of jazz, swing, R&B, gospel, blues and soul. Opening its doors in 1914, the Apollo Theater first introduced its famous Amateur Nights in 1934. Influential artists including James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill began their road to stardom on Apollo’s stage.
To truly get the feel of the Harlem Renaissance, head to Bill’s Place, a speakeasy in the heart of Harlem opened by musician Bill Saxton in 2006. Located on the bottom floor of a classic Harlem brownstone, Bill’s Place gives you the authentic feeling of true jazz music. Come for the music, but stay for the authenticity.
Greats including Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Lionel Hampton and Sara Vaughn have played at Showman’s Jazz Club, first opened in 1942. Relocating to its current location in 1998, this club has welcomed the likes of Nathan Lucas, Danny Mixon and Preacher Robins, who have dazzled on stage with the in-house Hammond B-3 organ. Keep in mind that there’s a two-drink minimum per person per set.