Manhattan Neighborhood Guide: Central Harlem

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Central Harlem Neighborhood Guide

Central Harlem is Manhattan’s ninth most populous neighborhood, home to almost 130,000 New Yorkers. Originally settled in the 1650s by the Dutch, then later by Irish and Jewish immigrants, Central Harlem boomed in the early 20th century as the Great Migration brought droves of African Americans to the area. Following the Migration, the area flourished during the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s, a movement in which black artists thinkers, authors, and artists made great artistic and cultural contributions. Harlem’s hey-day was short-lived, however, as the Great Crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression brought unemployment and poverty to the neighborhood. Today, this historic neighborhood has seen a resurgence. An influx of new residents has descended on this affordable and conveniently located area, occupying the modern high rises and pre-war apartments that line the neighborhood’s bustling residential streets.


Central Harlem Location and Getting Around

Central Harlem is nestled between Morningside Ave./St. Nicholas Ave. on the west and 5th Ave. on the east, just north of Central Park and south of the Harlem River. Central Harlem gets some of the best scores in Manhattan for walkability; it’s easy to get around the neighborhood and travel to the rest of the city on foot. Additionally, it scores 100/100 for public transportation. In addition to buses, four subway lines serve Central Harlem: the 6th Avenue Express, 7th Avenue Express, 8th Avenue Express, and the Lexington Avenue Express.


Central Harlem Neighborhood Landmarks

Many of the landmarks located in Central Harlem are significant to black history. The Studio Museum is a contemporary art museum that showcases art by those of African descent, as well as artwork that is influenced by black culture. The National Black Theater has served as a place of community and connection for artists of color since it was founded in the late 1960s and presents pieces that document the black experience. The Apollo Theater, located on West 125rd St., was founded in 1914 but didn’t open to black audiences until 1934. Since then, performers like Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin have appeared on its famed stage. The Apollo is credited with launching the careers of many successful artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Mariah Carey.


In addition to culturally relevant landmarks, Central Harlem also boasts easy access to outdoor spaces. Marcus Garvey Park has two playgrounds, both of which are designed to accommodate children with disabilities, and an outdoor pool. Families from throughout the neighborhood flock to the park to play pickup games of basketball or watch concerts at the park’s amphitheater when the weather is nice. The park is named after Marcus Garvey, who advocated for black economic and social independence in the 20th century.


Crossing over Central Park North, Central Harlem residents are just a stone’s throw from the city’s biggest playground – Central Park. On the north end of the park sits the Conservatory Garden, which features six acres of carefully manicured lawns and flower beds. The garden is officially designated as a Quiet Zone, perfect for escaping with a good book or taking a relaxing stroll.


Locals Love

Best Central Harlem Restaurants

When they’re not hustling to or from work or strolling past the Central Park Meer, many Central Harlem locals can be found eating delicious food at nearby eateries. Locals turn to Lolo’s Seafood Shack to satisfy their seafood cravings in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere reminiscent of a Caribbean island. Featured in several notable publications, including NY Daily News and the NY Times, this popular restaurant is best known for its Cape comfort foods and Caribbean street foods, like the crispy conch fritters. Just off St. Nicholas Avenue, a few blocks north of Central Park, the Seasoned Vegan is a family-owned operation promoting organic, 100% vegan soul food. Enjoy the restaurant’s cozy vibes while you nosh on favorites like the soy chicken nuggets, baked mac ‘n’ cheese, and the sweet potato soufflé. For weekend brunches with friends (and bottomless mimosas), locals say you can’t go wrong with Lido, where the food is just as bright as the ambiance. With mouthwatering options like Smoked Salmon Benedict and the Tuscan Pizza Tart, you’ll likely have a hard time deciding which dish to dig into. For the traditional Southern soul food that Harlem is known for, head to Amy Ruth’s. This Harlem staple has been dishing up deliciousness since 1999, when owner Carl S. Redding started cooking traditional Southern recipes passed down from his beloved grandmother, Amy Ruth. Popular menu items include the chicken and waffles, the cheesy grits, and the smothered pork chops. Finally, if you’re looking to spice up date night, book a table at neighborhood favorite, Abyssinia Ethiopian. Here, traditional Ethiopian recipes like Meat Sambusa, Doro Wat, and Yebeg Awaze Tibs are served up in a friendly, casual setting.


Best Central Harlem Gyms

Central Harlem gyms are just as diverse as the neighborhood’s food choices. Here you’ll find studios with fitness classes to suit every taste. Harlem Cycle, the neighborhood’s first boutique cycling studio, offers intense classes led by motivating instructors. Get whipped into shape with fun, energy-filled workouts like Hip Hop Sugar Hill and the Reggae Rundown. For a slower pace, head to Harlem Yoga Studio, which is on a mission to provide fun and affordable yoga classes to Central Harlem. Many of the classes are donation-only, making it easy to pay as you are able. This yoga studio also does community outreach through workplace yoga classes that teach the power of yoga to local businesses. Local favorite Balanced Pilates has three different locations, but the basic principles are the same at each one: personalized instruction and effective workouts. Try it out using an intro package or jump straight into taking private or duet sessions or a small group class. If you’re looking to connect with your inner martial arts master, Pouncing Tigers is your spot. This martial arts studio offers classes for both kids and adults in a setting that emphasizes respect and discipline. Studio founder and head instructor, Ken Gibson, has been teaching martial arts for over 20 years. If you prefer a more traditional gym, Blink Fitness has gyms scattered across the NYC metro area, including a popular location at W. 116th street. This relatively new gym offers affordable memberships starting at just $15/month and emphasizes fitness for everyone – regardless of shape, size, or prior experience – so you can feel comfortable and happy working out.


Local Central Harlem Coffee Shops

Whether it’s during the morning rush or a much-needed afternoon caffeine break, Central Harlem residents take their cups of joe seriously. The Edge Harlem is a neighborhood eatery and hip coffee shop that serves up daily brunch for New Yorkers who aren’t in a mad rush to get to the subway. Choose from delicious brunch entrees inspired by Jamaican, English, and American cuisine, then wash it down with a standard drip coffee or a favorite from the espresso menu. For a quaint, small-town feel in the big city, locals head to Lenox Coffee to get their coffee fix. This shop claims the title of the first Micro Roaster in Upper Manhattan, roasting up delicious single origin drip coffees as well as cold brews and espresso blends. Start your day off right by enjoying a mug of the good stuff while you savor one of the popular bagel breakfast sandwiches at this cozy little café on 129th street. If you’re more of a tea drinker than a coffee person, Central Harlem locals say you can’t go wrong with Serengeti Tea & Spices, which serves up some of the best tea flavors from Africa and around the globe. While the Nairobi Street Chai is a customer favorite, the shop boasts over 100+ tea varieties, so you’re sure to find something that suits your palette. Founded as the go-to neighborhood coffee shop, Manhattanville Coffee brews Intelligentsia Coffee and offers patrons an assortment of locally baked pastries in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. A crowd pleaser, this coffee shop has been so successful that they recently opened a second location in Brooklyn. Last, but certainly not least, for the truly classic NYC diner experience, Morningside Coffee & Biscuits should top your list. Each morning this neighborhood establishment whips up fresh and fluffy, scratch-made Southern-style biscuits that are the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee or espresso.


Night-Life in Central Harlem

After a busy day at work, Central Harlem locals like to let their hair down at some of the neighborhood’s best watering holes. Many regard Shrine Bar as one of the best live music venues in city. Here you can imbibe on cocktails like Afro Trip or the Mango Mojito while enjoying the artistry of independent musicians from around the world. Over on Frederick Douglass Blvd, the small space at 67 Orange makes happy hour with friends feel like a special occasion. Best known for its cocktail selection, 67 Orange also has a full kitchen that serves up dishes like red velvet waffles and truffle fries. With a cozy, intimate setting, PEQUE Vinos + Tapas is a neighborhood go-to for a quiet dinner with friends or a romantic date night. PEQUE offers diners ambiance as well as an extensive wine selection and tasty small plates. Harlem Nights is a newer bar that locals say perfectly captures the spirit of Harlem. This spot is known for great happy hour specials, nightly live music performances, and friendly bartenders. Bill’s Place is a classic Harlem jazz venue that got its start as a speakeasy during the Prohibition.

It’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and seating is limited, so be sure to book your tickets in advance!


What These Businesses Love About Central Harlem


I love so many things about Harlem; the diversity, the history, the accessibility to the many parks, the spacious wide sidewalks, convenient public transportation, but my favorite thing is the way it feels like a small town community in the middle of a fantastic city.”
– Susannah Koteen, Owner – Lido

We are so excited to have this coffee shop in the same neighborhood we grew up in. As Harlem continues to grow and change, it’s nice to have places in our community that still feel like home. ”
– Monica & Rosa Prado, Co-Owners – Lenox Coffee

Harlem has been my home for the last 16 years. I love this neighborhood for its legacy, its authenticity, and the fact that there are so many great diverse people here. People say hi on the streets and even though Harlem is probably the biggest neighborhood in NYC it feels like a small tight community.”
Karl Franz Williams, Owner and Head Bar Man67 Orange Street

We love the diverse community and rich history of our neighborhood.”
Juliet & Justine Masters, OwnersThe Edge Harlem

Harlem is a place where respect is the most important currency. Being able to welcome new additions to the neighborhood and a place where families that have been here for generations can train together is an honor.”
Ken Gibson, OwnerPouncing Tigers

What we love about Central Harlem is that it’s the last neighborhood in Manhattan that still feels like old New York. Such a beautiful and tight community.”
Teddy Kehagias , Co-OwnerMorningside Coffee

I love the people and sense of community, and cherish the new relationships I’ve created here.”
Claud Fatu , OwnerHarlem Nights

I like the way the light falls through different seasons on the big sidewalks and side streets and you know you’re just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. You still know you’re a part of the city when you can look down and see the Freedom Tower which connects us all.”
Kathy Condon , Bartender – Harlem Nights

There is a magic in the air that stems from walking the streets many legends once did. The Billie Holidays, the Malcolm X’s, the Langston Hughes … but there is a new energy infusing the area. New generations of entrepreneurs and artists, dreamers and activists, writers and musicians, all converging on one magical block where the greats of times past and the fresh energy of future generations join together in infinite possibilities and create new landscapes of what Harlem is. The magic is not being lost, it is evolving, and it is thrilling to be a part of.”
Jenny Lischer , Bartender – Harlem Nights

Harlem is diverse, cultural, community atmosphere, home to music. Something is happening 7 days a week. Who doesn’t love Harlem?”
Joe Hill , Music Director – Harlem Nights


Central Harlem Movers

Are you ready to plan your Central Harlem relocation? If this happening neighborhood sounds like the place you’d like to call home, then we would love to help you get settled in. For over a decade, Imperial Moving & Storage has assisted Harlem residents with residential and commercial moves. We are a full-service moving company offering apartment moving services, packing and unpacking, storage solutions and more. We’ll make sure your move to Central Harlem is a smooth one, from the first phone call to the moment your last box is unpacked. Give us a call today to get started with a free quote!


Central Harlem Neighborhood Infographic

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