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Manhattan Neighborhood Guide: East Harlem
East Harlem Neighborhood Guide
East Harlem ranks as Manhattan’s 10th most populous neighborhood, and just under 120,000 people call this slice of Manhattan home. Also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, this Manhattan neighborhood has one of the largest Latino communities in NYC. Originally settled by a mix of European immigrants, Hispanics began moving into the area shortly after World War I. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, these new residents brought with them their culture and food, which is reflected in the neighborhood’s bodegas, old-school Mexican bakeries, and colorful Puerto Rican music.
The architecture in East Harlem is just as diverse as the people that live here; upscale new buildings like the newly-constructed East 126, stand next to pre-war apartments and brownstones. Most of East Harlem’s residents are renters, and the relatively low cost of housing makes East Harlem one of Manhattan’s rising neighborhoods.
East Harlem Location and Getting Around
East Harlem is located between 5th Avenue and the East River, north of E. 96th Street and south of the Harlem River. The East River Waterfront Esplanade (also known as the Bobby Wagner Walk), is a narrow walking area that hugs the East River, offering joggers and dog walkers a place to breath in some fresh air with water views. It’s incredibly easy to get around East Harlem on foot, by bike, or by public transit – East Harlem gets excellent marks in all these categories. In addition to bus routes, three subway lines serve the neighborhood: the Lexington Avenue Express on the 4 and 5 lines, the Lexington Avenue Local on the 6, and the Second Ave./Broadway Express on the Q.
East Harlem Neighborhood Landmarks
The sights in East Harlem combine city history with natural beauty. The Museum of the City of New York examines and presents the city in an ever-changing rotation of exhibits. El Museo del Barrio is the only museum dedicated to Latino, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures in the Big Apple. Thomas Jefferson Park is named after the Founding Father and scribe of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a small park, but local runners love circling its track, and East Harlem kids come here to play on the swings and slides in the playground. Thomas Jefferson Park also has an outdoor pool that’s open in the summer.
The Harlem Meer occupies the top northeastern corner of Central Park along the neighborhood’s western border. The Meer has a meandering shoreline that’s good for a leisurely walk in the afternoon. There are also plenty of outdoor activities available including catch-and-release fishing, swimming during the warm months, and skating in the winter. Close by; the Conservatory Garden is one of Central Park’s relatively lesser-known gems showcasing a mix of French and English gardening styles, dominated by an impressive jet fountain on the western side.
Best East Harlem Restaurants
When they’re not relaxing at the Harlem Meer or experiencing a new exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, East Harlem locals are chowing down at some of the neighborhood’s best restaurants. Rao’s is a neighborhood treasure that’s been around for over 100 years. The reservation list is notoriously hard to get on, but once you’re in, locals say, the challenge is well worth it: Rao’s meatballs and seafood salad are just two of the top picks. East Harlem’s history of Italian immigrants is also on display at Patsy’s Pizzeria, located on 1st Avenue. Locals recommend trying the original coal-fired pizza. On date night, locals and their sweethearts turn up at D’Amore, a wine bar with a relaxed, romantic vibe. The grilled octopus is a bestseller, and for dessert, try the chocolate lava cake. The live music and open kitchen at Ricardo Steak House make it an East Harlem favorite for birthday parties and other gatherings. The portions are generous, and locals say the hospitality is too. Ricardo Steak House offers ten different cuts of meat and an outdoor patio year-round. Cascalote Latin Bistro is a family-owned restaurant where locals come to get their fix of Latin flavor – favorite dishes include the shrimp tacos and skirt steak. The place can get busy, so a reservation is recommended.
Best East Harlem Gyms
Whether it’s after a day of work or on the weekend, East Harlem residents love to get their sweat on. Gyms in the neighborhood offer a range of exciting ways to make fitting in a workout class something to look forward to.
Steep Rock Bouldering is a state-of-the-art climbing facility with intro classes for those who are new to the sport, as well as private instruction for people who are ready for a more challenging climb. Women’s World of Boxing is a brand-new boxing gym founded by Reese Scott, a veteran boxing instructor. It’s the first women-only boxing gym in Harlem, offering a space to let women learn how to fight without the intimidation they typically experience at other gyms. The gym is also dedicated to providing mentoring programs for teen girls.
The CrossFit craze shows no sign of slowing down at CrossFit Metropolis, located at 156 East 100th St. The gym has been around since 2009 and is one of the oldest CrossFit facilities in NYC. Savitri Yoga might have yoga in the name, but it offers a variety of other types of classes, too, like Pilates and Latin dance cardio. Those looking for a completely different type of workout will find their home at Sword Class NYC, a facility dedicated to teaching both eastern and western sword styles. The facility places an emphasis on mutual respect, discipline, and safe sword handling. They offer classes for both kids and adults.
Local East Harlem Coffee Shops
The plethora of coffee shops available in East Harlem shows that when it comes to coffee, East Harlem residents know their brews. Dear Mama Coffee is a great place to work on that novel or meet up with a friend; locals say it’s got a chill vibe that’s perfect for socializing or working. Love Café places its emphasis on breakfast fare: locals stop in for an egg and cheese sandwich on their way to catch the subway. Uptown Roasters roasts their coffee locally right in East Harlem. Locals can’t get enough of the pastries at La Tropezienne Bakery – sometimes there’s a line out the door for their fresh-baked bread. The atmosphere at Harlem Blues Cafe is one reason why locals come here for a cup of coffee at the end of the day; they say the staff is quiet and friendly.
Nightlife in East Harlem
When the day winds down, you’ll find East Harlem residents meeting up with friends at the neighborhood’s bars. East Harlem has plenty of options for grabbing a drink. El Kallejon is a hidden gem for locals in the know – its authentic Mexican cuisine and drinks menu keeps them coming back. The Lexington Social is a friendly tapas and wine bar with an atmosphere that’s both intimate and lively.
The Guthrie Inn might be a small place, but locals say their drinks menu packs a punch; bartenders at the Guthrie Inn are serious about the cocktails they make. Next door, the owners of the Guthrie Inn also operate Earl’s Bar and Cheese, where locals rave about the beer cheese dip and grilled cheese sandwiches. On Lexington Avenue and 107th Street, the East Harlem Bottling Co. is a fun place to grab a local brew and a meal. This spacious restaurant serves up lunch, brunch, and dinner, and even has outdoor seating when the weather’s nice!
What These Businesses Love About East Harlem
My favorite thing about East Harlem is Maggie’s Magic Garden on 100th and Lex. Maggie grows award winning vegetables year after year with the help of volunteers like myself and her son Sergio. She is a gem!”
– Matthew Moran, Owner – CrossFit Metropolis
What I love most about East Harlem is the community. El Barrio is where people greet one another, they know your name, they know your business and when they stop in to let you know that they appreciate you bringing your business to the neighborhood, that is everything!”
– Reese Scott, Coach & Owner – Women’s World of Boxing
Teaching an eclectic mix of people has been the most delightful part of my experience in this neighborhood. East Harlem is such a gem. It matches so well with what I think Savitri stands for – versatility, truthfulness, integrity and acceptance for other humans- regardless of ethnicity, gender or preferences. My goal has always been to provide a safe space for people to grow a movement practice in, without pressure or feeling the need to fit in. I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than East Harlem.”
– Jessica Cadden Osborne, Owner/Operator – Savitri NYC
We love the community and how diverse it is. We’ve been here for 25 years and have made so friends with our customers and our community.”
– Durinda Underwood, Director of Marketing – La Tropezienne Bakery
We have lived in the neighborhood for over a decade, and we love the diversity and the small community feel.”
– Leo, Owner – East Harlem Bottling Co.
East Harlem Movers
Limited or non-existent street parking, fifth-floor walkups, and bossy landlords can all make moving to East Harlem challenging. If you’re looking for a professional moving service to manage the moving logistics for you, call Imperial Movers. We are the top movers in NYC and have been providing trustworthy moving and storage services to Manhattan for over a decade. We assist with both residential and commercial moves and have storage solutions for both short- and long-term needs. We’ll make sure your move to East Harlem goes smoothly, from the moment you request a quote to when your last box is unpacked. Give us a call today to get started!
East Harlem Neighborhood Infographic
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