Mount Morris Park Historic District. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Spanning 16 blocks in and around west-central Harlem and delineated by 118th Street on the south end, 124th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue on the east, and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard on the west, the Mount Morris Park Historic District is a vibrant neighborhood community. Inclusive of Mount Morris Square, now known as Marcus Garvey Park, you’ll feel like you are in a small town when you see children selling lemonade, friends gathering on brownstone stoops during warm weather evenings to chat, and neighbors coming together for park planting and clean-up days.
Named for the publisher, journalist, and activist, Marcus Garvey Park is the center here, where you will find a free outdoor pool (and free swim classes), areas to picnic where you can barbecue (not allowed at all NYC parks), a dog run, basketball court, chess tables, the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater (with stellar productions staged by the Classical Theatre of Harlem and others, click here) and programming in the recreation center that operates year round, providing classes for youth and adults of all ages.
Community garden in Marcus Garvey Park. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Around this approximately 20-acre park, there are mini free libraries, playgrounds, and outdoor art and sculptures. It’s also home to the Harlem Fire Watchtower (currently being restored, scheduled to reopen in early summer 2019), the only surviving one of 11 cast-iron watchtowers placed throughout NYC). It can be reached by climbing a long set of stone steps, giving way to an amazingly expansive view of the city.
Map of Marcus Garvey Park
Over on Malcolm X Boulevard (also known as Lenox Avenue), you can spend hours shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques and visiting inviting food establishments. With generous sidewalks, most restaurants also offer al fresco dining.
Family-owned Sugar Hill Creamery (184 Lenox Avenue) offers dairy and non-dairy ice cream, cones, sundaes, and ice cream sandwiches combined with friendly service. Opened by Petrushka Bazin Larsen and Nick Larsen, you’ll love their traditional vanilla bean, as well as seasonal flavors like roasted corn and jalapeno or peach cobbler. Check out their offerings for birthday parties and school field trips.
Photo: Sugar Hill Creamery
Run by the welcoming and ever-smiling Loretta Alston, L.A. Sweets (192 Lenox Avenue) covers any craving for cupcakes or cakes and is known for Loretta’s custom cakes (edible stiletto cakes, whimsical unicorn cakes, and gluten-free and vegan versions). Check out the creamy puddings and popular cake making classes, too.
Next door, the nearly 20-year mainstay restaurant Settepani (196 Lenox Avenue), run by the husband and wife team of Leah Abraham and Nino Settepani, is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant where customers return for the friendly and efficient staff, as well as the delicious, soul warming, European-inspired menu, and weekly jazz. Recently reopening after a beautiful renovation that includes a bakery also serving up gelato, the new space continues to showcase local artists. Look for salon-style “Harlem Conversations” in their lineup of events throughout the year.
Settepani Owner Leah Abraham. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Across 120th Street meet up with your friends for the Sunday Brunch at Barawine (200 Lenox Avenue) owned by Frenchman Fabrice Warin. Sitting indoors or out, you’ll enjoy a great wine selection, creative fare, and people watching – and you are sure to make new friends at their communal indoor table that feels like home.
Outside of Barawine. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Coffee breaks in Harlem rarely happen in a chain establishment. Get a great cup of joe along with breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Il Caffe Latte (189 Lenox Avenue). On a sunny day, enjoy sitting on the outside bench and watch the world go by.
Outside of II Caffe Latte. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Next door at NiLu (191 Lenox Avenue), longtime Harlem resident Katrina Parris Pinn has curated Harlem makers like Flo + Theo soaps, oil, and body butter, Sol Cacao bean-to-bar chocolate (buy their delicious chocolate below!), candles by 125 Collection and Harlem Candle Company, work by artists A Fine Lynn and KEEBS (Makeba Rainy), and an extensive selection of Harlem-inspired books.
Opened earlier this year by couple Alex Guzman and Jenifar Chowdhury is Archer & Goat (187 Lenox Avenue). Both grew up in New York and have been in Harlem for a decade, opening their fun space serving food with flavors drawing on their combined Bengali, Ecuadorian, and Puerto Rican heritage.
With a hankering for wood-fired pizza, stop in at Sottocasa Pizzeria (227 Lenox Avenue) run by Matteo Propiti and Elena Della Volpe. A few steps down from street level in this brownstone, you’ll get some of the most delicious Neapolitan pizza in New York City.
Sottocasa Pizzeria. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Harlem Haberdashery (245 Lenox Avenue) in a beautiful brownstone, is a family-run business that includes Louis Johnson, Jr., Sydni Wise, and Rashelle Francis. Get the red carpet treatment as you shop head-to-toe looks inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.
(Left to right) Louis Johnson, Sydni Wise, Rashelle Francis of Harlem Haberdashery. Photo: Annette Nielsen
While it’s by appointment only, located next door is Dapper Dan’s Gucci Atelier (125th Street) dressing members of the A-list, a joint venture between the 1980s Harlem-born designer and the Italian fashion house. With an online presence, you should also check out HarlemAmerican.com for shirts and hoodies with a cool vibe.
One of the best gems of the neighborhood is Grandma’s Place (84 West 120th Street), started over 30 years ago by Dawn Harris-Martine, a former teacher and literacy specialist, who holds a place near and dear to everyone who knows her. Check out this toy store with the very best books, puppets, kites, classic wooden toys, and educational games. You might even get lucky enough to meet Dawn who has lived her entire life in Harlem.
Dawn Harris-Martine, Owner of Grandma's Place. Photo: Annette Nielsen
Reachable by subway, take the 2/3 line along Manhattan’s West Side, exiting at 116th Street and walk up Malcolm X Boulevard to explore one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in New York.
Annette Nielsen is a writer and a health and wellness specialist who grew up in the Adirondacks and calls Harlem her home.