At the beginning of the twentieth century, an explosive movement of African Americans ingenuity began to captivate the country in social, political and artistic endeavors and ushered in a cultural lifestyle that was not previously celebrated or understood.
The town of Harlem, New York, is probably the most renowned because it is the epicenter of the Negro Rebirth, the Harlem Renaissance.
The epics of Harlem extended throughout the entire New York City, but technically, the borders of the town are 155th to 110th, respectively.
Landmarks such as Sugar Hill on 145th street, Langston Hughes brownstone at 20 East 127th Street, the original Cotton Club at 644 Lenox Ave. And 142nd St. and the Apollo on 125th street were once attractions to the essence of the movement, and for some time, they harbored the reverence and remnants of such an era.
However, if you were to take a stroll through Harlem expecting to take in the aura and history still, you would be in for quite a shock.
But don’t be dismayed, Harlem is still alive in buoyant pockets. Let me be your tour guide and take you back, to the spots inspired by the old speakeasies and lounges, the kitchens cooking up southern style fried chicken and collard greens, and soulful taverns any date would find thrilling and elite to attend.
The worst part about the Prohibition was that the selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages were illegal, but the upside was the creation of speakeasies, sections of an establishment that illegally sold alcohol and housed jazz singers equip with rousing bands and other performers.
Today, we don’t need to know secret phrases to slip past the security guards, but some diners and restaurants still keep the exclusive atmosphere flowing.
The Red Rooster Harlem is a multi-level dining experience provided by co-Creators Andrew Chapman, and Marcus Samuelsson, who is best known for being a judge on Food Network shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef USA, Iron Chef America, Chopped, and Beating Bobby Flay.
Samuelsson also served as guest chef for the first state dinner of the Barack Obama presidency. The Red Rooster Harlem’s first floor boasts patio dining, a fully stocked visual beauty of a bar, a back section for more intimate dining, and a rotation of artist providing different sounds of live music on various days.
Keeping the Harlem presence connected to its roots, every Sunday morning there is a Gospel Brunch, and throughout the entire establishment, original works of art celebrate local artists.
On the lower level is the restaurant’s best-kept secret, Ginny’s Supper Club, which affords the speakeasy vibes and separation that elite patrons seek.
Still, as trapping as the atmosphere of Red Rooster is, it’s no secret that the main draw of supporters is their delectable cuisine. Specialty dishes include deviled eggs made with chicken skin and crackling, Mac & Greens, prepared with parmesan and cheddar, and fried Yard Bird accompanied with collard greens, sweet potatoes, and pickles. Can you say, Yum!
Another exclusive site of artistic expression and Afrocentric appearance is The Shrine. Located on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, this dwelling is a multimedia arts and culture venue in every sense of the word.
My first time visiting the establishment was honestly an unexpected and impressionable experience. The façade of the building gives a radical, militant vibe, reminiscent of the political revolutionaries of the Black Power Movement.
However, once you step inside the cozy eatery, you are taken aback by the hundreds of vinyl record casing taking over the ceiling. I noticed Stevie Wonder, Donna Summers, Michael Jackson, Run DMC, and Diana Ross.
However, I also peeped the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Ramones brothers, and many others. The musical artist on the covers span across genres, and this is a clear indication of the multicultural acceptance of the venue.
Checking out the calendar I noted that within the month, Funk, Jazz Hop, Psychedelic Rock, blues, and even poets were all set to grace the stage.
Also, the names of items on the menu is an absolute breath of newness. For instance, there’s a dinner plate called Harlem fish, another named Yatenga toast, and a drink titled Afro Trip.
For sure, The Shrine experience will leave with a highly stimulated and rebellious consciousness.
My final suggestion is certainly the most familiar regarding the southern style soul food that many Harlemites are accustomed to.
The southern hospitality is felt as soon as you walk through the door and are greeted by the owner himself, Rachid Niang. “A proper greeting is very important. It sets the tone for the dining experience,” says Rachid. Jacob’s Restaurant is Harlem’s family-friendly soul food and salad bar.
There are two family owned locations. I visited the cozy eatery located on the corner of 129th street and Lenox Avenue (also known as Malcolm X Blvd). Impressively, the Soul food and salad bar possess forty-two dishes, and they’re all prepared without trans-fat.
Soul food favorites such as crispy fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, potato salad, home-made peach cobbler, corn bread and whole roasted turkey are on display.
They even extend Caribbean choices to your taste buds by serving Jerk chicken, oxtails, curry goat, and peas and rice. And I should mention, all of the food is delicious, just in case you were wondering.
Harlem may be undergoing some changes in its appearance, but underneath the smokescreen, the delicacies, arts, and the movement of a vibrant culture and lifestyle are still ever present.