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A Day in Harlem: Jazz, Soul Food, and Theater

Be sure to pack your dancing shoes, shore up your appetite, and take a look at this list of can’t-miss stops on your trip through Harlem.

Now that spring has finally arrived in New York, the season for long strolls around the city’s most famous neighborhoods is upon us and few are more famous than Harlem. With its diverse mix of communities, histories, cuisines, and languages, the north side of the island is home to over a century of NYC history. Here’s a day’s worth of activities to enjoy in Harlem, from laughs and entertainment to classy cuisine.

1. Red Rooster Harlem

Perhaps second only to its jazz culture, uptown Manhattan’s culinary scene is one of the area’s most alluring attractions. And there’s no better place to get a sample of the neighborhood’s iconic soul food cuisine than at Red Rooster. The brainchild of Marcus Samuelsson (of Top Chef Masters fame), the menu includes soul food staples from around the world but the most unique draw of this sprawling dining establishment are the nightly jazz performances.

The Red Rooster Harlem is located at 310 Lenox Avenue.

2. The Apollo Theater

Built in 1914, this once white patrons only burlesque establishment has become the mecca of Harlem’s legendary music scene. The weekly Amateur Night (Wednesdays at 7:30pm) has been the setting for numerous music legends big breaks: Ella Fitzgerald, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and D Angelo just to name a few¬† were all first introduced to the limelight on the Apollo stage. Commonly know as the setting of the series Showtime at the Apollo, this 1,400-seat venue is a must-stop spot on any tour of the upper 100s.

The Apollo Theater is located at 253 W. 125th Street.

3. Studio Museum

The Studio Museum is one of the more dynamic cultural institutions in Manhattan. With a collection of works from the 19th and 20th centuries, this museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret art from the African diaspora. Its collections include more than 2,000 photographs, paintings, and sculptures, while the Artist-in-Residence program has supported over one hundred artists of color who have gone on to critically acclaimed careers.

The Studio Museum is located at 144 W. 125th Street.

4. Museo del Barrio

This museum was founded with the mission of preserving and showcasing pieces created by Latinx and Caribbean artists, and today it is one of the most visited museums in the city. In addition to the works of visual art on display, the museum chronicles the extensive history of the Nuyorican movement (Nuyoricans are New York City residents with familial ties to Puerto Rico). Museo del Barrio has played host to significant exhibitions of Caribbean art through the decades, including a famed Frida Kahlo exhibit in 2002 that brought the museum its largest audience to date.

Museo del Barrio is located at 1230 Fifth Avenue.

5. Schomburg Center

Though it is technically a branch of the New York Public Library system, this institution on 135th street and Malcolm X serves as an anchor of the Harlem neighborhood. Founded by bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg in 1926, this library and cultural space has one of the richest repositories of black art and literature in the United States. The library regularly puts on (free!) public programming that leverages its immense archives in order to contribute to the narrative and discussion of black experience through the centuries.

One of the more charming aspects of the building’s design is the art installation Rivers, which pays homage to the legendary black poet Langston Hughes. The installation is a lovely mosaic in its own right, but it is made infinitely more significant by what lies beneath its surface: the ashes of Hughes himself.

The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard.

6. Graffiti Hall of Fame

For over 30 years, the walls of this courtyard at the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex have been covered over with works by some of the most famous graffiti artists in the world. Dubbed the Graffiti Hall of Fame by Ray Sugar Ray Rodriguez and some friends in 1980, the space was originally intended to be a place for aspiring street artists to hone their skills. Now, the space is limited to Strictly Kings or Better renowned artists from around the world who have come to the courtyard on 106th to make their mark.

The Graffiti Hall of Fame is located at Park Avenue and 106th Street.

If you’re in Manhattan, make a break from tourist-packed downtown and head up north to get a taste of real NYC culture. With Affinia’s three for four deal, the longer you explore, the more you save. It’s never been easier to take a stroll along Harlem’s wide avenues, hear the sounds of jazz in the air, and feel the 1 train rumbling along in the night.

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