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Rowhomes in Harlem, NYC

Why Harlem Is One of NYC’s Best Neighborhoods

Few areas in New York City are as culturally rich and vibrant as Upper Manhattan’s Harlem. With a population of 138,535, Harlem is a densely populated area full of charm and character. The neighborhood’s renovated brownstones and tree-lined streets make it an attractive place to call home.

Harlem’s History Is Rich

Harlem has a fascinating and long history, dating all the way back to the 1600s when the area was first settled by Europeans and used as farmland. Once elevated railroads were extended north to Harlem in the 1880s, providing easy transportation to the city, the area began to urbanize rapidly, enabling it to become an industrial suburb to New York City.

Developers built hundreds of tenement apartment buildings anticipating an influx of Lower Manhattan residents moving north, but some moved farther north into The Bronx and Washington Heights, leaving many of the homes in Harlem unsold. Real estate agent Philip A. Payton came up with the idea to fill these properties with African-American tenants, and he later became known as the “Father of Black Harlem.” African-American residents poured into Harlem from Lower Manhattan, the South, and everywhere in between.

By 1920, Harlem was flush with cultural and artistic expression. This well-known period of history was christened the Harlem Renaissance. Cultural icons such as Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, and others called Harlem home as artistic creativity emanated from the neighborhood. Harlem also played a key role during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Figures like Malcolm X, Queen Mother Moore, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. used Harlem as a launchpad for political, social, and economic empowerment.

Currently, Harlem is experiencing a new renaissance of sorts based in economic development and cultural preservation. Still known as the Black Capital of America, the history and culture of Harlem is evident today, even as the area experiences new growth and gentrification.

Music Matters in Harlem

Performance at Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC

Photo by Steven Pisano

Ever since the Harlem Renaissance, music has played an integral part in the everyday culture of Harlem and its neighborhoods. Today, live music can be found on almost every corner in Harlem, whether it’s coming from a dedicated music venue, restaurant, or Marcus Garvey Park. Most of the music pays respects to the historical roots of Harlem, so you’ll hear plenty of live jazz being performed at the various venues in this part of Upper Manhattan, but there’s a lot of great R&B, blues, and soul music to be found as well!

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Popular Music Venues in Harlem

With music playing such an important role for the residents of Harlem, there’s no shortage of great live music venues that contribute to a lively nightlife. Here are few of the most popular.

Apollo Theater

The legendary Apollo Theater was originally opened as a dance hall and ballroom in 1913, but it grew into one of the most influential music venues in Harlem. Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and The Jackson 5 played during their “Amateur Nights,” and other musicians like James Brown, B. B. King, and Paul McCartney solidified its legacy. Today, it still hosts “Amateur Night” and many other performances.

Shrine World Music Venue

Founded in 2007, Shrine World Music Venue is a multimedia arts and culture venue located on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. Shrine hosts events for a variety of mediums, including film, theater, dance, and plenty of live music. With a full-service bar serving up food and drinks, this venue always draws a good crowd.

Harlem Nights

Harlem Nights is a relatively new bar and lounge in Central Harlem that has quickly gained popularity among locals. Bartenders serve up a selection of craft beers and cocktails and, depending on the night, the lounge is host to open mic nights, DJs, or live music.


A revived Harlem legend that once played an important role in the Bebop revolution of the 1940s, Minton’s now serves up elegant meals accompanied by live jazz music every night between Wednesday and Sunday, plus brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Best Restaurants in Harlem

The vibrant culture of Harlem lends itself well to the culinary world. There are plenty of places to eat in Harlem, most of which also provide live music for guests. Like the rest of New York City, Harlem’s diverse population inspires cuisine variety. Here are a few of the many great restaurants in Harlem.

Red Rooster

Located right in the heart of Harlem, Red Rooster serves comfort food that celebrates the roots of American cuisine and the diverse traditions of Harlem. Created by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Red Rooster was named after a legendary speakeasy and hosts live music every night.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a popular chain restaurant with a location in Harlem near the Hudson River. Serving up southern-style BBQ accompanied with live music, it fits right in with Harlem’s culture.

Amy Ruth’s

In the city that popularized chicken and waffles, Amy Ruth’s serves up the best in Harlem. With a full menu of authentic soul food, this Harlem staple is usually packed full of happy customers. Many consider it the best soul food in Harlem.


Founded by Sylvia Woods, the “Queen of Soulfood,” Sylvia’s is a Harlem landmark that has been serving generous helpings of southern comfort food since 1962. With everything from chicken and waffles to fresh seafood, this is classic cooking the way it’s meant to be.

Living in Harlem is Much More Affordable

110th Street in Harlem, NYC

Photo by Jorg Schubert

It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive place to call home. The average monthly rent is currently $3,061, but many incoming residents will likely encounter rents even higher than that in high-demand boroughs like Brooklyn and Manhattan. For example, if you search for an apartment in SoHo or Midtown, you’ll be browsing through listings with average rents as high as $3,460.

Harlem presents an unbeatable deal with a lower average cost of living in a fun, exciting part of Manhattan. Not only do renters in Harlem enjoy a vibrant nightlife, historic buildings, and live music, but they also have much more affordable rent than neighboring areas. The average rent in Harlem is currently $2,476. That’s about $1,000 less than other parts of Manhattan and about $600 less than the average for all of New York.

Given the low cost of living in Harlem, it’s a great place for the budget-conscious New Yorker. If you end up finding a smaller apartment to save even more on monthly costs, renting a storage unit can alleviate your tight quarters while staying under budget.

Neighborhoods in Harlem

Harlem is almost like a mini-borough within Manhattan instead of just a neighborhood. It’s a tight-knit community where you’ll find kids outside playing pickup games of basketball and neighbors out interacting with one another. Even though it’s small, there are a few distinct neighborhoods inside of Harlem.

Hamilton Heights

Hamilton Heights is located on the northern side of Harlem along the bank of the Hudson River. Like most of Harlem, this neighborhood is filled with beautiful brownstones and tree-lined streets. Hamilton Heights is also home to the City College of New York and Dance Theatre Harlem. With access to the New York City Subway system with the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line stopping at 137th and 145th streets, transportation is easy to use in Hamilton Heights.

Sugar Hill

A smaller subsection of Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill got its name when it became a popular place for wealthy African-Americans to live during the Harlem Renaissance. Sugar Hill features rowhouses that once housed prominent figures like W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., among others.

Spanish Harlem

Puerto Rican and Latin American immigrants after World War I established an enclave on the western portion of East Harlem, which eventually became known as “Spanish Harlem.” East Harlem is often referred to as Spanish Harlem by locals and has plenty of Latin American influence throughout. This neighborhood is home to the television studio Metropolis Studios where BET’s 106 & Park and Chappelle’s Show were produced.


Known as West Harlem, Manhattanville is a smaller neighborhood located just south of Hamilton Heights along the bank of the Hudson River. This area has seen a lot of growth recently, including the West Harlem Piers Waterfront Park. It’s also the site of a major expansion for Columbia University, which has brought a lot of students to the area.


Are you moving to Harlem soon? Extra Space Storage has several storage facilities in New York that can help with your transition!

All images are licensed under the Creative Commons.

Rowhomes in Harlem, NYC
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