The Best Bars in Harlem According to Occasion
Much has been made about the changing environment of Harlem. Within the last 10 years, the village has seen a demographic transformation not too unlike parts of Brooklyn. Although there are some obvious downsides of this gentrification process, we will not get into that yet. Instead, we focus on a positive that the change has brought; a tight-knit bar and restaurant scene that canoften times act as a conduit for discussion and a feeling of overall community.
I've seen many big NYC mags try to explain where you should go from the outside looking in, but I'll tell you from experience that more often than not they are off base or recommend in such general fashion that you can tell they don't go above 96th street much. You need to know where the real fans gather to watch the game when there's one on and the best place to grab a cocktail from the real bartenders. This list should set you straight.
Low Key Gems
Maison Harlem (341 Saint Nicholas Ave) - A short walk from the 125th Metro station, Maison Harlem offers a French-inspired break from the hustle and constant proclamations of the city. The staff is mostly French-speaking and cool as any set in the city. They know their cocktails and their clientele, which is essential in a place like Harlem. The crowd tends to be that all-important mix of internationals and multicultural locals vibing to a well curated mix of acid jazz or soul. Best times to go are during happy hour and around 9:00 to strike up conversation with cool people from around the world. An added bonus is that because the the owners of Maison own the wine shop directly across the street, one can present a receipt from the bar and use it for a discount on a bottle of wine.
The Grange (1635 Amsterdam Ave) - One of the more hidden gems in Harlem. I was there for their opening week a few years ago and have always felt a great level of comfort whenever I visit. Located in Harlem's beautiful Sugar Hill area, The Grange is just one of those places one can always count on being on point. The decor is warm, rustic and inviting. The cocktails are well planned, executed and complemented with terrific bar bites that can be prepared late into the night. Bonus Tip: On Sunday evenings, The Grange often boasts a great 1930's style band.
Most Lit (Lively)
Red Rooster on Monday Night (310 Malcolm X Blvd) - I had to think about this one for a bit. How can a establishment be synonymous with tour buses filled with starry-eyed Europeans and yet hold a vibe that keeps locals at the heart of the experience. It makes for a strikingly beautiful crowd in real time and it happens seemingly every Monday night. The superb house-band, The Rakiem Walker Project, effortlessly blends neo-soul, hip-hop and gospel tunes to keep the crowd bopping. Many times, I've seen TV personalities mingling within the sea of well-dressed locals and amazed out of towners looking as if Red Rooster was the pinnacle of their vacation. Get there around 10:30 or so, because the bar does tend to get a bit crowded. The line for those looking to go to the downstairs lounge, Ginny's Supper Club, will spill into the bar and add to the atmosphere. Make no mistake though, the upstairs bar is the jewel of this place. And oh yeah, dress to kill here. This is Harlem at its best.
Corner Social on Saturday (321 Malcolm X Blvd)- If any place reminds me of attending an HBCU party, it is the Corner Social bar scene. Young professionals letting loose after a solid week of work come here to get their fix of beautiful faces and popular hip-hop accompanied by pretty decent drinks. On a good Saturday night, expect to be a bit crowded around the bar, but this isn't really a sit down spot. Get in there and mingle with like-minded 80's babies.
For the Craft Beer lover
Harlem Public (3612 Broadway) - Need to make sure you stay clear of American piss beer? Head on up to Harlem Public located off of the 145th 1 train stop. While this place seems to have become a super crowded logjam within the last year, an early seat guarantees you a much vaunted place in the middle of the beer-slinging mayhem. Do yourself a favor and grab one of their burgers as well, as it is probably a top 5 burger in Harlem.
Barawine (200 Malcolm X Blvd) - To go along with one of the most elegant interiors in Harlem, Barawine boasts a well curated collection of wine. The natural lighting of the decor invites you to relax and maybe download that "French for Beginners" podcast (I suggest the Coffee Break French podcast). The ambiance provided brilliantly causes you reconsider rushing though a meal or glass of white. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and understanding of their patrons. In the warm months, the best seat in the house may be outside the house. Barawine's outdoor seating space is well shaded by neighboring trees and becomes an optimal place to people watch and practice the art of slow dining.
To Catch the Game
Harlem Tavern (2153 Frederick Douglass Blvd) - No place in Uptown can match the sport decadence of Harlem Tavern. Located less than 10 steps from the B,C 116th metro, this place knows exactly what its bread and butter is. In a village (Harlem is a village as opposed to a borough) where giant televisions are generally frowned upon, this place said, "screw it", and mounted every 80-inch screen it could find in Upper Manhattan. For the sports fan, Harlem Tavern is the right mix of sports-junkie and casual visitor. The beers aren't the greatest selection but not the worst either. Don't trust the food during a big game as the kitchen can be hit or miss, but there is no better place to watch the Football, Basketball or Soccer when the time comes.
For a Stellar Cocktail
67 Orange St. (2082 Frederick Douglas Blvd) - Without much fuss or promotion, 67 Orange St. is the reigning speakeasy in Harlem. Like most of these "ya know it or ya dont" places, there is very little signage on the street. Inside, the bar is sexy, dark and can only fit only around 12 patrons. The bar staff is noticeably skillful and very dapper in their presentation. A great selection of tunes and a bar bite menu, featuring some of the best chicken wings I've tasted in a while, are an added bonus.