A Day in Spanish Harlem

The charm of Spanish Harlem is that its history plays out like a scene in “West Side Story.” The neighborhood, known as “Italian Harlem” for many years, used to be a predominantly Italian area. The influx of Puerto Rican immigrants in the 1930’s earned the neighborhood a new nickname, “El Barrio.” The melting pot of nationalities created a rich cultural history that makes Spanish Harlem a kaleidoscope of NYC beauty. There are two legendary Italian restaurants from Spanish Harlem that have received world-wide recognition, while Puerto Rican musicians – Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Charlie Palmieri and Marc Anthony – established themselves as kings of salsa.

Thomas Jefferson Park

The sounds of the FDR and the breeze from the East River hit you in unison as you land at the back of Thomas Jefferson Park. The gigantic greenery has been the centerpiece of the neighborhood for over 60 years. The park is massive, and is also a massive sports complex. At Thomas Jefferson Park, there are three baseball fields, four basketball courts, three tennis courts, four handball courts, a swimming pool and a soccer/football field. The pool, however, is a city relic and a virtually unchanged landmark. It was one of 11 elevated pools that opened in the city in 1936. There’s another piece of gorgeous greenery not too far away that is worth visiting during a morning stroll: the Conservatory Garden on 5th Avenue and 104th Street in Central Park.


El Museo Del Barrio

One of the most interesting, colorful and passionate museums is right around the corner from your place, El Museo Del Barrio, was founded in 1969, and has evolved into a beloved addition to the art circuit in the city. The museum focuses on Latin-inspired art from Mexican masks to textiles from Chile. But overall the museum’s focus rests on artists and modern art from Puerto Rico. After years of moving around, the spot settled on its current location in 1978. The building that houses the museum was originally a fire station during the Nuyorican Movement and Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. It has received a facelift and expansion, its collections having grown to nearly 8,500 pieces of pre-Columbian and traditional artifacts.


Graffiti Hall of Fame

The history of the city is readily visible through its art. One of the few preservations left in the city that honor the art form of graffiti is right here in Spanish Harlem. We’re talking about the Graffiti Hall of Fame, located in the playground of the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex. With the whitewashing and destruction of 5 Pointz in Long Island City some years back, this spot, founded in 1980, has taken the reigns for many talented street artists. The walls that surround the playground complex are filled with ever-changing art galleries, displaying 20 types of pieces on each side of the walls. The location has become an internationally recognized destination for artists who often visit for pilgrimage.


Manhattan Center of Math and Science

The history behind the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 115th Street and Pleasant Avenue is astonishing. It opened in 1884 as the second Italian parish in the city. But the church’s annual feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began in 1881 and each July, used to attract more than 500,000 people. The yearly event continues to bring together former and current residents to the procession, which has reached its 136th year. Lastly, take a peek (or bow) at the Blessed Virgin statue, showing the Blessed Virgin adorned with a gold crown. The Virgin has had several documented miracles. The sheer colossal beauty of the interior of the church is comparable to those of the basilicas in Italy. The hand-printed art of the Blessed Mother and Jesus Christ on the ceilings above the altar is a spectacle. Most of the woodwork and statues are original. Just a block east, you’ll come across the Manhattan Center of Math and Science. The building was originally Benjamin Franklin High School, and, with its recognizable steeple, easily a symbol of the neighborhood. The school also has a place in pop culture, given how it was a prominent setting for the movie ‘Serpico.”

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La Tropezienne Bakery

The morning meal in Spanish Harlem begins at a French spot. La Tropezienne Bakery has become one of the best bakeries in the city – even the New York Times considered the hotspot’s French bread top in NYC. The key to this bakery’s success is that it maintains traditional French baking methods. And, yes, there’s more to La Tropezienne than just homemade breads. The Croque Monsieur is delish and is just $4 and there are seven types of quiche (broccoli, bacon and cheddar is the most amazing). Naturally, you wouldn’t want to leave without sampling some of their breads.


Patsy’s Pizzeria

There’s certainly a Latin flair to your lunch choices. With places like Cascalote Latin Bistroc, La Nuevo Caridad (a Dominican restaurant with an abundance of baseball memorabilia), Cuchifritos (Puerto Rican street food) and Earl’s Beer and Cheese, you’ll have weeks of good food to explore. Today, you’re opting for Patsy’s Pizzeria. The storied pizzeria has turned into a city-wide chain with locations even on Long Island. This location is their original one, boasting a full menu with amazing Italian fare. The interior is straight out of The Godfather movie and it hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1933. The pizzeria’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that Joe DiMaggio made it his regular hangout while the New York Yankees were playing in the Bronx.


La Marqueta

Before there was Chelsea Market, there was La Marqueta. The Latin-driven marketplace, which is located under the Metro-North viaduct, housed more than 500 vendors in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In fact, the landmark is a very important piece of the history of the neighborhood. The New York Times once called the Spanish market “the most visible symbol of (the) neighborhood.” Today, the marketplace has shrunk considerably with only a handful of merchants still present within its confines. There’s Hot Bread Kitchen, Tipsy Scoop (alcohol-infused ice cream) and Patisserie Vanessa. La Marqueta is still a rather amazing place to investigate as it maintains much of its former self. If you are looking for more iconic foodie locations, go down 116th Street and 2rd Avenue to the exterior of Morrone & Sons Bakery. The longtime Italian bakery opened in 1956 and remained a family-owned establishment until it closed in 2007. But the signage remains in place as the family owns the building and kept it empty to commemorate its closing.

A Night in Spanish Harlem



Finding your first meal of the evening shouldn’t be too hard as Spanish Harlem is home to one of the most legendary Italian restaurants in the city’s existence: Rao’s. You may run into trouble trying to get a seat at the quaint restaurant, since its popularity means you’ll have to book your reservation months ahead. But once you get that coveted seat, you won’t be disappointed. The tomato sauce (or gravy) is the star that complements the spaghetti (or macaroni) like nothing you’ve ever experienced. It truly feels like having a dinner at an Italian family’s home. The restaurant has been a critical part of the neighborhood since 1896, and has attracted endless celebrities for the last 130 years. Today, there’s three locations around the country: NYC, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. If you can’t get a seat, then make your way to El Kallejon, Harley’s Smokeshack, and La Shuk. They are all viable and tasty options.


Lion Lion

If you are looking for a good, tasty drink, make your way to Lion Lion at 116th Street between 2nd and 1st Avenues. The bar has been a well-kept secret (it’s located in the basement of a residential building) for a long time, the stylish craft cocktail spot known to and embraced by only the locals. Lion Lion specializes in tropical craft drinks such as hand-shaken daiquiris. As nights go by, you may also decide to check out some additional local options – Mojitos Bar & Grill, The Duck, East Harlem Bottling Company and The Lexington Social.

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Camaradas El Barrio

In Spanish Harlem, the craft cocktail bar scene has made way for the art bar scene. The one watering hole leading the way is Camaradas El Barrio, which translates to “Friends of the Neighborhood.” The bar has transformed into an artists’ haven with many live events such as bands, DJ’s, performance artist and poetry readings centered around Latino culture headlining nightly. The space itself is littered with local artwork, including a sprawling mural of Luis Munoz Marin, the first governor of Puerto Rico. The drinks have a tropical appeal, with pitchers of tasty red and wine sangria. The spot also offers some authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, such as traditional monfongo (pork with plantains) and alcapurrias.

Words by Arte Vincent

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Erik Serras
Erik Serras
Principal Broker
Residential Division
Office: 718.840.2757
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