The sunlight and moonlight forever glow in Harlem Hamlet: a small village where high culture, pop culture, and all cultures mingle along Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Avenue) in New York City.
Harlem Hamlet runs from 110th Street to 125th Street. It’s a neighborhood worth exploring, with a legendary past, and an evolving present. This urbane community consists of: intercontinental restaurants, homemade bakeries, gift shops, wine shops, and dress shops. Moreover, a W-Hotel, a Modsquad Cycles shop, a German pub, an old-fashioned Italian pizza shop, a posh pet store, and a grocery store, Best Yet Market.
HARLEM FLO & HARLEM FLO BOUTIQUE
2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (at 123rd and 122nd Street), New York, N.Y. 10027
Harlem Flo embodies the magnificence of tulips and roses, the lush scents of nature, and the sensation of spring-time. The lime-green canopy is an elegant display of Harlem Flo, floral atelier. I met the owner, Stefan Handl who was gracious and easy to talk to.
I asked, “What if I don’t have time to shop for flowers, but I like them around, or if I can’t seem to take care of plants?”
“I would suggest you purchase a beautiful preserved rose,” Stefan said. “They are special, and you can keep them forever. They are $15.00 each. And if you don’t see anything in Harlem Flo that you like, you can check out our boutique a block away.” Suddenly, a gorgeous black cat leaped on the table.
“You have a cat,” I said. “What’s your cat’s name?”
“Flo,” he said.
“How sweet,” I said, and waved goodbye. I walked one block to 122nd Street.
Louis Gagliano was in the boutique. It was a chilly day. He had a warm-hearted smile, and a simple, sleek style.
“How is business in Harlem?” I asked.
“It’s great.” Louis said. “The people are friendly. It’s a quiet community, with a Sleepy Hollow feel to it.”
“This is an alluring shop,” I said. “Are any of the gifts Harlem-made?”
“Yes,” he said, “let me show you around. We have pottery made by Stephanie Dubsky, soap from the Uptown Soap Company, and jewelry by Sandy Baker, as well as Karen (Kaya) Jackson of Ambiguous Jewelry Designs.”
Mr. Gagliano and I talked a bit more, until I continued south to an intercontinental restaurant.
Catch it if you can at www.harlemflo.com
2217-23 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (120th Street), New York, N.Y. 10027
Chocolȃt is amid a sea of change. It’s rich; it flows with the new style of Frederick Douglass Boulevard. On the afternoon that I stopped by, I met with the Floor Manager, Jonathan Campbell. He sat in a handsome booth having lunch, a white cotton napkin tucked over his white tailored shirt. One could see he was enjoying a hearty-size cheeseburger and French fries. I introduced myself, and he offered me a seat. “Thanks for taking a few minutes to speak with me during lunch,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” Jonathan said.
“What is your favorite meal at Chocolȃt?” I asked.
“The Cheeseburger & Fries, Red Snapper, and Braised Short Ribs,” he said. “Even before I started working here, I often came for the New York Strip. This is what I like about Chocolȃt’s menu: it’s diverse, the décor is comparable to any downtown restaurant, and the dining experience is top-notch.”
“What would you say to someone who has never been to Harlem, but who has a change of heart. Why come to Chocolȃt?” I asked.
“You know, we opened in August last year. We are humble, and each day we are growing. We represent the new Harlem, a lot of diversity. Our owner, Leon Ellis, was the first restaurateur on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. He opened the MOCA Lounge on 8th Avenue years ago. He’s a trailblazer. Hey, he just walked in.
“Hi, Leon,” Mr. Campbell said. “This is Wanda, and she’s writing a story about Harlem.”
“Hi, Mr. Ellis,” I said. “May I ask you a few questions, and let your manager finish his lunch?”
“Sure,” he said as we shook hands. I followed him to a long, aesthetically pleasing counter and chairs. It had a wide window view of Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
I began with a statement. “My friend treated me to dinner here last week, and we basked in the Thai Chicken Salad, Short Ribs, and some sensational wines.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” a pleased voice said.
“I would like to ask you the same question I asked your floor manager, Jonathan. Why, Chocolȃt?”
He was silent for a few seconds. I stared at his Polo Ralph Lauren sweater, and then he flashed his Sidney Poitier smile. “Harlem is international, safe, and diverse,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. However, sometimes people have a misunderstanding about Harlem. But when you come, when you walk around and speak to the people, you can feel the positive aura surrounding you. Chocolȃt is like any fine dining restaurant anywhere in the world. There are great businesses in this community. I feel that ownership builds a strong foundation, gives a sense of consistency, and Chocolȃt is blooming along with the community.”
“Mr. Ellis, it’s been a pleasure,” I said.
“Thanks for stopping by,” he said.
Catch it if you can at www.chocolatlounge.com
2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd. between 116 & 117th Street, New York, N.Y. 10027
Levain Bakery is a blissful, sweet symphony every season. It has what I love most: terrific coffee and delicious cookies. Levain Bakery has another location in Manhattan at 167 West 74th Street. I met with one of the partners, Pam Weekes, while I delighted myself with a deadly Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie. Pam and I sat outside on the wooden bench in front of her business. Her blond pony-tail and my short brunette hair blew in the wind. The cold air bit into our faces, and I asked, “What brings you joy at the Harlem location.”
“Everything,” Pam said. “I love it up here, it’s amazing. My partner, Connie McDonald, and I do this to make people happy. I like that there are not so many tall buildings; it’s bright, with lots of sunlight. We have a beautiful space here in Harlem. Twenty-years ago, Connie and I talked about what made us happy, and how we could contribute something to the world. We have had regular customers for years downtown, and now we have regular customers in Harlem.”
“That’s great,” I said. “By the way, moments before our meeting, I saw a woman eating the Raspberry Bomboloncini. She seemed to relish every bite. I asked her what she liked about it. She said, ‘I like that it’s not too sweet, and it’s not fried.’”
“Yes,” Pam said. “Levain Bakery is very happy being in Harlem.”
Catch it if you can at www.levainbakery.com
BABYGIRL’S BUDDLES & CLEANERS
2212-14 8th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10027
Babygirl’s Buddles & Cleaners (BBC) is a jewel in the community. Robert Felder is the owner, his son Robert Felder III is the co-owner. Mr. Felder has been on Frederick Douglass Boulevard for over ten years and in the laundry business for about twenty-five. He is proud of BBC’s growth, and appreciates the changes he sees every day.
“This is a perfect location for a laundry and cleaners business,” I said while peering around. “Where do your customers come from?”
“They come from every place in the city, however, a great number come from around 116th Street. We have a thriving pick-up service in luxury buildings up to 190th Street; we have customers’ downtown in the Ground Zero area, a large account on Roosevelt Island, and many customers on 7th Avenue, 8th Avenue, and St. Nicholas Avenue.”
“What is the nicest compliment you have received from your customers?” I asked.
“That BBC’s staff is courteous. BBC is clean and bright,” he said grinning.
“What do you like about being an entrepreneur?” I asked.
“I like helping people by serving the community with our laundry business. We respect our customers. I must admit, however, I love working with my son. He likes being a part of the business, too.”
“Thank you for speaking with me today, Mr. Felder.” I commented, “You are a gentle giant.”
“Thanks for visiting with us,” he said.
Catch it if you can at 212.662.1080.
2099 Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 113th Street, New York, N.Y. 10027
Bier is a convivial beer heaven. It’s a guy and girl kind of place, a mommies and strollers kind of place, a place for blind dates and newlyweds. There was a good crowd; I found a seat at the counter. Immediately, I heard, “Hey, I just became a father.”
“Congratulations,” I said, gazing at the gentlemen’s grand smile.
“Thanks, my wife and baby are coming in the door now.”
Mommy entered while her beautiful baby slept quietly in her arms. “Hi,” she said.
“Hello, congratulations on your new baby,” I said. “What’s your baby’s name?”
“His name is Ike,” she said. They beamed at baby Ike, and dad ordered a Krusovice.
“Hi,” I said. “My name is Wanda, and it’s my first time coming to Bier.
“It’s great,” he said. “My name is Jon, and Dani is my wife. I know a lot of great pubs, but Bier is one of the best. I’m a huge beer guy, and so is my twin brother. He lives in the village, and my family is in Harlem. We love living here, we know our neighbors, the stores, and it’s a very relaxing place.”
Dani said, “I like that it’s kid and dog friendly, with lots of families. I feel like I’m outside of New York. It’s a good neighborhood—more than anything there is a variety of people. I grew up in Miami and didn’t know my neighbors.”
A pretty and perky lady on my left interjected, and said, “Hey, I’m actually on a blind date.”
We all laughed. She continued, “I’m Josie, and this is my date, Richie. I live in Harlem, and I love Bier. It has the best beer, and the best food.”
Richie, said, “I’m from Westchester, and this is my first time in Harlem; it’s got a nice vibe.”
“The community is all about family,” Josie said. “I have to say, over fifteen years ago; it was not what it is today. It’s changed for the better. The new spots are great, and Harlem keeps you young.”
I asked, “What are some other places you like in the community?”
“I really like Questant’s,” Dani said. “It’s a seafood restaurant.”
“Yes,” Jon said, “in the evenings, it’s like a club.”
“Yeah,” said Josie, “I also like the place across the street, I think it’s French.”
“Yes,” said Dani, “it’s called 5 and Diamond.”
We continued to chat until Dani said, “Ike is getting restless. We have to go home.”
Soon, we all said good-bye. I walked over to speak to the owner, Chris Pollok.
“Hello, Mr. Pollok, my name is Wanda,” I said, “and this is my first time at Bier.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said. “I hope you come again. We are very happy in Harlem. We get a big crowd—especially families. They park their babies’ strollers outside beginning in the spring. The other day, an elderly couple stopped by and said, ‘Now we don’t have to go downtown for good beer anymore.’”
We chuckled, shook hands, and as I was leaving I smiled at the sounds of people enjoying themselves, Chris Pollok’s arms swinging high with patrons watching soccer on the wide-screen television. Bier is that kind of place.
Catch it if you can at www.bierinternational.com.
As I walked along Frederick Douglass Boulevard, I christened the area from 110th to 125th as Harlem Hamlet. As I interviewed these entrepreneurs, I concluded: each business owner made something out of nothing. All dared their dreams, and the community benefits daily. Harlem is the link that brings the Hamlet together.
Catch more if you can at: www.5anddiamondrestaurant.com, www.melbas.com, www.mocalounge.com, www.badhorsepizza.com, www.patisseriedesambassades.com, www.modsquadcycles.com, www.poshpets.com, www.harlemvintage.com, www.aloftharlem.com, www.bebenoir.com, www.bestyetmarket.com, www.huemanbookstore.com, www.harlemflo.com, www.chocolatelounge.com, www.levainbakery.com, www.bierinternational.com, www.harlemtavern.com, www.zomanyc.com, www.ambiguousjewelryart.com, www.sandybakerjewelry.com, www.uptownsoap.com, www.bibisalonnyc.com, www.HarlemShambles.com, www.FjFloral.com, www.landyoga.com, www.jadosushi.com, www.bohemiarealtygroup.com, www.harlemskinclinic.com, www.montrealpetcare.com, http://www.serengetiteasandspices.com, http://www.hfbnyc.com, and http://www.nycsavann.com.
I dedicate this story to Crystal and Jade Bailey (descendants of Frederick Douglass).