A day in Washington Heights
You'll find history, art and a distinctive Latin vibe in this uptown area.
Mon Sep 19 2011
Photograph: Virginia Rollison
Once the site of a Revolutionary War base (which later became Fort Washington Park), Washington Heights is home to Bennett Park (183 St and Fort Washington Ave, nyc.gov/parks), the highest point in Manhattan (it's more than 260 feet above sea level). On your way there, grab an egg sandwich ($2.95) and a cup of coffee ($1.45) from Hudson View Restaurant (770 W 181st St between Fort Washington Ave and Colonel Robert Magraw Pl, 212-781-0303), and savor your breakfast on one of the park's benches.
One of Manhattan's prettiest expanses is Fort Tryon Park, a nearly 67-acre green space that was built on land owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1917. The park is also home to The Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Dr; 212-923-3700, metmuseum.org), which was built in the 1930s using pieces of five Medieval buildings. The museum features a vast collection of ninth- to 15th-century art, including the famous Unicorn Tapestries: The artwork includes seven textiles that depict a group of hunters trying to capture the mythical creature. (You can thank Rockefeller for their placement in the museum—the tapestries were in his personal collection from 1922 to 1937 when he donated the work to the Cloisters.)
For lunch, follow Margaret Corbin Drive to New Leaf Restaurant and Bar (1 Margaret Corbin Dr; 212-568-5323, newleafrestaurant.com). The restaurant opened in 2001 as part of the New York Restoration Project's efforts to revitalize and maintain Fort Tryon Park. If the weather is nice, snag a table on the tree-covered outdoor patio, and nosh on dishes like ricotta ravioli with fresh basil and garlic tomato sauce ($12) or onion soup topped with Gruyre cheese ($9).
Once you exit the park, walk south on 190th Street, which turns into the lovely tree-lined Overlook Terrace. Pop into streetwear emporium Probus NYC (714 West 181st St at Bennett Ave, No. 5; 212-923-9153, probusnyc.com) to check out cool men's duds, including tees from Scotch & Soda ($42--$69) and hip leather sneakers by Supra ($66--$145). A couple of days before your Washington Heights adventure, make an appointment with Jennifer Ouellette (854 W 181st St between Cabrini Blvd and Pinehurst Ave; 212-927-7451, jenniferouellette.com), who creates stylish headgear for ladies and gents. Her feathered, braided and bejeweled headbands have graced the domes of starlets like Leighton Meester, Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel.
Keep going west and wander through Fort Washington Park, situated along the Hudson River in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. At water's edge, you'll find Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse (Fort Washington Park at 178th St and the Hudson River; 212-304-2365, historichousetrust.org), better known as the Little Red Lighthouse. The small structure was built in 1880 and is the last remaining lighthouse in Manhattan; it also served as the inspiration for Hildegarde H. Swift's children's book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Though it's normally closed off to visitors, the Parks Departments' Urban Park Rangers occasionally lead tours there (call 212-304-2365 for more info).
Head east along 181st Street and stop for hearty Spanish fare at La Casa del Mofongo (1447 St. Nicholas Ave between 182nd and 183rd Sts; 212-740-1200, lacasamofongo.com). The mofongo, made with mashed green plantains, garlic and fried pork ($8.95--$19.95), is one of the restaurant's specialties. You can also sample Caribbean entres like pollo entero a la parrilla, a grilled whole chicken served with rice and beans ($5.40--$9.95).
For a nightcap, grab a seat at local watering hole Monkey Room (589 Fort Washington Ave at 187th St; 212-543-9888, monkeyroomnyc.com). If you arrive before 7pm, you'll get a buck off your drink, but the price is right even if you show up late—pints of Blue Moon or Guinness are only $5. The bar hosts different theme nights, including karaoke on Wednesdays and DJs spinning Latin tunes, hip-hop and more on the weekends; you can also mingle with locals on the spacious back patio.
Why I love Washington Heights
Web Editor for NBC
"It's super affordable up here, and there are great places for me to take my Newfoundland [dog], Zeus. On the first Sunday of the month there are free coffee and donuts at the Fort Tryon Park dog run. [I also like] the doggie beach on the Hudson River at Fort Washington Park—just make sure to get there before 9am to avoid a fine."
Milliner and Accessories Designer
"On my walk to the studio, I look across the Hudson River and enjoy the green trees in Palisades Park. As I get closer to the George Washington Bridge, the contrast between nature and New York City reminds me that this land once belonged to more natural tribes. Two more of my favorite places are Bennett Park, the highest natural point in Manhattan, and Hudson View Gardens, a historical landmark and the oldest co-op in the city."
"I live up here because I need to get away from the cultish quality of some of the other parts of the city. Lately, I've been eating at Saggio (829 W 181st St between Pinehurst Ave and Cabrini Blvd, 212-795-3080). I like their kale Caesar ($7)."
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