Boogie down in the birthplace of hip-hop and salsa.
Mon Jan 25 2010
Big Pun mural
Start: 149th St--Grand Concourse 2/4/5 stop
End: 174th St
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 4 hours
1 Begin your trip by taking the 2, 4 or 5 line to the 149th St--Grand Concourse station, site of the best-known “writers’ benches” that proliferated during graffiti’s ’70s and early-’80s heyday. Aerosol artists would meet at the far end of the uptown 2/5 platform to compare “piece books,” trade war stories and embark on excursions to faraway train yards. Downstairs, a plaque on the uptown 4-train platform commemorating this history is the work of posterity-minded artists, not the MTA.
2 Exit the station, head east on 149th Street and grab a bag of cuchifritos for the road at La Isla (276 E 149th St between Courtland and Morris Aves, 718-665-3600). These deep-fried Puerto Rican street-food staples ($1.50) come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including papas rellenas (pork-filled potato balls).
3 The dilapidated Beaux Arts structure at 436 East 149th Street (between Bergen and Brook Aves) is among the borough’s most culturally significant sites. Built as the Bronx Opera House in 1913, it later housed a succession of name-changing Latin clubs, including the Bronx Casino. Along with the nearby Hunts Point Palace on Southern Boulevard, the Caravana Club was part of a circuit of ’60s nightspots where Borinqueos like Charlie and Eddie Palmieri fused varied strains of Afro-Latin rhythms into what would later be termed salsa.
4 Vinyl LPs—priced uniformly at $3—and cassettes vie for space with CDs and maracas at Casa Amadeo (786 Prospect Ave at Westchester Ave, 718-328-6896), one of the city’s oldest continuously operated record shops. Opened here in 1941 as Casa Hernndez by the sister of bolero composer Rafael Hernndez, the Latin-music emporium was renamed after new owner Miguel “Mike” Amadeo in 1969. Mike still mans the salsa-focused store under the watchful gaze of Hernndez, depicted in a velvet portrait behind the counter.
5 Tributes to the late Christopher Rios appear throughout the Bronx. But the Tats Cru’s Big Pun mural on Rogers Avenue (between Westchester Ave and E 163rd St) is the best-known testimonial to the Boricua rapper’s enduring popularity.
6 There’s a tranquil, quasi-suburban feel to the blocks north of gritty Westchester Avenue. It’s hard to believe this was once the bombed-out war zone that inspired the dystoptian 1981 film Fort Apache the Bronx. Stroll up Simpson Street and you’ll find the Fort Apache that inspired the film (1086 Simpson St between Westchester Ave and E 167th St). The old 41st Precinct station is now a detectives unit, looming over rows of attached houses.
7 Despite the surrounding urban renewal, Freeman Street appears much as it did when another film—the seminal hip-hop movie Wild Style—was shot here in 1982. Take a break and sit on the steps where Lil’ Rodney Cee and KK Rockwell delivered their “Stoop Rap” at 803 Freeman Street (between Prospect and Union Aves).
8 Journey south on Fox Street through Grandmaster Flash territory (the DJ developed his revolutionary mixing techniques at a since-demolished apartment here), then head under the Bruckner Expressway to The Point (940 Garrison Ave between Barretto and Manida Sts, 718-542-4139). This community center, exhibition space and performance venue also houses the offices of the Tats Cru, who have turned the compound’s perimeter into an open-air graffiti museum.
9 DJ Kool Herc’s old digs at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the West Bronx is the acknowledged birthplace of hip-hop, but the area in and around the Bronx River Houses (174th St between Bronx River and Harrod Aves) is where Afrika Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation developed it into a phenomenon. It might seem like there’s not much to see here, but audio-tour company Soundwalk’s “Bronx River Hip-Hop Walk” (download the MP3 for $5.99 at soundwalk.com) brings landmarks like James Monroe High School to life with narration from local DJ legend Jazzy Jay. Cue it up: You’ve earned your boogie home.
10. As you’ve seen, the South Bronx’s distinctive flavor is largely the product of the exchange between Puerto Rican and African-American cultures. Because you started your trip with cuchifritos, you can now replicate this cultural blend in your stomach by finishing at Berzet’s Soul Food (1145 Bronx River Ave between Watson and Westchester Aves, 718-861-1789). Two pieces of perfectly buttery fried chicken with candied yams, collard greens and corn bread will set you back $8.50, but the throwback vibe at this no-frills, trucker-friendly luncheonette is priceless.
Extra walking credit
Not in the South Bronx? Get a dose of vintage hip-hop at these events.
Hip-Hop Karaoke, Fri 29
Head to Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza (17 Irving Pl between 15th and 16th Sts, 212-777-6800; 9pm, $13) and watch mike-wielders battle for the $1,000 prize. Judges include Buckshot and Big Daddy Kane.
Home-Grown Hip-Hop, Tue 2
Tonight, Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon joins authors Joe Conzo (Born in the Bronx) and DJ Disco Wiz (It’s Just Begun) to discuss the roots of Latino hip-hop at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St, R.S.V.P. to 917-492-3395; 6pm, free).
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