Washington/Hamilton Heights walk
Prepare yourself for culture and contemplation on this tour of the northern Manhattan nabes.
Mon Apr 26 2010
Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center
Start: 3940 Broadway at 165th St
End: 773 St. Nicholas Ave at 149th St
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 4.12 miles
1 Start your exploration with an unmissable memorial, Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (3940 Broadway at 165th St; 212-568-1341, theshabazzcenter.net), which, despite Columbia University’s demolition attempts in 1994, remains an accessible and incredibly moving tribute to the human-rights legends. On weekdays, visitors can take a free self-guided tour of the center’s six multimedia touch-screen kiosks and installations, including Gabriel Koren’s El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, Malcolm X bronze statue and Daniel Galvez’s Homage to Malcolm X mural, which incorporates images from print, film and television. On the weekends, call ahead to schedule a private tour ($10 per person) through the historic Audubon Ballroom, the onetime vaudeville theater where Malcolm X was assassinated.
2 Heading down St. Nicholas Avenue, be sure to look out for the landmark Duke Ellington House (935 St. Nicholas Ave at 157th St), where the jazz legend once resided in a fourth-floor apartment. (Listen closely and you might hear strains of “Take the 'A’ Train” playing through an open window.) One block over is Sister’s Uptown Bookstore (1942 Amsterdam Ave between 156th and 157th Sts; 212-862-3680, sistersculturalstop.com), which stocks Ghanaian-imported statues (starting at $55) alongside an extensive collection of African-American literature. Owner Janifer Wilson’s bright, airy bookstore has developed into a true community center over the past ten years, thanks to events like an African folk storytelling circle (first Tuesday of the month 7pm, suggested donation $5) and a book club that convenes on the last Saturday of the month at 4pm.
3 Doubling back to Broadway, it would be hard to miss the Episcopal Church of the Intercession (550 W 155th St at Broadway; 212-283-6200, intercessionnyc.dioceseny.org). The church dates to 1847, when Hamilton Heights was the stomping ground of rich white families like the Astors. Find peace inside the small but picturesque cloisters, where film crews from Law & Order and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice have tapped into its medieval charm. Fans of the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (better known as “?’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) can pay their respects to author Clement Clarke Moore, who is buried in the adjoining Trinity Cemetery.
4 After a introspective stroll through the cemetery, stop at exotic yet homey eatery Globetrippin’ (1689 Amsterdam Ave between 143rd and 144th Sts; 917-860-0237, globetrippin.com) for a midday snack. Owner and ex--New York Times page designer Georgia Scott uses seasonal ingredients to prepare savory dishes like crawfish pie ($7), which you can wash down with a home-brewed spicy Korean Ginger tea ($2.75). The hybrid coffeehouse and bookstore stocks a small selection of foreign fiction and nonfiction titles (among Scott’s favorites: Paulo Coelho’s The Winner Stands Alone), which you can thumb through while you eat.
5 With your belly full, it’s time to get some fresh air. Mosey over to the lush green fields at Riverbank State Park (679 Riverside Dr at 145th St; 212-694-3600, nysparks.state.ny.us) to take in sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Palisades—and try to ignore the fact that there’s an active sewage treatment plant one story below your feet. In warmer months, the multilevel park’s covered ice-skating rink defrosts, making way for in-line skaters to burn off some serious calories ($1.50, skate rental $6).
6 Dig the Afro-Latin vibe at La Pregunta Arts Cafe (1528 Amsterdam Ave between 135th and 136th Sts; 347-591-6387, lapregunta.net), which serves as a refuge for City College coeds and multicultural artists alike. We have a feeling the dirt-cheap glasses of sangria, which cost just $3 a pop during the weekday happy hour (4--8pm), might have something to do with it. You can also credit events like W.A.R. (Work as Renaissance), an open-mike night held on the fourth Tuesday of the month (8pm; $7, two people $10, free if you bring an instrument and perform) that incorporates elements of spoken word, poetry, music and hip-hop, for attracting such a mixed, unpretentious crowd. Keep an eye on the walls for rotating local artwork; this month, graffiti artist Dan Freeman has illustrated the names of prominent black history figures, from Harriet Tubman to Bob Marley, on panels shaped like train cars, as part of his “Underground Railroad” series.
7 Cut through the City College campus and enter lopsided St. Nicholas Park, where an intimidating flight of 74 stairs is all that stands between you St. Nicholas Terrace. The view of Hamilton Grange (414 W 141st St between Convent and St. Nicholas Aves; 212-666-1640, nps.gov/hagr), founding father Alexander Hamilton’s abode, should help get your mind off your tired feet. If you can’t imagine taking another step (wimp), consider this: In 2008, $8 million was spent to relocate the entire mansion from its old location on nearby Convent Avenue and wheel it down the hill—fully intact—into its current place in the park. Now that’s a haul.
8 Once you’re back on Hamilton Heights’ main drag, it’s time to get down and dirty with the locals. Every Saturday night at Harlem Tap Studio (401 W 149th St between Convent and St. Nicholas Aves, 212-780-2139), owner Omar Edwards—who has choreographed for Alicia Keys—hosts an open tap jam (9pm--2am, $10) that includes live jazz music and the chance to show off your hoofing skills. Of course, beginners can always sign up for less intimidating one-hour introductory lessons ($18; Tue 1, 6pm; Fri 7pm; Sat 2pm) in a class of no more than 12 people.
9 You’ve trekked and boogied, now get your fingers snapping at more than 50-year-old jazz haven St. Nick’s Pub (773 St. Nicholas Ave at 149th St; 212-283-9728, stnicksjazzpub.net)—and don’t be surprised if your waitress interrupts her serving duties to get on stage to belt out “Satin Doll.” Otherwise, the no-cover sets feature local fixtures like pianist Donald Smith (Fri 9pm) and guitarist Abdoulaye Alhassane, who headlines rootsy African Night (Sat midnight). Aspiring Billie Holidays can showcase their pipes during the open Monday-night jam sessions; simply write your name on the sign-up sheet before 11pm and do your best Lady Day impression.
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Ten treks to get you out of your apartments and deep into the heart of New York City.