Washington Heights

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Junot Daz

Junot Daz Photograph: Ben Goldstein

In the late 20th century, immigrants from the Dominican Republic transformed Washington Heights into a boisterous, close-knit community with a distinctive Latin vibe. Now, new generations are making the neighborhood their own, injecting a bit of downtown cool into the uptown flavor that has long made the Heights a nightlife destination.

In the late 20th century, immigrants from the Dominican Republic transformed Washington Heights into a boisterous, close-knit community with a distinctive Latin vibe. Now, new generations are making the neighborhood their own, injecting a bit of downtown cool into the uptown flavor that has long made the Heights a nightlife destination.

 

Junot Daz, author, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


"I like [to go dancing at] classic spots like Arka—I'm an old man, what can I say? The DJ throws it all on, from [bands like] Palo to Man. But Serie 56 is also hype. I went there with a tux one night—don't ask—and I danced my cuffs off. Every night it's like a national celebration in there, like we've just won a huge war or have all been set free or something. And then I finish everything off with a trip to one of the chimi trucks. If I got it in me, I'll trek over to the Patacn Pisao [truck] and stand in that fucking line."
Arka Lounge, 4488 Broadway at 192nd St (212-567-9425, arkalounge.com) * Serie 56, 4448 Broadway at 190th St (212-304-4394) * El Patacn Pisao, 202nd St between Ninth and Tenth Aves (718-899-8922)

"My goddaughters have turned me on to Patacon Con To, and I'm obsessed with their yo yo. No way to explain it except to say: Imagine a sandwich with maduros for the bread. It's ridiculously good, and an artery-buster for sure. But I'm also going to plug 809 for its atmosphere, and this new spot, Corcho, which is chill and smart. Then there's Altus Caf on Broadway, which really is vying for the gold. We have a lot of young, savvy restaurateurs from the neighborhood opening up venues in the Heights. They got feet in multiple worlds, and their chefs are reinventing the Latin restaurant—I mean, shit, our people are cooks in nearly every type of restaurant, so it's not a surprise to see influences on the menus from all across the globe. Mama's home cooking has traveled downtown, to the Continent, to Asia and back, and we are all the beneficiaries. These new restaurateurs are making it so you don't have to go downtown for a sharp meal or hip company."
Patacon Con To, 4195 Broadway at 178th St (212-568-7575) * 809 Sangria Bar and Grill, 112 Dyckman St between Nagle and Post Aves (212-304-3800, 809restaurant.com) * Corcho Wine Room, 227 Dyckman St between Broadway and Seaman Ave (212-203-3371, corchowineroom.com) * Altus Caf, 4325 Broadway between 184th and 185th Sts (212-928-1367, altuscafe.com)

"181st Street and Audubon is the heart of the Dominican community. That's where you can see, feel, hear, taste and share the stupendous human energy of a people being changed by a culture, and changing that culture in turn. This is the energy that made America. To be immersed in it is to touch the United States' raw, protean core. Some people are put off by the masses, by the noise, by the garbage. I'm not."

"Washington Heights is chock-full of Dominicans the way that Loisaida used to be chock-full of Puerto Ricans. And we're a great people. People talk about community all the time, but in the Heights, we Dominicans have that kind of community that political parties can only dream about. And then there's corre corre—people got families here and abroad to maintain, so there's a hustle like nothing you've ever seen. The Heights is also one of the last of the great ethnic immigrant enclaves in Manhattan. If the Dominicans are all pushed out we'll lose that crucible, and Manhattan will become something else. The New York City I always knew and loved, which had a place for immigrant enclaves, will be in the other boroughs; it will be elsewhere."

 

Manny Perez, actor, Third Watch


"When I'm in L.A., just the thought of the rice and beans at La Potencia makes me want to fly back home. The place makes the best food uptown: The staples, the rice and beans and tostones, are worth a five-hour plane ride. I mean, they are the best rice and beans I've had in my life. They remind me of my grandma's."
La Potencia, 1559 Saint Nicholas Ave at 188th St (212-928-6068)

"Fort Tryon Park is the place to go to escape the city and relax. It's the highest point in Manhattan, and I swear the air is cleaner there; you can breathe better. If I were in Central Park, I'd hop on my bike and go to Fort Tryon instead. It's not as crowded, you get a view of the water, of the George Washington Bridge, and there's always a nice breeze. There are also spots in the park where you can hide."
Fort Tryon Park, Riverside Dr to Broadway, W 192nd St to Dyckman St (212-795-1388)

"Why pay $20 for a cab to go out downtown? There are a bunch of new lounges up in the Heights where the food is good and the culture is strong. Along Dyckman, there's a row of great restaurants or lounges—like Mamajuana's and Papasito—that have live music and really nice food. You can go from one atmosphere to another, soaking up different sounds—from bachata, to salsa, to Man—and tasting food or drinks from different parts of Latin America. Some nights, it almost feels like you're in South Beach."
Mamajuana's, 247 Dyckman St between Payson and Seaman Aves (212-304-1217, mamajuanacafenyc.com) * Papasito Mexican Grill & Agave Bar, 223 Dyckman St between Broadway and Seaman Ave (212-544-0001, papasitony.com)

 

Leslie Caraballo, stay-at-home mom


"Most of the trendy people who come up here are homegrown. They come here because it's the last affordable neighborhood in Manhattan, and they fall in love with the tranquility of the parks and the vibrancy of the area's nightlife. When I first moved here, I would go downtown to go out, but I've realized that this neighborhood has everything I want, everything I could need. I mean, you can even find Brie up here. It's not the clich people imagine when they think of uptown."

"La Sala 78 has fancy downtown-style wraps and stellar mixed juices. Their lemonade sangria is made with big chunks of real fruit that absorb the lemonade but also suffuse it with their flavors—there's nothing more refreshing."
La Sala 78, 111 Dyckman St between Nagle and Post Aves (212-304-0667, lasala78.com)

"You wouldn't think it, but this neighborhood is great for shopping. A lot of boutiques have opened up recently, so you can feel like you are shopping in Soho at times. But then you also have the Broadway discount stores with their crazy mix of stuff. I mean, you can get things you'd never expect, and for cheap: This summer I bought a pair of Marc Jacobs sunglasses at one shop, and there's this Calvin Klein sweater I've been flirting with at another. Nostylgia makes its own designer clothes and brings in local artists to display their work. I just discovered it, but it's one of the places I really like."
Nostylgia, 251 Dyckman St between Seaman and Payson Aves (212-304-0337, nostylgia.com)

 

Jason Devereaux, owner, Nostylgia


"Dominicans are so open to other cultures—they can accept almost anything. And then they make it their own. For example, one of the bartenders at Mamajuana's went downtown to a hookah bar, and later suggested to his manager that they [dedicate a night to it]. He was given a Wednesday, their slowest night. The thing took off, and now Wednesday is the biggest party night in the neighborhood."
Mamajuana's, 247 Dyckman St between Payson and Seaman Aves (212-304-1217, mamajuanacafenyc.com)

"This is the only place uptown you can get a Nutcracker drink. It's a mix of liquor and very sweet fruit juice sold underground, like in barbershops or hair salons, and some bodegas. It's like moonshine—not entirely on the up-and-up. You need to know someone who knows someone who knows where to get it, and even then it's still hard to get. I hear that some guys make a Nutcracker that's so good they have their own bottles, their own labels. But you'd have to really be in the know to get your hands on it, which is part of the charm."

"Cachapas y Mas started out as a food truck, but it just keeps expanding. The food they serve, especially the patcon, is probably the most unhealthy thing on the planet, but it's so, so good. The Full is a sandwich with three kinds of meat on a fried plantain for the bread. The crunchy plantains, the tender chicken, they dance in your mouth."
Cachapas y Mas, 107B Dyckman St between Nagle and Post Aves (212-304-2224, cachapasymasnyc.com)

 

Freddy Correa, dancer


"Every one at the bodega—no matter which bodega—is my primo. You walk in one, and you're at home. They are the heart of the Heights, where people come to congregate and where you get the news about what's happening in the neighborhood."

"157th Street, by the Hudson Parkway, is our Jersey Shore, our Hamptons: It's a waterfront escape where you bring a blanket, some potato salad for the BBQ and just relax by the river."

"Some of the culture of the Heights is trickling out of the neighborhood, to the restaurants and lounges up past Dyckman uptown or to places like La Pregunta Arts Caf, where artists, poets, dancers and comedians from the Heights go to perform or show off their work.."
La Pregunta Arts Caf, 1528 Amsterdam Ave between 135th and 136th Sts (347-591-6387, lapregunta.net)

"My grandma has been here 40 years. She doesn't really speak English; neither does my mom. They never had to. Being in the Heights was like being in the Dominican Republic, only with different scenery—which is both great and a bit awful for them. The strength of Dominican culture in the neighborhood sheltered them, but it also helped to exclude the community from politics, services and some of the other things it's needed. For my generation. things have started to change. We value our roots, but we also want to make sure this community is not left out."

"When I was a kid, I loved skateboarding down Fort Washington Avenue. You could just coast for what seemed like forever. [Back then,] I was so submerged in Dominican culture, I didn't even realize Malcolm X had been shot in the neighborhood. I found out, and then they started renovating the Audubon Ballroom. I couldn't believe it: This place with so much historical importance, a place that stands for the search for our human equality and for a people's struggle for empowerment, has become a chain store. Kids who pass the ballroom now don't even realize it's where we lost a great leader."
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, 3940 Broadway between 165th and 166th Sts (212-568-1341, theshabazzcenter.net)

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