1 to 225th St--Marble Hill

You'll find quality jazz and unique hangover cures in the eight-block radius of this tiny enclave.

Marble Hill Playground

Photograph: Dave Sanders

Most people reasonably assume that once you’ve crossed the Harlem River you’re in the Boogie Down, but thanks to some clever turn-of-the-20th-century river redirection, Marble Hill suffers from a slight identity problem. Is it Manhattan? Is it the Bronx? Is it both? No matter; over the past four years this relatively small neighborhood (just 52 acres) raised its profile with a Target-anchored super shopping center on West 225th Street.

Close to the subway stop, a small group of people has assembled by the doors of the local booze vendor CA Liquors (5203 Broadway at 225th St, 718-562-5381), so I stop to see why it’s so popular. Bright red disco balls hang from the ceiling, but the thing that’s most noticeable is the bulletproof-glass partition that separates merchandise from customers, and employees from would-be evildoers. Owner Rafael Hernandez says the divider doesn’t seem to affect his bottom line. “Business is good. Even now,” he says. “People get depressed, they want to drink.”

A totally different crowd is chilling at the Marble Hill Playground (Marble Hill Ave between 228th and 230th Sts). With its synthetic-turf soccer and baseball fields and quiet children’s park, it’s the neighborhood’s primary hangout not named Target. Shiki Ito, 2, visits every morning with his mother to enjoy the swings, slides and jungle gym as much as he can before the bigger kids arrive. When local John F. Kennedy High School’s final bell sounds, the playground is filled with skateboards, cigarettes and gossip, and little Shiki is long gone.

Marble Hill Unisex Salon

Photograph: Dave Sanders

Overlooking the park is St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church (146 W 228th St at Kingsbridge Ave, 718-562-8692), where two men are having a conversation outside. One of them is two-time Grammy-nominated drummer and “Mayor of Harlem” Greg Bandy. The other is the Rev. Nathaniel Dixon and, it turns out, this is his church. Since 2005, Dixon has been combining his 27 years of experience as an educator with his passion for jazz and gospel, developing a music-education program at St. Stephen’s. The Jazz Wednesdays series and music-driven services often feature Dixon on saxophone. “Churches have a choice to make,” says Dixon. “Are we going to just be a building where people come on Sunday, or a place that engages people to strengthen the community?”The good reverend needs a haircut, so I follow him when he goes to get “the best $10 haircut in town” at Marble Hill Unisex Salon (151 W 228th St at Kingsbridge Ave, 718-562-9788). For 46 years the shop has been a neighborhood institution, thanks to its owner, Roosevelt “Rosey” Spivey. “Everybody knows us, and they enjoy themselves,” he says. Here, getting a haircut is more of a pleasant excuse to hang out than a tiresome chore. “I asked my cousin eight years ago where he was going to get his hair cut,” says patron Marvin Staton. “Since then, I’ve been coming here religiously. The conversation about sports, politics and religion is always a good time. And he gives me the best haircut.”

a smoothie from Terrace View Deli

It’s boiling hot outside. I’m hungry and I’m thirsty, but when I ask around it appears that everyone’s idea of local cuisine is McDonald’s, Subway and Applebee’s. Meh. Happily, a guy on the street points out his local deli, and there I meet Silvia Joaquin. Like many residents of Marble Hill, Joaquin is a Dominican immigrant. She owns the Terrace View Deli (135 Terrace View Ave at 225th St, 718-329-9783), which has a devoted following among the seriously hungover for its famous 9-1-1 Shake: a blended smoothie combining passion fruit, strawberries, bananas, papaya, melon, milk and Dominican vanilla. “A customer came in after a night of drinking, so we made up a special shake for him,” Joaquin recalls. “A half an hour later he comes back to me and says, ‘I got a name for the shake! The 9-1-1 shake! Because I feel so good now!’ ”

NEXT STOP: ACE to 34th St–Penn Station

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