#3: Washington Heights

Bodegaville lives on, despite the white people.

street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Michael Kirby

Jane Jacobs wrote that sidewalks are meant to bring people together (even if those people don’t care to be together). You’ll remember that in Washington Heights: It’s hard to go a block here without running into a neighborhood character, whether it’s the chicharrón lady selling twice-fried pork ribs out of a metal cart, middle-aged women playing bingo on the sidewalk in front of a church or a family man keeping guard outside one of the dozens of clothing stores.

The areas between 179th and 183rd Streets from Broadway to Amsterdam are particularly busy, peppered with generic clothing stores that go by names like Women’s Sense, as well as specialty shops selling elaborate furniture sets (one can be bought here and delivered—to the Dominican Republic). Indie stores rule too: A small strip on Broadway near the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, for example, features two florists, a Salvadoran restaurant, an Ecuadoran restaurant and more-typical Latin lunch counters, among other local businesses. And there’s a lack of big chain banks: just four. (Within a few blocks’ radius, we also found 12 bodegas—hardly surprising, since the Asociacion de Bodegueros de los Estados Unidos, the trade organization for bodega owners, is headquartered on 179th Street.)

So what’s it like to live here? Residents talk about rising rents and the influx of white tenants (who have fled more costly fees on the Upper West Side or in Morningside Heights). Indeed, just west of Broadway lies a Starbucks, a sushi joint, wine bars and pricey condominiums.

But Washington Heights is still the heart of the Dominican community—young things sport i ♥ dr T-shirts, and you can get plenty of Dominican street food here, including pastelitos (fried cheese or meat-filled puff pastries), chimichurris (Dominican hamburgers) and a variety of desserts. It’s still a neighborhood where people feel at home barbecuing on the sidewalk, playing dominos on the street or bouncing a ball in one of the few tiny school yards. And until that Starbucks moves a few blocks over, it’ll stay that way.


street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Jodi Love

Word on the street


Cesar Nuñez, 37, storeowner, Conception II (601 W 180th St between St. Nicholas and Wadsworth Aves, 212-740-3455)
“I’m in the shopping district, just off of 181st Street—we sell men’s and women’s clothes; it’s a family-run business. Over the years, the neighborhood has changed, but not too much. I customize my merchandise to appeal to different demographics. You have to, it’s the best way: to change with the area.”

OVERALL SCORE:

28

8

7

9

-2

-2

8

Some blocks feel very short, especially on the avenues, and there’s a mix of residential and commercial (and old and new) buildings throughout. The foot traffic’s dense—it’s hard to move on Broadway and St. Nicholas during peak shopping hours. Add the quirky characters and you’ve got one defiantly New York ’hood.

Next: #4: Inwood