Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Across 110th Street

When you haven't seen the love of your life for a couple of hours, and he greets you with the words, 'Loads has happened!', and goes on to elaborate 'I bought some fruit, and the super came and fitted a new aircon unit and it turns out the fuse had gone which is why the light wasn't working... oh! and I put a wash on' that's when you know you need to inject a little adventure into your life.

So I thought I'd surprise him with a trip to Harlem, to the legendary Lenox Lounge. TLOML loves jazz, and southern food, and anything north of 60th Street feels like a grand voyage to me.

TLOML, trying to guess where we were going, said, 'we're not going into Harlem or something crazy are we?'.

I knew I was onto something. I googled 'Is Harlem safe?'. For every story of a brute muttering 'Imma cut you' and chasing a terrified cracker down the street, there was another story of a happy Columbia grad student sauntering along 125th Street late at night unmolested.

It sounded like the perfect blend. Being from a middle class enclave not far from this.... the Boro, I do enjoy just a frisson of urban danger on a night out.
So we headed North, TLOML guessing wildly that we were going to cocktails at the Met, or an event at Columbia. He was pretty pleased when we emerged on 125th Street and made for Sylvia's. Sylvia's has been in 'the historical village of Harlem' since the 1960s, and serves fried chicken, waffles and all that good stuff.

We took a table on the street and I looked out for 'pimps trying to catch a woman that's week, pushers who won't let the junkies go free, and women trying to catch a trick' (apologies to Bobby Womack). They were absent.

After taking down the chicken'n'ribs combo and some collard greens, we headed to the Lenox Lounge, the legendary jazz club which is described as 'bustling and boisterous', 'authentic' and having a 'cool vibe' in internet reviews.
 Never trust internet reviews.

Aside from us, there was a table of Danes in their 50s, two Swiss women (who I had earlier decided were Scottish schoolteachers, if that helps create a mental image), some grey haired Australians, and a solitary Japanese kid (who TLOML decided was just waiting for his tour bus to pick him up).

And by the way, we know their nationalities because the brilliant Sweet Georgia Brown worked the crowd so well. As TLOML said, it was like being on a cruise ship. Watching the olds get up and twist about awkwardly was compelling in a bad way. The Swiss women had some of the strangest dance moves I have ever seen. A sort of out of sync version of the 'birdie', and that description doesn't do the weirdness justice.

I should say, at least, Sweet Georgia Brown, the self-proclaimed 'last of the red hot mamas', was awesome, busting out some great innuendo-laden jazz and blues. We had a pretty good night all round. But edgy, vibey and atmospheric it was not.

Next time I want adventure, we're going to the East Village. And next time we want a chilled out night with daiquiris and good Southern food, we're going to Harlem.

PS Read my subsequent update here


  1. ha. this was kinda offensive. you shouldn't make yourself look like such an ass by admitting that you googled "is harlem safe"... welcome to new york, love. black people live here.

  2. Hmmm, not sure the whole post would have worked if I hadn't admitted feeling a frisson of trepidation.

    Not sure if you heard but Harlem used to have an incredibly high crime rate and was a capital of New York's 1990s crack wars. I know, it's a much safer place now. Reported crime dropped 73% in the 2000s - makes you think how high it must have been though, no?

    Anyway, I enjoyed heading up there for dinner a couple of times in our brief NY stint. Unlike most of our other NY friends (of several different non-white ethnicities, since you ask) who apparently never go.

    I'm not asking for a medal, just sayin'...