Yes, downtown Manhattan is full of fancy restaurants and Brooklyn is a haven for trendy bohèmes, but Uptown residents would argue that New York City's cultural mecca is Harlem. There isn't another place in the city where you can hit up more than one Jimmy Jazz, purchase bootleg soul and R&B mixtape CDs, and get lessons on supreme mathematics from Five Percenters at the Allah School in Mecca all on the same avenue. Walk along 116th Street and listen to how the language switches from the French Creole of West Africa to a cacophany of Spanish dialects as you head east into Spanish Harlem. Pass by all of the double parked cars every Sunday morning, and you'll hear the joyful singing of church choirs.
The cultural lines that separate Harlem from the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan are becoming increasingly blurred. New mainstream businesses are opening alongside the stores Harlemites frequented as kids and upscale restaurants are taking over 8th Avenue in the southern part of Harlem, cropping up right beside hole-in-the-wall Chinese take out and chicken spots. The faces Uptown are changing, but the soul of Harlem and its community only grows with each new establishment.
The world famous Apollo Theater, Lenox Lounge, Amy Ruth's, Sylvia's, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que are all classic spots that have contributed to cultivating Harlem as we know it today. But the latest additions cropping up are making measured contributions to the 21st century Harlem Renaissance.
No one can narrow down what makes Uptown so great in just one list, but here are some of the places that make the longer commute worth it: The 15 Coolest Places in Harlem Right Now.