Novel New York
by Jessica Allen, 04/01/2014
Sylvia's photo by Clayton Cotterell • "Jazz" (1992), by Toni Morrison courtesy Vintage Books
The Harlem of the 2010s more closely matches the Harlem portrayed in Toni Morrison's Jazz than at any other point in the 20th or 21st centuries. The neighborhood is once again as full of verve, evidenced by popular restaurants and nightclubs, as it was during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. If you want to get a sense of the neighborhood's past, book a table at Sylvia's, a family-run institution known for its soul food. Make My Cake offers a dessert that encapsulates New York and the American South: red velvet cheesecake (the straightforward red velvet cake's pretty good too, as is the sweet potato cheesecake). Among the area's more contemporary destination restaurants are Red Rooster, The Cecil and ABV. Modeled on the speakeasies of the 1920s, Ginny's Super Club features food and live performances (book ahead, especially for the gospel brunch on Sundays). For an academic take on the music behind Morrison's novel, visit the National Jazz Museum, where you can chat with expert docents, many of whom have lived in Harlem for decades. If it's live jazz you're after, wait for the sun to set and then head to such venues as Minton's, where bebop was born, American Legion Post #398, for the Sunday night jam sessions, or the legendary Lenox Lounge, reopening in late summer 2014 a few blocks away from its former location.