Colombia has a joyful and vibrant culture, marked by Andean, Caribbean, Indigenous and African folk music; a range of artistic styles; colorful fashion; and a strong focus on coffee and cuisine. Colombian Americans have brought all these and more to New York City as they’ve immigrated and settled here. Many live in the Queens neighborhoods of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, a section of which is sometimes known as “Little Colombia.” A stroll on and around Calle Colombia Way (82nd Street, near 37th Avenue) makes a good starting point to immerse yourself in South American culture. Read on to learn more.
Take an authentic coffee break
Colombian coffee is renowned for its rich flavor and aroma. Whether you are looking to grab a quick “tinto”—something of a cross between an espresso and an Americano—or a spot to enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee with friends, the City offers great choices. On the east side of Manhattan, check out cultural staple Juan Valdez (140 E. 57th St.). Over on the west side, Romeo and Juliet Colombian Coffee (555 W. 42nd St.) has a selection of artisanal drinks accompanied by fresh baked pastries like pandebonos (cheese bread made with cassava starch) and buñuelos (cheese-based doughnuts). In Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, Pueblo Querido (195 Greenpoint Ave.) is the place to buy fresh bags of Colombian beans—roasted in the shop—while enjoying arepas de choclo (sweet corn cakes with cheese) and empanadas de cambray (with dulce de leche or guava jam added to the cheese filling).
Dine like a Colombian
Spaniards, Africans, Indigenous peoples and other groups have contributed to Colombian cuisine, building a diverse—and delicious—culinary heritage. Staples include empanadas (fried turnovers filled with beef, chicken or pork), arepas (grilled corn cakes), sancocho (a rich stew with potatoes, green plantains, yuca and beef, chicken or pork), ajiaco (a chicken and potato soup from Bogota) and cazuela de frijoles (a bean dish). Head to Roosevelt Boulevard in Jackson Heights to enjoy a full traditional menu at Cositas Ricas, Pollos Mario or La Abundancia, a 24-hour bakery and restaurant. In Manhattan, Dulce Vida Latin Bistro(1219 Lexington Ave.) offers a similarly comprehensive tasting experience.
Move your feet after you feast
New York City gives you plenty of opportunities to find the beat of Colombia. Start by learning the basic steps of Colombia’s beloved dance, la salsa. In addition to Latin dance studios that offer lessons, two parks have been known to (seasonally) play host to dance instruction. Tuesday nights in Washington Square Park may offer the chance to, as they say in Colombia, “come shine tile” with free salsa classes (keep an eye on washingtonsqpark.org to see if these resume in 2022), open to all dance levels. And next to Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, you can show off your skills on Sunday afternoons; a DJ plays music, and the dancing goes on into the evening.
For a nightlife vibe, stop by Terraza 7 (40-19 Gleane St.) in Jackson Heights. Here you can sip on a tragito (drink) of Colombian aguardiente (made from sugar, anise and water) or rum and be enchanted by jazz, rock, Cuban and Peruvian music, fandango and candombe shows. If you prefer to take your party to the streets, seek out one of the La Chiva Loca Colombianas. Board a yellow, blue and red bus for a festive tour of the City while listening and dancing to Colombian music. You’ll be sure to end the night with a few more friends than you had before.
Take in the visual arts
Continue your cultural immersion with Colombian art. The renowned video artist Sandra Llano-Mejia is in the permanent collection of MoMA (11 W. 53rd St.), though her late 1970s work In Pulso is only available online at the moment. This video piece, made with medical equipment, immerses you in images and rhythms produced by an electrocardiogram.
See works by Colombian artists elsewhere in NYC, like Fernando Botero’s 12-foot-tall sculptures of Adam and Eve—“dressed” as if before the fall—on display on the ground floor of the Shops at Columbus Circle. Botero, also in MoMA’s permanent collection, is known for his exaggerated figures in both sculpture and painting.