Harlem has long been a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community. As early as 1869, there were notorious masquerade parties held here, which gave way to popular drag balls in the 1920s and ’30s—part of the so-called Pansy Craze. Now the neighborhood has opened its arms even wider as young members of the LGBTQ community have headed north for more affordable housing; that includes many young performers who appreciate Harlem’s proximity to Midtown’s Theatre District. (As the song goes, just take the A train!) With an abundance of gay-friendly restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, coffee shops and cultural options, Harlem welcomes all kinds of visitors. Read on for places to check out in the neighborhood.
This swank LGBTQ bar has a fun happy hour that brings the community to 139th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard seven nights a week. Other offerings include Harmonica Sunbeam’s comedy show, Caribbean Nights and Go-Go Mondays. Just be sure to get your disco nap in as the party often picks up after midnight and goes late.
Harlem Food Bar
Popular with the LGBTQ crowd, this local hot spot serves delicious meals and fabulous cocktails. Daily happy hours offer two-for-one house drinks including beer, homemade sangria, frozen margaritas and select wines. Insider tip: go for brunch and order the croque madame or their crab cake Benedict, along with a mimosa or three.
This uptown staple has become a community meeting spot where everyone is welcome. If it’s your first time, the HT burger or truffle burger is a must, but be sure to order one of the mac and cheese variations for the table—you can spice it up with poblano kimchi, jalapeños or pico de gallo. And if you’re looking for a place that can accommodate a big group, they’ll have room.
Lance Knowling, one of the chefs who catered Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, also hosts the Black Chef Series at this restaurant, featuring a lineup of extraordinary African-American chefs showcasing their specialties. The regular menu offers dishes like Marjorie’s deviled eggs, hickory-smoked salmon and wild-mushroom-smothered chicken.
Named after a Venetian beach resort, Lido seeks to transport guests from Harlem’s restaurant row to the Italian countryside. The intimate interior makes a homey setting for enjoying the food of James Beard-award-winning chef Serena Bass, who uses local, organic ingredients. With the purchase of a brunch entree, guests can indulge in bottomless drinks for $16. And be sure to order their buttermilk biscuit with chipotle-honey butter.
Solomon & Kuff
Solomon & Kuff is situated in a 5,000-square-foot industrial loft space just a short walk from the 1 train at 125th Street. The bar features more than 100 rums and an assortment of tropical cocktails. For dining, chef Christopher Faulkner has put his own spin on traditional Caribbean cuisine. Cocktail prices are slashed at the bar during happy hour, as are bites—arrive early to get a seat and order some snacks before dinner.
Cafés and Bakeries
Double Dutch Espresso
Coffee culture is alive and kicking at this uptown coffee shop, known for delicious snacks like Double Dutch avocado toast. Once you’re finished with your espresso, head next door to its sister bar, Mess Hall, where you can grab some cheesy puff balls and check out their menu of craft beers and bourbon.
Make My Cake
For more than 20 years, the folks behind this bakery have been whipping up some of the tastiest desserts in the City. Among the popular choices are German chocolate, red velvet and sweet potato cheesecake. Plus, no one will judge you if you order a few cherry turnovers for breakfast the next day.
Arts and Culture
The Apollo dates back to 1914, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that it was given its current name and allowed African Americans to perform on stage. Since then, it has hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. Amateur Night takes place Wednesdays between mid-February and November.
Fans of the hottest ticket on Broadway have been taking an uptown train for a closer look at the Harlem home of founding father Alexander Hamilton. After the structure became part of the National Park Service, it was moved in 2008 to beautiful St. Nicholas park, renovated to the tune of $14.5 million and reopened to the public in 2011.
This performing arts center continually offers an intriguing series of programming. Some spring offerings include Ascension: A Lifting of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy on the 50th Anniversary of His Assassination, a performance by vocalist and composer Imani Uzuri, and a swing night with a DJ and dance class.
After operating in Chelsea for 15 years, the Elizabeth Dee Gallery relocated in 2016 to the original home of the Studio Museum in Harlem. It focuses on conceptual art across a variety of mediums.
Before you venture to the broad array of new galleries popping up all over Harlem, it’s essential to visit Essie Green, the crown jewel of the uptown art scene. Dig deep into the history and legacy of the Harlem Renaissance while taking in artwork by some of the most creative minds of the time like Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis.
Dapper Dan’s Harlem Boutique
This new appointment-only atelier is located in a brownstone close to Dapper Dan’s former store, which was open from 1982 to 1992. The boutique is a unique partnership between Gucci and Dapper Dan, who gained famed from doing imitations inspired by the famed designer label. Contact the store via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make your private appointment.
Flamekeepers Hat Club
Complete your Harlem Renaissance throwback outfit or pick out a simple driving cap at this hat store to end all hat stores. Proprietor Marc Williamson knows how to dress a head, and every gentleman should have a few great hats to complete every look.
All the clothing at Harlem Haberdashery is designed and created at their own facility in Harlem, while accessories and other collections are hand-selected from specific designers. And whom might you run into here? If you’re lucky, a celeb like Rihanna or DJ Khaled.