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Living in East Harlem

East Harlem is richly cultured, like neighboring Harlem. Its energetic street life reflects its living history. Immigrant communities both past and present coalesce in a vibrant mishmash of food, street art, and family-run businesses. The streets themselves are practically museums in East Harlem, with vivid murals dressing up the neighborhood’s classic brick architecture.

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The area’s Italian heritage is apparent in old-school eateries like Rao’s Restaurant, while its Puerto Rican past lives on in its salsa clubs and record shops. East Harlem is always evolving as new residents move in. Young artists have historically gravitated to the neighborhood, and with spacious properties and convenient transportation links they are now joined by a blend of new residents. Slick bars, coffee shops and nightlife bring a downtown edge to the area, yet its historic uptown roots remain.

East Harlem real estate

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There’s no lack of variety in East Harlem real estate. You’ll find charming studios, renovated walk-ups, and spacious modern condos spanning these historic blocks. Traditional row houses are now joined by East Harlem apartments for rent in luxurious developments. These feature garden decks, gyms and retail outlets. Eco-friendly features are common in new buildings like Tapestry 124, with its landscaped terraces and concierge.

Artspace PS109 is a community-minded housing development project. It’s transformed a former public school building into an apartment building offering live/work housing specifically designed for artists and their families. There are also 10,000 square feet available for arts organizations. The original building dates back to 1898 and stands five stories tall with flourishes of terracotta and copper cupolas.

East Harlem history

This diverse neighborhood was first settled in the late 1800s. When transit lines connected the area, there was an influx of Italian immigrants. The majority hailed from Sicily and southern Italy, including what would become the Genovese crime family. Over 100,000 Italian-Americans resided in the area by the 1930s, and the Giglio Society of East Harlem still celebrates during the annual Italian Festival.

The end of World War I saw a change in demographics as Puerto Ricans and other Latin Americans moved into the area, and by the end of World War II Italian Harlem had become Spanish Harlem. The first and second-generation children of these new residents founded the Nuyorican School of artists and musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, East Harlem is a bustling, ever-changing neighborhood that bears the indelible mark of each generation upon its dynamic streets.

East Harlem restaurants

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Before becoming El Barrio, East Harlem was Manhattan’s first Little Italy. Eateries like Rao’s Restaurant and Patsy’s Pizzeria have served time-honored Italian dishes to loyal onetime locals like Joe DiMaggio and Francis Ford Coppola. Rao’s is legendary not only for its famed red sauce but also for how difficult it is to get a table. Regulars have first “table rights” in its intimate, warm wood-toned dining room, first opened in 1896. Newcomers like D’Amore Wine Bar continue the Italian tradition.  

There’s no better place in the city to sample Puerto Rican cuisine than neighborhood old-timer Cuchifritos, which dishes up papa rellena and fried plantains at a bustling counter. You’ll also find plentiful Mexican, Cuban, and pan-Latin restaurants in East Harlem. Ricardo Steak House seamlessly blends fine dining and entertainment. This trendy establishment allows guests to watch chefs in the open kitchen with a live DJ-mixed soundtrack. Art adorns the walls, and candles light the tables at this urban hotspot.

East Harlem attractions

Hunter College’s East Harlem Art Gallery is open to the public, occupying the ground floor of the university’s Silberman School of Social Work at 119th Street and 3rd Avenue. It showcases exhibitions from artists engaged in community work or social practice. The gallery also hosts projects and events to benefit the community.

The northern stretches of Central Park are only moments away for East Harlem residents. Thomas Jefferson Park sits comfortably on the island’s edge, perched over FDR Drive. It features baseball diamonds, a soccer field, basketball courts and copious flower beds. In the summer, local residents flock to its outdoor pool for sunbathing and barbecues.

East Harlem shopping

Bodegas, barbershops, and boutiques fill East Harlem streets. Latin rhythms permeate the neighborhood, and you can get a feel for the local sounds at Casa Latina Music Shop. This family-run business specializes in instruments, collectibles, and the latest Latin recordings. El Barrio Music Center is another spot to pick up sizzling Reggaeton and Salsa recordings in a friendly, corner-shop environment. Puerto Rican music is the focus here, but you’ll also find genres ranging from Mexican Ranchera to Cuban Son.

Many East Harlem shops are passed down from one generation to the next. The Urban Garden Center is a prime example, operated by the Gatanas Family for three generations. It’s the top supplier of garden supplies and plants in the city, with 20,000 square feet of greenery. At the same time, newer shops and services are plentiful in this swiftly-developing area. The new East River Plaza brings the suburban shopping mall experience to East Harlem. It’s housed in the former Washburn Wire Factory along the East River, just off the FDR Drive. Big brand names include Target, Costco, Best Buy, and Old Navy.

East Harlem nightlife

East Harlem’s where legends like Tito Puente got their start, and its bars and nightclubs give you the chance to see the next big thing. Camaradas El Barrio is a lively Puerto Rican restaurant that heats up in the evenings with live music. The space hosts a full stage featuring acts from all over the world, particularly those from Latin America. Their bar also crafts custom-made liquors infused with botanicals sourced from local farms.

East Harlem bars cover a range of different styles to suit any mood. Intimate wine bars like El Kallejon and speakeasy-themed bars like The Dry Amendment are having a moment, but you can still find authentic dive bars like The Duck.

Savoy Bakery, Spa Ha Cafe

" Two great places to catch coffee or a fresh home made strawberry short cake. Just amongst two of the great places in East Harlem Check out La Margarita with Hot Bread Kitchen and The Urban Garden Center located on 116th and Park. "
Dianne Howard
Dianne               Howard

What's In The Area: East Harlem

Driving Walking

Local tips and information for going out in the East Harlem from The Corcoran Group. Explore dining, shopping and nightlife.

All East Harlem tips




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