New York

Hanging Out in Harlem: 12 Hours Above W. 120th Street with Historian Kathleen Hulser

Kathleen Hulser is an urban historian, adjunct professor at both Parsons and the New School and a SideTour host. Although she spends a lot of her professional time downtown, she lives in Harlem on the street where HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is shot. Along with her Springer Spaniel, Nikki, she peruses the architecture and green spaces of Harlem while sampling tasty bites of the newest eateries that are springing up.

8:00AM Wake and Walk In doggie world, 8am is late, so Nikki is raring to go. We pass through the nine-foot tall, carved double doors of my brownstone in Harlem. Many people around the community have asked, “Is that a bird dog?”—a testimony to the Southern origins of many Harlemites who had hunting dogs in their youth.

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Photo: Kathleen Hulser

9:00AM Architecture Admiration When walking along West 122nd St., I admire the bay windows, wrought-iron fences, signs from old fraternal societies and carved wooden doors. The fabulous apartments by architect Francis Kimball boast stained glass and terra cotta, and they appear in some shots of Boardwalk Empire. They serve as a still-visible tribute to the glory days of luxury living in 1880s Harlem.

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Photo: Kathleen Hulser 

10:00AM Sip Stop I grab a black-and-white shake from Harlem Shake at 124th and Malcolm X Blvd. and admire the photos of basketball greats, DJs and even ex-Prez Bill Clinton grinning from the signed photos on the wall.

Harlem Shake

Photo: Kathleen Hulser

12:30PM Casual Lunch Feast After walking around, you must stop to fuel up at the Boulevard Bistro, an outdoor café with umbrellas on the famous Malcolm X Blvd. You can bring your dog and enjoy fine eats like kale salad, mango chimichurri-topped steak and chocolate soufflé.

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Photo: Kathleen Hulser

2:00PM Still Strollin’ Nikki likes to yank me past the fabulous St. Martin’s Church, located on West 122nd across the street from the Bistro, which has a fantastic carillon in its copper-roofed tower. The park is the thing for pups, so we bypass the fine brownstones and the Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society in favor of Marcus Garvey Park. Our hike up the acropolis takes us up steps built by work crews during the Great Depression, and each turn allows different views to the west, east and south. You can see all the way to Riverside Church to the west.

3:30PM Along the Fire Watchtower The Mount Morris Fire Watchtower, built in 1857 by a German engineer who had earlier worked on the Eiffel Tower, sits atop of a rocky outcrop overlooking all of Harlem. It’s the only cast-iron tower left of its kind, and the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association (of which I’m a board member) is working to preserve it. In the 1930’s, crews from the Great Depression WPA built a great stone plaza to surround the tower. If things go right, you may be boogieing through the night up there, when they start holding concerts in the restored area.

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Photo: Kathleen Hulser

6:00PM A Presidential Dinner If it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for me. Red Rooster, helmed by Marcus Samuelson the Swedish/Ethiopian chef, occupies a handsome brownstone at 125th and Malcolm X Blvd., overlooking the baseball diamond in Marcus Garvey Park. You can usually get a table and a chilled aquavit lickety-split. Also worth trying is the now famous Obama-Tini, which has pineapple, lime and grapefruit—hopefully winning the First Lady’s approval for vitamin balance. It’s hard to resist the smoked trout, but I’m also addicted to Helga’s Meatballs (Swedish-style).

For more of Kathleen’s favorite spots, meet her in the village for her SideTour, where you’ll hear about the dangerous, disobedient, and dynamic women who’ve shaped New York’s history.

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