“You can smell the creative edge in the air,” says Helena Greene, whose Swing boutique sells European fashions alongside locally crafted jewelry and art.
Rather than obscure the neighborhood’s history, newcomers appear dedicated to reviving its past.
A few blocks from the famed Apollo Theater—the stage that launched Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown—MIST Harlem pulses with film and live performances, ranging from jazz and comedy to documentaries set on the streets of New York.
Throwback hangouts offer 21st-century interpretations of basement clubs and soda shops, such as the vinyl-and-tile Harlem Shake burger spot and 67 Orange Street, inspired by an 1840s dance hall that was one of the city’s first black-owned bars.
With new condos rising, some locals fear the loss of the neighborhood’s “heart and soul,” Greene says—but for now, its heritage is proving strong.
Insider’s Tip: Skip the bus tours and instead take the number 2 or 3 subway line to the 125th Street station; then explore on foot.
This article, written by Jackie Caradonio, appeared in the November 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.