Dubbed New York's "Academic Acropolis" because of the many schools that call the area home, Morningside Heights boasts a vibrancy and diversity infused with the spirit of higher education.
The area's largest employer and landlord, Columbia University, comprises a 36-acre campus that stretches six blocks between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.
Barnard College, Union Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Bank Street College of Education, Teachers College, Manhattan School of Music and Jewish Theological Seminary of America are also based here.
"Even older and nontraditional students like myself feel at home here," said Julie Northup, who attends Columbia's General Studies program.
But you don't need to be a student to enjoy the neighborhood's many off-campus activities: Both Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue are lined with restaurants, cafés, bookstores and markets reflective of the sophistication and worldly palate of the area's residents.
"With the choice of restaurants along Broadway, you can eat in a different country every day if you want to," said Wolfgang Lechner, a doctoral student in theoretical chemistry visiting Columbia from the University of Vienna.
Morningside Heights has also served as the setting for several books and films, including erstwhile resident and Columbia student Jack Kerouac's "The Town and the City" as well as "Ghostbusters," part of which was shot on the Columbia campus.
But the area has not been without its share of contentious issues, particularly between Columbia University and its neighbors. Tensions along Morningside Heights' northern and eastern borders peaked in 1968 when neighborhood and student protests broke out over Columbia's proposal to erect a gym in Morningside Park; the separate eastern entrance for Harlem residents was decried as segregationist.
Today, controversy engulfs Columbia's planned expansion north of 125th Street into Manhattanville, as long-time residents fear they may be displaced.
Morningside Heights is defined by 125th Street to the north, Morningside Park to the east, 110th Street to the south, and Riverside Park to the west.
TO EAT Restaurants in Morningside Heights reflect the tastes of the university crowds, which means that dining options are as diverse as the student body.
With its chipped pastel-colored paint and pressed tin ceilings, Kitchenette will win you over before you even see the menu, which features home-style cooking, gooey baked goods, and quirky beverages -- strawberry lemonade served in a mason jar never made so much sense. 1272 Amsterdam Ave. 212-531-7600
Hearty homemade pasta with broccoli rabe, sausage, lamb ragú and eggplant, salads and toasty appetizers can be found at this cozy Italian restaurant, all for surprisingly reasonable prices. If you're wondering what SoHa means, it's realtor-speak for "South Harlem."1274 Amsterdam Ave. 212-531-2221
Hungarian Pastry Shop
For nearly 40 years, Hungarian Pastry Shop, with its low lighting and relaxed vibe, has been a popular student hangout. Though the atmosphere is better suited to conversation than to reading, individuals seeking to bask in the glow of their laptops will also feel at home. Croissants are excellent and coffee is self-serve and unlimited. 1030 Amsterdam Ave. 212-866-4230
It's strictly no-frills at Amir's, where juicy, nutty falafel, tender chunks of beef, moujjadara platters and vegetarian appetizers are dished out with plenty of runny tahini at great prices.2911 Broadway 212-749-7500
A popular Korean noodle shop with an extensive menu, excellent lunch specials and an interior décor in which dark woods and ceramic ornaments figure prominently. Try one of the assorted "Mill Specials" served in a hot stone pot or any of the enticing Korean barbeque dishes.
2895 Broadway 212-666-7653
Community Food and Juice
Give yourself a pat on the back for choosing a place where the poultry is free-roaming and corn-fed, ingredients are sourced from local farms and all waste is composted. For those who don't mind the insanely long brunch waits, Mexican coffee, supple French toast, whole-wheat biscuits and BELT -- that's BLT with an egg -- sandwiches await.2893 Broadway 212-665-2800
Symposium Greek Restaurant
Old-school Greek food just like your Balkan granny makes it includes saganaki (flaming cheese), spanakopita, galaktoboureko, tender lamb, feta-sprinkled everything and soft, warm bread. Open since 1969.544 W. 113th St. 212-865-1011
MassawaSadly underrepresented in New York, Eritrean/Ethiopian cuisine is a welcome addition to just about any neighborhood. At Massawa, order a la carte or try the excellent combination samplers: a variety of velvety earth-toned stews redolent with berbere, arranged on an unfolded piece of spongy, slightly sour injera bread. 1239 Amsterdam Ave. 212-663-0505
Tom's RestaurantThe exterior is recognizable to millions the world over as "Monk's Café," the default eatery for Jerry and his buddies on " Seinfeld" -- you can practically hear those bass notes being plucked just by looking at it. To those actually eating at Tom's Restaurant, however, it's just your average dependable New York diner. 2880 Broadway 212-864-6137
Artopolis CaféAcross from the street from St. Luke's hospital, this bustling coffee and sweets café has a striking cleanliness to it. Look out for 18 varieties of gelato--including whiskey flavor, along with at least six different types of baklava, all attractively presented and appropriately priced.1090 Amsterdam Ave. 212-666-3744
More than 60 varieties of authentic Italian panini can be enjoyed in a color-coordinated, soccer-themed atmosphere. Head upstairs to enjoy a finely brewed espresso on the sunny, well-groomed terrace.1231 Amsterdam Ave. 212-662-2066
ALSO: V & T Pizza, 1024 Amsterdam Ave. 212-663-1708; Neighborhood pizza and Italian eatery, around since 1945. Tomo Sushi & Sake Bar, 2850 Broadway #1 212-665-2916; A popular choice for eat-in or deliver. Le Monde, 2885 Broadway 212-531-3939. The neighborhood's requisite French bistro.
Understandably, most students looking for a weekend night on the town choose to venture away from the buildings where they spend all week hitting the books. On weeknights, and for the rest of us, there are a handful of tried-and-true spots to throw back a pint or enjoy live music.
Heights Bar & Grill
Perched on the second floor overlooking the sidewalk, this watering hole is well liked by students for its cheap drinks, plump burritos, delicious brunch and rooftop terrace.2867 Broadway 212-866-7035
A magnet for upperclassmen on the weekends, this laid-back joint serves up the neighborhood's most affordable beers. On the less-crowded weekdays, there's more room to enjoy the dartboard and pool table, and every Tuesday is trivia night. 1020 Amsterdam Ave. 212-531-3468
Free live jazz every Sunday with vocalist Pamela Knowles makes this popular and well-reviewed Italian lounge a unique and sophisticated place to enjoy an evening's worth of drinks. 125 La Salle St. 212-932-3500
Havana Central at the West EndIn the early forties, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and other luminaries of the Beat Generation would gather at the West End Bar to voice their mounting dissatisfaction with the status quo. In 2006, the West End was taken over by this New York Cuban chain restaurant.2911 Broadway 212-662-8830
ALSO: Amsterdam Restaurant and Tapas Lounge, 1207 Amsterdam Ave. 212-662-6330. Live DJ every night and happy hour Monday through Friday 4-7pm.
For the most part, the demands of campus life determine the shopping options in Morningside Heights: Book and stationery shops abound. There are also several specialty and health food markets.
Subtitled "Asian Convenience Store," m2m stocks everything from frozen fish and mochi to creamy melon popsicles and Japanese candy, all reasonably priced. There's a sushi bar, too. 2935 Broadway 212-280-4600
Long-forgotten childhood novelties -- like chocolate Band-Aids and candy cigarettes -- are displayed opposite rows of delicate cherry cordials in this old-fashioned candy shop, in business since 1943. 2913 Broadway 212-864-2111
Bank Street Books
Reputed to be one of the best children's and young adult bookshops on the planet, this two-floor wonder is a precocious youngster's dreamland. Standout items include biographies of unexpected figures like E.E. Cummings and Marie Curie adapted for young adults, and the very latest in educational games and teachers' aides.2879 Broadway 212-678-1654
Book CultureFormerly Labyrinth Books, this haven for the discerning bibliophile is brimming with hard-to-find releases in the arts and humanities. Its two floors are swarmed at the beginning of every semester, so browse in the off-season for a little breathing room.536 W. 112th St. 212-865-1588
Samad DeliThis Middle Eastern mini-bazaar offers homemade hummus and baba ghannouj along with a bewildering range of by-the-pound coffees and teas, dried fruits and nuts. Ask for the "David's Blend" coffee to see for yourself what so many local java-heads are raving about.2867 Broadway 212-749-7555
With lush parks along its borders and a sprawling university campus at its core, Morningside Heights is a pleasant place for a stroll, and its compact size makes it easy to fit most activities into a single visit. What's the perfect way to traverse the neighborhood? Head northwest from Saint John the Divine, cross through Columbia's campus and end up at Grant's Tomb in Riverside Park.
General Grant National Memorial
North America's largest mausoleum is also the basis for one of New York's most famous riddles, made popular by Groucho Marx on his game show "You Bet Your Life:" "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" The answer? Nobody: Grant and wife Julia are entombed there. Free admission year round.122nd Street at Riverside Drive 212-666-1640
Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
New York's gasp-inducing Gothic Revival masterpiece has been undergoing construction and restoration for all of its 116-year history. Although the gift shop was sadly destroyed in a fire in December 2001, feasting your eyes on the world's longest Gothic nave is a reward in itself.1047 Amsterdam Ave. 212-662-6060
This four-mile strip of greenery, veined with paths and home to a portion of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, extends well beyond Morningside Heights to the north and the south. The section that falls within the neighborhood's boundaries is particularly well suited to an escape from the distractions of city or campus life with a trusty book.
Between Riverside Drive and Henry Hudson Parkway
Morningside ParkNestled beside the rugged cliffs leading down from Morningside Drive, this 30-acre space offers plenty of spots to sit in the shade, bask on the sun-soaked lawn or shoot some hoops.
Morningside Avenue between 110th and and 123rd streets
Miller Theatre at Columbia University
Now in its 20th year, this world-renowned performing arts center offers the public an innovative calendar of events from September through May. Current trends in classical music, opera, cinema and dance are presented at reasonable prices, and numerous discounted ticket options are available. 2960 Broadway 212-854-1633
Not long ago Morningside Heights was considered a secret among real estate agents, with spacious units in many of the area's grand turn-of-the-century buildings selling and renting at bargain prices compared to comparable properties on the Upper West Side.
Today, rental availability is determined largely by the university calendar.
"The rental market is seasonal in Morningside Heights," said Lucien Lidji, Vice President at Prudential Douglas Elliman. "So before the school year starts, it's at its peak. As long as Columbia is in business, the rental market is in business."
"As for the sales market, because of the scarcity of supply from lack of new development, every apartment that's priced right sells within a reasonable amount of time," he added. "The area between 110th and 120th is very different from any area in the city, and residents as well as buyers know this."
"The fact that Columbia has and continues to heavily invest ensures that the neighborhood will continue to progress at the rate it has over the past 20 years."
Students and faculty looking for dwellings more suitable to a scholar's budget often head east of Morningside Park to Harlem or north of 125th street to Manhattanville.
TO RENT $1,600 for a studio (123rd St. and Broadway)
$2,275 for a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom apartment (W. 116th St.)
$2,400 for a 900-square-foot two-bedroom walk-up with breakfast bar (West 118th St.)
$3,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with washer/dryer (W. 125th St. a Morningside Ave.)
TO BUY $699,000 for a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment (622 W. 114th St.)
$975,000 for a 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom co-op (54 Morningside Dr.)
$1,065,800 for a 1,700-square-foot four-bedroom two-bathroom co-op with bay windows and an open California kitchen (501 W. 122nd St.)
Several groups have argued that Columbia University's aggressive growth has been swallowing up the area's real estate.
The green lighting of Columbia's expansion north into Manhattanville over the next 25 years has met with opposition from those who believe it will displace longtime members of the community and affect the neighborhood's character.
Still, some residents feel that won't deter the university from building where it pleases.
"Even though they've encountered plenty of opposition to it, Columbia's expansion north of 125th Street seems more or less inevitable," remarked John Forbis, an employee of Columbia's Butler Library.
"With their resources, they can afford to be sit tight until the controversy dies down."
Q & A WITH L.J. NORTON
Norton, a musician, has lived in the neighborhood for four years.
Why did you move here? I initially moved here to be close to Columbia University and pay reasonable rent. I also wanted proximity to subway lines and Central Park.
What characterizes the people who live here? There are many residents who have lived here for years, and a lot of family and pedestrian activity on the street. Existing residents and neighbors are very friendly.
What are the worst things about the neighborhood? There are fairly limited options as far as groceries and more health-oriented eating establishments.
What are you favorite restaurants in the area? Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too (366 W. 110th St. 212-865-6744) and Taqueria y Fonda (968 Amsterdam Ave. 212-531-0383).
How has the neighborhood changed? I can only attest to my experience over the past four years. Due to the development of more upscale retail shops, condos developments, and infrastructure improvements, the neighborhood is undergoing a dynamic shift. There are also more than a few agents of gentrification, like myself, who have been moving into the area. New residents typically have more income and there are definitely efforts to start meeting their quality-of-life demands and retail needs.
How do you see the neighborhood changing? I believe that real estate values and rents will continue to increase. These changes will ultimately make the neighborhood less distinctive and certainly will not cater to the needs of lower-income residents. Long-standing residents are definitely concerned about ultimately being priced out of the neighborhood.
Libraries New York Public Library Morningside Heights 2900 Broadway 212-864-2530
Police Station 26th Precinct 520 W. 126th St. 212-678-1311
Transportation Subway: No. 1 to Cathedral Pkwy. (110th St), 116th St. Columbia University, 125th St. Bus: M4, 100, 101, 104, 60, 11, 5; Bx15.
Crime stats The 26th Precinct reported two murders, 14 rapes, 101 robberies and 45 burglaries so far this year. For the same period last year, there was one murder, two rapes, 104 robberies and 41 burglaries.
Schools The School at Columbia University, 556 W. 110th St.; St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's, 619 114th St.; Cathedral School, 1047 Amsterdam Ave.; PS 36, 123 Morningside Dr.; PS 125, 425 W. 123rd St.; PS 180, 370 W. 120th St.;