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The culture of Washington Heights: Great food and gorgeous parks

Apartments on St. Nicholas Ave near West 174th

Apartments on St. Nicholas Ave near West 174th Street in Washington Heights Manhattan. (Jul. 9 , 2013)??Photo by Anthony Lanzilote Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Filled with rich history, cultural diversity and plenty of parks, Washington Heights is more than the struggling barrio portrayed in the Broadway musical “In the Heights.”

Named for Fort Washington, a Revolutionary War-era defensive fortification formerly located in Bennett Park, the Heights is now known as a lively community with family-friendly restaurants, many niche stores and top-rate schools.

Annie Hawkins, a Sovereign Associates broker, says the nabe is growing in popularity because of the reasonably priced, well-sized apartments.

“People can get more space for their money up here,” said Hawkins. “It’s true that the air is cleaner, there aren’t as many high-rises and you’re close to so many parks.”

Starting in the 1960s, this neighborhood became well-known for its high percentage of Dominican immigrants.

According to New York census data from 2010, WaHi continues to be an ethnic enclave, as nearly 30% of residents declare Hispanic heritage.

The neighborhood is also drawing nearby Columbia Medical School students and professors and young families with children, according to Hawkins. Part of the appeal is its accessibility, with five subway lines.

“People particularly like the buildings around 181st Street and 190th Street and West Broadway,” Hawkins said. “They have big apartments with storage available, and it’s a quiet area while close to major subway stops.”

By day, locals and tourists alike hang at one of the eight parks in Washington Heights.

Highlights include the highest natural point in Manhattan at Bennett Park, the artist Terry Fugate-Wilcox’s “3000 A.D. Diffusion Piece” sculpture in J. Hood Wright Park and the views of the Palisades and the Hudson River at Fort Washington Park.

Landmarked architectural sites such as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Audubon Terrace and the United Palace Theater on 175th Street draw architecture and history enthusiasts for the varying styles present, while museums lend to the cultural scene.

Search for the unicorn all summer at the Cloisters’ special tapestry exhibition and brush up on all things Latin at the expansive Hispanic Society of America.
The Heights also hosts a variety of festivals and cultural celebrations.

Upcoming events include the free Summer Movie Series at an outdoor theater in J. Hood Wright Recreation Center and the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park on Sept. 29.

And while the Dominican Day Parade is no longer held here, people still party in the nights leading up to the Aug. 11 event.

Of course, because of Washington Heights’ high Dominican population, a visit would be incomplete without sampling the cuisine of the Caribbean nation. Try favorites like chicharron (fried chicken chunks), chuletas (pork chops) or mofongo (mashed green plantains with your choice of toppings). Malecon and El Conde Restaurant come highly recommended. Save room for bar snacks, however, because the neighborhood has many watering holes.

“Part of why I like Washington Heights is there are many places people don’t know about,” Hawkins said. “There are things to discover.


Washington Heights, located on the north end of Manhattan, runs from 190th Street in the north to 155th Street in the south. It is bounded to the east by the Harlem River and to the west by the Hudson River.


La Casa del Mofongo, 1447 St. Nicholas Ave.
Mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican and Dominican dish consisting of mashed, fried plantains, reigns supreme at this well-established Washington Heights haunt. While mofongo is widely available throughout this heavily Dominican neighborhood, La Casa del Mofongo remains one of the most popular spots, with heavy crowds most nights. Part of the draw stems from their extensive menu with more than 20 varieties, ranging from plain or with cheese to adventurous toppings of herring, spaghetti and lobster. Bonus: It’s open 24 hours. 212-740-1200.

Angela’s Cake, 182 Audubon Ave. Do not be fooled by the unassuming façade of this local-favorite bakery. Specializing in ornately decorated cakes for any occasion, from kids’ birthdays to weddings, Angela’s Cake serves up consistently tasty Dominican treats. Downtowners consider it a destination spot when planning a big event. 212-304-4745.

Kismat, 603 Fort Washington Ave. Craving something other than Caribbean cuisine? Kismat Indian Restaurant, located just down the street from Fort Tyron Park since 1996, is one great option. The menu features Indian and Bangladeshi dishes such as samosas and Kori kebabs. A great spot for picky vegetarians. 212-795-8633.

Locksmith Wine and Burger Bar, 4463 Broadway Ave.
Locksmith, with its low-key vibe and above-average bar food menu, is the type of neighborhood bar that feels like a regular haunt for many. Come with friends or strike up a conversation with strangers over the $3 tequila shot special or Negro Modelo. Check out its Taco- Tequila Tuesday or $18 weekend brunch. 212-304-9463.

Le Chéile, 831 W. 181st St. Despite serving food, this restaurant-slash-bar definitely has more of a bar vibe, albeit in a relaxed, family-friendly environment. Try one of their 12 beers on tap, or pick from their wine list. Le Chéile can get quite lively for a wine bar, so get there close to happy hour to snag a seat. 212-740-3111.

Monkey Room, 589 Fort Washington Ave. For those choosing between a night out dancing, watching sports or smoking hookah, the Monkey Room fits the bill, as it has all three. Weekend nights, they have DJs spinning Latin tunes and hip-hop, and occasionally karaoke. Need a little liquid courage to sing or dance in front of strangers? At Monkey Room, $5 gets you two beers until 9 p.m. 212-543-9888.

Probus NYC, 714 W. 181st St.
Probus NYC, an upscale menswear store, became so popular that the owners launched an online “digital boutique” which ships its wares internationally. City dwellers head to the Heights to scope out their popular brands such as Fred Perry, G-Star, J Shoes and Brian Wood. 646-329-6421.

Vamps NYC, 3898 Broadway Ave. This large store offers a variety of shoes for everyone, from infant Ugg boots to adult Dr. Martens. Bonus: The staff is helpful and friendly. 888-229-3213.

La Plaza de las Americas, West 175th Street between Wadsworth Avenue and Broadway This year-round outdoor market, featuring vendors proffering housewares, clothing, food and arts and crafts, opened in 1994. Since then, the Department of Transportation launched a plan to better accommodate the 20 to 50 vendors (depending on the season), making La Plaza de las Americas more shopper friendly with open pathways and benches. A greenmarket operates here on Thursdays, June through November.

Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace.
The Palladian-style Morris-Jumel Mansion dates to 1765, making it the oldest house in Manhattan. History buffs, take note: George Washington stayed here in 1776 during the Battle of Harlem Heights, returning in 1790 to host a dinner with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. 212-923-8008.

The Hispanic Society of America, 613 W. 155th St. Housed in a Beaux Arts compound, the Hispanic Society of America features a free museum and research library for those interested in Latin cultures. The collections include 800-plus paintings from famed artists such as El Greco, Goya and Sorolla y Bastida. Saturdays at 2 p.m., the Hispanic Society hosts free 45-minute tours of the institution. 212-926-2234.

Bennett Park, between West 183rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue. This historic park — once home to Munsee Native Americans, then headquarters for George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War — now features a well-maintained playground and plenty of benches, perfect for a sunny afternoon family outing. Be sure to scout out the plaque marking the highest natural point in Manhattan. Standing here at 265 feet above sea level can make you feel on top of the world (or at least, on top of New York). 212-408-0100.


WaHi skaters rejoice: The largest skateboard park in New York will be opening in the area by fall. The Highbridge Skate Park, located beneath the Hamilton Bridge near the Harlem River, is under construction.

Steve Rodriguez, founder and owner of the famous 5boro skateshop, helped design the park with the Department of Transportation. Once opened, it will be the only uptown legal skating area, thanks to its high-tech lighting system. Until then, boarders have to head to Chelsea Pier for legal evening skating.


Q&A with Tim Haring

Tim Haring moved to Washington Heights two years ago and works at the local haunt Buddha Beer Bar.

He calls the nabe “a destination spot” thanks to its lively nightlife.

How has the area responded to Buddha Beer Bar?
We do really well. We have nine large flat screens, so we get a lot of people coming in to watch sporting events. We’re packed on weekends, I think because we have high-end craft beer for reasonable prices.

How has the neighborhood changed since you’ve been around?
Locksmith’s was the first neighborhood-y bar that popped up, and now several others have opened. The Washington Heights and Inwood areas are becoming a destination spot for downtowners. It used to be people were going to Brooklyn for craft beers, but now they can explore uptown more for the same thing.

What is the crowd at Buddha Beer Bar like on a typical night?
Each night is different. We’ve got the trivia crowd on Tuesdays, open mic night talent coming in from the five boroughs on Wednesdays and then the sports people. Believe it or not, the best-seller is still Corona. You get the guy coming in for Budweiser, but I say, “You know, why don’t you try this Blue Point Toasted?”

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