During the Harlem Renaissance the uptown nightlife was so legendary that we’re still talking about it 90 years later. Presently, Harlem is experiencing another renaissance with an explosion of arts, culture, community interest and diaspora diversity. For Harlemites who love a soiree it’s exciting that we now have enough swank hot spots to get a good bar and lounge crawl going. Whatever you seek from your after hours playtime, Harlem has a spot for you. Forget all of that “old Harlem” vs. “new Harlem” mumbo jumbo. Harlem is still Harlem, the most recognizable village in the world.
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard Harlem, NY
Are you looking for great live music with no cover, an unpretentious crowd and dancing? Yes, please. Then Shrine is your spot. Shrine Bar and Restaurant accurately bills itself as a “World Music Venue.” At Shrine it’s not about the scene although there definitely is one. It’s all about the beats; from jazz and hip hop to reggae and Afro pop. Home of the Mafrika Music festival, the Shrine vibe is distinctly an homage to the motherland. Make your way through the party spilling onto the sidewalk, embrace the decor of tribal masks and record albums, get a drink from a cute bartender then get sweaty on the dance floor.
2. 67 Orange
2082 Frederick Douglass Boulevard Harlem, New York
67 Orange was created specifically for those of us who have fantasized about being in an intimate speakeasy with beautiful people. That’s right! Harlem has its own sexy speakeasy. You can hide out and chat up someone special downstairs or hold court upstairs directly across from the bar. This is a small spot but get ready for the incredible mixed drinks like the Emancipation; with cucumber, cilantro and vodka. Bonus: The hot bartender or even owner Karl Franz will create a couture drink just for you. Warning: The place is staffed by incredibly gorgeous models. Try not to drool.
3. Lenox Lounge
288 Malcolm X Boulevard Harlem, New York
Want to kick it really, really old school? The Lenox Lounge provides an almost socialite free, hard core Harlem bar experience. Leave the ‘tude at home. This historic Harlem jazz club was founded in 1939 and has catered to greats from Miles Davis to Billie Holiday. James Baldwin and Langston Hughes dropped by to grab a stiff drink. Why wouldn’t you?
4. Nectar Wine Bar
2235 Frederick Douglass Blvd Harlem, NY
Cozy and modern, Nectar is a sweet place for romance. Yes, you can bring your sweetie to this wine and cheese bar with mod decor. Strangely, the sometimes snobby staff at Nectar doesn’t greet its fabulous young patrons when they walk in or sit down reminding us of the days when uptown nightlife was all about bad customer service. Nonetheless Nectar made our hot bar list because the hummus and wrapped dates are simply heavenly. Mmmm.
5. Milk Lounge
2056 Second Avenue East Harlem, NY
The “Spanish Harlem Salsa Nights” may bring you to Milk Bar but you will keep coming back for the two floor raucous fiesta that often has free mojitos. Sometimes there’s a band, at other times there’s a DJ, but there’s always a party with genuine Latin music and a down home crowd. This super fun hot spot is a part of chic eatery Chimney BBQ.
17 West 125th Street Harlem, NY
If you feel like hanging out right on fabled 125th Street then mosey over to Mobay’s. Loud live music, Denzel Washington sightings, incredible Caribbean and American soul fusion food and a party atmosphere. Even if you’re just parking at the bar you must have the corn bread. Make sure someone’s mama is not sitting next to you because you’ll want to slap her after you eat it!
7. Five and Diamond
2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd Harlem, NY
The 5 and Diamond servers have often been called the friendliest staff in Harlem. Add to that a well-appointed restaurant, fulfilling bar, upscale crowd and a $5 tapas bar menu. The desert donuts are divine. Yes, it’s cool to hang out here but you must have a meal. The menu was made with love. Time to get the party started!
8. Camaradas El Barrio
2241 First Ave East Harlem, NY
Camaradas in El Barrio is always a good time. It’s all about the thumping dance music in this cash only East Harlem spot that sells no hard liquor. Don’t despair. There’s a complete selection of wine and beer. Check out the yummy Sangria, house band, and cool staff. Give them a ring to get the scoop on the fun Camaradas event nights, like spoken word and comedy.
9. Moca & Chocolat
2210 Frederick Douglass Boulevard Harlem, NY
Good ole Moca. Moca Bar and Lounge is an old standby of “new” Harlem. Yeah, yeah, it’s definitely not the bright, shiny new kid on the block but Moca is still a good place to chilllax in the cut with your friends. This is a late night spot where you can sit on a comfy sofa and nosh on delicious bar food under the radar. The servers are dedicated and an added bonus- everyone looks good in candlelight. Visit once and they will know your name. You can bounce back and forth between Moca and sexy new Chocolat which is slightly across the street. Warning, when the party gets thick Moca breaks out the plastic wine glasses but we don’t list Chocolat on its own because it’s still finding its legs.
10. Harlem Lanes
2116 Seventh Avenue Harlem, NY
Yes, Harlem Lanes is a bowling alley but stay with us, party people. There are different kinds of nightlife experiences. If you want to try something out of the box like inexpensive, sexy bowling with a DJ who takes requests plus a calm, easy going crowd then Harlem Lanes is your spot. This is a fun place for a theme party with the most dedicated staff. Everyone else should come here to learn customer service. Go for the glow-in-the-dark lanes and plush couches or chill in the bar and lounge areas.
Author and Multimedia Personality Abiola Abrams, the Lifestyle Passionista, writes and makes TV and web series about living your best life at AbiolaTV.com.