Thursday, February 23, 2012

Upper Manhattan: The Other Upper West Side

New York instinct seems to draw almost everyone on the island of Manhattan to points south of 125th Street for dining, strolling, sightseeing and general fun. Tourist maps of New York City ignore areas to the north almost entirely, ending their detailed grid coverage of the island just past Central Park North. It's no wonder locals forget and tourists skip that stretch of Broadway that extends past Morningside Heights to Washington Heights and beyond.

But isn't anyone asking, "What's Uptown?"

If you aren't a New Yorker who lives in Hamilton Heights and you don't yet know your way around Washington Heights I invite you to join me on this rainy day walk in photos to Upper Manhattan, the other Upper West Side.

You've taken the IRT 1,2, or 3 train to 125th Street and Broadway. You begin walking under steel and rumble toward destinations unknown. Welcome to the neighborhood known on tourist maps as blank space.

Salsa and reggeton spill out of stores as you move past discount shops, beauty supply houses and bodegas. You fall in step with the rhythm of the street.

A cafecito espresso and a sweet from a Dominican bake shop brightens a gray day. Smile, you are twenty blocks in both directions from the nearest Starbucks. 

Broadway may be bleak for blocks at a stretch but look up, above the sad storefronts...

and look far, down the sidestreets. There you'll find proud architecture and whispers of old New York.

Trinity Church Cemetery and The Hispanic Society of America stand atop Manhattan's steepest hill bearing witness to Broadway's long memory. Walk a tombstone garden in one then visit hushed galleries in the other.

The tang of mineral in the air reminds you there's a river nearby. You veer west to gaze at the Hudson churning under the George Washington Bridge. A playground model of it, slick with drizzle, watches for a sunny day.

What's that in the distance? The George Washington Bridge Bus Station designed by Italian engineer, Pier Luigi Nervi, in 1963.

You left quiet streets behind twenty blocks ago by the time you reach 181st Street and Broadway.

Chain stores start to outnumber mom & pop shops but the flavor is still local.

There's much more to see. Art Deco and Dutch architecture on Bennet Avenue, Fort Tryon Park and its gardens, The Cloisters Museum and Bette Midler's parkside restaurant. But what's the rush? You'll be back now that you've discovered just how interesting the blank space on a map can be.