Some call it East Harlem, others call it El Barrio. East Harlem is a neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City. It encompasses the area that lies north of the Upper East Side, and East 96th Street, and east of the Fifth Avenue towards the East and Harlem Rivers. Although East Harlem has Harlem in its name, it is commonly not considered to be a part of Harlem.
The Makings Of The Spanish Harlem (East Harlem)
The early days of East Harlem saw the area occupied by poor German, Irish, Scandinavian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and later Italian immigrants. The Italian immigrants soon took over the area with a mix of Northern Italians, Sicilians, and Southern Italians. East Harlem was the first place to be called “Little Italy” with the early settlers settling in 115th Street section. By the 1930s over 100,000 Italian-Americans lived in East Harlem’s crowded and run-down apartment buildings.
Post World War I Puerto Rican and Latin American immigrants started to make their way into this area- once dominated by Italian immigrants. The new wave of immigrants inhabited the western part of East Harlem, near 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, which started being called Spanish Harlem. This area soon expanded and took over the section the Italians lived, causing them to transition out to the Bronx, upstate New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. More Hispanics moved in the 1940s and 1950s.
The new Spanish Harlem had a Puerto Rican population of 63,000 people in 1950. Since the 1950s Spanish Harlem started to be used to describe the whole of the East Harlem neighborhood, later evolving to El Barrio, meaning “The Neighborhood”.
El Barrio Demographics
Early 21st century saw a racially diverse East Harlem, with almost a third of the population, noted as Puerto Rican. East Harlem is covered by Manhattan Community District 11. This district is mainly a low and moderate income area, made up of first and second generation Puerto Ricans, African Americans, West Indians, and now an increasing number of Mexicans, Dominicans, and other Central American immigrants.
El Barrio has the biggest concentration of Puerto Ricans, however, the number of Asians in East Harlem has almost tripled from 2000 to 2010, possibly signifying a new wave of immigrants and maybe a name change, but at only 3% of the population, a Chinese Harlem may not be much of a threat to the 52.1% Spanish Harlem residents.
Food Lover’s Paradise
With so many different cultures that have passed through East Harlem, the area is bound to have a diverse array of food places that echo El Barrio’s history. Some highlights and must try out places are:
- Rao’s: Pronounced RAY-ohs, it was founded in 1896. Although this is not any place you can just walk into, it’s good to know a bit more about Rao’s. Fact: you need a personal invite from one of the prominent owners of the tables in the place. It’s believed that CEOs, politicians, those that have been in the neighborhood for years, actors and even news personalities, hold a long-standing arrangement with the owner, Frankie “No” Pellerino, that enables them to get a seat at one of the ten tables. As for the rest of us, knowing where this infamous place is is good for now.
- Patsy’s Pizzeria: Established in 1933, Patsy Lancieri was the first to open New York City’s first pizzeria restaurant. Patsy’s pizzas are baked in coal ovens, giving them an extra-crispy crust and topped with chunky plum tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil and whatever toppings your heart desires. Some say ideas for The Godfather came together in this place where filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola spent his nights.
- Amor Cubano: Get your El Cubano sandwich fix here while being entertained by the staff singing live jazz and other various acts through to Sunday. Also on offer, a whole menu dedicated to mojitos.
- East Harlem Cafe: This spot is known to have the best coffee in El Barrio and boasts an eclectic feel of being an art gallery, freelancer office spaces, and a general community hangout.
These are just some of the places you can eat at in El Barrio, but for more information about where you can get your East Harlem food fix go here.
Famous People Who Lived In Spanish Harlem
East Harlem has had its issues, but it has produced many notable public figures such as:
- Singer, Mark Anthony
- Rapper, Cam’ron
- Actor, Burt Lancaster
- Rapper, Tupac Shakur
- Vincent J. McMahon, professional wrestling promoter and former owner of WWE
- Leonard Covello, educator and founder and first principal of Benjamin Franklin High School
- Fiorello La Guardia, Congressman and mayor of New York City
Public transportation is available via MTA, New York City Subway, the IRT Lexington Avenue Line using the 4 5 and 6 trains.
For bus services there is the MTA Regional Bus Operations and some local Bronx routes also serve the Manhattan area.
Hospital & Police Information
If there is any sort of emergency while you are in the East Harlem, Upper Manhattan area, the following hospital and police information may be of use:
506 Lenox Avenue
New York, NY 10037
Phone: (212) 939-1000
Metropolitan Hospital Center
1901 First Avenue (at 97th Street)
New York, NY 10029
Phone: (212) 423-6262
NYPD 23rd Precinct
162 East 102 Street, New York, NY, 10029-5721