A few weeks ago I was having lunch in New York with my friend Edward Joseph, a great guy and long-time agent at our real estate Affiliate Brown Harris Stevens. He was giving me my introduction to Café China, among the best Chinese food restaurants in the city—located far from Chinatown in an otherwise non-descript building on East 37th Street in Manhattan (highly recommended: the Dan Dan noodles and a red codfish stew that was incredible).
Edward and I were talking about some of the things we love to do in the city, which include frequenting some of the city’s remaining great live music venues. He mentioned in passing a new listing he was going to be bringing to the market in Harlem, still home to some of the greatest live music venues in the world. And when he mentioned Harlem, it got me thinking back to the movie Mo’ Better Blues, which was scored beautifully with one song in particular that I was reminded of—“Harlem Blues,” a beautiful, haunting song by Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, and Cynda Williams.
I don’t have the chance to visit many of our Affiliate’s listings, but there was something about the conversation that got me thinking about the way New York City drew me in so long ago. Before I had my two beautiful little girls, when life was simpler and politics weren’t a dividing line for family and friends, I spent a lot of late nights out at Village venues like the Back Fence, the Bitter End and the Red Lion, and incredible jazz at places like the Village Vanguard, Blue Smoke, Smalls and more recently Fat Cat, my favorite night out venue in Manhattan when I want to drink PBR and pretend I’m still able to keep up with some of my old college and work friends.
My love of food and music has also taken me to Harlem from time to time, but in the days before Uber, it wasn’t as easy a night out and I didn’t make the effort I should have to get to know it better. After lunch at Café China, I decided it was time to see Harlem again for myself and witness more of the renaissance that the area has experienced in recent years.
So, this past weekend, with my good friend Grant from Vancouver in tow, I started my Harlem tour by visiting the townhouse Edward had listed. The sensational outcome of a gut renovation project, the four-story brownstone is a wonderful tribute to the era in which it was built. Originally completed in 1909, it was renovated thoroughly and thoughtfully over a two-year period which finished in 2008 and now stands as one of the finest examples of its kind in all of prime central Harlem.
The now magnificent townhome sits on one of the best, if not the best, locations in all of Harlem. It has views of other spectacular homes built during the turn of the last century and overlooks a tree-lined park on 120th Street near Madison Avenue. From there, the greatest Harlem amenities are a short walking distance away.
The brownstone is steps away from the 2 and 3 trains, and just a few blocks from the A, B, and C trains, providing easy access to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan (as does Uber of course for those who don’t feel like the walk). More importantly, it is close to the great food and jazz/blues scene that has been pushing Harlem to the forefront of articles about the renaissance in Upper Manhattan and the city’s next great real estate buying opportunities.
Within easy walking distance, we found Streetbird Rotisserie, Marcus Samuelsson’s new-ish hip chicken joint and tribute to Harlem’s music scene. Next door was Silvana’s, a relaxed coffee shop sitting on top of a great live music venue that comes alive early and goes late into the night. Not far are other great music venues like Minton’s and Smoke, incredible places that live somewhat in the shadows of other legendary Harlem hotspots like the famed Apollo Theater, and great restaurants like Samuelsson’s better known Harlem eatery, Red Rooster, and Amy Ruth’s, the magical soul food destination.
A while ago I coined the expression “lifestyle arbitrage” to describe the efficient movement of home buyers’ money in New York City (and elsewhere) from areas with high prices per square foot to areas of lower prices per square foot. The idea is simple enough—buy in areas where you can have an incredible New York lifestyle, within a short distance of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan by subway, with easy access to the necessary amenities of a desirable neighborhood, at a fraction of the price of some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. At a listing price of $5 million for a sensationally designed 4,400-square-foot townhouse, this Harlem brownstone is a clear example of how lifestyle arbitrage works in real NYC life. In a desirable location on the Upper West Side, this brownstone would easily clear over $10 million.