The sun drops in between the tree-lined streets of Manhattan Valley. It feels almost as though the sunlight has led you to the Straus Park for your morning walk. The location is small landscaped park that features one of the most recognizable statues in the city: Ida and Isidor Straus Memorial. The bronze statue was erected in 1913 to honor the Strauses, Isidor, a co-owner of Macy’s, having been the more known figure of the two. Both Isidor and Ida perished together on the Titanic. The park is quaint and quiet, and has become an oasis of greenery and the centerpiece of the neighborhood.
On the southwest side of Central Park, there’s Columbus Circle. In Manhattan Valley, there’s the Frederick Douglass Circle. The plaza was dedicated shortly after Douglass’ passing in 1950. The pedestrian intersection wasn’t fully completed until 2010, and the area today acts at a gracious gateway to Harlem. An impeccable bronze statue of Douglass stands at the center of the circle. The circle itself is a complex set of designs, the paving pattern featuring different colors that allude to the traditional African-American quilt designs. Other intricate features include wrought-iron symbols and a water wall. The walls present inscribed details and quotations from Douglass.
There are many spectacular religious landmarks in New York City, in a variety of styles and sizes. The Church of the Ascension in Manhattan Valley was completed in 1897 and reflects a hybrid of Sicilian Romanesque of the Norman and the Byzantine styles. The amalgamation makes this establishment the first of its kind. Church of the Ascension has been the model for many churches in NYC. The most magnificent part of the church is the Muller & Abel organ and organ case. The organ has been in place since 1898 and remains an original piece of the landmark. Lastly, the church also has a place in pop culture, given how it was the setting for the hit film “Keeping the Faith” with Ben Stiller and Edward Norton.
The first meal of the day doesn’t usually begin at a Mexican spot. This morning is an exception, since the mornings at Panchos make this place a definitive hidden gem. The huevos rancheros are out of this world, and the breakfast burrito is overstuffed with eggs, chorizo, mozzarella, rice and beans. If you are craving something traditional, opt instead for the two eggs (any style) with your choice of bacon, ham or sausage.
Don’t let the muted exterior of Doaba Deli fool you. The food within this Indian deli is affordable and surprisingly delicious. Many New Yorkers believe the Doaba’s food is some of the best Indian fare in the city for that matter. There are homemade paneer parathas, vegetarian samosas. The flavors are so intense and mouth-watering that even a true carnivore is sure to forget the food is all vegetarian. Doaba’s is likely to become your secret go=to comfort food spot in the neighborhood.
As you travel through Manhattan Valley, you come across many great landmarks such as the American Youth Hostels building (originally the building for Respectable Aged Indigent Females) and the castle-like former New York Cancer Hospital that was converted into a condo. But the quiet brownstone at 142 West 109th Street holds a significant place in history. The building was the one-time home of former President Barack Obama while he attended Columbia University.
The charm of the neighborhood is its distinct diversity, which is also reflected in the area’s culinary scene. There are Vietnamese restaurants such as Saiguette and Italian spots like Arco Café. But the most popular dinner option in the neighborhood is Freda’s Caribbean & Soul Cuisine. The food here is authentically Southern and delicious. The menu is simple, with choices such as Jerk Shrimp, Jerk Chicken and Curried Goat. But the sides are where this place is a true hit. The mac & cheese is unreal. The fried sweet plantains and collard greens are habit-forming. Then there’s the Callaloo, a mixture of okra, spinach, coconut and garlic that you must sample, no matter what.
The late nights in the neighborhood offer a solid mix of jazz clubs like Smoke Jazz & Supper Club and dive bars with Amsterdam Tavern and Broadway Dive Bar. But the spot to be after sundown will be The Hamilton. With an astonishing number of hard-to-find whiskies, this petite watering hole is a go-to for craft cocktails. In fact, with more than 70 choices at hand, there are probably more whiskies and ryes here than in any bar in the city.