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East Village to East Harlem: The neighborhood may still be up and coming, but the rent is a steal

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As an NYU graduate student, the East Village  was the easiest, best location for me to live. My junior one-bedroom apartment -- located at East Fifth Street and Third Avennue -- was the afterclass hangout, and every happy hour bar was within a few blocks of me.

I loved my location so much that I made do with the five  flight walk up, the $2,000 rent and having absolutely no room for overnight guests. "Junior one bedroom" just meant there were French doors between my couch and my bed—very chic, not very practical.

After I graduated, I realized the rent, sponsored by my student loans, just wasn’t realistic anymore. I needed to be under $1,000 per month. When a friend of mine had a roommate move out, I was ready to swoop in for the space. I missed having roommates. Living alone was a bit lonely for me, I preferred being surrounded by friends.

My new apartment is a four bedroom on 101th and First Avenue, with a balcony, 24-hour security, dishwasher, elevator and laundry  — amenities I didn’t have before. The best part is that we have two large bathrooms. I never imagined a space like this existed in Manhattan for $900 a month. From the outside, the building is nothing special--I would even say it looks a bit sketchy--but the apartment itself is a major step up from my East Village space.

I work on East 86th and Fifth Avenue, and my new place is a really quick ride on the 6 train. Unfortunately, that’s the only ride I can really take in East Harlem. There are no subways for blocks, and I can only rely on the M15 bus so much.  Often, the bus is slow to arrive and far off schedule, much of the time it will take me just as long to walk somewhere as it will to wait for the bus and take it to the same location. 

Luckily, I don’t mind walking, and tend to do more of that up here. I always feel safe walking around, as there are many families in my area, often out and about with their young kids.

The 6 was the closest train to me downtown also, but at least there I had the option of the N,Q and R around the corner in Astor Place as well. Another problem with relying on the 6 is the lack of trains during late night and weekend construction. If you miss the train, the wait till the next one can take up to 15 minutes, followed by another half hour chugging along the local track. 

Being so far east, there is a lot of construction going on around me, and many buildings that will soon be under construction but for now, they look outdated and a little eerie. Downtown, it seemed like they were always filming "Smash" on my block. Up here, I keep seeing cop dramas being filmed, looking for a darker setting. My friends and I have taken to calling those parts of East Harlem the “Netherzone." Based on how much construction is going on, it won’t be a neglected little patch for too long.

I’m still getting used to the feel of the neighborhood. Everything feels a little empty. The streets don't have much in the sense of restaurants and local shops. While I do see people strolling around, there just isn't much for us to pop into. I would love to see more restaurants and cafes especially, just to add flavor to the neighborhood.There still aren’t too many bars or restaurants in the blocks surrounding me, though with all the construction, it sometimes feels like I see a new bar or cool restaurant open every week.

A bit of a ways down, on East 82nd and Second, The Penrose is a  really cool lounge/bar. It’s a great after work place. Earl’s Beer and Cheese, on Park between 97th and 98th, is quirky — it feels like something you’d find in Brooklyn that landed up here.

All in all, while I’m missing  my old haunts, the proximity to my friends and the MTA options, the price and apartment have me set on East Harlem living. An elevator beats the walk up every time, even if its an elevator in East Harlem.


Transitions highlights New Yorkers’ first impressions as they transition from one neighborhood to another. Want to tell us your transition story? Drop us an email.

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