Neighborhood Secrets

The insider's guide to Hamilton Heights

By Marjorie Cohen | December 15, 2017 - 9:00AM 

Townhouses on Convent Avenue

Marjorie Cohen/Brick Underground

Hamilton Heights is a northwestern subsection of Harlem where prices have soared in recent years with the arrival of young professionals and creative types priced out of neighborhoods downtown and elsewhere.

A short subway trip from Midtown, the area is home to City College and walking distance to Columbia University's Manhattanville annex. Riverside Park and Riverbank State Park run along the Hudson at the neighborhood's western edge, and its commercial avenues are bustling day and night. Many of the residential blocks are lined with restored early 20th-century townhouses, and at the northern tip of St. Nicholas Park is Alexander Hamilton's family home.

Many of the neighborhood's longtime residents could do without the new attention. They don’t mind the busloads of tourists who come on weekends to see Hamilton’s house, but they’re glad when they go home and are pleased that national chains have pretty much ignored them. 

 The 145th Street entrance to Riverbank State Park, one of Hamilton Heights' oases on the Hudson.

The 145th Street entrance to Riverbank State Park, one of Hamilton Heights' oases on the Hudson.

Here are some basic stats:

Neighborhood boundaries: West 135th Street to West 155th Street, Hudson River to St. Nicholas Avenue

Median sales price: Two bedroom, $595,000 

Median rental price: Two bedroom, $2,295 a month

And here are eight important things to know about Hamilton Heights, as told to us by people who live there: 

1. Gentrification: The elephant in the room

Living in Hamilton Heights as a relative newcomer—I’ve been here five years—is a constant struggle between being allowed in and scoffing at people who want to get in. The tension between longtime residents and those just discovering the neighborhood is sometimes really palpable… We all hate hearing how people want to come here because it’s cheap.”—Mayra, 37, lives with her son and husband in a co-op

“Gentrification is a huge problem. Several older tenants in my building are having trouble with the landlord. I think he’d like to get them out. I also worry about the future of the small businesses here, so I always try to shop local.”—Jose, 33, lives with his fiance in a market-rate rental

“It behooves us to respect the folks in the neighborhood, the ones who have invited me in. We need to be very aware of being a good neighbor.”—Alisa, mid 40s, lives with her son in a co-op

“I know that gentrification is a huge issue, especially with the new condo complexes in the neighborhood. More white people are moving in and although no one has said anything negative directly to me, I have overheard those kinds of remarks."—Maggie, 22, rents with two roommates

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2. Neighbors: From 'Hello' to full-on friendships

“Living in Hamilton Heights is the first time I’ve gotten to know my neighbors. I know the people on my block, people I meet on my job [at a cafe in the neighborhood]. I’ve  met a lot of people who have been volunteering along with me collecting supplies for the victims of a terrible fire in November at West 144th and Broadway. We collect and sort donated items. Six carloads of stuff so far.”—Morgan, 25, rents with her girlfriend

“My neighbors? Not unfriendly but usually it’s just ‘good morning’ and ‘hello.' I work and go to graduate school so I don’t have that much time.”—Tammy, 30, rents with one roommate in a one-bedroom

“My neighbors threw a baby shower for me and are always offering to babysit for my son. I often come home to find a bag of apples or a new toy outside my door. At the building Christmas party, there’s even a present for my cat. And the Halloween celebration on the block is amazing. Kids are invited to the nearby townhouses that have been elaborately decorated. This year the theme was The Wizard of Oz. One set of neighbors even opened up their patio for a kids dance party!”—Alisa

3. Transit is so-so, but it just got better

“Via extending its territory to include upper Manhattan is a game-changer. Now it’s not much more than a subway fare to get to anyplace you want to go.”—Andrew, 37, owner of the Chipped Cup Cafe and the restaurant next door, The Hand Pulled Noodle

“The delays on the trains on the weekends are a nightmare. I was 45 minutes late to meet a friend last week and I left extra early.”—Dylan, 25, rents with two roommates

“The 145th Street A and D station is horrible. There’s no elevator, and they’re not going to put one in even though they’re doing a major renovation of the station that will take years. What about the people with disabilities? It’s unconscionable. When I have my son in his stroller, I often have to walk to 125th Street where there is an elevator. The good thing: I can be down on Chambers Street at my son’s daycare in 35 minutes.”—Alisa

4. The neighborhood is kid-friendly

“I went to PS 153 and now my son goes there too. There are plenty of playgrounds within walking distance. I like the Camel Park in Riverside Park. I don’t like it when kids smoke in the park. It’s illegal and unhealthy. When I was growing up, several of the blocks were closed to traffic in the summer so that kids could play on the street. I wish that was still going on."—Surico, 29, lives with her son and parents in the rental apartment where she grew up

“You can find good daycare in some of the home-based spots in the neighborhood for about $50 per day. That’s unheard of in most other neighborhoods. And where else in Manhattan besides Riverbank Park can you take your kid to go ice skating for $3? And then there’s the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, free for kids from 0-8 and $4 for kids 9-17 and adults. Compare that to the $14 charged for kids and adults at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side.”—Alisa

5. Eating and drinking out: New options, and some old favorites gone

We celebrate and we bemoan every restaurant that opens. The newly opened ones are all uber-cool, pricey, and they all definitely cater to a newer crowd.”—Mayra

“I like ROKC. It’s a ramen bar with craft cocktails. I’ve liked all of the ones I’ve tried. The prices are in the 2-3 dollar-sign Yelp range. I also like the Harlem Public. It’s a good place to get a burger, a drink, and watch basketball. For coffee and a place to study I like the Hamilton Eatery and for an even better cup of coffee, the Sugar Hill Cafe.”—Tammy

“I don’t go out that much. Too expensive. When friends come to visit, I have them come over for bagels and lox. But, whenever  I do go out, I like the Italian restaurant Fumo, especially when the weather is nice and you can sit at the the outside tables and enjoy a great view of the beautiful old buildings of City College. When my dad’s in town and treating, I like The Grange  for great grass-fed beef burgers, fries, and live jazz on Sundays.

"A bookstore/cafe where community meetings were held closed a few years ago. That was a huge loss. I would like to see another spot like that come into the neighborhood: a place where local poets could read their poetry.”—Alisa

“I like some of the smaller bars like Off the Grid Pub and Uptown Bourbon. Both attract a local crowd.”—Jose

“There used to be a family-owned, old-school Dominican restaurant at 154th Street. The landlord evicted them about two years ago. I assume it was a rent issue. The place is still empty. I miss it. I used to eat there all the time.”—Will, 39, shares a four-bedroom rental with three roommates

6. There are stores galore, but your mileage may vary

There are more than enough grocery stores, and over the past five  years, I’ve seen them all improve dramatically in appearance and offerings. Fairway, Foodtown, and even the delis and bodegas are all first-rate.”—Mayra

“For my food shopping, I take the train to Trader Joe’s.”—Maggie

“My grocery store, dry cleaner, and laundromat are all in a row next to my building. Very convenient.”—Tammy

“I don’t shop in the neighborhood. It’s too expensive for organic food. At Foodtown a half-gallon of organic milk is $7. At Trader Joe’s it’s the same price for a gallon. I go to the Trader Joe’s on 72nd Street. [It's] an easy ride on the 1, or sometimes I walk to the Fairway on 131st Street.”—Alisa

 Alexander Hamilton's house of two years, in the foreground, at its third and current location in St. Nicholas Park, with City College in the background.

Alexander Hamilton's house of two years, in the foreground, at its third and current location in St. Nicholas Park, with City College in the background.

Marjorie Cohen/Brick Underground

7. Seeking quiet? There are lots of meditative places

“I love to walk down by the river to the lighthouse and the lawn of the Jumel Mansion is a lovely place for a picnic.”—Morgan

“One of my favorite things is to walk around the City College campus. Last year an artist posted photos of Hamilton with dreadlocks on some of the buildings. There’s always something interesting to see.”—Alisa

“I run on the track at Riverbank and play soccer there. I bike along the path in the park and take my dog to a dog park at Riverside and 140th. There are a ton of friendly folks there, and even the pit bulls are well-behaved.”—Jose

“I like to sit on the big steps by the Hamilton House or the rocks in St. Nicholas Park. I’m a writer and I like to work there.”—Dylan

“When I want alone time, I like to go to Jackie Robinson Park to just sit and read.”—Maggie

8. For the most part, people we talked to feel safe

“Once when my dad was visiting, he went out and left the door to my apartment wide open. When we got back hours later, not a thing had been disturbed. He was amazed.”—Alisa

“When I get off work at 5 a.m., I walk the two blocks home. Never a problem.”—Dylan

“There’s a biker gang that sometimes rears its head and makes me feel unsafe. Not to mention the noise. But walking from the 145th Street express stop home feels safe almost any time, especially since there’s constant foot traffic around the college and the public safety cars drive around the campus area.”—Mayra



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