Close Up On: Morningside Heights


Just above the Upper West Side and just below Harlem lies Morningside Heights, a college town bursting with bookstores, cafés, bars, and restaurants. Columbia University is the sun around which life in Morningside Heights revolves, yet much of the community has a love-hate relationship with the renowned institution of higher learning. The quintessential ivory tower, Columbia tends to focus on life inside its gates, preferring to let community groups assume the responsibilities of cleaning up Morningside Park, working with local schools, and negotiating neighborhood affairs. In addition to students and professors, a sizable Latino population lives in the neighborhood, giving the community greater diversity. As is the Manhattan way, boosters have begun to call the neighborhood Soha, for south of Harlem, but don’t buy it. This is the Heights, and you’ll kind of like it if you go.

Boundaries: 125th Street to the north, Morningside Park to the east, 110th Street to the south, Hudson River to the west

Main Drags: Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue

Mass Transit: 1 train to 110th Street or 116th

Average Price to Rent: studio, $1000 to $1200; one-bedroom, $1200 to $1400; two-bedroom, $2400 to $2600

Average Price to Buy: studio, $175,000; one-bedroom, $250,000; two-bedroom, $400,000

Landmarks: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (Amsterdam at 112th Street), the world’s largest cathedral, is open and recovering from a fire last December. Columbia University’s main gates are at 116th Street and Broadway, with Low Memorial Library and Butler Library framing the handsome main quad. President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife are buried in Grant’s Tomb on Riverside Drive at 122nd Street. Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, is a Gothic beauty, and was the host of Martin Luther King’s anti-Vietnam sermon and Nelson Mandela’s welcome to America.

Cultural Institutions: The Miller Theatre at Columbia University offers concerts of mostly jazz and classical music, and lectures featuring distinguished professors pontificating on their pet subjects. Also at Columbia, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery hosts art shows by students and professionals alike. The Promethean Theatre Company, 237 West 109th Street, offers “theater for the rational mind.”

Famous Diner: Tom’s Restaurant on the corner of 112th and Broadway has been immortalized by Suzanne Vega in her classic song “Tom’s Diner,” as well as serving as the storefront for the Seinfeld coffee shop.

Famous Residents: Thanks to Columbia, dozens of famous people have come and gone through the neighborhood: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Bellow, Dwight Eisenhower, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Tony Kushner, Paul Robeson, Chinua Achebe, among many others. Julia Stiles is currently Columbia’s most famous student.

Best Eats: Pulled pork sammie at Toast (3157 Broadway); free wine with cheap Chinese food at the Columbia Cottage (111th Street and Amsterdam); fried chicken at Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread (366 West 110th Street); everything at La Rosita, a Spanish-Cuban restaurant that is super-cheap and delicious (2809 Broadway); the lasagna at Max SoHa (123rd and Amsterdam). Max SoHa is the best date restaurant in the neighborhood.

Best Bars: 1020’s combination of booths, darts, and ancient neighborhood regulars make it the best bar around (110th Street and Amsterdam). Or try margaritas and the rooftop at the Heights Bar and Grill (2867 Broadway). The Beat generation was born at the West End (2911 Broadway), but the ghost of Kerouac has been pushed aside by the girls of karaoke. They still serve six-dollar pitchers, so shut up and listen to the drunk girl sing “Unbreak My Heart.”

Best Coffee Shop: The Hungarian Pastry Shop, 1030 Amsterdam Avenue, is always crowded, dark, and smoky, and filled with grad students poring over erudite philosophy texts and writers furiously filling up notepads. Great hot cider, bottomless cup of coffee, friendly staff, outdoor seating.

Best Bookstore: Labyrinth Books, 112th between Broadway and Amsterdam. Mostly an academic and scholarly bookstore, Labyrinth has a knowledgeable staff reluctant to help, a large literature selection, and so many esoteric books you won’t believe it.

Local Politicians: Councilman Bill Perkins; state senators David Paterson and Eric Schneiderman; Assemblyman Edward Sullivan; and Congressman Charles Rangel—all Democrats

Crime Stats: As of October 6, the 26th Precinct reported 1 murder, the same as last year at this time; 8 rapes, compared to 7; 165 robberies, up from 153; 118 felonious assaults, up from 107; and 99 robberies, compared to 100.