NFT New York Columbia / Morningside Heights

Columbia / Morningside Heights
Until the late 19th century, Morningside Heights was mostly undeveloped farmland. Then in 1895, Columbia University moved from midtown Manhattan to 116th and Broadway, the site of a former insane asylum. The rest is history. Columbia and Morningside Heights, which occupies the area of New York squeezed in between the Upper West Side and Harlem, are now forever linked for better or worse.  Smack dab in the center of Morningside Heights at 116th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam is the gorgeous main campus of Columbia. A stroll through here quickly replenishes the soul and provides a nice escape from the chaotic city. Just watch out for the freshmen rushing to and from class.

Like many neighborhoods in other cities dominated by an elite university, Morningside Heights had been historically mischaracterized as being a Gibraltar of culture within a barren, dangerous part of town. But the stereotypes from the '70s and '80s couldn't be further from the truth. The Morningside Heights area is one of the safer areas of New York City. Morningside Park still provides a clear line dividing line between the Columbia and residential side of town, but because of the skyrocketing rents that also came with the '90s, the lines between the two have increasingly blurred. Over the years, the relationship between the community and the nearby affluent campus has ebbed and flowed with the university's plans for expansion, land disputes, and greater gentrification.

Not all development has had mixed consequences. In 2008, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine reopened after prolonged renovations following a fire in 2001. The wait was worth it; the world's largest Anglican church and fourth largest church in the world in an awe-inspiring display of architecture, scholarship, and local, national, and world history. Built around the same time as the University (in the same lot once belonging to an asylum), St. John the Divine provides a link between the neighborhood and the millennia of history that seemingly preceded it.

If American history and nature is more your style, the neighborhood features grounds arguably just as hallowed. While corny jokes from grade school should tell you who's buried in Grant's Tomb, the mausoleum of the head of the Union Army, the 18th President of the United States and the 19th First Lady is a national landmark under the supervision of the National Park Service. Following an extensive renovation in the early '90s, Grant's Tomb is now one of the best places in the neighborhood to get in touch with nature due to its size, proximity to Riverside Park, and supervision by U.S. Park Services.

Right across the street from Grant's Tomb is Riverside Church, a nexus point of American social history, where Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Kofi Annan have all given notable speeches. Dr. King most famously denounced the Vietnam war here. An interdenominational church with longstanding ties to the city's black residents, Riverside Church is one of the bully pulpits of African-American and civil rights discussion.

Since outsiders rarely head uptown, neighborhood nightlife mostly consists of grad students avoiding dissertations in beer bars (1020 Bar), undergrads avoiding papers with heavier drinking (The Heights Bar & Grill), and residents avoiding that all in dives (Patrick Ryan's). Columbia will regularly bring in word-class operas at the Miller Theater.

The Columbia kids have many long-standing quick favorites such as the giant slices of Koronet Pizza or the quick Middle Eastern food of Amir's. For something more relaxed, try Ethiopian at Massawa, brunch time at Kitchenette, or the dangerously delicious meat emporium of Dinosaur BBQ. Italian lovers get their fix at cozy Max SoHa and the wonderful Pisticci.

The newly-expanded Book Culture is a world-class academic bookstore and Ricky's provides a resource for style needs. Coffee on the go at Oren's or sit and talk Nietzsche at Hungarian Pastry Shop. Groceries and free samples at the 24-hour Westside Market. Or everything at the massive Fairway. And then you have a world-class neighborhood wine store in Vino Fino.

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This Neighborhood Featured in...
On the Hunt for NY's Avant-Garde

By Sarah Enelow
New York is a world-class performing arts mecca, especially when it comes to experimental work, but where exactly does one find it? NFT Editor Sarah Enelow takes us on a tour of avant-garde performance venues in the city, cutting through the Broadway fluff to find the best, most affordable offbeat events.
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

By Annie Karni
What does this church have in common with a John Waters drag star? One word: Divine. That's pretty much all you need to known about this Morningside Heights landmark claiming to be the fourth largest church in the world. But let Annie Karni tell you the rest.


On Our Radar:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Posted By:  Layne Mosler
Photo:  Layne Mosler

The 'food desert' around Columbia University is no more--not if Vareli owner George Zoitas has anything to do with it. With a little help from the high-quality ingredients at his West Side Market across the street, Zoitas and chef Amitzur Mor have put together a simple but carefully crafted Israeli-Turkish-Balkan-Italian menu and a wine list that draws from Israel and the Basque country (as well as Italy, France, and Austria). The lamb burger (flavored with fresh mint) with pickled onions, tomatoes, and harissa is $14 of fantastic goodness. If you're lucky, singing server Larry will be the one to wait on you. A perfect spot for an elegant but affordable date, a laid-back lunch, or an afternoon glass of wine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Posted By:  Allison Down
Photo:  Allison Down

Appletree Market
The other day I nearly killed an elderly woman in an unfamiliar grocery store with my shopping cart; I avoided a collision of disastrous proportions only by letting out a shriek and smashing my cart into the shelves as I came around the corner and saw her standing there, wide-eyed. This has always been my problem with New York grocery stores: the aisles are so tight, I'm inspired to go on a diet every time I need to squeeze past someone to get to my Wheat Thins. Enter Appletree Market, which seems to have answered my prayers by recently renovating their entire interior, including making the aisles more spacious and well-organized. I’m also particularly fond of the mix-in salad bar and sandwich counter, which, though not cheap, has fed me endless meals in a pinch, sometimes pushing 4 am (the market is open 24 hours). While the prices are still much higher than Fairway and the produce is a little questionable, the experience of running to the market to pick up a few things is much more enjoyable nowadays without the threat of breaking someone's kneecaps in the process.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Posted By:  Dave Cook

M&G Soul Food Diner
If you think visiting a Harlem "soul food diner" requires guts, you're not totally wrong. Fried chicken, ribs, and meatloaf are familiar, old-fashioned options at M&G, but for more of a challenge, try the chitterlings. These curls of boiled pork intestine (call them "chitlins," or your waitress will give you a doubting look) are chewy, bland, and considerably improved by a few shakes from the hot-sauce bottle. Somehow, the kitchen was sold out of collard greens, so I matched 'em up with black-eyed peas, yams, and biscuits, then cruised the countertop cake displays for a fat slice of coconut-lemon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Posted By:  Joshua Cochran
Photo:  Joshua Cochran

Tom's Restaurant
If you were to show anyone this photograph, there is a 95% chance that they know where it’s from, and we’re talking about people in China, Appalachia, and even those who’ve never seen a television. Seinfeld was such a large part of American life, and for so long, that few people don’t gasp a bit when they first see it, and it’s usually a larger gasp than those that occur around other New York landmarks like the Met, Columbus Circle, or Original Famous Ray’s Pizza (or is it just Famous Ray’s Pizza?). So after taking your customary eyeful, recalling your favorite episode, what else is there to do but go inside and sit down and order, say, a tuna on rye? Well, you can of course, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. To tell you the truth, this place seems like a magnet for tourists that want to sit in the Seinfeld diner… therefore, the fine folks at Tom’s expect you to be long-gone before the indigestion sets in. While most diner items are average (only the milkshakes are above par), most menu items taste like they’re all made from the same source of pulped newspaper. Fine for an experience, fine for dragging some friend from out of town to go and gawk, but you’d be smart to take your palate elsewhere.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Posted By:  Joshua Cochran
Photo:  Joshua Cochran

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
After traveling through Europe for a few weeks, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I was at Notre Dame in Paris and I collapsed on the sidewalk in tears because there I was, about to go look at another freaking cathedral, as if all I'd done for three weeks was look at cathedrals, and I suddenly wanted to die. But when you haven't admired the fantastic beauty of a formidable cathedral lately, I highly suggest making a trip to St. John the Divine. A work-in-progress, the cathedral rivals any found in Europe for both it's awesome size and classic form, and it's right here in New York City. You don't ever have to go to Europe. Guided tours are available for a mere $5, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 11 am and 1 pm. Otherwise, you can peruse the grounds or attend an Episcopal service.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Posted By:  Joshua Cochran
Photo:  Joshua Cochran

Book Culture
Let’s face it, we live in a new world, a world where books and the written word are ever becoming marginalized, side-barred, usurped by internet ‘content’ and flashy toothpaste packaging. The used book store, as we have known it for the last two centuries, is largely becoming a thing of the past. Now it’s just Borders, Barnes and Noble, and The Strand as far as the eye can see. But Book Culture is as close as we can ever get to that nostalgic past. You see, Book Culture accommodates professors at Columbia, Barnard, City College, and other campuses who like to actually teach things. This means two things for you: a selection of the best books to be had on earth, and a steady collection of used copies of said books. You don’t have to wade through ten rows of crappy, flash-in-the-pan fiction, or the giant display of Steve Martin’s last gaffe, just to find something worthy of a few hours of your life. No, the books are real, they’re the best, and there’s no DVD section or café. Just books. If you want it, it’s there. If it’s not there, they’ll order it for you. Simple. No; it’s beautiful. Simply beautiful then.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Posted By:  Joshua Cochran
Photo:  Joshua Cochran

Koronet Pizza is not for the faint of heart. Their jumbo slice is not a standard slice of pie, but a yield sign made of dough, smothered in sauce and cheese. Yes, it’s that big. At $2.75, you can’t get a better deal on a slice of pie in the city, and from a self-professed connoisseur of such things, this is a hefty statement. The line can often be long, since every Columbia student knows about the place, but the guys behind the counter are efficient and true New York. When it’s your turn to order, you’d better be ready or they’ll just go to the person behind you. It’s beautiful. If you like toppings, they cost $1 each on the jumbo, and they don’t skimp on quantity. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, you’d be a fool to miss this landmark establishment.

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See Columbia / Morningside Heights...
Restaurants (42)
Nightlife (10)
Shopping (45)
Landmarks (5)

Other Columbia / Morningside Heights Restaurants

Morningside Heights' prime Indian lunch/dinner place.
Amir's Grill
A for price. B- for quality.
Pizza from a wood burning oven in a sleek dining room.
Bistro Ten 18
Excellent uptown American bistro.
Bus Stop Cafe
The nabe's best greasy spoon, plus Spanish cuisine.
Cafe Bagutta
Hidden brunch spot worth braving the surly service.
Community Food and Juice
Columbia foodies dig this place. And so should you.
Uptown gets wood-fired pizzas in an industrial chic setting.
Hip diner with good brunch and happy hour.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Not just for Syracuse fans. Head WAY uptown.
Haakon's Hall
Local watering hole with surprisingly ambitious hearty fare.
Havana Central
The old West End gone Cuban. Bring earplugs.

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Other Columbia / Morningside Heights Nightlife

1020 Bar
Columbia dive with super cheap beer.
Cafe Amrita
Caffeinated Columbia students, snacks, wine, beer.
Cotton Club
Good, fun swingin' uptown joint.
Lerner Hall
Columbia student union features coffee, conventions, and wacky parties.
Max Caffe
Low-key date place. Wine, good food, and sweet patio.
Nectar Wine Bar
Classy wine bar. A Cotton Club era throwback.
New ownership provides ridiculously cheap drink specials.
Live music every Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Live jazz. In Harlem. That's all you need to know.
The Heights Bar & Grill
Hang out on the rooftop with Columbia students.

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Other Columbia / Morningside Heights Shopping

Amsterdam Liquor & Wine
Stock up on your way to that beer pong party.
Appletree Market
One of the better grocery options for Columbia kids.
Aunt Meriam's
Hard to find African-American artifacts.
Book Culture
Excellent bookstore servicing Columbia/Barnard students.
Book Culture
Offshoot of the original location that Columbia students love.
No-frills market way cheaper than your local bodega.
Wealthy foodies love this place.
Clinton Supply Co.
Random hardware stuff for your new dorm or apartment.
Fairway Market
So big. So good. So New York.
Franklin & Lennon Paint Co.
Long-standing outlet with biggest selection of paint and supplies.
Hartley Pharmacy
Mom & Pop pharmacy with staff that knows you personally.
M2M Asian Market
Sushi, soba, Asian groceries. Perfect for a quick stop.

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Other Columbia / Morningside Heights Landmarks

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
Our favorite cathedral. Completely unfinished and usually in disarray, just the way we like it.
Columbia University
A nice little sanctuary amid the roiling masses.
Grant's Tomb
A totally underrated experience, interesting, great grounds.
Pupin Hall
Original site of the Manhattan Project.

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