The holiday season is almost upon us, and if you have a small group of friends or family coming to town, they'll surely be asking for suggestions on where to stay.
Those of us who live in Harlem have pretty much only one solid hotel recommendation: Aloft. (A Rennaissance Marriott will be coming to 125th Street in 2019, but that doesn't help anyone right now. Further uptown in Washington Heights there's also the nice-looking new Edge Hotel.)
A few months ago I found myself making this tepid suggestion when friends from D.C. announced they were visiting New York with their 8-year-old. They briefly considered a room at the Aloft or even a midtown hotel, but quickly came up with a different solution: They decided that for the same money they preferred an Airbnb apartment in Harlem–it offered way more space and was still close to me.
So what was their experience like?
They chose a two-bedroom on the third floor of a south-facing brownstone in what their Airbnb hosts called "the Heart of Harlem," a few blocks down from 125th Street and just off Lenox Avenue. It was super sunny, spacious, clean and quiet, with an open living room/kitchen, good wifi and artsy-modern furniture that felt much more welcoming than a hotel room (the rate for this particular apartment was $260-$300 per night).
The hosts lived in the ground-floor apartment, so were around to give keys and also help with any questions and requests. A binder for guests was filled with all sorts of suggestions on where to eat (a long list of good restaurants, from BLVD Bistro for soul food to Inoue for sushi), go shopping (the 125th Street commercial corridor) and find entertainment (Showmans and Paris Blues for jazz).
Maybe because I was in the picture, we didn't follow their hosts' comprehensive guide, but we did still spend a lot of time in the neighborhood and enjoyed ourselves. In fact, as a former downtowner, I was surprised we never ventured south after our initial Friday afternoon spent walking around the East and West Village (about a 25-minute ride on the 2 train).
On Saturday we ate prosciutto sandwiches for lunch made from goodies my friend had bought at the new Whole Foods in Harlem. Later we got on the 4 train in East Harlem and spent a leisurely afternoon at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (we took a $20 Uber back). When we returned, we had just enough time for fun pedicures at I-Spa nail salon on Lenox. We then swung by the Whole Foods again for dinner groceries, with an extra stop at Harlem Wine Gallery for excellent red wine recommended by an employee.
We considered going out for dinner or a drink and some jazz, but the apartment was so comfortable and well-supplied, we made dinner ourselves (an added plus: we didn't have to look for a babysitter). My friend who booked the Airbnb–and, I should add, is a serious world traveler–gave the entire experience a thumbs-up. "I would recommend staying there again," she wrote to me in a recent text, adding with a smiling emoji: "Especially if you have friends living in Harlem."