Harlem is a neighborhood steeped in history, but as the area continues to undergo sweeping changes, that past is getting harder to find.
Enter Eric Curtis, the owner of Harlem Ale House, a bar that just opened on West 127th Street and Lenox Avenue. The new pub serves not just a hundred-plus varieties of beer (from Chimay Grand Reserve on tap to Hazy Little Thing IPA in a can), but a big helping of Harlem's bygone days.
Its walls are covered in ephemera that were found throughout the 150-year-old building, from a vintage "125th Street" sign that now hangs over the bar–"It's heavy as hell," notes Curtis–to the leftover bits of a bowling alley that once ran across the top floor.
Every last piece comes from a treasure hunt that began a few years ago, when Curtis and his brother bought and began renovating the address that now houses Harlem Ale House. Slowly, the building revealed itself.
Unearthing items from beneath the floorboards and behind the chimney, Curtis soon realized 101 West 127th Street had quite a tale to tell. Over the years it had been home to a variety of businesses, including the aforementioned bowling alley, a speakeasy, as well as a number of masonic lodges.
The location held sordid secrets as well: Ulysses Rollins, an enforcer for the mobster Dutch Schultz, used it as a number hole (a place for a form of local betting) in the late 1920s. More recently a tough named Fats ran it as "the candy store."
Unlike so many other landlords in this city, Curtis held onto everything. "I've got hundreds more," he says of the memorabilia that didn't make it onto the walls of the pub, which because of its decor feels like it's been in Harlem for generations.
Hours are currently 3pm to closing, but will expand when the bar has its grand opening in a few weeks. In the meantime, visitors can stop by for a drink and a bite–the food menu includes hamburgers and fajitas–and allow themselves to wallow in Harlem's storied past.
And if it gets too hard to inspect the smaller collections as night falls, there's always the bar's huge mural depicting the construction of the nearby 125th Street subway station. Now that's some Harlem history everyone can admire.