The Heritage of East Harlem

El Barrio has a rich cultural history. From the first wave of Italian immigrants in the 1890s to the wealth of musical legends that came about from the  “mambo era”, East Harlem has been a stage for arts and culture for over 100 years!!!

Once known as “Little Italy” or “Italian Harlem” for the largest Italian population in New York City, East Harlem still reflects the influence of Southern Italian food, tradition and community. Every second Sunday in August, The Giglio Society of East Harlem dances the Giglio in a feast to honor patron Saint Anthony, a tradition in the community since 1908.Patsy’s Pizzeria on 1st avenue has been baking delicious thin- crust pizza out of the same oven since 1933 and famed restaurant Rao’s has been an East Harlem staple since 1896. Visit new restaurants such as Nicciola Ristorante and D’amore Wine bar & Ristorante for excellent culinary experiences that keep East Harlem’s italian heritage alive.

The term “El Barrio”, meaning the neighborhood, originates to the 1930s with the influx of the Puerto Rican community. Mambo, the musical predecessor to Salsa, was moving peoples hips in El Barrio with no shortage of great musicians or places to dance. Latin music legends such as Tito Puente, Ray Barretto and Charlie Palmieri where local heros and often performed impromtu concerts in parks and handball courts, when they weren’t taking the big stage at the Copacabana, Palladium or even Carnegie Hall. Today, their influence on East Harlem lives through the many musical performances, dance studios and emerging musicians that call El Barrio home. Streets, such as 110th st./ Tito Puente Way, have been named after these musical greats and as you visit shops, bakeries and restaurants in the neighborhood, their pictures can be seen hanging behind counters and over tables of their old neighborhood hang outs.

The explosion of Italian and Puerto Rican influence on East Harlem only tells part of this neighborhood’s fantastic history. Visit the many great instituions in El Barrio like the Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem or The Graffiti Hall of Fame. Take a walking tour in the warmer months, when local musicians congregate at La Marqueta or in various community garden spaces, and explore amazing displays of public art that include music, sculptures and murals.