Washington Heights, Manhattan: 12 things to do and see in the uptown neighborhood

Astro Games, at 544 W. 181st street in Washington Heights, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016.
Astro Games, at 544 W. 181st street in Washington Heights, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ethan Miller

Real estate prices aren’t the only thing booming in uptown Manhattan right now — so is the Washington Heights art scene.

From independent shops to non-profit organizations, the area is bursting with civic-minded creative types.

“There are a lot of really engaged people up here — as there should be in any neighborhood,” said Mary Ann Wincorkowski during her shift at Word Up Books, a volunteer-run bookstore at 2113 Amsterdam Ave.

Word Up supports the local literary scene and the Spanish-speaking community with a variety of programs like open mic nights, workshops and jazz concerts.

Meanwhile, the newly-established Higher Ground Festival gathers together Washington Heights and Inwood artists to network and collaborate on productions at places like the local Anne Loftus Playground.

“We are part of creating an art identity [uptown],” the festival’s co-founder and director Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba said.

Co-founder Temple Kemezis agreed: “Not everyone is creating in SoHo and living in Chelsea.”

Other like-minded organizations include the Washington Heights and Inwood (WHIN) Music Project, which aims to make classical music accessible to community youth, and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, a non-profit that supports and promotes art organizations uptown.

Art isn’t totally new to the Heights though, as the area is home to The Cloisters, a medieval monastery in Fort Tryon Park that is run by Metropolitan Museum of Art. But until the last decade, its reputation had more to do with the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the city’s high crime rates in the 1990s.

“I think the art scene is very important to Washington Heights,” said Robert W. Snyder, author of “Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City,” which chronicles the area’s history and cultures. “It was the engine for the neighborhood’s recovery.”

The recovery was apparently successful, as uptown, above 110th Street, has one of the fastest-growing real estate markets in Manhattan.

Sales prices for Manhattan homes above 110th Street will increase at four times the rate of the rest of Manhattan in 2016, according to the listings site StreetEasy.

The median sales price for a one-bedroom in Washington Heights was $383,530 in 2015, according to StreetEasy. The median rent for a one-bedroom was $1,695.

Also growing with the prices is its hipster scene.

Though the Heights is still home to a large immigrant population, young people are moving in, and coming with them are trendy establishments like Green Juice Cafe at 4316 Broadway, Tampopo Ramen at 1 Bennett Ave. and the Buddha Beer Bar at 4476 Broadway.

“There are a lot of cute new places popping up in the midst of neighborhood staples,” millennial and local resident Maria Minsker said.

Find it:

Washington Heights encompasses the northern portion of Manhattan from 155th Street to Dyckman Street, and runs from the Hudson River to Harlem River.

To Eat

Burger Heights

177 Wadsworth Ave.

A small spot on a quiet street, Burger Heights is a neighborhood cheerleader with its Washington Heights-inspired menu featuring The Broadway and The Saint Nicholas burgers. For those who crave something sweet after their meal, Italian gelato shakes come in flavors such as Nutella, coffee and mint chocolate chip.


Taco Go-Go

181st Street between St. Nicholas and Audubon avenues

It’s all in the name. There are no seats at Taco Go-Go, so prepare to have your chicken or beef quesadilla (both $8) on-the-go in between store visits on 181st Street.



4141 Broadway

Malecon offers a taste of the Caribbean. Foodies can enjoy dishes like yuca — or boiled cassava — with a mango juice for breakfast, and sopas and arroces — soup and rice dishes — for lunch.


To Party

Buddha Beer Bar

4476 Broadway

This neighborhood spot is a go-to for craft beer. It offers a relaxed setting as customers enjoy cheeseburgers at the bar and take in a game.


Kazza Wine Bar

708 W. 177th St.

A newly opened attraction, Kazza offers a simple atmosphere to enjoy a glass of wine or sangria. And what goes better with wine than poetry? The first three Sundays of each month, Kazza-goers start the poetry slam at 8 p.m.


Le Cheile

839 W. 181st St.

Even Washington Heights has its local Irish pub. Le Cheile offers a place for friends to meet over beer or coffee or to participate in a favorite New Yorker pastime: brunch.


To Shop

Vamps NYC

3898 Broadway

Find a large variety of Ugg shoes in an array colors along with Converse and Lacoste sneakers.


Astro Game

554 W. 181st St.

Gamers, don’t be fooled by the apparel in the window. Head through a narrow wall of hats in the J.J. Daiwon storefront to get to a large room with games along the entire back wall.


Vines on Pine

814 W. 187th St.

Employees taste roughly 80% of what they carry and the store itself offers an intimate neighborhood vibe. You can grab a sip of your soon-to-be favorite during the Friday, Saturday or Sunday tastings.


To Do

United Palace Theater

4140 Broadway

A cultural gateway, this theater hosts everything from non-profit events and film screenings to musical performances and even church congregations (The United Palace House of Inspiration). The space has served as a venue for artists like Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and her holiness, Adele!


Fort Tryon Park

Riverside Drive and 192nd Street

Fort Tryon Park is home to beautiful grounds, the New Leaf restaurant and the Cloisters, a monastery that holds the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of medieval works. The park is also the site of the annual Medieval Festival, which draws up to 65,000 visitors and is considered the largest event in a New York City park.


Morris-Jumel Mansion

65 Jumel Terrace

Manhattan’s oldest house, which features nine period rooms, welcomes roughly 22,000 visitors each year and hosts community events, exhibitions, educational programs, tea parties, weddings and more. A five-year plan is in place to provide more technology and interactive experiences within the museum, according to director Carol Ward.


The Buzz

The secret about Washington Heights’ affordable housing costs is out.

The proof is in its climbing rental prices, according to experts.

“The rent has gone sky-high,” said Carlos Rodriguez, broker at Ter-Rod Realty LLC at 1061 St. Nicholas Ave. “Many cannot afford it [and] landlords are trying to buy people out.”

The median rental price in Washington Heights in 2015 was $1,995, a 7.9% increase from 2014, which was $1,849, according to StreetEasy.

Locals warn that the changing real estate climate could push residents out.

Robert W. Snyder, author of the book “Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City,” noted that upper Manhattan was historically an area for working-class residents looking to make a better life. These rent increases pose a threat to that promise, he said.

“It would be unfair if the old-timers who helped the community recover were forced out of the Heights by increasing housing prices,” Snyder lamented. “It would deprive them of the fruits of their victories.”

Large apartment spaces and park views are getting the attention of renters and buyers, said Rodriguez.

Real estate marketing data from 2015: 

Median sales price: $480,000

Number of units on market: 539

Median rental price: $1,995

Number of rentals on market: 4,057

(Source: StreetEasy)

Q+A with Mary Ann Wincorkowski

Volunteer at Word Up Books

Word Up, at 2113 Amsterdam Ave., is a volunteer bookshop dedicated to preserving the literary scene in Washington Heights. What began as a one-month pop-up shop is today a community of booklovers who offer shelves of used books, as well as host language salons and open mics. Volunteer Mary Ann Wincorkowski sat down with us for a chat.

When did you begin volunteering?

It was July 2011 when one of my friends called and said that he was reading at a bookstore in my neighborhood. I said, “There is no bookstore in my neighborhood.” He then reiterated and said, “Well, I’m reading at this bookstore this next Saturday at 2 p.m.” It was located in the old Word Up space, which is 176th and Broadway, right across from the United Palace. It was a pretty long program, but at the end, I walked up to the front counter and said, “Who’s in charge and how can I help?” From that point on I’ve been volunteering at least once a week.

How does this bookstore serve the community?

We provide a necessary outlet for readers who maybe can’t make it to the library. A lot of kids buy their schoolbooks here, like things they need for English class. But in addition to that, we also host programs like story time every week. Because it’s all volunteer-run and most of the volunteers live in the neighborhood, I think that we are really for the community and by the community.

What is your favorite memory from Word Up?

Well, I would say the most well-received event that we’ve had at Word Up — and there have been a couple but this has been a remarkable one — Junot Diaz came and spoke at our birthday celebration. We had 10 or 12 days of events leading up to the main party event. So he came and gave a talk at our old location, but I think that’s one program that was really cool and really inspiring.

Subway lines to Washington Heights

A to 168th Street, 175th Street, 181st Street and Dyckman Street

C to 155th Street, 163rd Street and 168th Street

B, D to 155th Street

1 to 157th Street, 168th Street, 181st Street, 191st Street and Dyckman Street