By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — The revival of Frederick Douglass Boulevard is showing no signs of slowing, with at least two new drinking spots on tap to join the booming commercial and residential strip south of 125th Street.
Construction is expected to begin soon on the Harlem Tavern, a bar and grill that will occupy the corner at West 116th Street, where a former auto mechanic’s yard now stands. A block south, in the new Livmor condominium tower, developers hope to open the Harlem Sports Café near the corner of West 115th Street. They have told local officials that they want to obtain a liquor license for the site.
Elsewhere on the boulevard, several condo buildings are under construction, in addition to those that have just opened. Aloft Harlem, part of a trendy line of Starwood hotels, will open Oct. 7 with its own nightclub. Judging from the boom that's underway, it's likely to be only a matter of time before the few remaining empty lots and buildings are transformed.
Locals have already dubbed the corridor Harlem’s restaurant row. On nearly every block from West 125th Street to West 112th Street, there is at least one — sometimes several — new restaurants or bars, along with a handful that opened up in the last few years. They include Nectar, Chocolat, Melba's, Patisserie Des Ambassades, Moca, Frizzante, Society Coffee, bier international, Zoma and 5 & Diamond.
The boom can be traced back to a 2003 rezoning that allowed more high-rise residential construction and more ground-level retail space. At the time, 40 percent of the Frederick Douglass Boulevard corridor’s 226 storefronts were vacant, according to a study by then-Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. Though the rezoning was completed near the height of New York’s real estate market, development continued during the downturn, and real estate executives now say they’re not worried about oversupply.
"This is one of those successful rezoning stories," Community Board 10 District Manager Paimaan Lodhi said. "It has had a cascading effect on development in southern Harlem."
Lodhi said the development boom might have happened without the new rules, because of the boulevard's proximity to several subway lines, Central Park, and other new residential developments. But the rezoning, he said, made it happen faster.
With residential and retail feeding off each other, the boulevard is now "a central hub" that will help stabilize the surrounding neighborhood, he said.