Anyone seeking a moment of relaxation, while still embracing the Caribana spirit, should venture east of Yonge Street to a tucked-away restaurant and lounge aptly named Harlem.
Yes indeed, there is nightlife and diversion east of Yonge Street down Richmond way. Only a few blocks away from the packed clubs in the entertainment district, Harlem is situated in a less frenzied neighborhood, and sports a much humbler façade. Finding Harlem in Toronto may prove a bit difficult, if for no other reason than it feels abnormal that such a place would be among businesses and parking lots. If you are not looking for it, you wouldn’t really know it’s there. And even when you are, you won’t be sure you know where you are going until you are there. One step across the threshold, however, and the atmosphere outside is quickly forgotten. And though it’s not exactly Harlem, it is an escape from TO.
The laid-back atmosphere hits you right as you walk through the door (as does the humidity). Upon close inspection, the seemingly banal portraits of African artists adorning the walls are in fact singular works of yarn art. Before venturing upstairs to the bar for live entertainment, it is imperative that you spend at least a few minutes succumbing to the temptation of the most comfortable-looking non-Ikea chairs around. If there is anything at all relaxing during a heat wave secondary to the AC, it’s the shapely wooden chairs at Harlem. The restaurant also offers what I have dubbed as skeleton stools: wiry chairs complete with a spine, rib cage, and footprint template for your sitting pleasure. The comfy and exotic seating somewhat replaces the disappointment you’ll feel when you’re informed there is no patio. There’s no stoop either.
In addition to the style, Harlem does offer a good deal of substance. Lunch and dinner feature a variety of meals. The most intriguing include the jerked chicken, grits and sesame blondie. While no beer on tap, it’s still cold and should do the trick. Lunch during the daytime and dinner until 10pm make way for live music in the intimate, air-conditioned second floor. The weekends feature a slate of live performances, including entertainers from all over Africa. Those partygoers intrepid enough to travel down in this usually uneventful area will be rewarded with a little piece of Harlem in Toronto.