Sunday, July 22, 2012

Harlem Nights

As I recall the meal some 15 years ago, it was not too memorable. At least as far as taste goes. But as a cultural experience, it was worthwhile.

I’m referring to a pilgrimage to Harlem my staff, Gilda and I made one evening to eat in Sylvia’s Restaurant. The famed soul-food eatery is experiencing additional melancholy recognition these last few days, ever since it was announced Thursday owner and founder Sylvia Woods had died at 86 after suffering the last several years with Alzheimer’s disease.

At the suggestion of Matt, one of our editors, we took the subway uptown to 125th Street that warm, summer evening. About six of us. Some of us must have eaten fried chicken. Maybe some collard greens. Perhaps there was a pork chop. Like I said, the food did not register as among our greatest meals (a review confirmed to me by two other participants that evening). We did not feel different, out of place. We did feel we had tasted part of the culture that makes New York City vibrant.

Some 30 years earlier, during my freshman, or maybe sophomore, year at Brooklyn College, I enjoyed another Harlem experience, a Bill Cosby and O.C. Smith concert at the renowned Apollo Theater. My friend Paul and I were among the few white faces in the crowd. This was, after all, 1968. Few Caucasians ventured onto 125th Street at night back then, even to see Bill Cosby. We sat high up in the balcony, as far back as we could.

Smith performed first, taking particular pleasure in singing his hit, “Little Green Apples,” to Cosby’s wife, seated in one of the stage-right boxes. Cosby emerged from the wings to visually express his pique at being so publicly cuckolded. The crowd roared.

Cosby ended his routine around midnight. The Apollo was just heating up, but we didn’t stay. It was a long subway ride back to Brooklyn.