Red Rooster Harlem Entrance

What can make eating out a memorable event?   Plenty of great food. Inviting ambiance.  A chef who greets you at the door.  Friendly service. And enjoying the meal with a fun crowd.   I experienced all that and more at Red Rooster Harlem.  Last week, I took a quick trip to New York for a board meeting.  After the meeting, the board members headed uptown to Harlem for dinner.

Before entering the restaurant, the huge sign with the proud red rooster tipped me off that something hot was happening inside.  I knew I was about to experience a treat.    The moment I walked in, I felt the pulsating vibes emenating from the wall-to-wall people laughing and having a great time around the big, curved bar.   As they say, “the joint was jumping.”    Award-winning Chef Marcus Samuelsson, the owner, happened to be greeting guests at the door.  Naturally, I took a picture with him.   It was easy to feel the vibrations and vitality in the place.   I immediately loved it and I hadn’t had my first drink or tasted the food.

Red Rooster Harlem Downstairs

Here’s the back story.  The original Red Rooster was the name of a legendary 1900s Harlem speakeasy located at 138th Street and 7th Avenue where big time neighborhood folks—entertainers, politicians and everybody who thought they were somebody—hung out.   Its nickname was the Stork Club of Harlem.  Back then there was the Sherman Billingsley Stork Club in midtown Manhattan where cafe society gathered and there were clubs in Harlem for African-Americans.  The original Red Rooster owner, George Woods, patterned his place after Billingsley’s Stork Club by allowing only who he wanted inside. Generally, they were the elites of Harlem such as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Duke Ellington and the like.   In the Sixties, writers and photographers hung out there before heading down the street to grab a meal.  By the 1980s, the original had closed.

Fast forward to today.  That distinctive spirit that oozed through the place back then, does so now with a new hotness.   Chef Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem welcomes a truly diverse crowd—neighborhood families, downtown business owners and uptown artists of all colors and ethnicities.  Hints of the past speakeasy times comfortably mix with modern touches such as Samuelsson’s creative twist on southern comfort foods:  traditional dishes with an international flair.

Red Rooster Harlem Menu

Our large group dined in the “downstairs” space along side the wonderful art.  In the future, that area with its own bar will include a stage for more entertaining possibilities.  Anyway, we ate and ate.  We had corn bread with honey butter and spiced-tomato jam.  We had huge pieces of fried yard bird—Harlem for chicken—along with great greens. We ate uptown steak frites, creative dirty rice with shrimp, and blackened catfish with black-eyed peas.  Our vegetables included hearth baked squash and yams and sweet potato puree.  Desserts were sweet potato doughnuts with cinnamon sugar and a luscious spiced chocolate cake with sherry sorbet.  For drinks we had wines, and I capped the evening with a soothing Darjeeling with lemongrass and jasmine tea.

Dining at Red Rooster Harlem was an event worth repeating.  Thanks, Chef Samuelsson for making the old, new again.

Red Rooster Harlem Downstairs Bar

Red Rooster Harlem

310 Lenox Avenue

New York, New York