Street of the Week

The Ultimate Guide to Washington Heights’s West 181st Street

Head to the neighborhood editor Jess Bender lovingly calls “upstate Manhattan” for coffee, kielbasa, and killer views.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Though it’s on the northernmost border of Washington Heights, an area itself in the northernmost reaches of the borough—I tell people I live in “upstate” Manhattan—West 181st Street is the neighborhood’s busiest thoroughfare. It’s where most local residents, including myself, grab their coffee, shop for groceries, and get their teeth cleaned. But it’s also a collection of bellwether blocks—11 to be exact—signaling the future of Washington Heights and nearby nabes as gentrification pushes ever upward.

Though recent changes have made for some casualties here (particularly the former Coliseum cinema), West 181st Street remains a lively blend of old-timers and newcomers showcasing Washington Heights’s roots and future. You’ll often find me walking up- and downhill for these neighborhood gems—not to mention that priceless perspective of the George Washington Bridge from the crosstown street’s highest elevation.

Uptown Garrison

Opened in 2017, the rustic, industrial Uptown Garrison is one of the most successful examples of the neighborhood’s transition. It runs as both a daytime café and nighttime pizzeria, so you can nibble on mushroom omelet sandwiches in the morning and return for the Margherita pies and kale calzones come evening. Personally speaking, you can find me working at the bar in the middle of the day with a Mason jar of cold brew at least once a week.

Washington Heights
Photo courtesy of Uptown Garrison/Facebook

Hudson View Restaurant

Greasy spoons are becoming more of a rarity in today’s dining culture, but this hilltop diner has persevered for the past two decades thanks to the undying devotion of its customers. Dishes are no-frills and service is minimal, but everything delivered to your table is damn satisfying. Come hungry for brunch, since it’s one of the most underrated, best values in Washington Heights—an order of challah French toast, maple syrup, plump sausages, a mimosa, and iced coffee runs for under $20.

Moscow on the Hudson

One of the city’s sole Russian markets outside of Brooklyn caters to Washington Heights’s tight-knit Eastern European community. The boutique-size shop has all the essentials, whether you’re prepping for the Shabbat or stocking up for a special occasion. Caviar tins, bottles of kvass and Baltika beer, and hard-to-find loose-leaf teas fill tightly curated shelves; long kielbasa tubes, thick napoleon cake slices, and smoked fish galore are proudly presented behind the counter; and owner-made cabbage salad and sweet blinis are chilling in the fridge. Its sizable collection of Russian candies is also excellent, especially for any emergency midday pick-me-ups.

Washington Heights
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Café Bark

Bet you didn’t know there was a second dog café that opened in the borough. The area’s puppy population mingles in this sleek coffee shop/boutique filled with touches straight out of SoHo—Nordic leather seating, plant life hanging overhead, and, of course, Fido-focused paintings mounted on the walls. While they’re nibbling on Asian-inspired pastries, the humans also pamper their pets with local designer Mikki Onda’s couture-inspired outfits and meaty dog treats from Bronx-based Little L’s. If you’re like me, though, you are spending your time here acting as a puparazzo.

Washington Heights
Photo by Idania V/Yelp

Le Cheile

Just a few steps away from all the Bark-ing is this mainstay celebrating Washington Heights’s Irish-immigrant roots. Residing on the corner of Cabrini Boulevard since 2011, the family-friendly tavern whips up hearty Irish dishes (bangers, shepherd’s pie, fish-and-chips) and modern New American fare (seasonal farmers’ market plates, a towering grilled cheese). And no other place in the nabe knows how to pour a Guinness quite like Le Cheile does. Go for a pint and some live music; it hosts Irish folk bands, jazz trios, open-mic nights, and show-tune sing-alongs.

Washington Heights
Photo by Anna L/Yelp

Pinehurst Stairs

These 47 steps connect the bustling 181st Street with Hudson Heights’s Art Deco– and Tudor Revival–style co-ops and is the borough’s highest natural point. There are steeper climbs in the immediate region (like the 130-stepper on 187th and Fort Washington Avenue), but the ascension is still challenging. The gardens surrounding the Pinehurst Stairs are especially beautiful during the springtime, when perennials and treetops hit peak bloom, and they’ll be even more so when the Parks Department wraps up its redevelopment project in May. 

Washington Heights
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

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