Harlem’s French Renaissance | NY Times

By JOEL DREYFUSS

Chéri is on a handsome stretch of Malcolm X Boulevard, between West 121st and West 122nd Street. The owner operated a restaurant in Paris for 20 years before moving to New York. (Photo: Tony Cenicola | NY Times)

Chéri is on a handsome stretch of Malcolm X Boulevard, between West 121st and West 122nd Street. The owner operated a restaurant in Paris for 20 years before moving to New York. (Photo: Tony Cenicola | NY Times)

Harlem has long had a romance with France. Well before the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, African-American artists and musicians traveled to France to broaden their artistic vision or to escape the daily oppression of American racism.

Not widely known, however, is that the traffic went both ways, with French tourists visiting Harlem because of their fascination with jazz, gospel and black culture, even through the rough years of the 1970s and 1980s, when fear of crime kept away many Americans. During that era, my French came in handy more than once, giving directions to bewildered visitors.

French-speaking Africans have settled and opened businesses on and around West 116th Street since the 1980s, with Petit Senegal lending the bustling thoroughfare a distinctly international air with passers-by in flowing boubous, shops selling phone cards for cheap calls to Africa, and Franco-African restaurants and vegetable stands offering tropical products like hot peppers, plantain and palm oil. But since the 1990s, a small French expat community, attracted by the romanticism of Harlem, its strong sense of community and colorful history, as well as by comparatively lower real estate prices, has sprung up, and, inevitably, so have French restaurants.

Read more: Harlem’s French Renaissance | NY Times

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