Of all the five boroughs of NYC, none has been more subject to misunderstanding and fear than The Bronx. The borough’s reputation is battered, partly due to Hollywood’s portraying it as a place filled with crazy gang members shooting up innocent bodega owners with bad English.
However, the city was quite dangerous during the last three decades, with crime peaking during the crack era of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Despite today being significantly different than that era, the reputation persists with city locals.
It took something like gentrification for The Bronx to get some attention. Looking for something cheaper, locals from around the city started to move in.
Not for the best reasons, however—many of these people were priced out of neighborhoods like Lower East Side, Harlem, Brooklyn and even Washington Heights. Gaudy outsiders had found opportunity in their neighborhoods and other slums of the city. Like when the Spanish conquistadors visited the Americas, with these newcomers came artisanal mayo shops that wiped out every single local from these neighborhoods.
An exaggeration, of course, but that’s how we remember it happening.
Diamond in the Rough
New York City culture is all but ignored around the world. People watch movies. They see the way New Yorkers talk. They see the way they act. Some mimic them too. “Yo, keep it a buck,” “That’s lit,” “You goin’ mad hard right now,”—slang as such embodies the typical New Yorker’s verbiage, and this is just one example of the culture that remains engraved into the city’s locals. A conversation about timberland boots and dollar pizzas will have to be held another time.
This NYC culture that entertains the world, much of it was conceived in said neighborhoods. When they became too expensive to live in, the fat kid on the basketball court that no one ever chose for their team was noticed.
NYC must-go-tos that you can only find in The Bronx
The Bronx is only 25-minutes away from Grand Central Terminal. The northernmost borough is diverse in cultures, foods, and even infrastructure.
One can take the 2,5, or 6 trains to Mott Haven, where most of the architecture dates back to pre-war. The neighbourhood, sitting across the water from Harlem, is experiencing a rebirth of sorts, with assault and robbery dropping dramatically. As a result, more people are visiting and investing in it.
Aside from emerging art galleries and a market’s garden that opened recently, one of the neighbourhood’s top attractions is La Morada Mexican Restaurant, a humble joint serving some of the best Oaxacan food in the borough. Just ask Mayor de Blasio.
Food all over The Bronx is amazing, mostly due to the variety of cultures that live there. For sure it’s the crown jewel of Latino foods in the city, and places like Fordham have strips filled with Latino restaurants that stretch blocks. Try 188 Bakery Cuchifrito’s, where you can get a “tres golpes,” a dish consisting of mashed plantains, fried eggs, cheese and salami. It’s a trademark Dominican dish.
Want to see the borough juxtapose between city and nature? You won’t have to go far from the gritty concretes of Fordham to find the Botanical Garden. Laid out on 250 acres of land, the national landmark is home to more than one million living plants. The garden has various sections, each with their own climate and temperatures, and the colourful collection of trees makes it feel as if you’re in a completely different state.
A few subway stops downtown from Fordham, and you’ll find yourself in Grand Concourse, where the Bronx Museum of the Arts can be found. Established in 1971, the museum specializes in contemporary and 20th-century works, and there are many exhibitions from Latino, African-American and Asian artists. In 2013, the museum won a competition for the right to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale.
The most important thing you should do as a newcomer is get the hand of a local. In gritty New York, simply asking isn’t enough. So how do you charm a local’s heart? Tell them your favourite team is The Yankees, and then go to a game at Yankees Stadium. New Yorkers are crazy about The Yankees, especially Bronx folks. Now that the team is reemerging from a dry period, the borough is vibrant with hopeful positivity as the team works to become the best in baseball again.
Beer lovers also have a place in The Bronx. Aficionados should visit The Bronx Brewery, an up and coming craft brewery showcasing the flavours of the borough. The place has an outdoor spot with picnic tables where folks gather together and try a variety of beers available at the brewery. This is where you’ll hear New York in its unadulterated and inebriated form.