Chocobar Cortes | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Chocobar Cortes | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Conveniently located along lines 4, 5 and 6, the South Bronx is currently at a cultural crossroads, where old hip-hop culture mixes with a new creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Four neighborhoods make up the southernmost part of the borough – Concourse, Melrose, Mott Haven and Port Morris – and each offers an abundance of largely unknown restaurants, cultural institutions, hotels and shops.
The history of the district is eclectic. In the early 1900s, the South Bronx was mostly made up of German and Irish immigrants and became known as the “Jewish Quarter”. That quickly changed after World War II with rising rents, and by the late 1950s the South Bronx was two-thirds black or Latinx. During the 1970s and 1980s, the foundations of hip-hop and graffiti were laid by DJs, and the neighborhood began to flourish as a cultural hub.
Today, along with the rest of the borough’s thriving Latinx population (currently 54.8%), the South Bronx is home to large Puerto Rican and Dominican enclaves, in addition to a growing Mexican community. From blocks lined with murals as a tribute to hometown hero and rapper Big Pun, to countless Latinx-owned businesses or open mics and showcases of talent fostering future creatives, the area is the epicenter of some of the best Latinx cultures in town, and the signature greeting is a “YERRRR!” strong and welcoming!
It’s time to head downtown, so make sure you have your masks and vaccination cards ready. Here’s everything you need to know to explore the South Bronx.
Embark on a culinary journey while paying homage to the neighborhood’s rich history
Any true South Bronx food tour should start on Alexander Avenue and Bruckner Blvd, a small enclave of culinary excellence. Fresh off its recent grand opening in the United States, Chocobar Cortes is a beloved San Juan restaurant with a unique chocolate-infused menu featuring items like chocolate grilled cheese, Chalupitas de Mofongo (roasted pork, pineapple pico de gallo, chocolate guacamole, mole sauce, chocolate spade), and a Chocolate Old Fashioned.
Once you’re done filling your sweet tooth, explore Alexander Avenue’s many other dining options. Mornings are done well with brunch at Beatstro, a hip-hop-inspired restaurant displaying a cross-cultural mix of cooking styles. For a late lunch, the pandemic-born Hudson Smokehouse is the first smokehouse of its kind in the borough; Ceetay offers Asian-inspired dishes; and stop by Monte’s Brick Oven for pizza, pasta and more.
For dinner, if you’re looking for the true definition of vibe, head to Rosa’s at Park, a Latin fusion restaurant run by local entrepreneur Rosa Garcia. For a unique blend of rustic sophistication and style, the menu at Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen is filled with classic American dishes with Latin and Southern twists. And Made in Puerto Rico Bar and Lounge is perfect for those who like a little party while they eat.
For local watering holes, take a quick stroll down Bruckner Boulevard to visit Bar 47, an upscale dive bar with live entertainment, a pool table, and some local favorites like The Bronx Brewery. If you’re looking for the full experience, head to the Port Morris Brewery, check out the art-inspired programming, and be sure to grab a few bites from the Food Lab and its partner Empanology. Beer not your thing? Then be sure to stop at the Port Morris Distillery, home to Pitorro, a Puerto Rican moonshine native to the island.
Stroll through the neighborhood while learning about its culture
Unlike other boroughs that start with “B,” the South Bronx has retained much of its culture, despite rapid rates of gentrification and new residential developments, and we’ve compiled the best cultural institutions to immerse you in its story.
Start your walk with the Bronx Documentary Center, a gallery and nonprofit space that uses community documentary practice and education to explore vital questions, stimulate critical thinking, and drive social change. Interested in all things music? The Bronx Music Heritage Center celebrates the borough’s ties to the arts while providing free cultural programs to the community. Another must-see is the beautiful La Finca Del Sur, a community farm on East 138th Street that celebrates the Latinidad of its farmers and community. Their goal is to address issues of food access, environmental justice, and community empowerment for women of color and their allies in the South Bronx.
For contemporary art lovers, WALLWORKS NY is an art gallery and “place to explore” dedicated to nurturing the neighborhood’s creative talent by blending downtown sensibility with uptown style. And in February, Bronx Art Space, a nonprofit gallery that promotes the innovative ideas of underrepresented and emerging artists and curators, will open its highly anticipated brand new space.
Fuel your day with coffee and retail therapy
In New York, coffees cost a penny by the dozen. But every once in a while, a space comes along that leaves a real impact and becomes a cornerstone for the community. Mottley Kitchen is the neighborhood’s holistic community cafe, with an impeccable organic and vegan menu, a beautiful rooftop garden, and the best cold brew in the neighborhood. The space is a hub for neighbors not only to relax and connect, but also to shop. The cafe partners with various local brands and provides retail space for them to sell their product. Currently, the range includes Boogie Down Books, Iridessence Candles, Sol Cacao Chocolate and Bronx Native.
To get the full BX experience, we also recommend heading to the Bronx Native’s brick and mortar on Lincoln Avenue. The boutique is filled with products showcasing the beauty and creativity of the borough. In warm weather, the shop regularly hosts open mics and creative showcases, further demonstrating the hidden potential that South Bronx creatives have to offer.
Then take a quick one-block walk to The Lit. Bar, wine bar, café and the only bookstore in the district under the leadership of owner Noëlle Santos. The venue encourages curious readers and hosts (virtual) literary and community gatherings. It also puts black and brown authors front and center for books of all age groups and has even been co-authored by Barack Obama and J. Lo.
While the pandemic has impacted a number of small businesses, South Bronx creatives continue to show their entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to weather the storm. If you’re a heavy online shopper, these smaller businesses and brands are definitely worth checking out: Perico Limited clothing and accessories; handmade furniture and objects by Gomez Design Studio; and handcrafted necklaces, jewelry and more by Rocio Art.
Spend the night in an old opera house
The Opera House Hotel is a South Bronx institution that was once the home of the Bronx Opera and graced with transcendent theatrical performances from Harry Houdini, the Marx Brothers, and John and Lionel Barrymore. Now recently renovated to preserve its classic beauty, the hotel offers a magnificent space. But if you prefer gorgeous rooftops and mimosas filled to the brim, book your stay at the Haven Park Hotel.
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