Inwood is one of those neighborhoods I’d been to before, but only once or twice. I’d visit the Cloisters there, a branch of my beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art, but afterwards, jump right back on the bus outside, never exploring the rest of the neighborhood. My strongest memory was that Inwood was off the last few subway stops in Manhattan before the train crossed into the Bronx.
After asking a couple of friends who have lived in the neighborhood for advice on where to start my explorations, I headed up to see what I could find, not sure if there would be enough to hold my interest for long.
Possibly the Best Cafe in Manhattan
I started at Indian Road Cafe which, after several trips back, I realize was the absolute best starting point. Indian Road Cafe is located on the northernmost corner of the last road of Manhattan. Stand outside the cafe and look across the street and you will only see land, no buildings. You don’t feel like you are in Manhattan anymore.
As for the cafe, the food is locally sourced from the Hudson Valley and always tasty, from the entrees to the bakery items. The cafe hosts many events, from the popular pub quiz night every Wednesday to more specialized events. The first Tuesday evening of every month is “Lost Inwood” night where you can learn more about the rich history of the neighborhood. One of my personal favorites is “Drag Bingo” night. Held on the last Thursday of every month, Drag Bingo is the perfect way to blow off a little end-of-the-month steam, while possibly winning a treat, usually from the delicious offerings of the cafe. Better yet? All of the proceeds are donated to a deserving local charity that changes every month.
To sum it up, Indian Road Cafe is one of those feel good places that does not let you down in any way (even the bathrooms are delightful!). The New York Times said “…for many residents of Inwood and Washington Heights, the cafe has, since 2008, quietly evolved into a proudly unpretentious clubhouse.” It is definitely on my “happy places” list. Despite the distance from my Upper East Side neighborhood, I’ll be a regular visitor there.
Tasty Treats, from Near and Far
The next stop was Inwood Gourmet. This tiny shop holds some tasty treasures, some locally sourced, some imported. There are several flavored olive oils to choose from and the folks working there are always more than happy to help you with tips on how to use them. The olive oil flavors include blood orange, garlic and basil, as well as the original. There are also flavored vinegars available like white truffle balsamic. You can bring home dried meats, including vegan sausages, if that is your thing, as well as fresh baked treats such as baklava and spinach pie. The cheese selection is pretty big for a shop this size and the staff are more than welcome to answer any questions. The downside is once they are helping someone, they focus on that person until they have answered all of their questions, which is a bonus if it is you! I sadly had to walk out once, without my treat. I’ll still go back and hope for better timing!
Small Bite, Large View
If you find yourself in need of a pint or a bite, wander south toward Tryon Public House. The vibe here is friendly and local. I sat at the bar, which was a large rectangular island with tables to the right. I ordered a pint while trying to choose from the appetizer menu. The bartender was singing while slowly making her way around the bar, making sure everyone had what they needed. I chose the steak tacos appetizer, which did not disappoint. They also have heartier options if you need more of a meal.
While sitting at Tryon Public House, the large windows give you a nice view. It feels like you are far outside of the big city and have landed in the suburbs. If you want to catch your team’s game, there are plenty of TVs around and they will happily put your game on if they can get it. It’s a nice spot to pass a little time and make a few new friends.
One day while exploring Inwood, I made some friends at another spot and they suggested we meet at Tryon Public House. They called it their “living room”, which is what we call our local pub in my NYC neighborhood. There is always a fun crowd here. It’s not an annoying party atmosphere, but instead a lively, fun, comfortable place.
Perfect Day in Inwood?
If you find yourself in Inwood on a nice day, consider spending it in Fort Tyron Park. The park was designed by Frederick Olmstead Jr. and his brother, sons of the architect behind Central Park. As you enjoy those breathtaking views of the Hudson, you can thank John D. Rockefeller Jr.. When he was planning the park, he bought the land across from it on the New Jersey side, so that as you looked out over the Hudson, the views would always be sweeping and pastoral. If that wasn’t enough, the park is home to the largest dog park in Manhattan and the largest public garden, the Heather Garden.
When you are ready for a break from all that glorious nature, head inside the Cloisters Museum. The Cloisters is an ideal place to enjoy art. Many of the structures that comprise the building were brought over from monasteries and churches in Europe, mostly Spain and France with a little Italy sprinkled in for good measure. Inside you will be able to enjoy art in medieval chapels and cloisters that have been moved from their original European homes and joined together here. Combined they make a beautiful, peaceful place to enjoy a variety of medieval works of art, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and of course, the gardens. In the gardens, the plants, flowers and herbs are designed to reflect what you would have found in medieval times and you may take tours to learn more about them (included with Museum admission).
Winding Down from the Perfect Day in Inwood
After your day in the park, head to Canave Cafe, right across the street. It features modern takes on Mexican and Caribbean food. It doesn’t stop there as they can offer you some inspired cocktails to match that tasty food. Similar to Tryon Public House, you can enjoy nice views, these of the park, while savoring your food and/or drink. It is the perfect way to ease yourself back into the real world after an idyllic day in the park.
A Final Word..
Inwood is one of those neighborhoods that probably does not want to be discovered. They have a great thing going on and no real need for outsiders. However, if you choose to visit this close knit neighborhood, be open to meeting new people. Chances are, you will leave feeling like an Inwood local.
Trust me. You want that.
Celebrity Sightings Possible! Lin Manuel Miranda’s film version of the popular Broadway play “In the Heights” is currently shooting in locations in Washington Heights and Inwood. You may stumble upon some of the film locations in your travels there so keep an eye out!
The Cloisters are open year round, seven days a week. It is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year. The gardens are optimal in late spring/early summer when you can sit at the outdoor cafe and take a break when you need one. In the winter during the holidays, the Cloisters are decorated in a way that would reflect what was done in medieval times. They used what was available, mostly plants as materials, usually holly and ivy. The decorations are wonderfully subtle and a nice change from some of the typical holiday ornamentation of today.
The Cloisters hours are:
March — October: 10:00 am — 5:15 pm
November — February: 10:00 am — 4:45 pm