Oasis Jimma Juice Bar has moved to 3163 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. As we enjoyed a nutritious quinoa and vegetable bowl and a "Times Square" smoothie, Abdusalam, the owner of Oasis, was kind enough to sit down with the Manhattan Sideways team and share his story. He was born in Ethiopia, “the birthplace of coffee, ” and grew up on his family’s farm. His view of food as essential to health was shaped early on by his parents, as his father had a holistic clinic that used what their farm produced to help the community and provide adequate nutrition. His mother would cook for the visiting patients, and she taught Abdusalam to do the same — even though it was uncommon for boys to learn to cook in Ethiopia. After his father’s passing, Abdusalam left home at 14 and entered the mining industry to make a living. It was quite a change from his upbringing, he confessed, since he went from a farm where food was fresh and readily available to an area where both food and water were scarce. In retrospect, he realized that this is where his troubles with nutrition began, as it was the first in a long string of environments where he had little to no access to healthy foods. Even so, he drew on his mother’s teachings and chose to become the cook for the other miners. He retained this position until the outbreak of war forced him to flee the country and join a refugee camp in Kenya, which suffered from a scarcity of resources. It was during his stay at the camp that he was diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that played a large role in reshaping his understanding of food. Abdusalam faced many trials upon emigrating to the US in 2004. When he arrived in Harlem, he was broke and did not speak any English. Language was not the only new element he had to adapt to: he was astonished by American food. Living in refugee camps and traveling across the Middle East left him malnourished, and he admitted that, “supermarkets looked like heaven to me. ” But the most shocking aspect for him was not the abundance of food, but rather its high fat content and overly processed nature. “I didn’t know food was unsafe. In my country, food is safe, and if we don’t have it, we don’t have it. ” He was struggling to provide for himself and his family by working three jobs, so fast food and other cheap, unhealthy options were the most convenient for him. With time, he developed increasing health complications as a result of his poor diet, heavy workload and diabetes. To combat these, he began researching nutrition and wellness, which eventually led to the decision to eliminate all processed foods from his diet. He quickly saw what a positive impact this made for him and his overall wellbeing. These results motivated Abdusalam to open his first juice store on 125th Street in November 2012, where he could impart his philosophy about food to others. “It’s not about business for me, it’s about sharing my idea that food should be good, affordable, healthy and delicious. ” To aid in this goal, the walls of his shop are covered in facts about food and tips for healthy eating. Since its opening, according to Abdusalam, Oasis Jimma Juice Bar has become one of the top five juice bars in the city. Inspired by this success, in 2017 he opened another location on 139th Street, in his own neighborhood, to continue providing Harlem with access to better options. His passion for his mission was obvious. “People should learn about food — how to eat, how to cook, how to buy, ” he insisted. When we visited during the summer of 2017, Abdusalam told us that he was in the process of opening the Oasis Power House on 139th Street. His plan is for this to function as a “no judgment zone” where people will be encouraged to teach their particular talents and passions to anyone who wants to learn them. He envisions it as a space where those who are seeking meaning and purpose in their lives can find it by sharing what they love with others, be it piano lessons, arts and crafts, writing, or any other skill. Abdusalam hopes to continue giving back to Harlem, his adopted community, by sharing his story and ensuring that others can learn from and be inspired by his life experiences.
This cozy coffee shop that doubles as a wine bar at night was an unexpected but delightful find on 145th street. It seemed like the perfect place to settle in and work for an afternoon, fueled by a selection of snacks and drinks. When we stopped by in 2017, unable to resist the lure of the gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, there were several people who had precisely that idea, their laptops and coffee cups within easy reach. The space is comfortable and almost rustic, with wooden furniture and burlap-covered pillows stamped with countries known for their coffee beans. Noticing our fascination with the décor, Chung, the owner, revealed that he held a contest for City College New York students to design the café’s interior, which he then constructed with the help of some friends. Chung explained that he opened Sugar Hill Café in 2015 as a cool side venture to complement his primary business in real estate. When asked why he decided to also make it into a nightlife spot by serving wine, he quipped, “Because people can’t drink coffee all day. ”
On a street with only a smattering of businesses and churches, the Grange, former home of the first Treasury Secretary and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, is a welcome spot to explore. Hamilton planned and constructed the Grange, named after his ancestral home in Scotland, and called it his “sweet project. ”By the time construction was completed in 1802, Hamilton’s political career had plummeted, and he retreated to the peaceful area in search of solace. It was a milestone for him; while the other Founding Fathers were born landowners, the Grange and its thirty-two acres of land offered Hamilton his first opportunity to indulge in the trappings of wealth. He soon took to gardening — a practice that the current iteration of the Grange upholds, with flower patches that evoke the pastoral landscape that Hamilton would have enjoyed at the time. The house was initially located on what is now 143rd Street and Convent Avenue, though the surroundings were entirely rural when the structure was built. However, the Hamiltons were only able to reside in the Grange for two years prior to Alexander’s death in 1804, after which his wife, Eliza, had to auction off the house to repay her late husband’s debts. The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society later purchased the Grange and turned it into a public museum in 1933. Thirty years later, it was donated to the National Park Service, which sought to relocate the property from its cramped spot on Convent Avenue. In 2008, the Grange was lifted on stilts and rolled 500 feet to its new position adjacent to St. Nicholas Park on 141st Street — an awe-inspiring sight. There followed a period of extensive restoration to both the house and the estate in order to return it to its former glory. It was reopened for public viewing in 2011. Visitors can wander through replicas of the family room, the dining room, and Hamilton’s study. Even the rugs were provided by a historic carpet company to meet the painstaking standards for accuracy. The restorers tried to keep as much of the house intact as possible despite the repairs, including the original moldings and genuine Italian marble of the mantelpiece in the dining room. The piano belonging to Hamilton’s daughter, Angelica, still sits in the family room — it has several broken keys because repairing them would detract from its authenticity.
Sprawled along five blocks of Convent Avenue and bordered by St. Nicholas Park, City College of New York’s campus is an impressive sight in West Harlem. Although CCNY was founded in 1847 as the Free Academy of the City of New York, it did not move to its current location until 1907. The buildings were designed by American architect George Browne Post, who was known for his unique projects and penchant for pioneering new ideas. His work on the campus reflects this, as CCNY is one of the first colleges to implement the Collegiate Gothic style in the United States. Its architecture, of course, is not the only feature that makes CCNY unique. It is known for being the first free public university in the United States, created with the specific intention of making education accessible to all, even members of communities typically barred from higher education due to their status as immigrants or low income. Over the years, it has abided by this founding mission of fostering diversity and opportunity. For example, the school boasts one of the first fraternities to admit members of different ethnicities and religions, it started accepting women into their graduate program as of 1930, and it eliminated the policy mandating weekly chapel attendance. To this day, CCNY continues its efforts to change with the times and broaden its student body.
Ironically, before this firehouse was converted, it suffered its own two-alarm fire back in 2008. The cause, I learned, was most likely from the 100 year old wiring inside the structure. The site of the former Hook & Ladder 23 is now used by City College of New York as the storage facility for their snow plows. However, the building's time as a firehouse has not been forgotten by the longtime residents of the neighborhood. I had the chance to chat with a man who has lived across from the firehouse since he was a child, and he was eager to share stories about what it was like when it was still in operation. He told me that the firemen were glad to play with the neighborhood kids during their downtime on weekends, and even brought sandwiches and juice for everyone to share. There was always a sense of excitement when the door to the building opened up to reveal the fire truck and the fire poles in the back - it was every kid's dream to have the chance to slide down one of those poles. Now, even though the building has been repurposed, he told me it still thrills him to watch the door go up, revealing the fire poles that are still there, tucked away behind the snow plows. "Always brings back good memories of good times, " he said with a smile.