Oktoberfest, German festival helps Harlem respond to changing tastes

Posted on September 29, 2011

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Harlem is not the first word that comes to mind when one mentions Oktoberfest. But for Harlem businesses, the German festival is a creative way to establish Harlem as a hip, trendy neighborhood that is not only changing its demographics but also the way it does business.

Unlike the 18 day beer festival in Germany, Harlem’s second annual Oktoberfest will be a month long celebration in October of not just alcohol, but also nightlife, food and even activities like yoga.

“It’s an opportunity to share in the beauty of the community which is mostly driven by the small business owners,” said Lara Land, 31, owner of Land Yoga on Frederick Douglass Blvd., a three-month-old business that will be offering yoga demonstrations and discounted yoga workshops as part of the festival.

Land Yoga is one of several new businesses in the Harlem area that cater to a community with expanding tastes, a side effect of an influx of newer, more affluent residents that gentrification has brought to the area.

“Harlem was known for soul food restaurants and Gospel brunch,” said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, 42, executive director of Harlem Park to Park, the merchant association in Central Harlem responsible for Oktoberfest. “Demand based on new residents expanded the offerings. Now we have a variety like you find in other parts of the city, that we’ve never had before.

Harlem Park to Park is an association comprised of 50 business owners located within the Central Harlem area. The association was formed in 2009, while businesses were still feeling the pinch of the recession as well as the increasing cost of commercial space. Business owners needed to make their presence felt in order to survive.

“We formed Harlem Park to Park as a way to promote to residents what they have in their own backyards,” said Evans-Hendricks. “And also to promote to the larger New York City community and tourists, that if you’re coming to Harlem this is where you want to come.”

Each of the association’s 50 businesses are developing unique offerings and events. Bars like Harlem Tavern and Bier International have already started their festivities; Bier International even crowned Harlem’s first Oktoberfest Queen.

The main attractions in the month of October include three-course meals for $20.11 at participating restaurants to reflect the year 2011. Retailers will also be selling select items at this price. An outdoor street festival on Oct 8, which includes a farmer’s market with cooking demonstrations, yoga demonstrations and live music, is the main event for Columbus Day weekend. And on Oct. 27, for a fixed price, Harlem Bar Crawl will give visitors the opportunity to feast on specialty cocktails and appetizers from the organization’s members who will be lined along 8th Ave.

For business owners who survived the recession, Oktoberfest and initiatives like it, are ways to introduce themselves to new residents.

“It’s great exposure,” said Carl Williams, 35, owner of Society Coffee and a bar called 67 Orange St.

Williams has been in business in the area since 2005, and says most of the buzz is around the new businesses that have come in. He hopes to capture some of that buzz with his cocktails at the Harlem Bar Crawl.

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