A formerly abandoned freight house at 12th Avenue and 135th Street has become the locus of a small restaurant row in West Harlem with the recent opening of the restaurant and lounge BODY.
As many as 600 people can be accommodated at BODY, a 9,000-square-foot space that has three separate expanses on two levels, including a restaurant called the Sushi Room. It will eventually have an open roof deck for dining.
The 20,900-square-foot building where BODY is located also has a duplex pizzeria and bar called Covo Trattoria e Pizzeria. The restaurant, which opened in February, is centered on an Italian brick oven. Another restaurant is set to open in coming months that will serve Thai-Latin cuisine.
Amalia Meliti, a spokeswoman for the venue, said it is “one of the newest, swankiest and most spacious lounges,” in the area and has “transformed this end of town into a hip destination.”
The transformation of a once-gritty meatpacking district that had evolved into warehouses, manufacturing businesses and auto shops by the 1990s into a five-block restaurant row has been years in the making. A Fairway Market began attracting Upper West Side residents to 132nd Street and 12th Avenue in 1995, and the first restaurant and bar, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, opened its doors at 131st Street in late 2004.
The Hudson River Cafe, a high-end restaurant and bar specializing in wines of the Hudson Valley and seafood, opened in 25,000 square feet of space at 133rd Street in June 2007. It too has outdoor dining.
Restaurants in the renovated freight house at 701 West 135th Street are the latest additions to the culinary cul-de-sac that is forming in the shadow of the filigreed Riverside Drive viaduct, a micro-neighborhood that some real estate brokers are calling “ViVa,” for Viaduct Valley.
The owner of 701 West 135th Street, Pete Skyllas, said he realized his building, though rundown, might be the perfect fulcrum for a restaurant row when he learned about an 18-acre expansion planned by Columbia University. He anticipated that would be a catalyst for residential and commercial development in the area, along with a multimillion-dollar reconstruction of two Harlem piers at 125th Street.
The piers, one of which is intended for recreation while the other is slated for water taxis, excursion boats and eventually ferries from New Jersey, will open officially later this month. The last leg of a well-lighted, landscaped bicycle path running south from 181st Street was completed last year.
BODY, run by general manager John Colon and the latest venue to open in the area, intends to host everything from cocktail receptions, fundraisers and corporate events to holiday parties, film premiers and photo shoots, Meliti said.
It has had some success attracting notables to its newly opened spaces, having held an after-party for rhythm-and-blues, soul and hip-hop diva and songwriter Erykah Badu, and hatching plans for an event with pop and rhythm-and-blues legend George Benson.