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Preserving Harlem

Abbe Lewis - June 2014

New York City—When Croatian born Jelena Pasic bought the space for her fast-casual burger and milkshake restaurant, Harlem Shake, she wanted to preserve what was already there. Back in the 1800s, the space on Lenox Avenue and West 124th Street opened as a dry goods store. In the 1940s, it became a diner and then in the ’70s, a liquor store.

“There was no affordable/high quality burger and milkshake option—just chains of very high end options. Harlem Shake resonated well with the type of diner who used to be in our building,” Pasic says.

Pasic poured over original archival photos for color and layout options. With the help of Dennis Decker Design, pieces of original features like the stained tin ceiling and hexagonal tile flooring were restored. The bathroom boasts a vintage sea foam green toilet, sink, and urinal, as well as an original foot-pedal operated hand dryer. “I was up until all hours of the night looking for that on eBay,” explains Pasic.

Menu classics get an update as well: Pat LaFrieda ground beef is used for the “smash-style” griddled burgers, and beef tallow is used for frying potatoes (vegetarian fries are available upon request). Blue Marble ice cream and organic New York Fresh milk are used for the signature milkshakes.

Satisfied in Harlem, Pasic hopes to take Harlem Shake elsewhere in Manhattan. Her quest for preservation is sure to follow.