Blue Notes

The famous frieze of the Carl Schurz memorial at the 116th and Morningside Drive entrance to Morningside Park is easy to miss. Standing there, it feels merely like an aging foreground to impressively sweeping views of Harlem and the further cityscape. Members of the rock band The Who once curled up against these classical bas-relief figures under a starkly bright Union Jack blanket for their The Kids Are Alright rockumentary and soundtrack. Fans still make pilgrimages to the memorial today, not for Schurz but for Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon and Townshend.

 

This ’60s band’s connection to the memorial—to Schurz—seems nonexistent. The Germanborn “soldier, statesman, philanthropist,” as per the memorial’s inscription, died in 1906 and lived in America for only about 50 years. Among other things, he is credited with helping get Lincoln elected, serving as a general in the Union Army and as Secretary of the Interior in addition to working for the New York Tribune.

 

Schurz’s name is carved out on many public spaces. The Charles Schurz Park in Yorkville contains Gracie mansion, which Mayor De Blasio does or does not yet live in. You can climb Mount Schurz in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and hike through Carl Schurz Forest on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. Also there have been two Navy ships in his honor.

 

Though this monument, on a lofty edge of Morningside, a collaboration between Karl Bitter and Henry Bacon (who would later design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.), may have the best view of them all. I think I can see Randall’s Island. 

 

—Nia Brown

 

Located on the first floor of Hartley Hall, the Malcolm X Lounge is mostly understood as a meeting space for the Black Students’ Organization and students of color on campus. Yet the room is more significant than the physical space it provides.

 

The idea for the lounge was conceived in the aftermath of the 1968 protests, which upended the social order of the University but failed to address many black students’ demands for reform. Calls for the creation of an all-black lounge had gone unanswered for six months when the Students’ AfroAmerican Society (SAS) decided to occupy a part of the Naval Reserve Training Corps’ former office space in April 1970. The resulting sit-in lasted for four days, when the Hartley Hall Council agreed to cede the offices to the group to be repurposed as a lounge for black students. The following October, administrators attempted to discipline two organizers of the demonstration for breaking with university protocol, but pushback from black faculty and others hampered their efforts.

 

“You know, it went rather smoothly. I guess the University said ‘Oh gosh, they’re probably the only group that doesn’t have any space ... Okay, if this is where you want it to be.’ I mean, it was just a lounge, just an area where people would go and hang out. So it became the Malcolm X Lounge ... It was really that simple,” Sharif Abdus-Salaam, CC ’74, recalled.

 

The activist tradition of the Malcolm X Lounge extends beyond the sit-in that led to its formation. In 1985, it lodged student hunger strikers for the Coalition for a Free South Africa, who were integral in pushing University President Michael Sovern to initiate divestment to assert Columbia’s opposition to apartheid policies. The following year, it hosted organizers in the Housing For All Federation, who protested the University’s decision to evict as many as 50 tenants from Columbia housing in 1987 by famously blockading the apartment of employee Susana Acosta-Jafaar. The BSO later offered the lounge to Acosta-Jaafar and her husband as temporary accommodations. The national media attention incurred by the protests prompted Sovern to plan a meeting with elected officials to review Columbia’s housing policies.

 

This legacy of activism associated with the lounge remains strong. From the space it continues to provide for groups like Students Against Mass Incarceration, who challenge racist forces entrenched in the justice system down to its floorto-ceiling mural celebrating figures of anti-racist resistance.

 

—Virginia Ambeliotis

 

The corner of 109th and Amsterdam is dominated by an enigmatic red box: a building regulars know to be Suite, one of the Upper West Side’s few gay bars. Existing in its current form for 11 years, Suite is a warm, intimate space, known for hosting bi-weekly karaoke nights and frequent drag shows.

 

After your first visit, though, you might be surprised to find that all of your credit card charges from Suite seem to be mysteriously redirected to Roti Roll–the tiny Indian restaurant next door, a favorite of Columbia students looking for a cheap bite late at night.

 

They may seem strange bedfellows but Roti Roll and Suite are two separate wings of the same business. A door allows clientele to move directly between the bar and the restaurant; an open window lets patrons order Roti Roll directly from the bar. “It’s a very odd couple,” admits Chandra Malik, co-owner of both Roti Roll and Suite.

 

Malik opened Suite and Roti Roll 11 years ago with his two business partners, Sujit Balachandran and Sudhir Bhat. Malik himself is a native of New Delhi who first came to New York as a student in 1976. During his time in college he started doing odd jobs in restaurants, leading him into the food industry. Malik also owns two other Indian restaurants in the neighborhood, Ayurveda Café and Chapati House.

 

Suite has always been a gay bar, long before Malik and his partner Balachandran decided to purchase it.“We wanted to make it more mainstream – a place where, along with gays, everybody else was welcome,” Malik said. “My partner Sudhir, he wanted to open up a place where people just made roti rolls, and there happened to be two places next to each other…”

 

Both places generally have separate clientele, says Malik, but there is a fair amount of crossover. “A lot of people are here, they have some drinks, they want to go have some Roti Roll–so they go over there to eat, or they can bring it back [to Suite] and eat.” Laughing, Malik recalls the confusion of several customers: “Over here we have drag queen shows, we have karaoke, very festive music, and we get some customers next door at Roti Roll who get kind of curious–‘What’s going on in this place?’… Sometimes I say, ‘Come on in! Don’t be afraid!’” Despite this welcome, though, Malik says they’ve avoided making the suite a “package”. Both institutions were consciously made to look different: Roti Roll is fairly open and simple, while Suite is more closed in to make it a “party place,” in Malik’s words. Due to this difference, the connection between the two is still a mystery for many customers.

 

“There’s an intrigue created sometimes. As a matter of fact when we’re at Suite people tend to joke…and sometimes we call that [the window between the restaurants] a gloryhole,” Malik says, chuckling.

 

—Nikhil Dominic