Bringing “Sexy Back” to Harlem Bodegas

Located on the corner of West 118th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, La Bodega 47 Social Club transforms one of Harlem’s fundamental businesses, the standard Latino grocery store, into a trendy rum lounge.

Owner Brian Washington-Palmer, originally from Berkley, Calif., believed Harlem needed a space that would complement the influx of new residents and development of new businesses and apartment complexes, so he transformed his previous Caribbean-Mediterranean restaurant, Native, into La Bodega 47 Social Club this past March.

Washington-Palmer moved to New York City about 20 years ago to become a dancer, living much of that time in Harlem. After deciding to branch away from performing arts, he attended school in Paris. His travels between Paris and New York inspired him to work in the food industry. Washington-Palmer has owned a few bars and eateries prior to opening the bodega-themed lounge. He wanted La Bodega 47 Social Club to have a completely different ambiance than his previous restaurant Native.

“Harlem very much about being seen and I wanted a spot that wasn’t about being seen, but about being intimate and having conversations,” he said.

When Washington-Palmer decided to reinvent the restaurant to keep up with Harlem’s transition, he visited bodegas around the city to help him create the new space. From the stocked grocery shelf walls to the huge portrait of an elderly woman smoking a cigar; the lounge’s interior décor is reminiscent of a bodega. The exterior of La Bodega 47 Social Club is also similar to the exterior of a bodega, and has actually been mistaken for one countless times.


“I overheard a woman once say, ‘What kind of bodega sells brunch?’” said Washington-Palmer with a chuckle. Although building the lounge was a collaborative effort, Washington-Palmer designed the lounge himself.

The dinner and drink menu at La Bodega 47 Social Club is influenced by Latino culture. The dinner menu is divided by “small bowls,” which includes “Brazilian Bread Cheeses,” and “big bowls,” which includes “Arroz Con Pollo.” The social club houses a variety of drinks, but the specialty rum cocktails are the “go to” items on the drink menu. Each specialty cocktail incorporates the lounge’s in-house crafted syrups, including the “Latin Old Fashioned.”

When visiting La Bodega 47 Social Club, expect to walk-into a whimsical setting where one can socialize and unwind after a long day at work. “Every night you’ll run into publicist and a lot of different actors and actresses who come here. It’s a low key spot,” said employee Michael Angelo Levy.