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By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
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Portions of this article have been updated.
Wonder no more: if you've ever wanted to know what block J.Lo was representin', hop "on the 6" and head to Castle Hill. Neither 'hood nor heavenly haven, this unabashedly working-class nabe in the southeast Bronx boasts some of the best restaurants in the borough. The nascent nightlife jockeys for space with 99-cent stores, clothing shops, and bodegas along Castle Hill and Westchester Avenues and the attractive stucco homes lining leafy Odell Street and Ellis Avenue. Castle Hill got its name from its most striking topographical feature, a small hut that a 17th-century European observer thought worthy of a castle. The neighborhood's regal stature has diminished over the years due to crime, but today Castle Hill is reaping the benefits of neighboring Parkchester's renaissance.
Boundaries: Westchester Creek to the north and east, the East River to the South, and Pugsley's Creek to the west.
Transportation: What did J.Lo tell you? Take the 6 train to Castle Hill Avenue. It's a 45-minute trip to Union Square.
Main Drags: Westchester Avenue, Castle Hill Avenue, and Unionport Road.
Average Price to Rent: $800 to $1000 ($700 to $900) for a one-bedroom; $900 to $1200 ($900 to $1100) for a two-bedroom; $1200 and up ($1200 to $1400) for a three-bedroom.
Average Price to Buy: Two-family homes generally sell for between $300,000 and $500,000 and up ($200,000 and $350,000.)
Best Bars: The regulars at Cas Bar (1362 Castle Hill Avenue) clearly didn't get the memo about Bloomberg's smoking ban, because the scent of tobacco lingers like a bad memory. Although you'd probably see a picture of the place if you ever looked up "dive" in the dictionary, Cas may be the most fun spot in Castle Hill. The staff is extremely friendly, and you'll get a kick out the pure kitsch of video poker machines lining the walls and the signs advertising fishing trips. In true dive fashion, you'd be hard-pressed to find a drink over $5. After you've gotten sufficiently trashed, stumble over to Johnny O's Bar and Grill (2132 Westchester Avenue), where you can sing karaoke on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you like comedy, the Mi Gente Cafe (1306 Unionport Road) keeps the laughs and the $2 drafts keep on coming every Wednesday night. The Wild Palm (1601 Bronxdale Avenue) offers Latin jazz and frequent club dates by long-forgotten R&B and a cappella groups, and The Chaz Lounge (1865 Westchester Avenue) is a must-see for jazz aficionados.
Best Restaurants: In business since 1940, Joe and Joe Restaurant (1001 Castle Hill Avenue) is a neighborhood institution, frequently touted as the best Italian restaurant in the Bronx. That is no small feat in this borough. At Lechonera El Coqui (1251 Castle Hill Avenue) mentioned in Robert Sietsema's list of 100 Best Cheap Latin Restaurants, you can get half a chicken, rice, and beans for a measly $5. Sabrosura Seafood Restaurant (1208 Castle Hill Avenue) has been serving Chinese-Dominican cuisine for over 20 years. Cafe Athena (2199 Westchester Avenue) is considered one of the best diners in the area.
Green Space: Castle Hill Park (Castle Hill Avenue and Hart Street) is the primary green space in the neighborhood. Bike paths and greenways connect it to nearby Soundview Park, and it hosts several national-level handball tournaments throughout the year.
Community Organizations: Since 1915, the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club (1930 Randall Avenue) has been a sanctuary for neighborhood youth, providing athletic programs, educational assistance, job placement, and youth counseling. It boasts the only indoor hockey and skating rink in the area, a rubberized surface that can be used as a basketball court, soccer field, or as a space for community activities. The Castle Hill Learning Center (1300 Boynton Avenue), an alternative education program for students 16 and older, provides GED preparation and tutoring, as well as job fairs, health screenings, and social activities.
Local Politicians: Castle Hill is represented by City Councilman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, State Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., and Congressman Jospeh Crowley, all Democrats.
Crime Stats: As of November 6, 2005, it reported 12 murders, 30 rapes, 471 robberies, 427 felony assaults, 352 burglaries. (The 43rd Precinct serves the southeast Bronx, which includes Castle Hill, Soundview, and Parkchester. As of October 12, the 43rd reported five murders, down 11 from last year; 51 rapes, same as last year; 453 robberies, down 12; and 448 burglaries, down 58.)