Rewind Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about New York. I miss it. I long for it. It was the first city I truly fell in love with. Looking through my photos brings back so many memories; I’m so glad I was given a camera to capture the city’s moments. New York always looks beautiful; never dull or boring. I looked over at the island Manhattan so many times from Williamsburg, and felt nostalgic for the New York I dreamt about at home in Sydney. It’s Williamsburg that I really miss the most. I wonder if I will recognize it when I return.

10th Street street art, August 2012

10th Street street art, August 2012

That's Manhattan, July 2012

That’s Manhattan, July 2012

At Momofuku Milk Bar, May 2012

At Momofuku Milk Bar, May 2012

Guard Dog, May 2012

Guard Dog, May 2012

DSC_0525PS

Draped in vines, May 2012

Fair day, May 2012

Fair day, May 2012

10th Street street art #2, August 2012

10th Street street art #2, August 2012

Comstruction, April 2012

Construction, April 2012

Music on Bedford Ave, May 2012

Music on Bedford Ave, May 2012

Coffee to go, May 2012

Coffee to go, May 2012

Ice cream, July 2012

Ice cream, July 2012

A restaurant's trimmings, April 2012

A restaurant’s trimmings, April 2012

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, May 2012

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, May 2012

Stormy Williamsburg, July 2012

Stormy Williamsburg, July 2012

Williamsburg Bridge, April 2012

Williamsburg Bridge, April 2012

Sunset over Williamsburg Bridge, July 2012

Sunset over Williamsburg Bridge, July 2012

Spending Sunday in Bed-Stuy ~ Brooklyn, NY

Bedford-Stuyvesant is a neighbourhood located in Brooklyn – a 10 minute car drive from Williamsburg’s waterfront; a 30 minute subway ride to Manhattan. Known in short as Bed-Stuy, it’s made up of 4 neighbourhoods, 2 of which are called: Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights.

An area that Wikipedia describes as the Harlem of Brooklyn (in the 30’s, the construction of a subway line between Harlem and Bedford caused many African Americans to move here given more affordable housing), Bed-Stuy has been undergoing gentrification since early 2000.

The recent construction of modern apartments in cookie-cutter design makes it all the more easy to appreciate the rows of beautiful brownstones along Bed-Stuy’s quiet and shaded-with-green side streets. Though I couldn’t tell you where Mike Tyson, Jay-Z, and Norah Jones lived, nor Frank McCourt, Lenny Kravitz, and Chris Rock for that matter, it’s fun to know that you’re walking in footsteps of the famous.

Yes, quite a large number of celebs hail from this part of town. Enjoy!

Urban Vs Natural ~ New York and California

I read some words today that I’ve been reflecting on ever since. You may read them here: mimokhair, Day 2, Vietnam

Energised by the built; energised by the wild. Constantly revved up by a kaleidoscope of impressions, versus quietly meditating on the infinite. Striving towards a balance.

The thoughts shared by the Native American on mimokhair’s post speak volumes about my love for city life, accompanied by the constant pull of the Pacific Ocean.

Looking towards the horizon from Heisler Park in Laguna Beach

View from my apartment building’s rooftop in Brooklyn, looking towards Manhattan. One World Trade Centre in NY’s downtown (background).

Hot Dogs and Roller Coasters ~ Coney Island, Brooklyn

June 13, 1884. The world’s first roller coaster opened on this day in 1884 at Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Built and later patented by LaMarcus Thompson, the “Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway” boasted two parallel 600-foot tracks that descended from 50 feet. The cars traveled at six miles per hour. Riders paid five cents each for their rides. The roller coaster was a sensation, and soon amusement parks all over the US and the world featured them.*

Not the oldest, but the most loved: the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island

If you’re thinking of visiting Coney Island on a weekday in early June, it’s safe to assume you’ll be spared crowds of summer tourists, school holiday makers, and amusement ride thrill seekers. Instead, you’ll share its long herringbone paneled boardwalk with strolling locals, joggers, cyclists, and probably a few sightseers. Come lunchtime, you won’t even have to line up at Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand for a 2000-caloric mega meal for two…

A neighbourhood that seems to be more renowned for its annual events, theme park attractions, and a Russian immigrant population, it’s a place that has a charm that harkens to the good ‘ol days.

Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest on July 4 will celebrate its 97th year here; enthusiasts brave freezing temperatures of the Atlantic in the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear swim; and three amusement rides, Cyclone rollercoaster, Wonder ‘Ferris’ Wheel, and Parachute Jump, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

On an ordinary day, it’s fun to see the rides, hear the Russian chit-chat, and photograph the vintage storefronts and ticket booths that add colour to a neighbourhood home to much grey and brown.

Coney Island is located in Brooklyn – it’s the final stop on the yellow Q subway line that connects it to Manhattan. The Atlantic Ocean lines the peninsula’s shoreline, and it shares a fringing boardwalk with the next ‘hood over, Brighton Beach. Interestingly, Coney Island “was formerly an outer barrier island, but became partially connected to the mainland by landfill.”**

In much the same vein as other outlying water facing neighborhoods of major cities, Coney Island was intended as a vacation spot in the 19th C. From the onset, amusement rides and themes parks defined the neighbourhood, and became a major contributor its economy. The first carousel was built on the Island in 1876.

The first hotel opened at Coney Island in 1829 and by the post-Civil War years, the area was an established resort with theaters, restaurants and a race track. Between 1897 and 1904, three amusement parks sprang up at Coney Island–Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase. By the 1920s, Coney Island was reachable by subway and summer crowds of a million people a day flocked there for rides, games, sideshows, the beach and the two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk, completed in 1923. ***

The hot dog is said to have been invented in Coney Island; Nathan’s opened in 1916, and achieved instant success. This could have been in large part due to the hot dog eating contest that has been running ever since its grand opening, perhaps?

Coney Island started to suffer in the mid 20th C: the impact of WWII, an influx of local gangs, and a low income housing project urban-renewal plan, all contributed to driving away tourists; they sought out other vacation spots like Long Island. Though the Boardwalk’s New York Aquarium has stayed open since 1957, all the original amusement parks were closed down by 1964. Efforts to revive the industry for a while after were unfounded.

The majority of Coney Island’s population resides in approximately thirty 18- to 24-storey towers, mostly public housing. Since the 1990s there has been steady revitalization of the area. Many townhouses were built on empty lots, popular franchises opened, and Keyspan Park was built to serve as the home for the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. Once home to many Jewish residents, Coney Island’s main population groups today are African American, Italian American, Hispanic, and Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.**

New York Aquarium

In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an interest in revitalizing Coney Island as a possible site for the 2012 Olympics. When the city lost the bid for the Olympics, revitalization plans were rolled over to the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC), which came up with a plan to restore the resort.**

Since then, issues with developers, designs for new amusement parks, and rezoning plans for hotels and housing have been circulating. A new roller coaster was built in April 2011 as part of the area’s restoration efforts. Today, many of the old theme parks have reopened and their rides are in operation.

To me, the area looks to have the potential but I’m not certain of future development plans. In the meantime, the hot dog eating Contest as well as traditional theme park rides will continue to promote it as a tourist attraction. The male record for most hot dogs eaten is currently set at a whopping 68 hot dogs; female – at an unbelievable 41. I tried one of the ‘dogs – they were good… but are they really that palatable? I just can’t imagine what goes on over Independence Day. I’ll watch it on Travel Channel if I happen to catch the shenanigans while channel surfing.

*answers.com **Wikipedia ***history.com

Reblog: New work: Wythe Hotel for Brooklyn Magazine

I really wanted to reblog this piece about the Wyeth Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

New work: Wythe Hotel for Brooklyn Magazine « the blue hour.

the blue hour – Brian is the man behind the scenes – has done a great job of capturing the details of the hotel. What a wonderful glimpse into this beautiful building. Fantastic work, and what an honour for the photos to be featured in Brooklyn Magazine. Congratulations! Can’t wait to see more work from you.

NB: To give the photos the justice they deserve, please view the link. The details have been caught on film, and are outstanding.

Bushwick, Brooklyn – the new frontier?

“Bushwick may not be East Williamsburg. But for those seeking the newest Bohemia, this neighborhood is arguably the coolest place on the planet,” proclaimed The New York Times Real Estate section. A few months ago when I read this in an article, dated back to July 2010, I remember thinking what a particularly bold statement that was to have made.

More recently, the September 2011 issue of Conde Nast Traveller UK edition commented on Bushwick as one of the upcoming cool neighbourhoods on the Morgan Avenue stop of the L subway line. And furthermore, what was this supposedly influential Roberta’s pizza place that I was hearing so much about?

Exterior of Roberta's

With all this information plus other countless references to Bushwick being on the up and up, I had to check the area out again. Surely, after having spent a few years in California, the area hadn’t changed that much? Or had it? Thinking back, Ali had dubbed Bushwick to be the next hot spot and I guess he was onto something…

View from our loft in 'The Loom', Bushwick, 2007

I have a soft spot for Bushwick as it was the location of the first place that Ali (then boyfriend, now husband) and I had moved into, four years ago. Our loft was huge, about 1,200 square feet, with wood paneled floors and copper rosette ceiling tiles, inherited from its former life as a commercial factory. Called The Loom, the best thing about living in this industrial part of Brooklyn, apart from the space, was that we were right by the Morgan Avenue stop on the L line which meant a quick ride into Manhattan. Worst part: the not-so-sweet smell of the garbage facility opposite us, especially during the summer months. But that didn’t bother me too much. After all, this was part of the industrial vibe. And the rent was good.

There was really nothing that surrounded us at that time, apart from a few bodegas, a supermarket, and a laundromat. Oh, and those factories and warehouses. That said our apartment building had filled up fast with many young tenants, including ourselves. Back then, Ali had joked that he should open a café in the then-vacant ground floor to cater to the new loft community. Judging by what we saw today as well as the recent rave reviews of Bushwick, maybe he should have pitched the idea then.

Mural on a side street

Walking around Bushwick today, I have to say, it hasn’t changed as much as I would have thought. There is a lot of interspersed street art which is always good to see – unexpected murals on the sides of buildings that add colour to an otherwise blah neighbourhood. We visited our old apartment block and, as it happened, its ground floor is dedicated to various retailers – an art gallery, yoga studio, grocery store, hairdresser and a café to boot! (That said most were closed by 5pm).

Looking into the art gallery, Shops at The Loom

Other than that, the area is still pretty much a haven for industry. Whether more of the commercial buildings have been converted into loft spaces, it was hard to tell as there wasn’t much activity on the streets nor could one tell given the lack of signage.

After a short walk around the area, we stopped for an early dinner (or perhaps this was a late lunch based on Bushwick’s standards) at this infamous Roberta’s. New York Magazine had dubbed the immediate area around Roberta’s restaurant as ‘Robertasville’, and number 16 of the 20 Neighbourhoods of Tomorrow. Apparently since it opened three years ago, Roberta’s has established a sub-neighbourhood within Bushwick and influenced other businesses to follow suit and open shop right around the corner from it.  These include a wine store, a couple of galleries, and The Swallow Café (I couldn’t get past the sheer number of Mac’s in this place. Collectively they lit the place up enough to save the cafe installing lighting fixtures).

Home of the Mac toting resident - Swallow Cafe

The mural on this particular side of the block read ‘Welcome to Morganstown’ after Morgan Avenue… so I’m not sure where all these different ‘hood names have come from, though they seem to be adopted for the very same area.

Morgantown Mural

Roberta’s is located within a non descript block across the road from an empty lot that could pass for a truck loading dock. I’d read about the ridiculously long waits for a table here in peak times as a by-product of some New York Times reviews, and as we were here at non-peak there was no wait.

The atrium, and studio for webcasts (right)

Converted from a former garage, Roberta’s has been refurbished into a cosy spot, reminiscent of a cabin with its wood paneling and mosaic tiled wood burning oven. Seating here is communal at long wood tables, with a bar towards the back. Off the main dining room is an atrium with further seating, which is a perfect example of industrial design. Recycled printed and rusted metal sheeting line the walls, and clear plastic and corrugated iron forms the roof of the atrium. To one side of the room is a glass pane that allows diners to look into a studio from where The Heritage Radio Network hosts its programs. In addition to playing audience to a live webcast, it was a really nice spot to sit and enjoy a meal on this rainy day. The pitter patter up top was a perfect complement to the warmth radiated from the fireplace. Now, if only the wooden bench seating had a back to it…

The atrium's industrial design

I can now understand why there’s been the hype about Roberta’s. Having created a world away from the industrial surrounds is a great thing, and the prices are comparable with Manhattan’s to rival any opponents (despite being a bridge apart). Our meal was very good, with the highlight being The Specken Wolf wood-fired pizza – a light crispy crust topped with mushrooms, red onions, mozzarella, a good amount of speck and very fragrant oregano, perhaps one of the pickings from the restaurant’s on-site garden. Our mizuna salad would have been quite sparse if it hadn’t been for a few lardo topped fig halves adorning the sides of the plate, and the orecchiette oxtail ragu was decidedly on the small and spicy side. Add a glass of cava and a margarita, and we had tallied up a $65 bill plus tip plus tax. Though there are plenty of places we have yet to check out in Williamsburg and Manhattan, we’ll definitely be back for dinner to sample the menu and its dessert selection (only gelato was available for lunch).

The Specken Wolf pizza

Stepping back onto the dark, quiet, poorly lit street after 5pm, it feels as if Bushwick has a ways to go before it becomes a neighbourhood as gentrified as what became of  Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the rise of Williamsburg’s north. That said, I am still fascinated as to the way “Robertasville” placed Bushwick on the map and in the minds of so many.

Bogart Street, and Roberta's (right)

A streetscape in Bushwick

Lofts in Bushwick