Brooklyn? What’s all the fuss about…

So, since we arrived on the Upper West Side all we hear about is Brooklyn this and Brooklyn that… ‘You’re staying on UWS…. WHAT were you thinking?’ has been one comment. ‘We-ell, UWS is a safe place to land’, is another. ‘Yep, you won’t find a cab around here on a Saturday night,’ says our doorman. ‘They’re all over in Brooklyn’. Talk about making you feel like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time! Although it has to be said, all of these comments have come from Brooklyn residents (including our doorman) extolling the virtues of their chosen ‘hood.

Obviously the wonders of Brooklyn had to be investigated so, on the basis of a few trips off the island I’m prepared to offer this summation – ‘Meh’.

Like any good former journalist my conclusion is not based on nothing, it’s based on very sketchy evidence which I will sum up here:

Trip 1: To Roberta’s in Bushwick on Labor Day

Probably Art.

Well, yes, stepping into Roberta’s backyard on a steamy late-summer evening was to step into the very epicentre of Planet Cool. Whether it would have seemed quite so cool if two guys hadn’t been double-dutching to a thumping DJ set I’m not so sure. Roberta’s for those of you out there minus beards or topknots, is the pizza joint that put Brooklyn on the map. It is found via semi-desolate streets through an urban wasteland where someone has hung shoes from a washing line strung building to building. Art, probably. Look through the windows of the apparently derelict buildings you pass however and you will see, murkily illuminated by a few bare lightbulbs, some bearded chaps and skinny top-knotted girls – and the occasional older predator looking like Kurt Cobain would probably look if he was still alive – chatting about Sartre I’d imagine. These dark caves are also coffee shops and bars. For me, it was all a bit terrifyingly free-spirited. And youthful. And exciting. But the pizzas were the best I’ve had in the city so far.

Trip 2: To Spuyten Duyvil, Havermeyer Street, Williamsburg

Scientific and Smutty

Now this is cool. A bar so dark and grimy inside that you can barely see your fellow drinkers even in broad daylight. And it has bars on the windows! And no name outside. The back garden was the venue for a super-groovy Brooklynite’s farewell party – she’s gone off to London,I know, crazy! – and it was a spacious but magical eyrie of bent iron furniture, trees and fairylights. Want a measure of how cool this bar is? Just witness the quality of the graffitti in the loos, left.

Trip 3: To Dumbo for the annual Arts Festival

Not so cool

This was where Brooklyn got disappointing. It seems to me that Dumbo is heading for the same fate as the Conranised areas of London’s South Bank. Despite the spectacular setting under Brooklyn Bridge, it’s not quite underground enough. The same hipsters who had colonised Roberta’s had migrated here for the annual Arts Festival but, strangely, in this setting they didn’t look hip at all.

Dumbo still has shambling desolate warehouses in which artists live and work. It also has cliched design stores and flower shops. This year’s Arts Festival was sponsored by Toyota, with Barclays Bank as back-up. Maybe it was the unseasonally cold weather that brought out the worst in Dumbo but for me the best thing about it was the view across the water to Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Art. Definitely.

4 Responses to “Brooklyn? What’s all the fuss about…”

  1. You can’t not love Roberta’s. Even if you hate it, it’s not ‘meh’. Did make me feel about 103, though.

    • Very true. And the ‘meh’ didn’t apply to Roberta’s but was my response to the perpetual trumpeting from all sides of Brooklyn as the centre of the universe. Based on my limited experience so far it’s ‘good in parts’. That may change…

  2. I live in Brooklyn, and it’s awesome. Less hectically-paced than Manhattan, for sure. While DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Bushwick are trendy, they’re not on a par with the UWS in terms of beautiful buildings, parks, etc. What people *really* mean when they ask why you didn’t move to Brooklyn is, why didn’t you move to a family area like Prospect Park West or Park Slope? And why can’t *I* afford to live on the UWS? Jealous.

    • That’s reassuring. I’ve yet to visit upscale Brooklyn. I hear it’s beautiful. It seems to be where all the ex-pat Brit writers live. For me, as a newcomer, if I wasn’t in Manhattan I wouldn’t be in New York. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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