Step Off Bedford
In the early 1900s Williamsburg became the most heavily inhabited area of New York City. Families migrated across the river to escape the crowded tenements of the lower east side. In the 60s many moved out of the neighborhood, unemployment was on the rise and before long it became a hub of crime and drugs.
Fast-forward four decades and the little burg that could has reached full circle in regards to its population. It didn’t take long for Williamsburg to become the “it” place of Brooklyn. One minute I knew it only as a place one of by friends lived in the early 2000s and it soon became a place I avoided because it was too cool for school. A mild mood Saturday persuades me to give Billyburg another chance.
Brunch with friends seems like a good way to ease myself into it. Diner was established in 1999 out of an old 1927 railroad car. We luckily arrive early enough that there is no wait this time. My wife recognizes actress Sarita Choudhury chilling outside on the diner’s bench. The day just started and we already had a random celebrity sighting.
The colorful waiter Red sits down and begins to write the menu on the table for us. With an air of mystery behind his mirrored glasses I learn he doesn’t live in the hood. He loves Brooklyn because you get a mix of everybody, which seems the consensus of every Brooklyn neighborhood. Brunch puts me in an open-minded disposition until I start to walk into the mouth of the beast.
Bedford Avenue is the magnet of Williamsburg. Not even noon and it is already over run with people – tourists and the like. It is the reason I avoid this place. But the moment I step off Bedford brings a bit of magic. I turn the corner to see a jewelry-adorned fella sitting on a blanket. He smiles up with a shine in his eye that immediately charms me. Alex is a recent transplant from South Carolina but it is clear he is a nomad. His stone and brass wire creations are one of a kind. He leaves a little optimism in each one and sells my wife the stone off his neck. Something tells me he is one of those people I have a happenstance encounter with that I’ll never forget.
Off the beaten path I wander into Rough Trade, a cavern of vinyl that has been there for three years. The staff is cool as cucumbers and readily available to answer any questions I have. It is refreshing and not what I expect from my preexisting notions about Williamsburg. Slapped with nostalgia for an 80s upbringing I decide to get lost for a while. I end up leaving with Hole’s Live Through This to satisfy the angsty itch I have been feeling lately.
Wandering off Bedford gives me hope that there may be a Williamsburg for everyone. Whether you are someone to get swept up in the hoard of people that Bedford Avenue affords or getting lost among the quiet side streets where the burg is yours for the taking.
©dm hall (www.darleenhall.com). Photos courtesy of Katya Hall (www.katyahall.com)