Neighborhood spotlight: Williamsburg

I just moved back to Williamsburg after two years in the Lower East Side and, besides the recent mishaps with the L train, I’m happy to be back in the neighborhood. I first moved to Williamsburg in 2002, when there was only one supermarket (Tops -now closed) and one Thai Restaurant (Planet Thailand -also closed). I lived in an industrial loft at what is now 184 Kent Avenue, a luxury rental building. At the time, Kent Avenue was filled with drug dealers and prostitutes. There were no cafés and there were very few bars. Good old Turkey’s Nest Tavern on Bedford Avenue (still open) was my local dive bar and the original hipsters who lived in Williamsburg at the time were authentic artists who had left Manhattan in search of more affordable homes and art studios. Williamsburg today only has traces of the Williamsburg I knew then, but the changes that have occurred in the last 13 years are nothing compared to the changes that have defined and redefined Williamsburg in the last 400 years.

Image courtesy of hipparis
Image courtesy of hipparis

The land was first purchased by the Dutch West India Company from the local Native Americans in 1638 and was named Williamsburgh in 1800 by Richard M. Woodhull who had purchased the land in order to build a Manhattan suburb that he hoped would attract wealthy residents. Woodhull and various other developers failed in their attempts to make Wiliamsburg an attractive neighborhood until roads were built through the area in order to make it easier to commute. It was officially deemed a village in 1827 and became its own city in 1852, then merged with the city of Brooklyn in 1855.

By this time, many German and Irish families built businesses and homes in the area and Williamsburg was the retreat of choice for the Vanderbilts, Whitneys, and for railroad magnate James Fisk. Despite its wealthy residents, industry dominated the waterfront. Major firms like Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, CorningWare, and Domino Sugar established themselves, along with shipyards, refineries, mills, and foundries.

The population boomed after the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903. Thousands of Jews migrated across the bridge from the crowded Lower East Side. Other immigrants came from Eastern Europe—mainly Lithuania, Poland, and Russia—as well as Italy. By 1917, it was as crowded as the Lower East Side that the bridge crossers had left behind; it was the most densely populated part of New York City. The Hispanic population began to grow during the 1960s, continuing through the 1980s, with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and others drawn by manufacturing jobs. A loss of housing when the BQE was built as well as a loss of manufacturing jobs (factories along the waterfront were shutdown in 1980) led to clashes between the Hasidic and Hispanic populations as they competed for limited resources.

Image courtesy of nymag
Image courtesy of nymag

During the 1990s, many artists moved to the area, opening galleries in lofts in former factories, and the area became known for its hipsters. Today, Williamsburg is unofficially divided in two parts split by Grand Street. North Williamsburg is more gentrified, with condos rising, chain stores for shopping, and an crowd that is settling down and raising kids. South Williamsburg, especially around Bedford, is still the center of the hipster universe, where streets are lined with walk-up buildings, artists’ lofts, and independent boutiques. Development is starting to reach the southern part of Williamsburg, with the recent groundbreaking at the former Domino Sugar factory.

Although I won’t be able to head to Tops or Planet Thailand now that I am back in Williamsburg, I am looking forward to heading over to some of the below spots that make Williamsburg such a hot real estate destination now:

Image courtesy of Cherry Izakaya website
Image courtesy of Cherry Izakaya website

Ad Hoc
135 Wythe Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
b/t 7th St & 9th St in Williamsburg – North Side
This shop carries a nice selection of men’s clothing at reasonable prices.

Cherry Izakaya
138 N 8th St
Brooklyn, NY 11249
Williamsburg – North Side
Chef jun Hiroshima, previously from Bond Street Restaurant, runs this great Japanese restaurant.

Maison Premiere
298 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
b/t 2nd St & 1st St in Williamsburg – South Side
As mentioned in my top oyster spot picks, Maison Premiere has some of the best oysters in the entire city; an old world French style interior stays packed most of the day, but the fresh seafood is worth the wait.

Nitehawk Cinema
136 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
b/t Wythe Ave & Berry St in Williamsburg – North Side
What could be better than watching a movie while being served local beers or handcrafted cocktails?

East River State Park
90 Kent Ave at N. 7 St.
Rain or shine, this food flea market opens again on Saturday, April 4th. 100 local food vendors gather every weekend through the warmer months. Sunday Smorgasburg takes place in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5, 304 Furman Street.

The Great Big Bacon Picnic
The Old Pfizer Factory
630 Flushing Avenue
Between Tompkins and Marcy
Top NYC chefs and mixologists serve all-you-can-eat and drink gourmet bacon and cocktails at the Old Pfizer Factory on Saturday, May 16th and Sunday, May 17th. Live music performed by Brooklyn’s own High & Mighty Brass Band. Get your tickets here.

229 S 4th St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
b/t Driggs Ave & Roebling St in Williamsburg – South Side
Speaking of bacon, the word traif means “not kosher;” here they celebrate pork and shellfish with dishes such as bacon doughnuts and black truffle prawns. Amazing.

Turkey’s Nest
94 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
b/t 11th St & 12th St in Williamsburg – North Side
One of the only places still around from when I lived in Williamsburg from 2002-2012. Arguably the best dive bar in Brooklyn.

Leave a Reply