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 July 2010, I thought it a bold statement.

Moreover, the September 2011 issue of Conde Nast Traveller UK deemed Bushwick one of the New York’s upcoming cool neighbourhoods. And furthermore, what was Roberta’s, a pizza place that I was reading so much about?

Exterior of Roberta’s

Surely, after having spent a few years in California, the area hadn’t changed that much? Or had it? Thinking back, my husband, Ali had dubbed Bushwick New York’s next hot spot. 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 where Ali and I had first moved to four years ago. Our loft in The Loom was huge, about 1,200 square feet, with wood paneled floors and copper rosette ceiling tiles, left over from its former life as a commercial factory. 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. The worst part? The crappy smell that wafted from the nearby garbage facility, especially string during summer. But that didn’t bother me too much. After all, this was part of the industrial vibe. And the rent was good.

Nothing interesting surrounded us at that time, just a few bodegas, a supermarket, and a laundromat. Oh, and factories and warehouses. Our apartment building was full of young tenants. Back then, Ali had joked about opening a café on the then-vacant ground floor. Judging by today’s rave reviews, maybe he should have pitched the idea.

Mural on a side street

Walking around Bushwick now, I notice that it hasn’t changed much. There is a lot of street art on the sides of buildings, which adds colour to an otherwise blah neighbourhood. We visited our old apartment block whose ground floor houses 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 an industrial haven.

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 Roberta’s. New York Magazine calls the area around Roberta’s ‘Robertasville’, and lists it 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 computers in this place. 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 be a truck loading dock. I’d read about the ridiculously long waits for a table here in peak times, but when we arrived, there was no wait.

The atrium, and studio for webcasts (right)

A former garage, Roberta’s is a cosy spot, reminiscent of a cabin with its wood paneling and mosaic tiled wood burning oven. There’s communal seating at long wood tables, with a bar towards the back. Recycled printed and rusted metal sheeting line the dining room’s walls, whose atrium is made from clear plastic. One side of the room has a glass pane that allows diners to look into a studio — this is where The Heritage Radio Network hosts its programs. It was raining when we visited. The pitter patter complemented to the heat from the fireplace. Now, if only the wooden bench seating had a back to it…

The atrium’s industrial design

I  now understand the hype about Roberta’s. The highlight of our meal was The Specken Wolf wood-fired pizza – a light crispy crust topped with mushrooms, red onions, mozzarella, a good amount of speck and  fragrant oregano, perhaps picked from the on-site garden. The mizuna salad was topped with lardo and fig halves, and the orecchiette oxtail ragu was spicy. With a glass of cava and a margarita, the total tallied to $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 and dessert (only gelato was available for lunch).

The Specken Wolf pizza

We stepped out into the dark, quiet, poorly lit street at 5pm. Bushwick isn’t on par with Manhattan’s Lower East Side or Williamsburg, but it’s fascinating how Roberta’s put it on the map.

Bogart Street, and Roberta’s (right)

A streetscape in Bushwick

Lofts in Bushwick

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29 thoughts on “Bushwick, Brooklyn – the new frontier?

  1. Sometimes it’s fun playing tourist in your own backyard isn’t it. Thankyou for stopping by my blog. I’ve had some fun exploring your posts on your travels. Look forward to reading the next ones

  2. your shots around brookyn show your affection for the place very clearly. they reach the soft spot in my heart for my youthful days (and all-nighters) in nyc….and my love of boston, too.

    • I am sure you have great memories of early New York! Thanks for reading the post – it was fun checking out Bushwick again (even though I live in Williamsburg now and it’s a hop, skip and a jump away!)

  3. Marina
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I have to laugh about Bushwick. If you should come across a Halloween costume factory, I worked there for a summer many decades ago. The neighborhood was tough. And my buddy bought his first Reingold beer to have with his lunch. It was not a place you ever thought to visit much less live. It sure looks up and coming now. Good photos of the neighborhood.

    • Wow Victor – thank you for sharing your experience. I love hearing stories like yours as it really shows how the area has changed. I don’t think the Halloween store is there unless you can let me know otherwise. I’d be happy to take some snaps of it for you!

  4. So interesting. It never ceases to amaze me how a place a densely populated as New York can continue to reinvent itself. Really enjoyed reading about this latest iteration of the city.

  5. I had spent a bit of time out there a couple of years ago when I lived in Detroit and, now that I’ve moved to New York, I went to investigate it again. It’s grown a little and feels like it has a little more to offer, which is great- but I’m not sure I’d live there without having a job in Brooklyn. It doesn’t seem like there is as much to offer at night as I would like– but, then again, I might not know the area well enough.

    I do love the street art and the loft apartments with more reasonable rents. I may not move out there right away, but I’ll definitely head out for a visit soon and investigate Roberta’s.

    • Hey Matt – welcome to NYC! Thanks for your comment. I agree – the nightlife is much to be desired (still, though if someone can chime in about it – I am all ears). I worked in Manhattan when I lived in Bushwick a few years ago and the L line was great for accessibility. You’re connected to Williamsburg that has a pretty good night scene (only a few stops in between, at Bedford Avenue) and you can easily get to Union Square – 14th St. If you find a loft space in Bushwick, close to the L, that has many pros, I say go for it!

  6. I love your night street scenes. I’ve always been partial to those too. And I hear a two-hour wait and run the other way. So spoiled in the small Southern city I live in now…forty minutes could be too long here.

  7. Um. I think roberta’s needs to happen one time on our trips to new York. It sounds delicious and trendy and just so unique. Again- smart article. You have taught me so much about the parts of Brooklyn I didn’t know well and you have made me want to visit them!!!

  8. Pingback: Bushwick Brooklyn Rooftop Views « NotSoLolita

  9. Hi Marina, I came across your blog while looking for an image of the WELCOME to MORGANTOWN mural before it was painted over. Thank you for recording that. I am a local historian of the development of this neighborhood, and would like to know if you have an image of the entire mural. I’m not sure how much was different compared to what is there now.

    • Hi Bryan! Thanks for reaching out. Gosh – isn’t that the way with street art?! Gorgeous street art gets painted over. Let me have a look in my library of discs and I can email you. Hope that’s ok!

  10. Pingback: Morgantown mural | Jefftracy

  11. Pingback: Bushwick from 35mm* ~ Brooklyn, NYC | Marina Chetner

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