“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?
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…
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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…
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).
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.