Brooklyn's Hipster Heaven
New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood has a performance space with a reflecting pool, the city’s best blue cheese and other indispensable items, like Che Guevara T-shirts for the kids.
All the people waiting on the L train platform are in their 20s and 30s and have full body tattoos, piercings and funny hairstyles. They’re going to Williamsburg, a neighborhood where they’ve created, next to Latino and Hassidic communities, a community of their own.
Williamsburg, one subway stop into Brooklyn, has turned into a neighborhood of artists, students and people who go out at night. They demand good food at fair prices and, above all, think they are different from the sophisticated, arrogant, money-driven Manhattanites.
Ten minutes from Union Square, you get off the train at the Bedford Avenue station. It’s peaceful, with trees on both sides of the street and not a megastore in sight. Williamsburg looks like a village, with its own style, pace and rules (especially, “be cool”). It’s all about modesty and conviviality.
The avenue is the center of it all. There are Italian, Mexican and macrobiotic restaurants mingled with bagel, thrift and antiques shops. People stroll calmly down the sidewalks, often followed by a dog or bike.
Sam & Seb, a pink-decorated baby-clothing store, is popular with the many young families that have settled here.
“I was here before gentrification,” says the owner, Simone. She doesn’t sell the usual creepers, bibs and dungarees. Williamsburg kids need to be as cool as their parents. It’s never too young to learn about fashion. Here you can buy Che Guevara, Blondie, AC/DC or Iggy Pop baby T-shirts. There are military camouflage clothes for little boys and fairy dresses for girls. Last year, Vogue Japan gave the shop a plug.
Behind a nearby turquoise façade is the clothing and home furnishings store Spacial. Fashionistas come to the shop, at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North Sixth Street, for the $120 hand-knitted ponchos. “It’s our best seller,” says a clerk. “People buy them all year long, even in the summer!”
All around the neighborhood, you’ll find plenty of caps, T-shirts and messenger bags with “Brooklyn” written on them. Williamsburg residents take every opportunity to thumb their noses at pretentious Manhattanites who scorn Brooklyn, a foreign “province” where they never go.
You can find the best example of this attitude at the clothing shop Brooklyn Industries at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North Eighth Street. Its logo is a view of Manhattan from Williamsburg. The brand has become very popular among Brooklyites and can be seen often in the streets of Manhattan.
Pema is one of the nicest clothing stores. A large, wooden Buddha welcomes you at the entrance. Pema sells bags, shoes and women’s and men’s clothing in an oriental-inspired style. Their creator, Migmar Tsering, a graduate of the London College of Fashion, is originally from Tibet. The “ethnic chic” clothes are beautiful and reasonably priced.
In a mini commercial gallery across the street, you’ll find Bedford Cheese Shop, a reference point for New York’s cheese connoisseurs. It’s tiny and windowless but has a standout selection of cheese. One morning just after opening, a young man is already there, choosing blue cheeses, Parmesans and fresh mozzarellas. He is a restaurateur from a fancy Manhattan restaurant, but he refuses to say which one. “This is definitely the best place in town for cheese, and restaurants know it,” he says. Bedford Cheese Shop is the kind of small neighborhood store you would see in Europe. But cheese aficionados, beware! Cheap, it’s not.
Next door is Earwax, a small record store that sells collector CDs and LPs. The psychedelic record sleeves of the 1970s and 1980s make you feel like listening to old Grace Jones, David Bowie, circa Ziggy Stardust. But you can find contemporary jazz, funk, soul, reggae and country music too.
North Sixth Street is the place to go to at night. People in Williamsburg are religious goer-outers, even when it’s pouring rain. The Thai restaurant SEA is one of the most popular nightspots. The flamboyant décor — a pond with a beautiful bronze Buddha statue, huge swings in the bar, small bubble-like white chairs — rivals some of Manhattan’s trendiest. SEA is a reason people come to Williamsburg: It’s fancy, delicious and inexpensive.
Down the street is Galapagos, a lush bar and art space in a former mayonnaise factory. At the entrance is a sublime reflecting pool, and the bar is brilliantly spotlit with candles. Galapagos is a gathering spot for neighborhood artists. It offers shows of theater, live music, dance and film and is popular for its Monday burlesque shows. The audience drinks hard, cheers, laughs, whistles and boos.
To relive your teenage years, drop by North Six, a large concert hall that calls itself “Brooklyn’s King of Music Venues.” Youngsters hang out there, flirting and drinking beers from plastic cups in a place that feels a little like a high school gym. Every night up-and-coming bands take the stage and play loud, obnoxious, badly written and sometimes truly great music.
Williamsburg Hot Spots
SEA Thai Bistro: The best Thai restaurant in the neighborhood. 114 N. Sixth St. between Berry and Wythe Streets. (718) 384-8850.
Fada: A French bistro, perfect for brunch. 530 Driggs Ave., at N. Eighth St. (718) 388-6607.
Galapagos Arts Center: A beautiful art space with a reflecting pool. 70 N. Sixth St. between Wythe and Kent Avenues. (718) 782-5188.
Bedford Cheese Shop: Has an exquisite selection of international cheeses. 218 Bedford Ave. at N. Fifth St. (718) 599-7588.
Pema: Original clothing by a young Tibetan designer. 225 Bedford Ave., near N. Fourth St. (718) 302-8830.