Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ category

Wandering Brighton Beach

August 4, 2007

I had made absolutely no plans for my weekend wanderings this time.  I woke up nice and early and contemplated the possibilities.  That is, I opened up the subway map, looked at Brooklyn, and said “Hey, why not go to “Brighton Beach”?

All I knew about Brighton Beach is that it is a heavily Russian area near Coney Island.  Oh, and that Neil Simon wrote “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, which I’ve never seen.

So, it was off to Brighton Beach.  How’s that for intensive planning?

Using the oh-so-valuable subway map, I decided to take the “B” subway there.  The “B” line is one of those subways that I never seem to use.  It goes through Manhattan in some areas that I don’t tend to ride.  For example, there are three or four main subway tracks that go north-south in Manhattan, each of them are host to one or more lines.  The furthest west are the 1/2/3/N/Q/W/R/A/C/E  lines:  I can catch these on 42nd street at Times Square/Port Authority.  The furthest east are the 4/5/6 lines which I can catch on 42nd Street at Grand Central.  And then there’s the B/D/F/V lines that stop at Bryant Park on 42nd Street.  It’s a pretty minor station that I’ve seldom gone in.  And today, I went in again.

And screwed up…of course.  I waited for the B train.  And waited.  And waited.  I saw a couple of D trains go past (they go to Coney Island, but not to Brighton Beach).  I finally got disgusted and caught the next D train to 34th Street figuring I could catch a Q train or a B train there.  Once I got there, I discovered that the B train only runs weekdays at rush hour.  I hadn’t bothered to read the big notices at the Bryant Park station.

So, I caught the Q train and went to Brighton.  Here’s a thumbnail of what it looks like just after getting off the subway.

Brighton Beach street scene

I think everyplace needs an elevated train track.  It seems everytime I get off a subway with an elevated track, the place has just a little more character.  And Brighton Beach has plenty of character.

It’s a very sort of “Brooklyn” place in a lot of ways.  Lots of traffic:  cars and pedestrians.  There are a lot of families walking around.  Except in this part of NYC, most of them seem to be headed to the beach.  It’s only a couple of blocks from the station.  Below is a photo I took as I walked up to the beach.  See the elevated area?  That’s the boardwalk.

Coming up to the beach

It’s the same boardwalk that goes all the way to Coney Island and then some.  I’ve always been amazed by it.

View from the Boardwalk #1

And now, looking westward (another thumbnail, sometimes the program lets me do thumbnails and other times it doesn’t).

Boardwalk view #2  In the distance, you can see Coney Island.

The beach itself is huge.  Here’s a couple of pictures.

Brighton Beach…beach 1

Brighton Beach…beach 2

I wandered a bit on the boardwalk.  It’s huge and just seems to go on forever.  The temperature was in the high 80s and I don’t know why there weren’t more people at the beach.

I did wander back to what I think of as the main drag “Brighton Beach Ave.”  As expected, the area is really, really, really Russian.  While walking along I seemed to hear little other than Russian being spoken.  Lots of Cyrillic lettering everywhere, which delights me for some reason.  I just don’t understand why.  Long, long ago, I memorized the Cyrillic alphabet just to test a computer program.  (Actually, I wrote a tutorial on my old VIC-20 using a font program just to figure out how to use the font program.)  I think I lost all knowledge of it after about a week, but I did have a good time with it.  And Russians themselves are always somewhat fascinating to me.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of Alexsander Solzhenitsyn’s writings, including the Gulag Archipelago, which took me years to read.  On the world stage, they’re sort of like Texans.  They are a bit grandiose and think they invented everything.

I went up and down the main drag for a while.  I spotted a big grocery store and had to go in.  As I entered, a 30-ish Black woman was coming out and she looked at me and quickly asked if I knew a nearby place to get some gefilte fish.  I just smiled and said it was my first time in Brighton Beach.  I was laughing to myself thinking about times like the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Columbus Day Parade, the Shiite Parade, Harlem, Williamsburg’s Hasidic community, and many others where I was never, ever mistaken for one of the locals/participants.  Maybe I can pass as a Russian.

But, I’m a lousy Russian.  At that grocery store, I looked around and could hardly recognize any of the food.  Most of the signs were strictly Cyrillic and the place was a very Russian food sort of place.  Some of it was a little intimidating and others I couldn’t figure out whether it vegetable or meat, or whether it was cooked or to be cooked.

As I was leaving, I noticed one guy at the front of the store buying some sort of pastry item.  I figured that I had to try something very Russian.  So, I looked at the display and thought maybe they were “blinis” or somesuch.  The woman at the counter asked me what I wanted and I asked what they were.  They were Russian pierogis (which I’ve had and sometimes enjoyed – see my Greenpoint posts).  They sure looked different.  They were huge and looked like large croissants more than anything else, although not crescent shaped.  Some were stuffed with meat, some were stuffed with fruit, and some were stuffed with vegetables.  I opted for the cabbage pierogi.  The crust was very soft and sort of sweet, which made for a strange contrast with the cabbage; which was sort of pureed and mixed with some sort of cream sause.  It was okay, but not worth going back for.

I did end up going to lunch at a Turkish restaurant, run by Russians, and it was pretty good.  The service was horrendous, though.

And, I later did my sort of favorite thing:  wander the backstreets.  I found that within two blocks further away from beach, the area turned very Hispanic.  And another block or two later, became a Pakistani enclave.

Here’s picture of the backstreet area.

Brighton Beach backstreet 1

And another, this one caught the subway as it was passing by.

Brighton Beach backstreet 2

I did notice one thing that was missing:  Churches.  Manhattan and Brooklyn are filled with houses of worship, but in Brighton Beach I saw one Synagogue and one Yeshiva (a religious school).  Nothing else.  That’s pretty odd.

Anyway, the trip was nice, but I have to admit that Brighton Beach is a long ways to go.  It took me something like 75 minutes each way.



Williamsburg redux

July 28, 2007

So, I’ve finally gone and discovered the “other” Williamsburg.  Two weeks ago, I found myself in the Hasidic area of Williamsburg.  Today, I found the hipster part of Williamsburg.  I keep saying “hipster” as if it really means something to me anymore.  I’ve never been part of the trendy set, and in certain ways I’m more at home with the Hasidem rather than the artists that inhabit the northern part of Williamsburg.  Nevertheless, I did enjoy myself on both my trips.  The big difference:  this time I was able to stop and eat when I felt like it.

Okay, the upshot of it all is this:  Manhattan is outrageously expensive and most of the artistic types don’t have that kind of money.  For years, they’ve been going outside of Manhattan and one of their congregating places is Williamsburg.  Today, I found at least part of that area and it is pretty interesting.

I caught the local subway and got off at Union Square (14th Street) and transferred over to the L train.  I’ve never been on the L train, so for the third time in four weeks, I managed to do a little bit of subway exploration, too.

I got to the first stop in Brooklyn on the L train:  Bedford Avenue.

Here are a couple of views of the street.

Williamsburg - Bedford Ave 1

Williamsburg - Bedford Ave 2

 Bedford Ave 3

Williamsburg - Bedford Ave 4

One of the interesting points about this area are the low buildings.  There are a few eight story buildings, but the vast majority are just about three or four stories high.  The 30/40/50 story high buildings do exist in parts of Brooklyn, but the smaller buildings dominate it by far.

So, I wandered up and down Bedford Avenue for a while.  Actually, that isn’t quite true.  I wandered up it for about 5 blocks; but it peters out pretty quickly.  After about those 5 blocks, actually less than that, you are in a mostly residential area and no longer the commercial businesses.  So, I did what I love to do:  started exploring the back streets.

I didn’t find the “bustling metropolis” in those areas. 

 Williamsburg - not a bustling metropolis

Here’s a view two blocks from Bedford Avenue:

Williamsburg - close to artsy area

One thing I spotted more of than usual:  people selling junk on the sidewalk.  In Manhattan, it tends to be books and DVDs.  Here, it looked like some people were just doing some “yard sale” sorts of stuff, but with pretty small selections.

And I did find a nice area that looks a little third-worldish.

Williamsburg - wire jumble

In one of those back streets, I found an interestingly named business:  “Peter Doelgers Extra Beer Bar”.  I guess it won’t win any MADD awards.

One thing that I like to do:  look for what isn’t there.  In this case, I found a bunch of restaurants (30 to 40 or so).  But, only one was a Chinese restaurant.  There were three Japanese restaurants, but just the one Chinese place.  That’s pretty unusual in NYC.  For a while, I didn’t think I’d find even the one place.

I kept wandering and wandering.  I actually found myself near the Williamsburg Bridge at one point and near Greenpoint at another time.  When I realized I was near Greenpoint, and noting that I hadn’t had lunch, I started thinking about going back to “The King’s Feast” for the Polish Plate.  However, I just didn’t have the heart to do it again; and I’m glad for that.

So, I wandered back toward Bedford Ave. and when getting close, I discovered an interesting bit of vehicular art:

Williamsburg - housepainting van

I’m not at all sure about what sort of artistic statement the owners are trying to make.

Across the street was a place called “The Surf Bar”.  It actually took me a minute or two to find the name as it looks like a complete dive and the owners don’t appear to have a taste for having a sign name outside.

Williamsburg - outside the Surf Bar

What they did have were some old posted food reviews.  I took a look and thought that the place had character and decided to go in and try it.  The place is tiny and they really are into the surf motif.  The floor is covered with sand and the atmosphere is pure laid-back surfer dude.  While there, I discovered something that is endemic to Brooklyn, but doesn’t really exist in Manhattan:  backyard dining.

Williamsburg - inside the Surf Bar

In Manhattan, a lot of restaurants will expand out onto the sidewalk and the seats right next to the traffic are generally pretty popular.  In Brooklyn, the storefronts are very close to the street and it generally has smaller sidewalks.  What restaurants do is allow patrons to eat outside in back.  In the Surf Bar’s case, they had trees and a really pleasant and quiet atmosphere.

And killer Monkfish Chowder.  It was great!

So, you aren’t subjected to a third re-telling of The King’s Feast, but do hear about a great chowder from someone who really isn’t all that fond of chowder.

I also managed to find a place that looked interesting:  Artists & Fleas Indoor Market.  It’s just a big open storefront with a number of vendors inside.  I’ve seen a similar setup in Little Italy, but this one doesn’t really pull it off.  For the most part, the artists appear to be nothing more than T-shirt entrepeneurs.  At least it wasn’t the typical T-shirt garbage sold everywhere; but it was only T-shirts.  They had 33 1/3 RPM vinyl records and books, too.  Some clothing, but it was mostly uninteresting to me.


A visit to Willamsburg

July 15, 2007

Yesterday (Saturday), I continued my exploration of Brooklyn.  With the weekly weekend shutdown of certain parts of the 4 and 5 subway lines, getting over there can be a bit of a pain, but that’s only because I keep thinking of “Brooklyn” as the southern part of Brooklyn rather than the huge place it really is.  Last week’s visit to Greenpoint (“Little Poland”) had me take a new route using the 7 line to the G line and that works very nicely.  Of course, this week I mostly ignored that new route.

So, what’s special about Williamsburg?  Right now it’s a very trendy place where a lot of the artists and all seem to be moving.  I watched the local TV show “Cool in Your Code” which did an episode on Williamsburg, but found it oddly uninformative.  I later found out why.

The neighborhood is right across the East River at Manhattan’s Canal Street level.  I took the subway down to Canal Street and then the J train to Willamsburg.  In two weeks, two new subway trains taken.  That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to break out of just wandering Manhattan:  I keep using the same paths and seeing the same places.  It’s time to break out of that rut.

Never, ever, ever let it be said that the subway maps they hand out for free should be used with any belief that they are to scale.  They ain’t.  I know it, and I knew it before; but I guess I just couldn’t help myself.

I looked at the map and used the show and a view of Wikipedia to determine that the place I wanted to see was Bedford Avenue.  According to the map, I could get off at Flushing Avenue and then do a straight shot down the avenue to Bedford and then have a nice long stroll on Bedford and see whatever the trendy set was up to nowadays.  I was in for a surprise.

The train ride was really nice.  It goes over the Williamsburg Bridge and the view is wonderful.  The train car and station was older and little less inviting than the typical Manhattan ride, but that’s just my Manhattan-centric persona speaking.

So, I got to Flushing Avenue, made note of which was was east-west (I wanted west) and started to walk.  One interesting site:  the first business I saw was a law office with the warm and welcoming phone number (posted in very large letters) “1-888-I-Can-Sue”.  The whole area was a little rundown with little activity.

I kept telling myself that “This is Brooklyn.  Crowded, noisy, boisterous Brooklyn.”  No, it wasn’t.  This was deserted, quiet, and empty.  I started walking and found the area a little nerve-wracking.  Where was everyone?  Everything was closed.  On a long street, there would only be one person every hundred yards or so.  Very few cars.  I went by a couple of “project” style buildings and saw only a couple of people, and heard no noises.  Where was everyone?  I walked and walked and walked.  Every business was closed.  Every building appeared deserted.  It was the middle of the day and I couldn’t figure it out.

Eventually, I saw what I took to be a main street intersection.  The map I had was bare of almost any street names, but I had a feeling it was Bedford Avenue.  As I got closer, I saw a number of people walking across it and started to feel a bit relieved.  I noticed that something was a little odd and a moment later I had the solution to the problem: it was the Hasidim.  That is, I saw a number of Orthodox Jews walking and realized it was the Sabbath and they actually are the dominant population in this part of Williamsburg.  For some reason, I thought they were further south of where I was, but that may have been the map scale issue.

I got to Bedford Avenue and hung a right (heading northward).  It turns out that I was absolutely positively in the middle of their early afternoon leaving/going to “services” and the streets were crowded with them (I don’t know if they were “Lubavitchers” or the “Satmar”).  Okay, wasn’t really crowded and jammed with people like I’m used to.  There were certainly hundreds of the faithful that I passed on my way and I was the only Gentile for a very, very long time.  Two really interesting facts about them that I wasn’t really aware of:  large families and hats.  They were going in family units and there was almost always one or more children with them.  The kids were very well behaved; usually “Dad” was firmly holding the child’s hand.  If more than one, “Mom” usually was controlling the bunch of them.  I only noticed one or two teenagers, but the men were all dressed in the same sort of uniform:  black coats/pants and usually a prayer shawl of some sort (always white with minor designs).  But the coolest part was their hats.  The men all had these huge, round fur hats.  Actual fur hats.  They looked great for winter but horrible for the summer weather.  I did some research latter and found that these were traditional for the group with the fur being supposedly beaver but often actually rabbit.  It didn’t look like rabbit to me, but it did look like a good fur of some sort (I can attest that is was long haired fur).

Everyone was quiet.  The men often would speak to each other in low tones, and I didn’t hear the women or children speak at all.

I felt pretty much like an outsider.  No one would look at me and I was insulting them by wandering their area without a hat (I had taken special care with the sunscreen and thought I’d walk in shadows as I just hadn’t felt like wearing a hat).  I’ve heard that they can make their displeasure known and aren’t really welcoming to outsiders; but I guess the Sabbath was far more important to them than some hatless jerk wandering their streets and distracting them from their worship.  That just made me feel worse.

I walked and walked and walked.  It seemed like forever.  Everyplace was closed, of course, but I was getting thirsty.  I spotted a vending machine, but knew it would be off even before I got close (and it was turned off).  Nevertheless, I took the opportunity (it was a very shady area) to pull out my map and try to figure out how I was going to find my way to the more secular areas.  At that point, a woman with a child showed up and put the child on the ground (I’m guess the little girl was 18 months or so).  The woman didn’t look at me but I got the distinctive feeling she was more than willing to help me find where I was.  I wasn’t really lost (I knew I just had to keep walking and eventually I’d find my way to someplace), but I took the opportunity to ask her where I was in relation to the map.  She apparently didn’t know the map but said there was a subway stop a number of blocks to the northeast, but I was determined to continue on Bedford.  I quickly thanked her and left.  She was the only unescorted woman I saw that whole trip and I did notice a man walking in our direction as I left.  It was the only time I think one of the men looked directly at me.  I hope I didn’t cause her to violate any cultural taboos, but I think she was just trying to help a stranger.

So, I kept walking and eventually found myself at the Williamsburg Bridge again.  That’s on Brooklyn’s Broadway and I just hung a right and found myself in regular Brooklyn.  I walked past “Peter Luger’s” which is the premier steakhouse in all of NYC.  I was a little tempted to go in, but they don’t post the menu in the window and I decided that I didn’t want to run from the place once I discovered how expensive it might be (I’ve mentioned that I’m cheap). 

Actually, I really liked that area as it had an elevated subway and all the businesses were in the shadows of the traintracks.  Really nice visuals to it.  I walked up Broadway for a while and eventually found myself at the G train.  Hey, it was lunchtime and on a whim, I decided to go back to the “King’s Feast” in Greenpoint to pig out on the pierogies.  So, I did.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything like it was last week.  I wasn’t happy with the meat pierogies and simply decided that I’d only have the “Poland Plate” if I ever go back.  The service was better this time, though.  I guess you can’t have everything.

So, I went back home and that was it for the day.

And I never did see “trendy Williamsburg”.  I guess I what I saw was actually more interesting.  It wouldn’t have made “Cool in Your Code” as I can’t see them ever promoting the Hasidic lifestyle as something that every New Yorker needed to try for a while.

 Incidentally, I didn’t have a camera at this point, so no pictures.  Too bad, the area was fascinating.