Bushwick? Bushwick? My inability to identify Brooklyn nabes marks me as hopelessly unhip. And I prefer to stay that way. I’ve tried to know and love this outer borough but we can’t quite seem to connect.
Post-graduation, many of my friends settled in Windsor Terrace and Park Slope. I lived in the burbs so visits to them involved a car and hours spent sitting in traffic on the BQE. I would arrive, chat for a few minutes, and then head back home. I never stayed over. They have this thing out there called alternate side of the street parking. It terrified me. I assumed my car would be towed come morning.
Lately I’ve stuck my toe back in to test the waters. I’ve gone to events at the Barclay; it’s okay, but it’s not the Garden. I shopped for crap at the Brooklyn Flea. Meh. I’ve tried just walking the streets, hoping to trip over something wonderful. Usually I just trip over a piece of upended sidewalk. There’s so much noise about Brooklyn that I must be missing something, but I don’t know that I really care to find it.
However, I’m open to seduction, so I jumped at the chance to join travel blogger and Bushwick resident Jessica Festa on her Bushwick Beer, Bites & Art #Instawalk. Bushwick is located in the northern part of Brooklyn and it’s big, covering over 350 square blocks and serving as home to approximately 100,000 residents. Bushwick was an urban war zone for decades, with riots, looting, and fires. As other borough neighborhoods blossomed, Bushwick continued to wallow in crime and poverty. But prices continue to soar in other parts of Brooklyn, so people are willing to settle in a place that’s still rough around the edges.
If you book the tour, be prepared to walk. Jessica’s always surprised that guests arrive sporting inappropriate footwear. It lasts 3.5 hours and you’ll spend most of it on your feet, with one subway transfer. And bring your preferred camera. Jessica’s an experienced photographer, so she’ll point out unique features you might want to shoot, give you some camera phone tips, and you won’t have to resort to selfies – she’ll snap you posing in front of the street murals along the way.
Stops on the tour include a visit to a cafe for a demonstration of the proper technique for crafting the perfect cappuccino. We also popped into Hops & Hocks, a beer and ham bar. Seriously. The space is tiny and filled floor to ceiling with craft beers to go and dozens of artisanal snack items like Bjorn Quorn (solar popped popcorn). But the reason for living, I mean going, is to taste the beers on tap and sample slices of exquisite charcuterie.
During the walkabout, Jessica talked about the history of the original Dutch settlement called Boswyck or ‘woods district’ and the neighborhood’s evolution, including its heyday as one of America’s premier beer producers. Schaefer and Rheingold were manufactured here and the tour winds through Brewer’s Row, a 12-block area that was once home to 12 breweries.
Although the breweries are gone, the neighborhood still has a strong industrial feel to it. Large, boxy warehouse buildings mingle with 70’s-era apartment buildings, with traditional Brooklyn brownstones sprinkled in the mix. Although the architecture’s less than inspirational, the magnificent murals known as the Bushwick Collective are stunning, amusing, and disturbing. The street art is informally curated by a local resident whose father was murdered in the neighborhood when he was a child. Artists donate their time, supplies, and talent, and the local businesses provide the wall space. Restaurants, bars, and clubs are set back between the murals and you get the sense that Bushwick is on the rise.
Gentrified districts all seem to be whipped up out of the same recipe; created by mixing some coffeehouses with street art with a few farm to table restaurants and loft apartments thrown in for good measure. I asked Jessica what makes Bushwick unique. She thought for a minute and stated that it’s weird and she didn’t expect that to change. I pressed her for an example. She gestured to a restaurant across the street. “A waitress over there quit. But she worked her last shift. Nude.” Hopefully, Bushwick will be able to keep its weird when the money starts rolling in.
If You Go:
Bushwick Beer, Bites & Art #Instawalk – a 3.5 hour walking tour of Bushwick, Brooklyn. $65 per person. Tour dates and times are flexible; submit a contact form and indicate your preferences. Recommended for individuals interested in photography or who are looking to explore a unique corner of New York City. If you’re thinking of moving here because you’ve gone to some great house parties, the tour’s an excellent way to see what life’s like during the day.