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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

On the Outside Looking In

“I realized that from yesterday through next Tuesday I’m going to be working over 60 hours.”

“Wow! But you have a show this weekend?”

Text exchange between my daughter and me — she in Bushwick and me in the Hudson Valley, 2018 

“How you been?” said Sal.

I sat down at the counter of my once-favorite pizza place on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. The young man who used to ring up the slices now looked halfway between the tough guy he’d been and the old man who used to make the pies. The old man was nowhere to be seen. I’d called them Young Sal and Old Sal, back in the early Nineties, when their neighborhood had become my neighborhood. Now he was just…Sal?

“You want some wine, too — with a little ice?” Sal asked.

I nodded. “I used to come in here a lot,” I said.

“I remember.”

We talked about the changes in Williamsburg: the flood of young people and European tourists; high-rises and luxury hotels. He shook his head when I mentioned the gigantic swimming pool at McCarren Park that had eventually been renovated and reopened after decades of neglect.

“Where you living these days?” he asked.

“Upstate,” I said, as if my exit from Brooklyn had been a straight line up the Thruway. The true story was too complicated. He asked about my daughter, where she was now, whether she was coming up to visit this summer.

I sipped my wine and thought about my first day in the neighborhood, almost thirty years before.

***

I’d never wanted to live in Brooklyn. When I moved to New York City in 1976 to attend Parsons, Manhattan was the goal. Drawing, sure; fashion, graphic design, illustration — fine. But the main reason for leaving Pittsburgh, or anywhere, was to live among the skyscrapers and lowlifes on a numbered street in the grid of dreams. A diagonal avenue like Broadway or Greenwich was acceptable, or if things went really well maybe one of those little angled blocks in the West Village.

I went to CBGB and fell all the way in love with music. I saw every band — the Ramones, Blondie, Television, X-Ray Spex, Wire, Pere Ubu, the Cramps, the Clash — and helped start a dance club that turned into an obscure but essential no wave nightspot called Tier 3. I still aimed to make a living as an illustrator, but the creativity of bands and clubs and the excitement of being in a scene were my main focus. Visions of doormen or elevator buildings or even a working intercom gave way to downtown roommate lofts and squats and a dark storefront. For a year I was happy with a sixth-floor walk-up room rented from Honeymoon Killers guitarist Jerry Teel. It was cheap and sunny with a bird’s-eye view of the busiest drug supermarket in Alphabet City. I started a band with my brother Michael and some art school friends and discovered I could write songs.

I felt like I’d finally hit the real estate lottery in 1983 when my former Parsons roommate, no wave photographer Julia Gorton, sublet me her rent-stabilized studio. After a year I signed my own name at the bottom of the lease. It was on a decent block (no blatant criminal activity) just across from leafy Stuyvesant Town on far East 14th Street. My tub was in the kitchen and the toilet sort of was too, but the building had decent heat and hot water. My neighbors were fellow artists and writers and musicians who I’d hear practicing or see hauling portfolios toward the subway at First Avenue. Being laid off from a job hand-painting fabric in the garment district bought me almost a year of freedom thanks to unemployment benefits, and then I discovered the world of temporary office work, at a time when word processing was still a sought-after skill. I wrote hundreds of songs on East 14th Street and recorded them by boombox and then four-track while my band Last Roundup played gigs and made a record. I felt like I was set for life, until —

Life. I married another musician. We had a kid.

The building went co-op.

I don’t know why the co-op conversion surprised me. I’d worked as a temp for Time Equities, one of the biggest real estate companies in the city, for a few years. I’d done my tiny part to make those real estate transactions happen, typing forms and copying documents for hundreds of closings. The legal terms and lingo — “sponsor,” “red herring,” “major capital improvements” — were so much a part of my life I’d written them into lyrics for a song called “File Clerk Blues.” Those words had all been so much colorful jargon until the day in 1990 when the letter offering an opportunity to own shares in a piece of Manhattan arrived in the mail, along with the Con Ed bill and an overdue notice from a diaper delivery service we’d stopped because we were three people living in two rooms.

The asking price was $34,000. It was a non-eviction plan, meaning we could stay if we wanted and continue paying $300-a-month rent that would go up incrementally every few years. My husband and I surveyed the ever-filling space around us. Our one-year-old had just started walking, or would have if only there’d been floor space. 

“We could take the buyout and move?” one of us said. The paltry $3,400 buyout offer wouldn’t cover a month’s rent in the same building now. But at that time, for two struggling musicians with a kid and not a credit card between them, it could pay for half a year’s rent for twice the amount of space — if we moved to Williamsburg.

My new group, the Shams, had started recording at Coyote Studios, a block from the first L train stop in Brooklyn. We’d played a gig or two in repurposed art spaces (a former funeral parlor and a social club) impossible to find by daylight. I’d made a few pilgrimages to Domsey’s used clothing warehouse  off of Kent Avenue. “This neighborhood is coming up,” a childless friend who was grandfathered for life into a rent-controlled one bedroom in the East Village had said on one of those excursions, as we made the endless march back to the L train. “Maybe you should think of moving out here?”

I’d looked around at empty manufacturing buildings, the elevated subway tracks casting a dark web the length of Broadway. A lethargic prostitute, still standing on a street corner even though Friday night had ended hours ago, glared at me. I remember shuddering.

“Never.”

I hadn’t moved to New York City to live in a grimmer, more expensive version of Pittsburgh. But my husband, Will, and I put daughter Hazel in her car seat and drove over the permanently under-construction Williamsburg Bridge to look at apartments. We got lost navigating the one-way streets bisected by avenues that radiated from an unknown center point like the spokes of a stolen bicycle wheel. Above the whole mess loomed the BQE, an elevated, pockmarked conduit between the two boroughs I knew mostly from Welcome Back, Kotter and All in the Family and New York Post headlines reporting crime and racial incidents. The few times I’d traveled through this part of Brooklyn into Queens via a yellow Manhattan taxi headed for LaGuardia Airport, I’d looked out the cab window into apartments mere feet away from the crumbling, traffic-clogged six lanes and seen shocking signs of everyday life — curtains and cats, suncatchers and flowerpots. “What kind of hapless losers end up living here?”

***

Withers Street. The name alone suggested this corner of homely Williamsburg was where dreams sloped off to die. The block was anchored by a gas station and deli on one end, auto parts and lumber stores on the other. There’d been an auto parts store on 14th Street and Avenue C, but this auto parts store sold strictly used mufflers, retreaded tires. Bamonte’s Restaurant was the jewel in the middle, its red facade and light-up sign straight out of a Dean Martin song.

The coziness of Brooklyn was a shock after years of Manhattan anonymity. Most of our Withers Street neighbors were Italian and kept tabs on one another and everything that went on in the block from morning to night, either leaning out their front windows or sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk outside their buildings. The couple downstairs dressed like they were still in the old country: pinafores and hair in a bun on the mother; suspenders, baggy pants, and undershirt on the dad. He reminded me of my grandfather, who’d come to America from Abruzzo in 1920. Our new neighbors hung their clothes on a line, made wine and tomato sauce in the garden out back, and had never been into The City. Their grown son, a biker who loved Meat Loaf and David Allan Coe, lived next door.

This was unknown territory. Except for a dozen or so friends in Hoboken, everybody I knew lived in Manhattan. Getting people to come visit even one stop into Brooklyn was a challenge. My brother made the trek after verifying that the L train did indeed run all night, both ways.

“Look, Michael!” I said, showing him the spires of Manhattan in the distance over our downstairs neighbors’ underwear flapping from the clothesline. “There’s a view!”

He nodded sadly. “But you’re on the outside looking in.”

Our first day on Withers Street, Will and Hazel and I walked to a pizzeria on Lorimer Street. The other patrons, in tracksuits and Brylcreemed hair, regarded us suspiciously.

The older pizza man eyed us up and down. Will’s hair was wild and curly, longer than mine. He wore a T-shirt proclaiming “Piggie Park” in neon letters. I wore a pair of short flowered overalls over tights and cowboy boots. The younger guy behind the counter’s face softened when he saw Hazel in her stroller. “Lookit the head of hair on this kid,” he said and handed her a butter cookie, our parental status buying a smidgen of grudging respect.

I’d lived alongside the Puerto Ricans, the Ukrainians, and the artists and junkies of the East Village with the feeling that we were all interlopers, but this part of Brooklyn had a settled quality that repelled outsiders, like a plastic cover on an upholstered sofa. I’d heard there were artists and musicians living among the Italians and Polish and Dominicans and Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg, but it was hard to tell, because most of the time the streets were just deserted. I pushed Hazel in her stroller toward McCarren Park, its huge outdoor pool long shut and left to decay. Crack vials crunched underfoot in the adjacent broken-down playground while the wind whipped along Driggs Avenue. A stern-looking Polish grandmother in a stiff woolen coat drove an old-fashioned baby carriage toward the lone bakery on Bedford. Was Manhattan really just over there, a few minutes away by subway?

Turning back toward the BQE, I saw a woman with round cheeks and a headscarf pushing a similar stroller, a toddler hanging off the side. I wanted to cry out: “Hello, can we be friends? I’m a bohemian, tooooo!”

***

When I’d finished my wine and my slices, paid up, and said goodbye, I wondered if Sal really still remembered me.

He did. And he didn’t. In the layers of neighborhood archeology, I was mid to late Mesozoic. He knew I was out of a simpler past, he just wasn’t sure which one. It’s painful to admit the Withers Street part of my life was the beginning of a trajectory that would take me out of the city forever. The sense of dislocation mixed with a realization that life was happening to me now, not in some glittering possible future — that illusion so easily available in Manhattan — had a lot to do with figuring out what I had to say as an artist. I just never imagined that Sal would be one of the few fixed points I’d have left from that era.

I got divorced and moved with my daughter from Brooklyn to Nashville in 1999. I’d sublet my last New York apartment to a friend — does anybody leave New York without a re-entry plan? In 2001, the landlord wanted to sell and was asking something like $225,000 for the entire building. Could we all go in together and buy it from him? I was struggling to pay the rent in Nashville while trying to land a publishing deal there. Bye-bye, Brooklyn…forever.

They opened an impressive new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville two years after I arrived. Not long after, the city shut down the dozens of massage parlors that had operated in the low-rent shadows of downtown for decades. Huge changes were on the horizon for the city. I wrote a lot of songs, made a few records, learned to tour, and left before the pedal taverns and unchecked development took hold.

I lived briefly in Cleveland and then went to rural France with Wreckless Eric, who is now my husband. He has an aversion to big-city life, so moving back to the city wasn’t a possibility when we were trying to find a home in the Northeast in 2011. That’s convenient because there’s definitely a statute of limitations on re-entry plans, and mine ran out somewhere around 2006. No matter how much time you put into living in the city, once you’re gone well over a decade you’ve got to get back in line with all the other starry-eyed hopefuls. (See, I’ve been gone so long I can’t honestly use the New York vernacular “on line” — it just feels dishonest.)

Eric and I couldn’t afford Hudson, with its galleries and posh restaurants and shops, or Saugerties, or one of the more popular towns in the Hudson Valley. Deb Parker, a visionary from East Village days who started Beauty Bar and No-Tell Motel and runs a junk shop upstate while doing some real estate on the side, recommended looking in a rundown town called Catskill. When I heard a stranger refer to it as “that dump” and someone else call it “Crackskill,” a reference to a fairly recent past, it all felt so familiar I knew we’d found home.

My daughter moved back to New York City in 2013. She and her boyfriend scraped their way into a rent-stabilized apartment in Bushwick that they share with a roommate. She plays in a band and works two jobs.

In 2017, my old East 14th Street apartment was on the market for $340,000.

That last Williamsburg building I lived in (the one the landlord sold for $225,000 in 2001) is currently for sale for $3,999,000.

***

“Eric!” I said recently, when a coffee shop, bar, and café finally opened in Catskill after a few years of making do with Dunkin’ Donuts and trips across the river to Hudson. “There are young men, with beards! Walking down Main Street!”

I hate to admit that I’m kind of a widow-maker for places. I have a knack for living in and moving out of neighborhoods and cities before they become sought after: East Village, Williamsburg, Nashville. Catskill? It’s a thing artists do. We look for somewhere cheap to live. As soon as I crave a couple of upscale amenities and even a few neighbors with something in common, I’m guaranteeing that somebody else will get rich and I’ll eventually move on. I just feel bad that things are moving too fast now for my daughter to have a Sal.

Categories
THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit

How Screwed Will Your Subway Line Be During the L Train Shutdown? J/M/Z Edition

During the upcoming L train shutdown set to begin in early 2019, the MTA expects 70 to 80 percent of displaced L riders to take other subway lines. This will affect not only those displaced riders but all the commuters who currently take the lines that will become filled with L refugees. This week, the Village Voice examines the impact on the J/Z lines, as well as the Brooklyn end of the M.

 The J/M/Z lines never stood a chance. Geographically speaking, they’re the only subway lines that roughly approximate the L’s journey through north Brooklyn. They’re also the only Manhattan-bound tracks within walking distance of the L, especially in the areas most impacted by the shutdown. As a result, it’s no surprise the MTA and DOT expect the J, M, and Z to pick up the largest share of riders for the fifteen-month period the L is scheduled to be out of commission.

The MTA hasn’t released any official ridership estimates for the shutdown, but we can do some back-of-the-envelope calculations using this very rough guide the MTA released back in June.

If 75 percent of the 225,000 L train riders who currently cross the East River every weekday continue to take the subway, and roughly half of those displaced riders switch to the J/M/Z, that’s about 85,000 additional riders every day. And even if it’s a mere tens of thousands of extra riders a day, this will be a very big problem.

There are two big worries about the capacity of the J/M/Z lines: Will there be enough trains to transport all these passengers? And will there be enough platform space to hold all the waiting riders?

The two questions are related: The more trains the MTA can run, the fewer passengers will be left waiting on the platform. But they’re not identical, since even with a train every few minutes, the platforms will still need to be wide enough to handle all those people.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to picture the MTA being able to run enough J/M/Z trains to deal with the expected shutdown crowds. During the morning rush hour, the L currently runs about 20 trains per hour through Bedford Avenue. Marcy Avenue, the last stop on the J/M/Z before crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, currently sees about 16 trains per hour at peak periods. The MTA hasn’t provided specifics about how many additional J and M trains it plans on running, but even if it’s several more per hour through Marcy, each train can fit only about 1,200 people. The math simply doesn’t add up.

But station capacity is arguably the bigger concern. This is what Marcy Avenue looks like during a normal weekday rush hour:

None of the MTA’s planned mitigation efforts are designed to increase platform capacity. In 1999, when the Williamsburg Bridge was shut down for five months to repair signals and tracks, the middle express track at Marcy was converted into a temporary platform. In theory, the MTA could do this again — the express track will be out of use west of Myrtle-Broadway during the shutdown — so long as it added some kind of staircase and overpass to allow passengers to access the new platform. Perhaps there are logistical reasons why this can’t be done, but the MTA has never mentioned even exploring this option and didn’t respond to Voice queries about the possibility.

In short, it’s unclear where all these extra riders will stand while waiting for trains, or how anyone will disembark at these overcrowded stations. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where MTA employees have to be deployed outside of stations to manage crowds and ensure the platforms don’t become dangerous. It’s also easy to imagine this not being done until after something bad happens.

I’m especially worried about what will happen at the first four stops in Brooklyn: Marcy, Hewes, Lorimer, and Flushing, which are all small, two-platform stations with few entrances and exits. Lorimer and Marcy are slated to get more turnstiles, and Marcy will get wider stairs as well, but none of this will actually help once commuters get onto the crowded platforms.

Meanwhile, the new free transfer the MTA plans to put into place between the Broadway G station and Lorimer and Hewes will only encourage even more displaced L riders to use those two stations. A free transfer is generally a good thing, but I’m deeply concerned about how many passengers those stations can realistically accommodate. They are two of only a handful of stations within walking distance of an L stop that have direct Manhattan access, so they will receive a lot of increased foot traffic. The Montrose L station (7,000 daily weekday swipes into the station, according to 2016 ridership stats, the most recent year available) is a 10 to 15 minute walk from the J/M/Z Lorimer stop (5,000 swipes), and some people who currently walk to the Morgan Avenue (7,500 swipes) or Grand Street L (7,000 swipes) will likely walk the 20 to 25 minutes to Lorimer or Flushing (9,300 swipes). Where are all these people supposed to go?

A similar conundrum faces the M spur at Central, Knickerbocker, and Myrtle-Wyckoff avenues, since all of those stations are within fairly short walking distances of the L. (Myrtle-Wyckoff has a direct connection with the L.) Those stations have similar layouts to the Hewes-Lorimer-Flushing stops, so it’s unclear what kind of increased capacity they can support. Even worse, those three M stops only get, well, M trains, not J/Z as well, so there will be fewer trains to deal with all these people.

What You Should Do If You Currently Take the J/M/Z

I really hope you didn’t expect me to reveal some kind of secret transit system, because I don’t have one for you. Here is what I will advise, ranked by likelihood of avoiding fifteen months of commuting nightmares:

  1. Move far away from north Brooklyn.
  2. Bike to work. I highly recommend you start soon so you can get accustomed to it, because even the bike lanes will become overcrowded during the shutdown. It sounds like the city will soon legalize pedal assist e-bikes — e-bikes are pretty awesome — which should bring bike commuting within reach of more New Yorkers. If you absolutely don’t want to (or physically can’t) bike all the way into Manhattan, consider getting a cheap bike, riding to downtown Brooklyn, locking up your bike outside a subway station, and heading into Manhattan from there.
  3. If you have a flexible job, adjust your schedule to commute during off-peak hours. And by off-peak, I don’t mean 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. I mean, like, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I understand these are fairly privileged recommendations. Not everyone can afford to move, not everyone can ride bikes, and not everyone can change the hours they go to work. But it’s the best I can do. We’re all just very, very screwed.

Categories
Housing Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Broadway Triangle Deal Could Squeeze Out Families, Says Levin

After an eight-year-long legal battle, the city announced a deal with community groups on Monday that should finally free up vacant city-owned land at Broadway Triangle for the construction of around 375 affordable apartments.

But while community advocates have trumpeted the long-awaited settlement as a boon for racial justice and integration, critics — including the local City Council representative, Stephen Levin — argue it’s just the latest in a decades-long turf war over the contentious intersection of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and fear it won’t aid some of the low-income New Yorkers who desperately need affordable housing most.

The new agreement reverses a controversial deal with two powerful local nonprofits that some neighborhood groups had complained discriminated against some residents of color. But by requiring that the city evaluate development proposals based on maximizing the number of units to provide the most apartments possible, opponents say it will ultimately force developers to cram as many apartments as they can into the project.

“It would totally exclude larger families and largely exclude most families,” says Levin. The new deal, he says, “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

This week’s settlement is the latest skirmish in a battle over the Broadway Triangle — a wedge of land bound by Broadway, Flushing Avenue, and Union Avenue that has long been splintered along political and ethnic lines. The triangle of trash-strewn vacant lots and parking lots was once home to light manufacturing and the headquarters of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, but as manufacturing uses moved away, it became a no man’s land that power brokers from both the Latino and Jewish communities wanted a slice of.

When pieces of the land were rezoned for residential use in 2009 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the development rights to certain parcels were handed off with no competitive bidding process to two politically connected nonprofits — Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a Bushwick-based nonprofit founded by disgraced assemblyman Vito Lopez, and United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, an umbrella group for the area’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

A coalition of other Williamsburg- and Greenpoint-based community groups that said they’d been excluded from the process promptly sued the city in state court. The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition — which included nonprofits like St. Nicks Alliance, Los Sures, Churches United for Fair Housing, and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A — argued that the deal violated fair housing laws by giving an unfair advantage to Hasidic residents, both by providing a disproportionate number of multi-bedroom apartments they said would favor that community’s larger families, as well as requiring low-rise buildings, seen to cater to observant Jews who can’t take elevators on the Sabbath.

State Supreme Court Judge Emily Goodman agreed, and issued a preliminary injunction halting the rezoning on city-owned parcels.

Years of settlement conferences later, the city finally agreed this week to cut a deal that it says will make it possible to move forward with long-stalled construction of affordable housing and that community groups argue will counteract decades of segregation on two main fronts.

First, residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s predominantly African American Community Board 3, just to the south of the development site across Flushing Avenue, will be granted community preference on half of the units. Under the original plan, only residents of the mostly white and Latino neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint would have gotten preference.

In addition, the city agreed to pay $2.4 million over three years to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A to pay for tenant services that the organization said are needed to fight racially motivated displacement of black and Latino residents in privately owned residences in north Brooklyn.

The plan will also be punted back to the request for proposal process, voiding the earlier deal with Ridgewood Bushwick and UJO.Local nonprofit developers with projects in Community Board 1 and Community Board 3 will get a slight advantage in the request for proposal process over other developers, according to the settlement.

And in an effort to correct the contentious breakdown of apartment sizes, which plaintiffs argued would favor the Hasidic community, the requirement to maximize the number of units may actually dissuade developers from building any three- or four-bedroom apartments at all.

The revised plan will use tax-exempt bonds and federal low-income housing tax credits under the Extremely Low and Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) plan, which limits the number of studios and requires a minimum number of apartments with two or more bedrooms. But even with those guidelines, a developer would only get the maximum number of apartments by including around 70 percent studios and one-bedrooms and 30 percent two-bedrooms.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a community to say you need more studios and one-bedrooms,” says Levin, who as a staffer to Lopez supported the original 2009 deal. “That’s usually what developers want. You get more money by building studios and one-bedrooms particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods.”

Factions of Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidic community swiftly divided along political lines over the settlement as news of it broke this week. Gary Schlesinger, a Satmar activist and political opponent of UJO, came out in support of the revised project, saying the Hasidic community needed smaller apartments for newlyweds and that larger families were already leaving the city for suburban areas upstate and in New Jersey.

Rabbi David Neiderman, the head of UJO, countered that the new plan was a “backroom deal” and a “travesty of justice” that discriminates against Jewish families.

“The litigation is used as a pretense for a political giveaway and a discriminatory agreement against large families, because some of them are Jewish,” he says, taking issue with the unit size as well as the inclusion of Community Board 3, which would intentionally “dilute the chance for Jewish families” to get apartments.

“There’s no desire here to make this a development that excludes families,” insists Adam Meyers, an attorney for plaintiffs at Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A.

Alexandra Fennell, of Churches United for Fair Housing, says that the city would look at requests for proposals based on many different criteria, and there was still some “wiggle room” for developers to submit proposals with three- and four-bedroom apartments, even if they’re now disincentivized from doing so. But she stressed that the disproportionately high number of large apartments in the original proposal would have mostly served Hasidic families at the expense of their neighbors. “There is a need for some larger [apartments] but the majority of the families in this immediate geographic area are families of between two and three people,” she says.

Citywide, demand for smaller affordable apartments outweighs demand for larger ones, according to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. An analysis of census data from 2010, the most recent numbers available, showed that around 24 percent of families in the three Williamsburg and Greenpoint zip codes had five or more members. Of households with five or more family members, white households outnumbered black and Latino ones by about 1,197.

Fennell says that, instead of the original deal, her coalition is looking forward to a transparent bidding process and hopes the city will find “a plan that will serve diverse groups and will be available and equitable for everyone.”

The same ethnic and political fissures flared this year during the contentious rezoning of an adjacent swath of land formerly owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer after it was bought by Orthodox Jewish–owned Williamsburg developer the Rabsky Group. That project was approved by the City Council, though the plaintiffs in the Broadway Triangle lawsuit argued that the rezoning would likewise favor Orthodox residents along similar lines, after the developer wouldn’t commit to a breakdown of apartment sizes until the eleventh hour.

“I don’t want to see a plan that intentionally excludes anybody,” says Levin of the new agreement. “If the plan were to move forward and intentionally exclude larger families because they happen to be Jewish or Orthodox, then I think that is problematic in and of itself.“

Rabbi Niederman said that UJO was considering legal recourse, insisting that “there’s no question this is a calculated effort to discriminate against poor Jewish families.” The fight for the Broadway Triangle is far from over.

Note: This article has been updated to indicate that while nonprofit developers with projects in Community Board 1 and Community Board 3 will get preference under the new settlement, other developers such as Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (now RiseBoro) will not be barred from applying, as was initially reported.

Categories
Media NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

What 5 People Wore When They Were Accosted by a NY Times Reporter at the Williamsburg Whole Foods

Fashion & Style has been a cornerstone of the New York Times’ coverage for years, but only recently has it devolved from a legitimate section of the newspaper into a murky bath filled with yoga babies and men who wear dress shoes without socks.

Sure, the Styles section was a tar pit filled with fire ants well before yesterday. But even its most memorable claptrap now looks like hard-nosed journalism compared to this piece, in which a reporter interviewed eight victims on their grocery shopping attire.


Wynona Skye

Age: 31

Occupation: Haberdasher

I like your outfit. Thanks, it was my mom’s.

Did you make it yourself? Well, the EMTs had to cut it off in the ambulance, so I had to resew it. I decided to get a little funky with it and use red yarn. I think it brings out the bloodstains.

How long have you had that neck tattoo? It’s a birthmark. I used to get picked on a lot because it’s shaped like an Iron Cross, but now I kind of embrace it.

What color would you call that? I usually go with “puce.”

It matches your nail polish. Was that on purpose? Yes.


Zebediah Doolittle

Age: 78

Occupation: Retired teacher

You’re super old. Who let you in here? I’ve lived here for fifty years. I actually grew up in the Home for Abandoned Youths on Berry Street. It’s where the Equinox is now. I figured it out — my old room is now a storage closet filled with Kiehl’s shaving lotion. It smells way better.

Do you miss anything about those days? Oh, sure. We had so much freedom back then, and Williamsburg was a great place to grow up. Remember the movie Stand by Me? That was loosely based after my life.

What size are your pants? When you get old, they only make them in two styles: khaki and vinyl. And they’re all extremely large. That’s why I’m wearing this lamp cord as a belt.

What’s the one accessory you miss from back in the day?
Brass knuckles. I still keep ’em on my bedside table, just in case.


Sabrina Tate

Age: 22

Occupation: Dancer

Are you a ghost? No, this is called a peignoir. I got it from the Goodwill on Bedford.

How do I know you’re not a ghost? I mean, I’m holding a box of Triscuits. Could a ghost do that?

Maybe. How old were you when you died? I told you, I’m not a ghost. Is someone seriously paying you for this?

Yeah, a shit-ton. Do you sleep in a coffin or a regular bed? Seriously if you don’t stop poking me I’ll call security.


Francesca Boutey

Age: 43

Occupation: Freelancer

What kind of animal is that? It’s a Western Lowland Gorilla. I bring it with me everywhere, even though it weighs around four hundred pounds.

What’s it wearing on its arm? A tennis bracelet. I actually bought it as a necklace for my toddler, Miafarrow Abernathy, but she told me it was tacky. I hated to just put it in the trash.

What’s in your basket? Crispix, some kale, a shitload of tampons. I don’t need them anymore, but I want the kids here to think I’m younger than I am. How old do you think I look?

You already told me your age. Yeah but how old do you THINK I am?

I guess you look 43? Fuck you, you know? Just fuck. You.

I really didn’t — LEAVE ME ALONE.


Rocko Forenzigo

Age: 50

Occupation: Rag picker

Tell me about your neck piercing. It’s actually a nail.

A lot of people would go to the hospital. I will, but I need to pick up some Perrier first. I won’t drink the swill they serve there.

What’s your favorite type of water? Usually I try to make it myself, but it’s a complicated process and I’ve been really busy with writing my new play, Rag Time. It’s semiautobiographical, but instead of human actors, I’m using taxidermied field mice.

I think that title has already been used. What do you mean?

Never mind. Do you always wear that pince-nez? Yeah, it was made locally, a brand called Butler and Slough. They typically only make monocles, but a buddy of mine owns the place and did it special.


Zooey Baeschanel

Age: 35

Occupation: Actor, singer-songwriter, uplifting blog founder

I really don’t think you’re telling me the truth about your name, or anything else. Yeah I am! I have a website. It’s called Tellow Miggles.

That’s weird. You’re weird. I’m not the one in a grocery store asking people about their clothes.

What’s with your shoes? They’re actually children’s slippers, but they were the only ones I could find covered in both glitter AND bows. The tassels are made of guitar strings.


Rob Call

Age: 44

Occupation: Entrepreneur

You’re wearing a vest with a bunch of fly lures on it. Did you just go fishing? No comment.

What are you buying? I’m not buying anything, I like to lick things and then put them back on the shelf.

Why? It’s a rush — check this out.

Oh my god. If you’re not gonna lick anything I have to ask you to leave.


Alice Noordland

Age: 101

Occupation: None of your business.

I like your bonnet. I like it when people are quiet.

You’re in the granola section — do you have a favorite? No.

Oh. I put the nice granola in the bag and then I label it as the cheap granola so the people at the checkout counter ring it up as the cheap granola and then I save $2.

That’s stealing. No it’s not.

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Living NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Williamsburg Man’s $450/Month Closet Revives the NY Times Real Estate Section

Today the New York Times real estate section, the paper’s not-so-subtle attempt to start an all-out class war, brings us the story of one Jack Leahy, a young musician in Williamsburg who lives in what essentially amounts to a crawl space. The space is just nine feet long, only four and a half feet wide, and oh yeah, just five feet high. And how much is Leahy paying to live in this very obvious death trap? $450.

“I think I was happy to be in New York and that I actually had a place,” Leahy tells the newspaper. His main goal is to get signed to Captured Tracks record label, which, if he’s successful, might pay him enough to live in a place that he doesn’t have to climb a ladder to get into and that isn’t above a performance space Leahy almost accidentally fell into once. “Too much moving around up here doesn’t feel safe,” says Leahy.

Why not just call the column “How the Other Half Rents”?

“Yeah, the cholera is bad, and it gets pretty hot in the summer, but this deal really can’t be beaten. You end up exploring the city a lot, just to get away from the rats. Great waterfront.”

Close enough: The closet living space dispatch marks the first in a new column called “Renters” for the real estate section, which the New York Times is re-launching whole this weekend, promising to feature “more service-oriented and visual journalism.” Other new columns include “Voyeur,” which will feature photos of out-of-control development, “The Fix,” which will follow gut renovations of previously rent-stabilized apartments as they are flipped for the luxury market, and “360 View,” a column that will try to give life to the fun “quirks” of the real estate market, like displacement and eviction.

This is all being done as the luxury condo market, whose advertisements have packed the dwindling pages of the Sunday Times for years, dries up, and is replaced by the vagaries of the super-charged rental market, so accordingly the Times real estate section must change as well.

As for Leahy, he tells the paper he’s signed on to stay at the space for another year. Yes, things are getting so bad in the New York City housing market that someone has decided to sign up for another year of overpaying to live in a glorified coffin. Who knows? Maybe his landlord will decide to just randomly give him a roommate one day. Anything’s possible now. The world is the Real Estate section’s oyster. Wait —anyone out there living in an oyster? Would make a great photo spread!

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Calendar Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NYC ARCHIVES

Rider Reinvigorates Williamsburg’s Dinner and a Show Scene

They say good things come to those who wait; hearing that he’d been selected to open his first restaurant in Williamsburg must have been music to chef Patrick Connolly’s ears. (And not just because he’s located inside a concert hall.)

Rider (80 N 6th St, Brooklyn; 718-210-3152) exists thanks to National Sawdust and its founder Kevin Dolan’s vision, but the execution of exemplary eats rests squarely on Connolly’s shoulders. After Rider’s completion was delayed, Connolly was offered the opportunity he’d craved since being invited to submit plans for the project back in 2011. He just had to deliver on one thing for Dolan: The food had to be great.

Steak tartare with artichoke leaves, Worcestershire, bocquerone, quail egg
Steak tartare with artichoke leaves, Worcestershire, bocquerone, quail egg

After moving back to New York from his hometown of St. Louis — Connolly previously spent time in the kitchen at Bobo — the chef was finally ready to start a place his own. The fact that the doors are officially open brings a smile to Connolly’s face, since he had been commuting from Philadelphia for nine months to help work on the restaurant before his family settled in Williamsburg. However, Connolly has worked in enough kitchens to know that contemporary chamber music and jazz might beckon the Lincoln Center crowd to Williamsburg… but his menu will ensure their return.

So what does a chef choose for his debut recital? A little bit of everything.

Fregola and turnips with greens, pistachio pesto, and Parmesan
Fregola and turnips with greens, pistachio pesto, and Parmesan

“I think inspiration-wise, it’s all over the map… But I also feel that when you’re talking about American food, that’s kind of what you’re dealing with,” Connolly says. “Here, we have everything at our disposal, so, you know, the menu is a little all over the place, but really it’s just stuff I love to eat.”

With an even balance of vegetable to protein, the menu offers plenty, including a casual burger with Russian dressing, a decadent soft egg served with a foie gras crouton, sweet sherry yogurt, and caviar. Guests are just as likely to find grilled mortadella and steak tartare as they are raw beets and a roasted vegetable plate. Sharing is most certainly encouraged.

“The best representation of this restaurant is if you show up and share the food with the people that you’re with,” notes Connolly. “I feel great about every dish — we strike a balance with each dish within itself texturally and flavor-wise.”

Fennel and lemon doughnuts with house crème fraiche — dessert is a big deal here.
Fennel and lemon doughnuts with house crème fraiche — dessert is a big deal here.

Connolly has also enlisted the help of pastry chef Lisa Fernandez-Cruz in planning their dessert menu, which he believes will help Rider stand out in the neighborhood. The final-course options include fennel and lemon doughnuts with crème fraiche, as well as maple custard served with pear. Rider will also be the first location in Brooklyn to offer Rival Bros. Coffee, which is based in the City of Brotherly Love. The bar will also offer a selection of original cocktails, along with beer and wine.

Though the restaurant is unique from National Sawdust, there are subtle reminders that food and music are creative art forms that belong together. Rider borrows its name from the document detailing the requests that many bands and performers ask of a venue (a/k/a that piece of paper that guarantees only green M&M’s will be available backstage). Even the decor was inspired by music — namely, Herbie Flowers’s bass line for Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” “Simple with depth,” Connolly explains.

The bi-level restaurant was designed by Brooklyn’s Bureau V (who also worked on National Sawdust) and includes a mix of gritty and polished touches. Painted-brick and wood walls, white herringbone­-tiled tables, and a marble bar reside on the ground floor. The second floor features a 34-seat dining room complete with banquette seating, a custom-made chandelier, and neon light installations — all focal points that draw diners attention throughout the space. Rider also factors tipping into the overall price of menu items.

After joining up with people at similar stages in their careers — from architects to programming staff — Connolly appreciates having found the right group of people with whom he can share his first official venture. “You can only do what feels right, and coming back here felt right,” says Connolly. “I wasn’t interested in finding a 2,000-square-foot restaurant and just trying to grind at that game. There are lots of places you can hear music and have food, but when is it great?”

Brunch, breakfast, and lunch are in the works, making their subsequent debuts in the coming weeks.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

At Belle Shoals, Make Your Own Grand Marnier Cocktail

Though coolers of ice-cold beer may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “fishing trip,” Jimmy Palumbo of Belle Shoals (10 Hope Street, Brooklyn; 718-218-6027) thinks of Grand Marnier. Known fondly as “Jimbo,” the North Carolina native has an appreciation of the orange-flavored liqueur thanks to his father’s surf-fishing outings to North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. And indeed, the spirit’s warm burn offers the perfect metaphor for the area’s famed howling winds.

When Palumbo was tapped as the head bartender of Belle Shoals — a bar modeled after a fictional Southern town, with hospitable touches like Cheerwine, fried duck leg on a biscuit, and po’boys — making room for a Grand Marnier cocktail was a must. “If you go to Charleston and Georgia, and a lot of places in the South, you’ll see people drinking Grand Marnier straight,” says Palumbo. “It’s an eighty-proof spirit. It’s designed to be something you could sip as a base of a cocktail. We wanted to kind of highlight and focus on that. We wanted to figure out a way to kind of incorporate [the idea] that people drink [Grand Marnier] straight, so then we had the idea of using mini-bottles.”

The result? The Auntie Bellum, a cocktail that allows guests to get involved in the mix — literally. A TSA-friendly mini-bottle of Grand Marnier sits nestled on a bed of crushed ice at the top of the cocktail for guests to add. The amount of that sweet orange spirit to put in the drink is left completely up to them.

While the Grand Marnier is perfectly enjoyable on its own, Palumbo wanted to demonstrate the drink’s versatility — and not just in dishes like duck à l’orange and crêpes suzette. Like at most Southern-themed bars, food is an integral part of the experience here, so pairing drinks with the menu was equally important to Palumbo. And in some cases, Southern dishes inspired the actual drinks — like the Auntie Bellum.

“We just had to figure out a culinary thing that could also fit with [Grand Marnier]. Immediately, we went with the ambrosia salad — everybody’s favorite winner for the potluck,” Palumbo explains. The classic ambrosia salad recipe varies depending on who’s making it, but common ingredients include oranges, coconut, toasted marshmallow, sugar, nuts, and fresh citrus.

“The main challenge for that was to make sure we weren’t making a drink that was just a dessert… that was too sweet,” Palumbo notes. To help stifle some of the sweetness in the ambrosia-inspired cocktail, he chose coconut water to make his coconut syrup. The bartender also opted for a Lustau Amontillado sherry for its notes of toasted almond, fresh lemon juice for acidity, and tiki bitters to add some island spice.

Palumbo was mindful in choosing specific ingredients to ensure nothing would damage the purity of the Grand Marnier. By allowing guests to add in the orange flavor, they’re able to devise their own final touch to an ambrosia salad designed for the liquid-diet crowd. The toasted marshmallow garnish was added to give guests the textural sensation of that crispy, creamy feeling found in a spoonful of the actual dessert. “When you eat that salad, if that flavor, marshmallow, wasn’t there, it would just be that weird filling of a pie without the pie,” explains Palumbo. “You kind of need that toasty marshmallow flavor to tie it all back around.”

Finally, for guests who just want to sip on a sherry cocktail and keep the Grand Marnier accompaniment for a nightcap, that’s fine, too. “Whatever you want to make of this cocktail — go nuts!” jokes Palumbo.

Palumbo gave the Voice the recipe for those of you who’d like to try the Auntie Bellum at home — though you’ll be missing out on Belle Shoals’ vintage Wurlitzer jukebox.

Auntie Bellum by Jimmy “Jimbo” Palumbo of Belle Shoals

.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 mini bottle of Grand Marnier
.5 Lustau Amontillado Sherry
.5 oz. coconut syrup
3 dashes tiki bitters

Combine all ingredients except the Grand Marnier. “Whip shake” the ingredients with crushed ice and dirty-dump (pour the ingredients without straining) into a lowball glass. Add more crushed ice and top with the Grand Marnier mini-bottle and a skewer of toasted mini-marshmallows.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Take One Last Sip of Summer — Try a Frozen Brancolada

The map points to South Williamsburg, but after walking through the doors of Donna (27 Broadway, Brooklyn; 646-568-6622), you will likely be reminded of a favorite tropical getaway. One big part of the experience here? A slushie machine that pumps out playful reinventions of classic cocktails. “No matter how serious your drinks are, you’re supposed to be having fun,” Donna’s bar manager Jeremy Oertel tells the Voice. Oertel, whose time at Dram helped him find the fun behind tiki-style cocktails, created a frozen brancolada that’s been on the menu since the beginning — and is available to cheer people up even during the most miserable of winters.

“It’s actually closer to a painkiller,” Oertel notes on the recipe, although its appearance and taste will certainly conjure images of a piña colada. With flavors like pineapple, orange, coconut, and mint, the drink is ideal for starting out any bar session, or serving as a dessert to cap off the evening. For Oertel, the key component — and a personal favorite — is the coconut cream, which adds a rich texture and color to the drink. Whether stirred, shaken, frozen, or on tap, Oertel supports the idea that classic cocktails can come in all shapes and sizes. The bar recently added a second flavor to their slushie lineup, a take on the Miami vice that channels the spirit of the negroni.

A slushie machine is the right fit for Donna’s motif, but Oertel notes that such an appliance might not be the right fit for every spot. If you’re looking for other reputable bars that pay homage to the genre, Oertel notes that Clover Club is a good choice.

Frozen Brancolada by Jeremy Oertel

4 ounces Appleton V/X rum
4 ounces Branca Menta
6 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice
3 ounces coconut cream (3 parts Coco Lopez to 1 part coconut milk)

Put all ingredients in a blender. Add ice and blend. Garnish with a mint sprig and orange wedge.

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Loosie’s Kitchen Brings Communal New Orleans Flavor to Williamsburg’s South Side

With the opening of Loosie’s Kitchen and Loosie Rouge (91 South 6th Street; no phone), co-owner Vincent Marino has injected the underside of the Williamsburg Bridge with a dose of New Orleans flair. But he decided a simple bar and restaurant based on the Big Easy wasn’t enough. “Yes, you can eat and you can drink, but you can also exchange ideas and get involved in artistic projects,” Marino told the Voice.

Marino set about creating a space where creativity can flourish any time of day, with food, music, cocktails, and décor all working together. Pushing through a blue picket gate, which acts as an entrance to the Cajun-flavored compound, guests are led down a walkway filled with lush foliage — it’s like a walk through Williamsburg’s version of the Garden District.

Bright murals painted in pink and yellow accentuate the elevated outdoor dining area, which is set with communal picnic tables for group dining. It seems conversing with strangers is encouraged (though you may wind up sitting in an elementary-school-size chair).

Seared octopus with grilled okra
Seared octopus with grilled okra

The interior has a Danish midcentury design, and includes a nod to the barbecue spot Fatty ‘Cue (the former tenant) — a chandelier in the shape of a pig. It’s a reminder that the kitchen is just steps away. “The design is not necessarily what you will see on the plate, but it fits extremely well together,” as Marino explained.

While a New Orleans theme is evident in most dishes, there’s also a focus on local ingredients, according to chef Paul Gioe. Several combinations, like octopus (not native to the Bayou), seared and served with grilled okra and fresno chile relish, and a pastrami carpaccio with celeriac remoulade, show an untraditional approach.

Fried chicken with homemade cornbread, hot sauce
Fried chicken with homemade cornbread, hot sauce

Additional main courses include fried Amish chicken thighs served with cornbread and homemade hot sauce, blackened catfish, and a shrimp po’boy. “It’s a Cajun, Southern, Creole-influenced menu more than anything,” Gioe said. “When you see catfish, when you see fried chicken, when you see okra, there shouldn’t be any doubt that you’re eating in a kitchen that’s Southern, and that’s the idea.”

Hurry-cane, anyone?
Hurry-cane, anyone?

The kitchen is currently serving dinner, with additional plans for lunch and brunch to debut in the coming months. Piano players make frequent appearances at the bar, Loosie Rouge, where wine, classic cocktails like the “Hurry-cane” and vieux carré, and a selection of beers (starting at $5) are available. Marino noted, “We’re trying to bring people together, and food and drink are a good excuse. Sometimes, we bring a brass band.”

A porky reminder of the former occupant
A porky reminder of the former occupant

 

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Bill Baker’s Merges Craft Beer With Cocktails in Williamsburg

Williamsburg hardly leaves you wanting for liquid craft of any kind. The neighborhood is awash in bespoke cocktails, local liquors, and microbrews of every conceivable variation. Yet, against all odds, when Bill Baker’s (364 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 718-734-8890) opened earlier this month in the shadows of the BQE, the ambitious new gastropub revealed a niche they intend to fill: beer cocktails.

In addition to a rotating selection of four house-made session ales, their menu is sprinkled with a half-dozen spirits-based drinks, each topped with its own style of suds. Ms. Ellen’s Blackberry Bourbon, a fruit-charged whiskey smash incorporating a Belgian sour into its body, is tasty enough to earn praise as our “beer” of the week. And now for something completely different…

Because of its carbonation, beer must be treated like soda water when introduced into a mixed beverage. That means pouring it over the top to avoid agitating those baby bubbles, preserving a refreshing spritz in every sip. Even more challenging, however, is landing on the right flavors. Craft beer typically avoids blandness — one of the many reasons we cherish it so. But that also makes it trickier to shack up with proper suitors. Beverage director Mark Romano is a beer guy — he lives and breathes every style, old-world and new-. He worked closely with the head bartender to arrive at the optimal brew to float atop each of their $12 cocktails.

Ms. Ellen's Blackberry Bourbon Beer Cocktail
Ms. Ellen’s Blackberry Bourbon Beer Cocktail

Some pairings are obvious: The coriander and orange notes of their house-made wit, for example, are a natural fit for a whiskey-sour send-up. In the case of the Ms. Ellen’s, though, it requires a sophisticated tongue — not to mention a brave bar staff — to support the marriage of muddled mint and bourbon with Cuvée des Jacobins, a dependable Flemish-style red ale. The common ground is found in the blackberry, bridging the caramel sweetness of Bulleit bourbon with the tart notes of the beer. It really ties the whole thing together.

Romano also oversees the balanced house brews offered at Bill Baker’s. The early standout is a light-bodied porter, crafted over a generous allotment of Madagascar vanilla beans. It only hints at sweetness, bringing more of a crisp refreshment than most folks associate with this particular style; a dark beer for light-beer drinkers. Like all of the beers made here, it hovers at around 5.5 percent alcohol.

And while you’re at the bar, don’t forget to snag a few unique pub snacks. The addictive sriracha- and butter-blasted popcorn is served gratis when you order drinks, so you’d be foolish to avoid it. But seek out the house-made chicken liver pâté; it’s savory and unctuous, and it tangoes gracefully with Ms. Ellen’s defining characteristics of sweet and sour. Nothing on the food menu is north of $15, and the sixteen beers on tap average $6 a pint. Beyond the beer cocktails, Bill Baker’s apparently wants to introduce Williamsburg to another forgotten concept: affordability.