A strange new world: East Williamsburg and Bushwick, New York City

I am living in a strange place.

When I was looking for a place to live in this new city, I chose convenience and friendliness of neighborhood- judging by the tone of voice used by the people on website discussion boards. Number, style and quality of local bars and coffee shops was also central to considerations. I didn’t really know what else to do.

Across the Williamsburg bridge, into Manhattan

Across the Williamsburg bridge, into Manhattan

East Williamsburg – which sort of appears on maps, although there is disagreement as to whether there is such a place- is a working-class, fairly industrial neighborhood to which artistic type folk have flocked, because: relative cheapness, casual lifestyle, easy commute to Manhattan.

It also has large loft and warehouse spaces- great for sculpting large things out of large amounts of other things, or throwing a 48 hour party for all your closest drug buddies.

The neighborhood is so industrial it is, according to my new housemate R (a frail-looking, darkly pretty-boy rock star: perennially dressed in black studded cowboy boots, skinny jeans, and a large black hat) not yet “zoned” . Therefore “humans aren’t really supposed to live here.” He hates living in East Williamsburg with a passion: because he can’t get his recycling collected, and huge 16 wheeler trucks drive past the window day and night, and most of all…he loathes hipsters. “You live in fuckin’ New York, man. Dress with some style. I like people to have some glamour when they go out to a bar, not look like they just went to the fuckin’ library and lost their way. It’s revenge of the nerds, man, that’s what it is.”

A walk around

I live on Johnson Avenue, which crosses the pleasingly named Knickerbocker Avenue and is close to Bogart Street. The subway stop is Morgan Avenue. Strictly speaking, this is Bushwick (I think), but my landlord clearly wishes it was East Williamsburg, so that’s what we have to call it).

On the short walk to my commute, on my first day, I alternated between worried staring at Google Maps and looking around me at the weird, industrial landscape. (R: ‘It’s like living in the middle of a freakin war zone.’)

Johnson and Knickerbocker intersection, next to my house

Johnson and Knickerbocker intersection, next to my house

It was a particularly miserable day when I took these photos, which adds to the weird feeling that you have fallen through a time hole…

perhaps into a weird, parallel version of East Germany, in which the Wall never came down, but little bits of the 21st century seeped in through the cracks.

The view from my front door, across to the deli selling yiros

The view from my front door, across to the deli selling yiros

On the walk to work, I pass concrete mixers and guys dressed in hard hats. There is dust everywhere, and tarpaulins flap against piles of bricks. Rubbish sits uncollected. I finally realised what else makes it feel so unlike a neighborhood where people should be: No trees.

It’s hard to believe I moved myself here for a whole month. On the first day, I thought I had made a horrible mistake.

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 but then…

The secret of this neighborhood is the hidden influence of hipsters. The strange tug-of-war for space between industrial commerce and artists, students and committed partiers means that everywhere, there are little sparkles of interest and even, luxury. If you look one way and see this

…you can turn around and find this

flower shop

flower shop

Here’s another one: Turn one way

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but then the other way

The hipster on the left is wearing a full suit and bowler hat with pointed leather shoes. The one on the right had a flat cap

The hipster on the left is wearing a full suit and bowler hat with pointed leather shoes. The one on the right: flat cap and a septum piercing.

There are fantastic little bars, hidden away in garages and abandoned warehouses, though walking through the silent, graffitied streets at night to find one of them makes it easy to feel like you are starring in a tacky, big-budget post-apocalyptic drama. Possibly, that mad slavering zombies- or aliens from the future – are about to sprint across the road and rip off your head. You sort of expect Tom Cruise or Scarlett Johannsen to leap off a roof dressed in black leather, land in front of you, and seize you by the arm, hissing “You are the chosen one. Follow me. It’s time.”

Alaska Bar, Bushwick

 

The Pine Box Rock Shop: "Bushwick's premier vegan friendly bar, and multi-media event space."

The Pine Box Rock Shop: “Bushwick’s premier vegan friendly bar, and multi-media event space.”

More photos from my commutes over the last few days:

The Fine and Raw Chocolate Factory

Note expensively dressed man in suit ... walking with briefcase through urban wasteland to his loft apartment

Note expensively dressed man in suit … walking with briefcase through urban wasteland

An organic supermarket which Bristol would kill to have

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Outside the supermarket, after having blown a huge wad on extra virgin olive oil, gluten free cookies and raw oatmeal facial scrub, I ran into this guy with an enormous cat on a special handmade leather leash. Of course. It was a savannah cat. I asked him.

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There is some beautiful graffiti. Which for a Bristolian, is like a little taste of home.

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And when my friends Robyn and Jez came to visit, we found a dark, warm little bar- on a quiet street, crammed full of people wearing double denim, with rickety mismatched tables, candles, artistically dirtied ambience. We drank gin and tonics, and laughed a lot, and realised that this is an incredibly shifting, changing landscape that will never be the same again. I am lucky to get a glimpse of it while it’s like this.

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Gin blurry

Next week, I’ll show you what my flat is like- my little slice of space and calm in this very weird new world.

In the meantime, say goodbye to the hipsters:

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