I have just spent four brilliant nights in Brooklyn, NY and this is a not so short summary of events (in fact some of you may feel like it takes longer to read than I was here!)
I flew from Bristol with Aer Lingus. The first surprise was the plane to Dublin. I have friends who drive bigger mini-vans! That said I did get the best seat on the plane — up the front with loads of leg room so despite the fear I should not complain.
The second surprise was Dublin. The advantage to doing the journey this way is you pass through immigration at Dublin rather than JFK — thus saving potential hours of heartache (only other place this exists is Israel apparently!). The problem was the timings seemed improbable at best! As it turned out they knew what they were doing and I made my flight with 10 whole minutes to spare. It created an awful lot of stress though and I think things could have been communicated better.
The flight was a doddle and landing at the JetBlue terminal at JFK is a real win — I was on the AirTrain in about 10 minutes with no problems.
One of my things this trip was to stick to the subway and avoid cabs. It seemed vital for that real NYC experience. So I got the ‘A’ line train to Nostrand Ave and went looking for my apartment. This was something of an experience. I had made a bit of a boo-boo and thought I was staying in Clinton Hill. An up and coming neighbourhood home to rap and movie stars. In actuality I’ve been in Crown Heights home to one of the highest crime rates in New York state and where apparently a white face (not in uniform) is so rare people were genuinely confused! To be clear I haven’t had the slightest bit of trouble personally but its clear a little later in the evening that things get dangerous very quickly around here!
I found the apartment with minimal effort and my ‘host’ Niya is a lovely chap. A photographer and film maker (he works on a lot of music videos including with guys like Hype Williams) he took the time to give me the local run down which I appreciated. A true Brooklynite he made it clear that he considered Manhattan an unwanted neighbour — which I liked immediately 🙂
I went exploring and found ‘Dutch Boy Burgers‘ which was a real win as far as I am concerned. There is a small section of Franklin Ave in Crown Heights that is full of win — great bars, an amazing Mexican and this top-notch burger spot. I liked it so much I went twice in 4 days! It didn’t hurt that they sold cans of ‘Pork Slap Pale Ale’ 🙂 One thing that always strikes me in the US is that they really don’t have a pub/bar culture like we do — and certainly don’t drink in the same way. Not for the first time bar staff asked me if I was OK as I seemed to be drinking so quickly (I thought I was taking it slow!)
The travel broke me early on Thursday but I got a great burger, a couple of beers and the lay of the land.
Friday morning I headed up to Long Island City to 5Pointz . This required a couple of subway changes and I was very proud of myself!
5Pointz is essentially a massive outdoors graffiti gallery — think Nelson Street but bigger. It is also very much graf and not ‘street art’. I am not sure I have ever been anywhere better. I took an awful lot of pictures and spent an hour just walking the perimeter to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I met a couple of groups of young Japanese tourists there — they were big old school 4 elements hip hop fans and really knew their stuff.
The fact there was an awesome old school diner opposite didn’t hurt either. My corned beef hash, scrambled egg and fried potatoes was lovely. Unfortunately it was here that my Nexus4 bit the dust — I dropped it on the way back to the subway and it shattered. Badly 😦
I didn’t let it slow me down though and headed in to Lower Manhattan so I could walk Brooklyn Bridge. Oops. What a let down. Half of it is now essentially walled off so your view is corrugated iron and equally pissed off tourists. The Brooklyn side of the bridge is better but still I was a little disappointed — though am happy I did it — if only to tick that box. I then wandered around DUMBO (nice but oh so pretentious — at least the bits I saw!).
This is where I bought a terrible cheap Android phone with a US T-Mobile SIM. The idea of having no connectivity was freaking me out and the wifi in the apartment was cut-off (my fault it seems — there was a, to me, very small download limit on the account and some iTunes background stuff I had running killed the account!) Its a horrible phone but it has been useful I have to admit. I’ll be keeping it as my US ‘cell-phone’ going forward.
That evening though I went to the Crown Inn — a bar I had researched in advance and scouted during my Dutch Boy trip. I had a great few hours here — chatting to all manor of local types and trying <em>all</em> the beers they had on tap! In particular I met a chef named Bill who was friends with all the staff so long after he left I got preferential treatment and was invited to join a wedding part for 2 Brooklyn lawyers (they and all their friends were smashed!) I even got US Chinese take-out on the way home (rice great — noodles a bit bland!)
Saturday was a Manhattan day. I set off early to the Lower East Side for an explore. I love visiting these neighbourhoods that are referenced in all my movies and books but off the tourist trail. I even saw the original ‘Coyote Ugly’ bar. The reason I was there though was to do the ‘Mafia’ walking tour with Eric Ferrara. Eric is an author and researcher who has a particular interest in the culture and history of the ‘mob’ in and around ‘Little Italy’. He consults on movies and shows like ‘Broadwalk Empire’ and is a genuine local guy — his father grew up next door to Scorsese! The talk was 2 hours but it flew by. I knew a lot of the high profile stuff but Eric was very good at adding context, shattering myths and giving some cultural insights. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot — not easy given how much I read about this stuff!
Next I visited ‘Grand Central Terminal’. Yes I know it is just a train station but it is a stunning, iconic space that more than lived up to what I expected. From here I gave in to my inner traditional tourist and walked along to Times Square. My god what a nightmare! I didn’t last long — the crowds, the hawkers, the police and did I mention the crowds chased me away! I did however managed to find ‘Midtown Comics’. Regularly voted the best comic book store in NYC it is hidden just off Times Square up a tiny staircase with an entrance on a side street. Once you are in though it is amazing — soooooo many comics and staff who actually know their stuff. I only stayed a short time — any longer could have been dangerous — but I’ll be back.
Saturday night was a bit of a washout — my body clock hasn’t really adjusted to the 5 hour time difference and it is also boiling hot so I am knackered…early! Also it turns out that Saturday really is date night in Brooklyn (or at least the bars I was trying) and a single bloke on his own just looked weird!
Sunday I was a man on a mission. This was the day I had planned most carefully. D’oh! Firstly I was planning on going to the Fort Green flea market. Unfortunately as I discovered after I walked the 2 miles to it that happens on a Saturday not Sunday. D’oh! Then I decided to visit the Brooklyn Museum. However I got on the wrong train and spent an hour trying to get that sorted so I just gave up. D’oh! Then I decided I would head to Bushwick a little early for my street art tour. However once there I discovered (a) there wasn’t really anything there and (b) I could find all the art myself. So I had a very nice sandwich from Brooklyn Naturals and proceeded to host my own tour. It was a bit more ‘arty’ than 5Pointz but there was still a lot of lovely stuff so glad I went.
I was now several hours ahead of schedule though so on the spur of the moment decided to jump on an ‘L’ train and go and walk the High Line. This was interesting if a little low-key but it gives a different perspective on a part of NYC and also gave me an excuse to wander around the ‘Meat Packing district’ another of those places I had heard of bit never visited. Then in another spontaneous moment I jumped on the ‘E’ train and decided to visit the 9/11 memorial. This was a bit more ‘proper’ tourist that I had planned and meant a lot of queuing and security checks. It was also all a bit weird. The memorial is a long way from complete, is surrounded by a massive construction site and despite some very moving moments the overwhelming feeling is that it has become just another tourist attraction when it should be something more meaningful (it doesn’t yet feel like it has the same gravitas at the Vietnam memorial in DC for example..)
To all intents and purposed I completed my trip with a visit to the Way Station bar. Amazingly this is a Doctor Who themed bar! A TARDIS for a toilet, artwork on the walls, cocktails named after characters and episodes and screenings of the latest episodes (which was treated like a big sports game!) It was a fun place with a geeky clientele that even I thought was a bit OTT — also a bar with only one toilet — come on!
I am writing this on my last night (though will probably update it before publishing) but all in all this has been a great success of a trip and for the most part avoiding the obvious has led to more fun. I do reckon I would make a great Brooklynite though! In fact my last (evening) meal was even from the fried chicken fast food chain Popeyes which is apparently a little notorious locally. No problem for this intrepid reporter though (9pm on a Sunday probably a little different than 3am Sat/Sun though — inner-editor-voice)…
Originally published at jukesie.wordpress.com on April 9, 2013.