Day: May 6th, 2007
Shopping at my local Fairway — and on a Sunday afternoon! — is a somewhat less pleasantly civilized experience than I imagine it would be in Red Hook. But I had no choice: there was a dish to prepare for SYB’s pot luck dinner this evening, and no groceries at home with which to prepare it. Like one girding herself for battle, I decided to treat myself beforehand to a brief detour at newly opened Grom, the first American outpost of a popular Italian artisinal gelateria chain, about which I’d read so much recently. What could be finer on such a beautiful, sunny day?
As I neared my intended destination, there was a noticeable thickening in pedestrian traffic. My pace slowed as I reached the corner of Broadway and 76th Street, until…
Clearly, I was not the only one with the same idea — not by a long shot. I should have anticipated as much: the thought had been planted firmly and enticingly in our collective consciousness in a week-long media blitz of publicity: New York magazine. A profile in the Times dining section. Time Out New York. Gothamist.
The crush was unavoidable and inevitable. Paired with the sudden arrival of one of those perfect spring afternoons that New York City will sometimes produce, it meant that there was no way I was getting my cup of quality gelato today — not unless I was willing to brave the madding crowd for at least an hour. Which I was not. But gee, those that did wait it out sure looked happy.
Haven’t seen such lines since… well, since the weekend Beard Papa opened its first NYC creampuff shop in 2004, just two doors up from Grom’s current spot.
With apologies to O. Henry, “after this can any one doubt the power of the press?“
The Red Hook Fairway Market is housed inside a beautifully restored pre-Civil War era warehouse on the waterfront at the end of Van Brunt Street. Above the market, the building is used as office space for businesses and local non-profits, artist work space and luxury residential units. Fairway arrived in Red Hook in May 2006 to much fanfare and enormous crowds. This afternoon, strolling through the clean, spacious aisles, along the well-stocked displays and colorful chalkboards touting store specials — such a stark contrast with the cramped, combativeness of the Upper West Side location — I could not help but be a little envious.
A view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (and a few ducks) from the red-brick Beard Street Warehouse at 499 Van Brunt Street, which now houses over 40 businesses, including the offices for the New York Water Taxi (which maintains a dock just outside the Fairway), a glass-blowing studio and gallery, the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition (Red Hook’s premier art venue, and the largest artist-run, not-for-profit art organization in Brooklyn), and the set and costume designers for Blue Man Group.
Our group’s numbers dwindled as the gentrified streets gave way to warehouses and desolate looking stretches until we reached the Red Hook Container Terminal, which sprawls along 80 acres of waterfront. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey leases the terminal in part to American Stevedoring.
And nearly four hours after we first met, our final stop: the stark contrast of the stately brownstone rowhouses of the Carroll Gardens Historic District — once considered part of Red Hook.
We broke away from the group as they made their way to the subway station, to explore the annual Court Street Fair, sponsored by the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation (GCCDC). By summer’s end I’m usually in full-grip of street fair fatigue, but on this brilliantly sunny spring day, I was happy to wander among the stalls, taking in everything from the curious (not a tube sock or mozzarepa stand in sight!) to the unconscionable ($4 for 6 zeppole?!)
Lunch at the newest Carroll Gardens location of Mexican mini-chain Mezcal’s, after which we made a dessert of some more reasonably priced (but still messy) zeppole from one of the Court Street pizzerias.
I joined up for a walk through Red Hook — the peninsula edged by Buttermilk Channel (which separates Brooklyn from Governors Island), Gowanus Bay and the Gowanus Canal at the southern edge of Downtown Brooklyn. The event was sponsored by TAWNY — that’s Take a Walk, New York! — the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition and the Bette Midler-founded New York Restoration Project.
The advertised “light-hearted prowl” — part stroll, part history lesson — began bright and early this sunny morning at the Smith/9th Street station; at 91 feet, it’s the highest elevated stop in the subway system, owing to an antiquated regulation to allow for tall-mast shipping beneath the rails. Good thing for all those clipper ships that sail through Gowanus Creek… (pause)… not!
Red Hook native Dave Lutz brought our group — at over two dozen strong, a surprising turnout for 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning — through cobblestoned, residential and industrial streets, past “waterfront” parks… from which the public is blocked access to the waterfront.
On through the Red Hook Houses, one of the largest public housing projects in the country, first built as a Federal Works Program initiative under FDR. Quite a lot has changed in the area over the past several years, but old perceptions die hard; at one point, one of the walk participants muttered that we should have brought bulletproof vests, earning himself a prompt chiding from our local walk leader.
We stopped in at the Red Hook Commmunity Farm and the Sol Goldman Pool (still closed for the season) which opened in 1936, as one of the 11 WPA-funded pools opened under Mayor Fiorello H. Laguardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Last summer, photographs of the then-named “Red Hook Pool” were included in an exhibit on the city’s public pools at Central Park’s Arsenal Gallery.
Which reminds me that there are still a couple more weeks to check out the exhibitions on Moses (whose Gowanus Expressway cut off Red Hook from Brooklyn proper in 1946) at the Queens Museum and the Museum of the City of New York.
I’d read so much about the variety and quality of food available from the stalls surrounding the Red Hook ball fields that I could hardly believe that I finally made it to this foodie paradise. Unfortunately, my stomach couldn’t quite handle the tacos, enchiladas, huaraches, pupusas, ceviche and grilled corn at this early hour, so I was relegated to just taking in the sights and smells. This time.
We were brought past the historic shipyard, before which Lutz briefly mounted his soapbox to deliver his unvarnished views on the negative impact a big (blue) box retailer, and accompanying vehicular traffic, would have on this neighborhood with no direct subway access.
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