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Brooklyn Bound

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Photo: Hugh Stewart and David Nicolas

Case Study #3: Brooklyn Social

With its pressed-tin ceiling and faded Deco mirrors, this Carroll Gardens bar is an uncanny simulacrum of an Italian-American men’s club. That’s because for 70-odd years it was one: the Società Riposto, whose tuxedo-clad members gaze out ghostlike from framed photos on the wall. They’ve been supplanted by the neighborhood’s new guard—guys in publishing, dolls in ad sales. Clientele aside, the joint seems unchanged. Dino’s singing "Buona Sera" on the juke. Ceiling fans stir the air while the bartender—that’s Ivan, in his apron and tie—stirs an old-fashioned. Ironic appropriation? Affectionate homage? Whatever it is, Brooklyn Social works. Of course it wouldn’t mean jack if the drinks weren’t so good. Note the planter of fresh rosemary, which will go nicely with your vodka-and-limoncello, and the bottle of Michter’s rye, the proper base for a Manhattan. Except here they call it a Brooklyn.

Case Study #4: The Future Perfect & Williamsburg’s Design Scene

Just one L-train stop from the East Village, Williamsburg has long been siphoning hipsters out of Lower Manhattan, sucking them up through subway tubes into a relative vacuum of unexploited space. That was the original premise, anyway. By now Williamsburg is so coveted that struggling artists are fleeing for Red Hook, Bushwick, or (gasp) Queens. In their stead has come a new monied class, funky enough to dig the edgy vibe while throwing down $750K for a condo.

Still, the myth endures, and some of the reality. Williamsburg remains a creative bastion, and if fewer artists actually keep their studios here, there is an array of galleries and shops dedicated to exhibiting and selling their work. One store, the Future Perfect, has emerged as the de facto HQ for the borough’s thriving furniture and design scene. Nearly all of its stock comes from Brooklyn-based firms. The unifying thread, if one exists, is a sense of humor: take Jason Miller’s ceramic-antler chandeliers and his seemingly "dusty" coffee table, clever riffs on suburban motifs; Elodie Blanchard’s graceful vases composed of rubber bands; or Tobias Wong’s "I F*ck for G*cci" wallpaper.

Case Study #5: The Red Hook Waterfront

There’s a spot on the edge of New York Harbor that encapsulates everything that once defined the city and no longer does. From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century, Red Hook—a one-square-mile promontory jutting off Brooklyn’s western shore—was among the nation’s busiest ports. After the 1950’s, much of its maritime trade and population disappeared. Yet the peculiar light, ambience, and iconography remain. It’s still one of the most atmospheric corners of New York.

Clamber onto the mossy rocks where the city meets the surf and take it all in: the briny air, the squawking of gulls, the tugboats under an epic sky. To the left is the Verrazano Narrows bridge; to the right, the Statue of Liberty. Standing along Red Hook’s piers, you’re suddenly reminded that New York was built here for a reason. How easily one can forget this in the inland parts of the city.

Step back from the water and look around: Here are three antique trolleys rusting on a patch of grass. (Trolleys once ran everywhere in Brooklyn, whose residents were known as trolley dodgers—hence the baseball team.) Here are the Beard Street Warehouses, built in 1869 of sandstone and schist. The storerooms were once piled high with hemp and tobacco, cocoa and coffee—you can still find beans wedged between the floorboards. Today the tenants include a glassblowing studio, a parachute-design firm, and the costume shop for Blue Man Group.

Here are two ship’s masts protruding from the murky channel, marking the grave of Lightship 84, a 135-foot waterborne lighthouse launched in 1907. It was moored here a decade ago and eventually sank under the twin forces of rainwater and neglect. And here is the abandoned Revere Sugar Plant, a jumble of chutes and conveyor belts recalling a Rube Goldberg contraption. Soon it, too, will be gone, replaced by the world’s largest IKEA.

Such is the way of things now, as Red Hook is (re)discovered by pioneering home- and business-owners, plucky tourists, and, especially, developers. Across from the Beard Street Warehouses is the new Fairway supermarket, a 52,000-square-foot epicurean temple, drawing shoppers from as far away as...Manhattan. Ten blocks north is the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, opened last April as the new port of call for Princess, Carnival, and Cunard ships, including the Queen Mary 2. Amid the gritty longshoremen’s haunts that once defined Red Hook are now several acclaimed restaurants, a chic wine bar, live-music clubs, art galleries, and a guitar shop–cum–coffeehouse.

And so with Brooklyn’s newfound trendiness has come the inevitable: a shocking rise in housing costs, a development boom, and battles over how (and how much) the borough should evolve. There’s hardly an acre of Brooklyn that isn’t at stake in one turf war or another. Even here in Red Hook, preservationists are objecting to IKEA’s proposal to pave over a historic ship-repair dock and put up—cue Joni Mitchell—a parking lot.

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