Williamsburg, Brooklyn never had pretensions to compare itself with its famous namesake city in Virginia, but local residents are putting a quirky twist on the idea. Perhaps it’s the recession, maybe just a pendulum swing away from commercialism, whatever it is you can count on this neighborhood to be ahead of the curve when it comes to trends.
My sister moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn from Manhattan more than 15 years ago. She shared a cute 1BR apartment and paid a fraction of Manhattan rental rates. Ownership of a yoga studio, a marriage, and two kids later, she still lives in Williamsburg, but now in a loft overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge. The area has changed, from a bustling Eastern European immigrant crowd, to hipsters and artists… to hipsters and artists with kids.
I left New York before Williamsburg became one of the cool hotspots, and every time I return I marvel at the reinvention of the neighborhood.
A couple stops on the G train from Manhattan, Williamsburg was first an artist magnet in the 1970s. Drawn by the relatively low rents, large studio spaces and convenient transportation, many moved to the area. This continued through the 1980s and increased dramatically in the 1990s, as other cool artist havens such as SoHo and the East Village became gentrified. Now, times are tough and trustafarian artists are having to make ends meet in different ways.
Today, Williamsburg is fast becoming the New Williamsburg, as a recent New York Times Style Magazine article boasts. Yes, I’m referring to the 18th century, Colonial Williamsburg. Apparently, folks are harking back to old times and resurrecting forgotten trades such as pickling vegetables, butchering their own pigs, beekeeping, glassblowing and perfume making.
There are still the funky shops, cool bars and gourmet eateries. Bars with great names, such as the Alligator Lounge, Bodega, Cornichon or The Gutter (the first bowling alley to open in Brooklyn in 50 years) dot the cityscape.
One of our favorite spots is a Thai place named Sea, where you can get litchi martinis and let the kids enjoy the coveted giant swings. One hot summer day I took my son to a swanky old restaurant bar and bought him an egg cream. I had gone on and on about how special the beverage was to me and to Brooklyn lore; he hated it. A classic parental faux pas, but I still remember the cozy ambiance and distinctive hispter Brooklyn vibe in the renovated old joint.
Galleries, music venues and small designer stores still draw tourists and locals alike, as does the stellar view of Manhattan. The best comparison to Williamsburg, Virginia, however, is perhaps in the facial hair. If you squint and Photoshop out the saggy pants and iphones, the mutton chops, fanciful mustaches, goatees and sideburns of the locals scream blacksmith from the 1780s!