I am interested in travel writing as a hobby. Here’s an excerpt of a piece I wrote about my trip to Brooklyn.
Bars, Brunch, Books and Brooklyn:
24 hours in a borough beside the Big Apple.
Williamsburg Brooklyn, across the Williamsburg bridge from Manhattan, is a neighbourhood in the old-fashioned sense, where you can stop for a chat on the way to buy your organic bread and milk. Where the local bar is an extension of your lounge room, and its inhabitants, friends you see on the street every day. Where the food is rich and luscious and worth waiting for. Where there is a cosmopolitan vibe without the franticness of Manhattan. It is often the ‘Plan B’ of trips to New York, but it is our ‘Plan A’ to spend 24 hours exploring the streets of this artistic and diverse borough.
Williamsburg is an exciting conglomeration of culture, food and arts. It has traditionally been a vastly mixed neighbourhood, with many immigrants settling there, including Italian, Irish, Jewish, Eastern European and Hispanic settlers. During the past twenty years, Williamsburg has been a base for artists and musicians. They discovered the funky, low-rent, abandoned warehouses and factories in the late 1980s, and moved across from the increasingly expensive streets of Manhattan. In recent times, high-rise and rezoning have seen the population boom and many young people and young families are moving into the area.
There are two main night-life strips in Williamsburg – Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue. It’s a Friday night, so we head out to the older-school Grand Street to check out some bars and sample the local brews.
Iona is an Irish bar without the plastic paddy adornments. A former candy shop, the bar has kept the dark wood and high ceilings of the original store. It gives a nod to its Celtic-ness with a few token Guinness ads, and the odd Robbie Burns night or St Patrick’s Day do. But it also features up-and-coming songwriters and DJs most nights and local artists on its walls.
This Friday night it is full of young moustachioed local hipsters, as well as the older Brooklyn arty-types who treat it as an extension of their lounge room. Beer is the drink-of-choice and they have several standard American and Irish coldies on tap. The highlight of Iona, however, is the cosy beer garden out the back with fairy lights dripping from overhead beams. It is divided into little corners by large wooden tables, blanketed with candles and pints of beer. The ping pong table is in full swing as locals greet each other and bicker like family or old housemates. They welcome us into the lively competition and we immediately feel like part of the family. Iona is untidy and homey and is the perfect place to catch up with friends and kick-start a mid-summer Friday night on Grand Street.
The next morning we emerge late, although 10am still seems to be too early for most Brooklyn-ites, and the street is empty as we make our way up Bedford to Nth 5th St and the brekky-mecca, Egg.
There is already a line out on the pavement when we get to there. We add our names to the list and settle in for a 40 minute wait, hoping that it is worth all the hype. A continual stream of Manhattan-ites, dressed to the nines, with blow-dries even Sarah Jessica Parker would be envious of, emerge from the L train and join us on the pavement. The more relaxed-looking locals see the queue, and do an about turn to more accessible brunch spots.
Finally, we cram ourselves into the narrow, overcrowded room and order some classic southern American brunch, courtesy of North Carolina chef and owner George Weld. I have the Eggs Rothko, an egg baked into brioche, topped with aromatic Grafton cheddar. The richness of the egg is relieved by the the clean flavours of the crunchy seasonal greens and tangy-sweet grilled tomatoes. My companions order the suitably southern Grits and Eggs and the Grafton Cheddar Omelette (all for under $10 each). We enjoy the french-press coffee, it is strong and smooth, almost as good as an espresso, and you get to top up your cup several times. The food is rich, yet simple, old-timey Southern cookery - organic and locally sourced. It is tasty, cheap and filling and takes less time to get to us than the waiter or the queue out the front.
We leave full and happy, if slightly slower than when we arrived. We will come back to Egg, although we hear it is better to come on a weekday when the Manhattan-ites are still on the island. It is not the place to come if you are in a hurry, or prefer prompt professional service. It will, however, reward your patience with luscious southern cooking that you will still be thinking of a week later, when it is again time for brunch.
An enormous black cat lounges lethargically across the bookstore counter, ignoring all attempts to stroke him or to access the stock beneath him. Spoonbill and Sugartown Books is an oasis of calm in the Saturday lunchtime hubbub of Bedford Ave.
Tables piled high with books greet you at the door, and guide you around the room to the lounge out the back. It is the ultimate New York bookstore, proud of its local authors, pushing the unwary shopper towards them at every opportunity. The floor is bare, the décor minimal, leaving the books… the books… to speak for themselves. The staff are casual Brooklyn-ites, comfortable in their fashionable vintage clothing and relaxed attitude. They come to life when a purchase is made, and then they return to their lackadaisical restocking of shelves, or to reading their own latest book purchase.
Spoonbill and Sugartown specialises in used, rare and new books on Contemporary Art, Architecture, and Design but also have an extensive collection of literature, magazines, cinema and popular culture publications. After ten years in the business, they have extended to include a pretty good children’s book section for the plethora of young families that are now springing up in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I grab a secondhand copy of How Fiction Works by James Wood, along with a couple of arty postcards, and feeling suitably literati, I face-off with the black cat to make my purchase. He stretches out across the book I have left on the counter and co-coerces me into to scratching his silky fur. I want to stretch out as well, and read books all day, but unfortunately our 24 hours are up.
We have spent all of our short time in Williamsburg within a ten-block walking distance of our apartment. There is so much more to see, eat, drink, and read but we have to go. I loved the laid-back, arty, quietness of Brooklyn, so close to one of the busiest, noisiest cities in the world. I look forward to returning soon – to stretch out a bit more.
Iona, 180 Grand Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (between Bedford & Driggs)
Egg, 135A N. 5th St., Brooklyn, NY 11211 (between Bedford and Berry Street)
Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, 218 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The Williamsburg Brooklyn Culture Guide (blog now shut down)