It’s baaack! .
After a rocky two years, one of Brooklyn’s largest annual gatherings, the Atlantic Antic, is back on schedule, and organizers expect Sunday’s festival to be the biggest yet.
The Atlantic Antic, along with all other street fairs, was canceled by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation (LDC) held a substitute event in May 2002, but did not realize that the city’s policy on street closure would allow them only one permit per year, quashing plans for the full Antic’s return last September.
The May 2002 festival was shortened by three blocks and barely broke even. Normally, the September festivities run from Hicks Street to Fourth Avenue, grossing between $35,000 and $50,000, according to Candace Damon, the LDC president.
"For the last three or four years we’ve been working very hard to maintain the fun of the Antic, but also bring it back to its roots," Damon said of this year’s event, which will run from 10 am to 6 pm, on Sept. 21.
The festival, regarded as Brooklyn’s second most heavily visited, annual outdoor event (besides the West Indian American Day Carnival and Parade) gives merchants, residents and street vendors the opportunity to open their neighborhoods to a wider audience. More than 300 multiethnic food vendors will mingle with just about as many musicians and musical genres. Meanwhile, puppets and pony rides, comedy and criminals - well, the Performance Criminals, a classic rock and blues band with ties to Park Slope - will compete for the attention of more than 300,000 expected Antic attendees. In all, 30 acts on four stages will be featured this year.
In addition to the main stage on Boerum Place, outdoor stages in front of the Magnetic Field bar, between Hicks and Henry streets; the Downtown Atlantic Restaurant, between Bond and Hoyt streets; and Pete’s Waterfront Alehouse, between Court and Clinton streets will play host to jazz, blues and rock bands.
But don’t worry. The usual suspects are scheduled to appear, as well, like the Gowanus Wildcats Drill Team and Eddie the Sheik and his belly dancers.
Still, the Antic has always been open to new acts, and this year’s eye-popper will likely be the World Cheesecake Eating Competition, a new event sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eaters (the ones who do the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition). With nearly 250 cheesecakes baked by the Downtown Atlantic Restaurant & Bakery, gluttons for punishment and pastry will race to devour as many slices of the creamy stuff as they can stomach in 12 minutes. Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, the American hot dog-eating record holder, and Eric "Badlands" Booker, a competitive eater and train conductor, are among those vying for the title on Sunday.
Eat your heart out, Coney Island.
"These are real champions who will be competing," said LDC spokeswoman Liana Hawes. "This is a real sport."
The festival sprung to life in 1974 as a booster shot to the area’s ailing economy, which, like the rest of the city, was suffering from a crisis unmatched since the Depression. But fearing that blocked traffic on the avenue would hurt, not help, some businesses along the avenue were slow to get on board. Longtime merchant leaders such as Charles Sahadi, who owns the Atlantic Avenue specialty food store Sahadi Importing, and restaurateur Joel Wolfe, kept the idea afloat.
"A lot of them were very protective," said Wolfe, who during the early ’80s owned Lisanne, a French restaurant at 448 Atlantic Ave. "If I asked them to participate, they wanted to see what their neighbor across the street was doing. They didn’t see that there was anything to gain from it."
In its beginning, the festival was neighborhood-oriented, drawing hundreds, but not the half-million that the event can draw now. Foot and bicycle races often opened the activities each year, followed by parades and dozens of other crowd pleasers.
Wolfe recalls that in the mid-1970s, area merchants and politicians began sponsoring enormous helium-filled balloons, which local artists would then decorate and waft above the throngs on Atlantic Avenue. But the idea deflated when it became clear that too many of the balloons were bursting prematurely.
But neither bursting balloons nor dreary September weather got in the way of the Antic, which ran uninterrupted until 2001.
Now, with scheduling and permit problems behind them, the LDC, said Hawes, is again looking to the future of Atlantic Avenue. On Sunday, summaries of the master plan for the future of the bustling, six-lane boulevard, which has long been the focus of redevelopment efforts, will be handed out to the public. Damon and Frank Cannon, the project manager, will unveil the plan at 12:30 pm, at Boerum Place, in front of the Brooklyn House of Detention. Borough President Marty Markowitz and other elected officials will also be on hand.
"People are sick of mourning," said Hawes. "It’s OK to get outside and have some fun. This event is something the community needs."
The Atlantic Antic takes place Sunday, Sept. 21, on Atlantic Avenue between Hicks Street and Fourth Avenue, from 10 am to 6 pm. For more information, visit www.atlanticave.org on the Web or call (718) 875-8993. This event is free.