For years, the stretch of Myrtle Avenue from Washington Park to Grand Avenue was famous for all the wrong reasons. Sandwiched between housing projects, it was a street of modest storefronts and not many dining options that seemed worlds away from the housing boom going on a half mile south in the center of ClintonHill.
“It was Murder Avenue,” summarized Rob Perris, district manager of the local community board.
But as Fort Greene and Clinton Hill have become more fashionable (and decidedly more expensive), this once-desolate stretch now has a burgeoning scene of bars, restaurants and stores that is surprising some long time residents.
“What hasn’t changed?” asked Perris. “You wouldn’t even recognize the old Myrtle Avenue now.”
With this in mind, GO Brooklyn set out on the Avenue to find out just what this renaissance has wrought:
One new restaurant on the strip is Chez Lola, a “cousin” to Chez Oskar, a French cafe located on the more genteel DeKalb Avenue just two long blocks south. The gorgeous, high-ceilinged room provides an ideal sunlight drenched spot for Sunday brunch. And with a long list of cocktails, it also doubles as a lounge. As the lights dim for evening service, the room becomes more intimate.
It still sticks out on the stretch of Myrtle, but owner Charlotta Janseen knew what she was getting into. “When we opened Chez Oskar, DeKalb Avenue was just as iffy before,” she said.
Janseen said she wanted to get in early and establish a neighborhood identity, despite some early detractors.
“Some people are resentful of the new restaurants, but generally people are happy to have a place to go,” said Janseen, pointing out that she recycled much of the room, from the tin ceiling to a wine rack made from an old mattress. “You want to tap into what’s there and refine.”
A refined feeling also pervades Maggie Brown, another restaurant on the strip. Pictures of Hollywood starlets, framed vintage portraits and soft-core porn are all presided over by a large antlered beast on one wall — a motif sure to confuse all those who enter.
The menu doesn’t help clear things up, either. A bit of Southern comfort mixed with European finesse make this the rare place where an order of fried chicken doesn’t mean a week on the treadmill.
Brunch is similarly hearty and manageable, featuring dishes ranging from corned beef hash to a prosciutto and sheep’s milk omelet. The bar is also well stocked with whiskey, and the happy hour starts early — running from 4:30-7:30 pm — making it a perfect stop before the night really starts to get going.
Nightlife is still relatively new on the strip, and the walk between venues isn’t always enjoyable. Alyssia Apkinson, a regular at indie rock haunt Rope, doesn’t feel completely safe.
“It’s a little sketchy,” she told GO Brooklyn. But that doesn’t stop her from traveling from her home in Borough Park to visit. What she likes about Rope, she said, is that the relaxing atmosphere and the crowd, which has to go out of their way to visit.
“The vibe is low key. Everyone is friendly.”
During the week the bar can feel more like a friend’s living room, with people stopping by for a drink, chucking their bags haphazardly to the side and lounging on the couches littered around the room.
There is a decent selection of liquors, but it’s mostly a beer bar, and they have a some great ones on tap. During the weekend, the space can get “very crowded,” according to Apkinson, with students in search of a bar with a juke box, but it’s still approachable and fun. “It’s just a great place to meet people.”
Head a few doors down to Five Spot Soul Food and you’ll find a huge complex including a restaurant, take-out window and a bar with nightly acts ranging from comedy to jazz. The food here comes in gigantic portions and is relatively affordable, which makes the takeout window almost as busy as the bar.
It’s also open late, good news for those needing a snack like the hickory smoked spare ribs, North Carolina Chopped BBQ or Cajun catfish in the middle of the night.
The most surprising spot around may be the recently opened, decidedly fancy, Vesper Lounge. It’s clean, dimly lit and big on cocktails — visitors perch on stylish bar stools bathed in candlelight to sip them. While some locals complain that the lounge is too expensive — an imported beer costs $6 — Vesper does offer discounts on “Dice Tuesdays,” where a roll of 7, 11 or doubles will drop the price to $1.
Chez Lola (387 Myrtle Ave. at Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene) is open daily for dinner from 5:30 – 11 pm and on weekends from 11 am – 5:30 pm for brunch. For information, call (718) 858-1484.
Maggie Brown (455 Myrtle Ave. at Washington Avenue in Fort Greene) is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 am – 11 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 10 am-midnight. For information, call (718) 643-7001.
Rope (415 Myrtle Ave. at Clinton Avenue in Fort Greene) is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 pm – 4 am and on Sunday from 5:30 pm – 2 am. For information, call (718) 522-2899.
Five Spot Supper Club (459 Myrtle Ave. at Washington Avenue in Fort Greene) is open at noon daily. The take-out counter is open until midnight. The dining room is open until midnight during the week and until 1 am on Friday and Saturday. For information, call (718) 852-0202.
Vesper Lounge (493 Myrtle Ave. at Ryerson Street in Fort Greene) is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 am – 10:30 pm, Saturday from 11:30 am – 11 pm and Sunday from 4 pm – 10:30 pm. For information, call (718) 399-1984.