East of Bushwick Avenue, just off of the Morgan Avenue stop on the L train, stands a neighborhood of old, industrial buildings that brings to mind the facades of DUMBO.
This isn’t a rehabbed, formerly industrial area, though. Well, at least not yet.
Delivery trucks still rumble down the streets, challenging everyone to look both ways before crossing, and a quick tour of the area will find just as many empty lots as busy stores. Lately, however, this neighborhood has had more than just weeds sprouting on its sidewalks: bars, clubs and restaurants are popping up at a mighty speed. Now if only people knew where they were.
“I guess it’s technically East Williamsburg,” said Len Moroz, owner of Potion Cafe, a coffee shop on McKibbin Street. “Some people get really wrapped up in the whole discussion but I’ve even heard it been called Bush-burg.”
The neighborhood — a new haven for artist types forced further out on the L train by skyrocketing rents — is commonly referred to as Bushwick, though the generally accepted boundary for that area is Flushing Avenue, which runs to the South of East Williamsburg.
“Bushwick proper is just across the street, but all of our customers like to say this is Bushwick,” said Kathy Kirkpatrick, a six-year resident of the neighborhood who owns Life Cafe Nine 83. “For the young artists, it’s the latest frontier. There’s a vibrant arts scene here. It’s like the East Village of the ’80s.”
No matter what you call the neighborhood, if you find yourself at Flushing Avenue and Bogart Street, you’ll be in the thick of it. So we hit the streets to find the best spots to hang out, even if you’re not quite sure where you are.
If we were to annoint a hub of the new Bushwick establishment, then the Archive Cafe on Bogart Street would be it. Located in a large, open room in one of the ’hood’s numerous warehouses, and sandwiched between a small health food store and an art gallery, the Archive stocks magazines, coffee, sandwiches and DVDs for rent. Think of it as a 7-11 for the starving artist set. You can certainly hang out here — there’s WiFi and plenty of people lounging — but what’s the point of living in that loft if you can’t enjoy it? Rent a romantic comedy or some classic Goddard, grab a vegetarian panini, and bring it all back home.
Just around the corner from the Archive sits another inviting coffee shop that caters to the same java-crazed locals. In the land of massive spaces, Potion might strike you as a bit small, but then you probably haven’t looked up. At a soaring two stories, the space might be taller than it is wide. The steep walls are put to good use, though, as a different artist’s work covers them each month, and opening receptions on the first Friday of the show always draw a mighty crowd. The mornings aren’t lacking in excitement either: chess players set up shop early to spend the day behind the board, and Manhattan-bound worker bees line up for large cups of coffee made, of course, with organic fair trade beans, that cost less than their ride on the subway.
Walk down Bushwick Avenue to Flushing Avenue, and you’ll find Life Cafe Nine 83, the neighborhood’s Mecca for casual dinning. A spunky offshoot of the famed East Village cafe of the same name, this outpost acts as a coffee shop, bar and one of the only restaurants in the area. The menu is a mix of American and Mexican fare — the burger is popular and the weekly specials are always a hot commodity — and is usually busiest for brunch on Sundays. Resting closer to the actual Bushwick divide, we asked waiter Chris Kellogg if he wanted to weigh in on the neighborhood-naming craze. “It depends on whom you ask,” he said. “But I’m staying out of it.”
Just across the street sits the Brooklyn Wreck Room, quite literally a room with wrecked cars decorating the inside. Don’t get any Hard Rock Cafe fantasies here, though — the fenders on the wall are only the beginning at this dive. With booths made from salvaged seats, two rooms for local bands to perform in and a pair of pool tables, this place has “skuzzy Williamsburg chic” down pat. Classing up the joint just a bit, though, are the cocktail waitresses who spend weekend nights soaring across the packed room to deliver the $3 beers (whiskey shots are the same price, get one of each for $5) to thirsty revelers.
Head four blocks up in search of King’s County and you might end up a bit confused. Though there’s no sign on the door, just look for the rusted metal crown on the wall — if you’re lucky, an in-the-know-looking twentysomething will be skulking out front — and you’ll know you’ve arrived. A small bar that’s generally dim save for scattered candles, King’s County is a respite from the wild nights that the Wreck Rooms of the area have to offer. Patrons take turns DJing from their iPods while smokers huddle in the former alley out back, now a surprisingly tranquil place to catch a slice of sky. Drinks are just as cheap as they are elsewhere — the $5 shot-and-beer combo is a proud neighborhood tradition — but the relaxed vibe makes it the most welcoming watering hole in the area.
The Archive Cafe (49 Bogart St., at Grattan St. in East Williamsburg) is open Monday through Friday from 7 am–11 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am–11pm. For information, call (718) 381-1944.
Brooklyn Wreck Room (940 Flushing Ave., between Evergreen and Central avenues in Bushwick) is open Monday through Saturday from 6 pm–4 am and Sunday from 6 pm–midnight. For information, call (718) 418-6347.
King’s County (286 Siegel St., between White and Bogart streets in East Williamsburg) is open daily from 4 pm–4 am. For information, call (718) 418-8823.
Life Cafe Nine 83 (983 Flushing Ave., between Bogart Street and Evergreen Avenue in East Williamsburg) is open Monday through Friday from 11am–4 am and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am–4 am. For information, call (718) 386-1133.
Potion (248 McKibbin St., between Bushwick Avenue and White Street in East Williamsburg) is open Monday from 8 am–2 pm, Tuesday through Friday from 8 am–10 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am–10pm. For information, call (718) 628-5470.