Summer has officially arrived in Brooklyn, because the People’s Playground is back in business!
June 21 may be weeks away, but the season starts for the borough when Coney Island came back for Memorial Day weekend — bringing with it the eternal beach and attractions new and old.
Sports and frankfurter lovers got a treat on May 23, when Nathan’s Famous flagship location finally re-opened, seven months after Hurricane Sandy — while the new Nets store began selling Brooklyn team gear right across the street.
Brooklyn’s favorite hot dog closed for the first time in its 96-year history because of the severe damage it suffered during last year’s superstorm. But Nathan’s spokesman, beloved hot dog-eating contest host, and presumptive candidate for Brooklyn Borough President George Shea said it was worth it, because the restaurant is sharper-looking and more spacious than ever.
“They restored the Coney Island Nathan’s Famous experience, but they were also able to make it better,” said Shea, adding it was great to be back in the People’s Playground. “Summer is the best season by far of the year, and there is no place better to be than the Boardwalk and the beach, and Coney Island is the best beach destination in the world.”
At Stillwell Avenue and Bowery Street, inside the new corner building constructed by Thor Equities, the Nets opened their first outpost beyond the Barclays Center. Brett Yormark, the team’s chief executive officer, was on hand to sing the praises of Sodom by the Sea — and to express his desire to help the storm-shattered neighborhood.
“Coney Island is synonymous with summers in Brooklyn and we’re excited to be part of such an iconic neighborhood,” said Yormark. “We also know that the Coney Island community is working hard to recover from Hurricane Sandy. We want to provide another economic engine that can further spark commerce by encouraging people to visit this wonderful area.”
And the fun didn’t stop there. May 24 marked the re-opening of the beach, the New York Aquarium, and the long-awaited debut of the antique B&B Carousell.
The New York Aquarium celebrated its emergence from Sandy’s ocean surge — which left the 50-year-old facility treading water — with a special sea lion show at its restored Aquatheater.
A good part of the marine menagerie at W. Eighth Street and Surf Avenue remains shuttered from Sandy damage, but its leaders said they wanted to have some of Brooklyn’s fishbowl open to be part of Brooklyn’s 2013 summer experience.
“We have worked nonstop to ensure that the marine life in the aquarium was safe and secure. We want to share this progress with New Yorkers and be a part of the Coney Island comeback following Hurricane Sandy,” said Cristian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the aquatic exhibit.
Just blocks away on the Boardwalk, at the foot of the Parachute Jump, Coney Island faithful cheered the rebirth of a piece of People’s Playground history — the 94-year-old B & B Carousell. The hand carved horse ride revolved again after a eight year rehab process, which returned the wooden chariots and steeds — which had deteriorated during the decades the attraction sat on Surf Avenue — to their former glittering glory. Mayor Bloomberg even sojourned from Manhattan to welcome the mustang merry-go-round home.
“Today marks the revival of the Coney Island amusement district that suffered during Hurricane Sandy,” the mayor said. “New Yorkers and tourists alike now have even more reasons to visit Coney Island.”
Hizzoner also applauded the recovery of the beach from the onslaught of the storm.
“A few months ago, our region’s beaches were scenes of the tragic devastation left by Hurricane Sandy,” said Bloomberg. “We promised New Yorkers that, no matter what it would take, every one of our City’s beaches would be open on Memorial Day. And today, I’m very excited to make it official.”
Coney’s other premier attractions — Luna Park, the Cyclone, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel — opened on March 24.Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderma