Saturday, October 11, 2014

New York Day 2–In Which We Go Hipster-Spotting in Brooklyn, Everyone Speaks Russian in Brighton Beach, and We Have THE BEST DINNER EVER.

Sometime last year Kent showed me a picture of a hipster-trap that some pranksters had been placing around Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The trap was filled with things like sunglasses with huge pink frames, coloured bike chains, American Spirit tobacco, a can of Pabst etc. I thought this was hilarious at the time so when I was planning this trip, I figured a visit to Williamsburg was a must. Rumour has it this place was where the whole Hipster movement started; now it is well known for being a mecca for those looking for an off the beaten path to shop, eat, and hang out. Turns out that while it was all of those things, it was also laid back, funky and so cool it was almost painful.
We took the subway over and popped up at Bedford Avenue. Right off the bat I knew I was in the right place when I saw this guy:


Funny little hat: check
Plaid shirt: check
Skinny jeans: check
Horn rimmed glasses: check
Blundstones: check
Extremely cool café racer motorcycle: check
Leather satchel: check

In case there was any question (which there wasn’t) I then spotted this menu outside another café that was almost too cool to stand beside:


While I can’t prove it, I am pretty sure this conversation was going on inside:

Server: Can I help you?

Hipster: Yes I have some questions about the menu before we sit down.

Server: Yes?

Hipster: Is the Kale hand-picked by guys with man-buns?

Server: of course

Hipster: and has it been massaged?

Server: For twelve minutes.

Hipster: and how about the eggs, have they been refrigerated?

Server: absolutely not.

Hipster: one last question: does the chef have a man-bun and large bushy beard?

Server: He also sometimes wears shapeless high-wasted track pants.

Hipster: Perfect. We will take a table for two.

A little further down the street and I saw this:


It was now official: we were in Williamsburg.


I found this little gem on a bathroom wall. at a Swedish coffee shop. Just another self-deprecating Canadian on the loose in Williamsburg.


And  outside the coffee shop were these beauties. Apparently you can leave your bike and forget about it for a few years and nothing will happen to it:


We finished up our morning with lunch at Marlow and Son’s Diner, a fabulous little spot where the food is delicious but they are too cool to provide menus and  so the server just writes a key word from each menu item on the table as he is describing it and conveniently leaves off the prices. While it is very cool, I am not sure if it makes things easier or harder for them. I mean sure they don’t have to manage the tiresome task of dropping off and picking up of menus at tables any more, but instead have to contend with confused customers who lost track and mixed up all the items in their heads, ordering  what they thought was going to be a kale and watercress salad with banana and toasted lettuce when really it was a kale and toasted trout soup with a side of banana and quince fries. Not that this happened to me, I’m just saying it’s entirely possible.
But really, it was delicious, and the service was fabulous, as it has been everywhere we have eaten on this trip so far.


After lunch we hopped back on the subway and took the B train all the way to Coney Island on the southern tip of Brooklyn. My main motivation was to walk the boardwalk to Brighton Beach but I had heard there were some pretty good rollercoasters there that Jacob and Zoe would probably like. I also had a conflicting image of in my head of the classic semi-abandoned spooky old American theme park, located on some desolate windswept pier and patrolled by career-carnies, toothless and tattooed up the yin yang. I will say here that I honestly thought this would not be the case and I can also say I was wrong! That is almost exactly what it was like. The place was overgrown, weirdly devoid of any humanity, and completely silent. We stared at it for a few moments until I got a bit freaked out and thought I could see someone in a clown mask behind one of the tents. Fortunately at that moment a huge luxury coach turned up and a massive wedding party climbed out to have their pictures taken in front of Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs. I couldn’t believe my luck! This was better than any roller coaster and again, all of these people were straight out of central casting.


There’s Carla, and Joni, and Gloria, and Fran, and little Gabby.


There’s Tony and Tina, the bride and groom.


And here’s Lenny and Vinnie and Pauly and Abe and little Marco.

I was sad to walk away but luckily we saw them again later on the boardwalk.

We wondered down to the pier to watch some old men not catching fish, and then back up to the boardwalk so that we could head down to Brighton Beach. The whole place had an end-of-the-season feel to it although it was still appealing in the way that iconic places you have heard about all your life but have never seen before can be.

The beaches are gorgeous and it was nice to have a bit of space around us.


Old, ornate but crumbling beach houses stand along the boardwalk right beside the scary clown faces that seem to go hand in hand with these sort of places. Why do they do this? This guy  looks like  he might be the Cheshire Clown and later, after the rest of his face disappears, the moth is going to find you in your sleep and eat you.


We walked for what felt like about three hours but was only about 45 minutes until we started noticing that more and more people were speaking Russian, and then finally, that everyone was speaking Russian, even the dogs and babies, and that we were the only ones speaking English. Brighton Beach is home to a sizeable population of Russian Jews and indeed the first language here is Russian. We walked past men playing handball (I know, what? Google it – we haven’t heard of it on the west coast), kids at a playground yabbering away in Russian, and packs of Russian grandmothers, stern and tiny and ready to kick your ass if you step out line.


We turned off the boardwalk and headed into town to find the subway station. More Russian, and in fact mostly ONLY Russian in this part of Brooklyn. It made for an interesting walk.


Some people obviously feel differently about the place…


By now our feet were sore and it was time for dinner. I had made reservations at Employees Only, a restaurant in the West Village, on the advice of a friend who has lived in New York and knows the best restaurants. I would like to say here that I now owe you, Carmen Correia, a debt of gratitude for sending me to this place. It was hands-down one of THE BEST dinners I have ever had. We all felt the same way and at the end of the night there was not a crumb or drop left on the table anywhere. From the bone marrow poppers that melted in your mouth, to the mussel bisque, to the bacon-wrapped lamb chops, to the perfectly prepared fluke crudo, to Jacob’s roast chicken, to Zoe’s specially made mashed potato with crispy cheese side, to the amazing dessert that was some kind of layered fantasy of apple, clove-scented yogourt, cream, and something else, we were all awestruck at the perfect presentation, and the chef’s ability to combine so many flavours so perfectly in each mouthful. We left feeling perfectly satisfied.

Not wanting the day to be over, we took a walk to the river where we happened upon the unexpected sight of a full sized replica of a 16th century Spanish Galleon, built in Spain and on a tour of the east coast. Not only was the sight of the ship a surprise, but more so was the fact that it was hosting a rave of sorts, put on as part of New York Comic Con (which is on this week) to celebrate the latest release of some video game I have never heard of called Pirate Plunder. The sight of bunch of gamers all lined up to get on this boat was also kind of awesome.


By this time we were starting to flag a little. Or, at least, Kent and Zoe and I were. Jacob announced that he was heading off to meet Malia and would be ‘back later’. We saw him off at the subway station and headed back to our place.

Looking forward to going in to battle again tomorrow. Thanks for reading!



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