There seems to be no shortage of articles outlining the occupation of various neighborhoods by the evil hipster bogeymen. I’ve even seen heat maps detailing exactly where the hipsters have “taken over” in the last six years as if we were tracking a tropical storm or rather the military advance of some unstoppable, amorphous, artisanal blob.
I’m here to tell you that reports of the Bay Ridge “hipster invasion” have been greatly exaggerated. Love it or hate it, the R train is our beachhead – it’s basically hipster Kryptonite. And anyone in search of proof that the Bay Ridge “hipster invasion” is a mirage need look no further than some of our small businesses.
You know that little rough-hewn wine bar, the one with the exposed brick that hosts poetry nights and supports the local art scene – the Owl’s Head? Yeah, well it’s owned by a fellow Xaverian High School alumnus who grew up in Gravesend. #HipsterFail
What about that Huntington Beach surf taco shop – Ho Brah? Surely that place must have been conceived by some transplant from the Midwest, right? Wrong. It’s owned by a bunch of brothers and old friends, Bay Ridge natives, several of them members of New York’s Bravest.
Wander across the street to A.L.C. Italian Grocery and you’ll find a charming little market modeled after an old school Brooklyn salumeria. With shelves stocked with Salvatore Bklyn ricotta, Bien Cuit breads, Brooklyn Cured sausages, pastries from Balthazar and pizza dough from DiFara, this gem has hipster written all over it – only problem is A.L.C. is owned by a native who grew up in his family’s Italian specialty food store in the heart of Bensonhurst.
Okay, then, what about that Lock Yard place with the craft beer garden and the bourgeois artisanal sausages? Nope. Try again! Lock Yard is also owned by Bay Ridge natives.
What about these funky Cocoa Grinder coffee cafes that are popping up everywhere? I assume they must be the insidious work of some hipster think tank based out of Ann Arbor. Wrong again. The owner of Cocoa Grinder grew up on 94th Street.
There had been rumblings among the pizza cognoscenti for quite a while about Artichoke Basille’s coming to Bay Ridge and now the day has come. When it comes to great pizza, our neighborhood already has an embarrassment of riches so Artichoke fits in nicely. The best part is, while they may be the darlings of the pizza snob underground, Artichoke was started in earnest by two cousins and best friends from – wait for it – Staten Island who always dreamed of opening their own place after growing up in their family’s restaurant. Hardly the hipster harbinger some would have you believe.
And what’s the deal with that little fine art school on Third Avenue that teaches kids about Banksy and Andy Warhol? Oh wait, my wife and I own that place.
I think you get the idea.
Here’s the deal: I’m into art, I read too much Kierkegaard growing up, I listen to NPR and I’m a fan of Cloud Nothings but guess what? I grew up on 99th Street. Most of us were born and raised here but many of us spent as much time hanging out in the East Village as we did on Third Avenue during our formative years. Now we’re all grown up with families of our own but we never left the neighborhood. Many of us own businesses here and care very much about our little hometown.
It’s no wonder Everlast from House of Pain stopped by the Brooklyn Firefly the other night to do a few acoustic songs after their sold-out show at Barclays. The Brooklyn Firefly is the new local brew and pizza joint at the old Lento’s/Yellow Hook building that features live music and a place for local artists to display their work. It’s another fine establishment conceived by a Bay Ridginal named Michael Kaves who, like so many of us, grew up in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge.
These places I’ve mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg and off the top of my head, there are so many more. Bay Ridge has its own botanical garden, parks conservancy and historical society in addition to talented local artists by the dozen like Alicia Degener and Tamara Zahaykevich, Gallery 364, the Storefront Art Walk, community theater groups Ridge Chorale, Narrows Community Theater and the inimitable brooklynONE. We’ve got authors, activists, actors, journalists, musicians, comedians, filmmakers, clothing designers and jewelry makers – all natives who still call 11209 home.
Don’t get me wrong. Whether you’re new or native, Bay Ridge welcomes everyone with open arms. It’s in our DNA. Back in 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazano came upon the Native Americans of what is now Bay Ridge, he found them all to be incredibly generous and helpful. It seems in almost 500 years not much has changed around here.
When my parents moved here from Park Slope in the ‘70s, they were paying $165 a month in rent. As a young couple still just starting out, they lived on rice and beans to afford the $365 a month for the same size apartment in Bay Ridge. But they came here to raise a family. They found Bay Ridge to be safe and idyllic if not downright bucolic, a much more comfortable and family-friendly neighborhood. Just like today, more and more people are finding out about our little hamlet and they’re falling in love and who could blame them? Bay Ridge has it all: great schools, beautiful parks, miles of waterfront, safe streets, a strong sense of community, Zagat rated and Michelin starred restaurants and vibrant commercial strips lined with unique small businesses. But we don’t need to import our culture because we’ve got plenty of it right here. Frankly, to suggest otherwise is insulting.
As my keen friend Henry Stewart once wrote, “If [Bay Ridge] isn’t known for a long and proud history of artistic achievement, extending right up to the present, it’s not because the legacy doesn’t exist. It’s because we’ve forgotten it.”
To all of this I say proudly: Never mind the hipsters, here come the natives!
Justin Brannan is a community activist, born and raised in Bay Ridge. He and his wife Leigh own a small business on Third Avenue.