Light streams through my curtain-less windows, gowning my IKEA bed in a natural glow. While this morning it’s the sun that wakes me, others it’s a blaring car horn, an angry construction worker or maybe an early game of dominoes paired with an open car acting as a stereo.
Bushwick. I’ve never had such a love-hate relationship with anyone or anything. Amidst odors of rotting fish mixed with dog crap is the burst of fresh-baked arepas, the sweet scent of free-range burgers and the savory smell of tortillas. Blending with cat calls and obscenities are sidewalk salesman telling me to “Get my Mac on” and upbeat Latin music. And while I can’t walk down the street without garbage literally blowing up into my face, the colorful outdoor street art gallery, Gothic spires rising from historic churches and beautiful buildings telling the story of a delicious brewery past help me look past the grime.
My First Night Living In Bushwick
I still remember my very first night in Bushwick. My friend, Luke of Travel Write Sing, who had been living in Bushwick for a year at that point, told me to meet him for a drink after dark.
“Sure, there’s a bar called Skytown near me. Wanna meet there?” I asked.
“Then I’d have to walk a mile and you’d have to walk a minute. That’s not really fair.”
“How diplomatic of you,” I’d replied, sarcastically. “I’m a girl and I’m not used to Brooklyn at night yet. Please.”
But Luke had made up his mind. “Well now you can get used to it. We’ll meet at Gotham Bar. It’s .5 miles from each of us.”
Despite it being summer I’d worn an extra layer of clothing to not attract attention with my female shape. In one hand I carried my keys between my fingers like razored knuckles, while in my other I had my cell phone pre-dialed to 911. As I walked, I could swear everyone I passed was holding a gun waiting for the first naive girl to use it on. A group of women past and I braced myself for an onslaught. An old man with a big belly said hello to me and I convinced myself it was a secret code to his partners hiding in the bushes to kidnap me. Despite having traveled to 30+ countries on my own, I was terrified walking around the very state I was born and raised.
But this wasn’t Long Island or Manhattan. This was Brooklyn. And not cute Brooklyn like Williamsburg or Park Slope. Bushwick.
A Night To Remember
When I finally made it to the bar alive I have myself a once over to make sure there weren’t any stab wounds I hadn’t noticed. I was fine. More than fine. I’d make it to the bar alive. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have gone on a walk that ended with me almost kissing the ground, but I was also being influenced by voices in my head, mainly people who remembered Bushwick in the 70s when you would have been lucky to make it out alive walking around during the day. Luckily, things have changed — drastically.
The night ended up making me feel hopeful for a few reasons. One, everyone was so friendly, and both guys and girls were happy to give out their number to the new girl in town. Two, it seemed like everyone was an artist, jewelry maker or writer — like me. No longer was I the oddball without a “real job.” Here, I felt understand. Third, the drinks were cheap. While that’s relative to where you live, $3 for a wine is a pretty good deal anywhere in the US.
A Fresh Perspective
I remember this time, when I first moved to Bushwick, being so in awe of everything. My morning runs were akin to scrambling through a fascinating museum on something you didn’t really understand yet. While I’d been to Brooklyn many times, I’d never lived there. I felt like I owned the borough — although that was, of course, far from the truth — and was now getting acquainted with my new gift and all its unfamiliar features. The sandwich board signs all told cartoon character-enhanced jokes I didn’t quite get, like tacos sword fighting each other, or telling me to come in and try the world’s worst meatball sandwich or proclaiming the ocean is filled with sharks (huh?). The local girls dancing on stoops, the teddy bears strung by their necks from trees for decoration, small sidewalk garden plots littered with nonsensical children’s toys with no theme to comprehend, water spurting incessantly from opened fire hydrants cooling down pool-less locals in the summer. It was like visiting a foreign country.
But not anymore.
Living In Bushwick After A Year And A Half
I’ve now lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn for a year and a half, and can say I feel so perfectly at home here it’s weird to think about how I saw things when I first arrived. Today when I pass Gotham Bar, I laugh, thinking about how terrified Id been that first night. That being said, it’s not my go-to venue. That would be 983 – Bushwick’s Living Room or Dillinger’s, where I order the Lapsi sandwich. For a great wine at a value-friendly price I head to Big Tree Bottles, where they know me by name. At Bizarre Bar I’m a regular at their freak and burlesque shows. If you pop into The Sampler you’ll see my photography dangling from the walls. No longer do I need wander aimlessly — although when I do I always make a new discovery, as there’s so much happening in the neighborhood in terms of restaurants, bars and the arts. Today I walk with a purpose, knowing where I am and where I’m heading.
I sometimes have friends visit from out of town — or even Manhattan — who come and feel the same trepidation I felt 18 months ago. I can see it in their darting eyes, in the way they shakily tell me to pleaseeee meet them at the subway station…even in the daytime! It’s hard not to roll my eyes and tell them they’re being dramatic (until I think back to how I acted my first night in the neighborhood).
Yes, it’s gritty and loud and people shout at you and you may have just seen a car getting stolen. But there’s a lot that this neighborhood has to offer. And I love showing them it. Showing them the place I now I call home. Showing them the place I love to call home.
Jessie’s Bushwick Picks
*Bushwick Living Room: Order the chilaquiles during brunch
*The Narrows: Awesome speakeasy type venue with outdoor and indoor seating
*Dillinger’s: Eat their lapi sandwich out on the patio
*Bizarre Bar: Attend their free-to-enjoy freak, burlesque and live music shows and pair your experience with their Absinthe cocktail #5 with tequila and rosemary
*Skytown: My go-to place for doing work (free wifi!) in a social ambiance and enjoying some soothing indie music
*Mile’s: Adorable wine bar
*Bushwick Starr: Take in an avant-garde performance in this experimental arts neighborhood
*The Living Gallery: All kinds of fun events, from free yoga and meditation classes on Tuesdays to drink-and-draw on Wednesdays
*Bushwick Collective Open Air Gallery: Stroll down Troutman (start at Troutman & Irving) to be immersed in colorful creative street art works
*Fine + Raw: Delicious raw chocolate factory (with free samples!)
*Tutu’s: $10 burger + a beer from 4-8pm daily; They also have an amazing make-your-own-burger using a custom ground beef recipe as well as Nutella-stuffed French toast during brunch
*Boobie Trap: During happy hour they have $3 beers; Eccentric atmosphere with roller skates dangling from the ceiling and rubber nipples adorning the bathroom; Fun for 2+ people as they have an array of board games to play
*Roberta’s Pizza: Bushwick’s claim to fame — even Jay-Z and Beyonce have eaten here; Get the “Paparizza” with smoked paprika sausage, romesco, mozzarella and onion
*The Sampler: Over 100 craft and local beers to choose from — not to mention my photography is on the walls; Bring cards and games and hangout
*Maria Hernandez Park: Great for running and playing sports; Lots of events here so check their calendar
*El Guacuco Areperia: Try their “Pernil Arepa” featuring pulled pork shoulder with spices and cheddar
Do you live in Bushwick? Have you visited? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.