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Making A Home In Brooklyn: Notes On Living In Bushwick After One Year

living in bushwick

Wandering the streets on Bushwick. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

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.”

Fine.

living in bushwick

Bushwick is full of amazing street art. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

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.

living in bushwick

Street art is a way of life in Bushwick. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

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.

living in bushwick

Wild shows at Bizarre Bar in Bushwick. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

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!)

living in bushwick

Tutu’s Nutella-stuffed French toast. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

*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.

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14 Comments

  1. Michael on November 18, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    This is an interesting place. It sounds like a place with a lot of eccentric people. The great food and cheap drinks make it a must see place for anyone looking to do some traveling.

    • jess2716 on January 7, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      @Michael: And the art! 🙂

  2. Kimberly on January 16, 2016 at 3:45 am

    I am so glad I found this because I have similar fears. Looking at a place on Wilson Ave right near subway. Also on Madison. Any suggestions on area?

    • Jessie Festa on January 16, 2016 at 4:50 am

      Have you moved in yet? The neighborhood is growing rapidly, new shops and restaurants opening up every week. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised 🙂

      • Kimberly on January 16, 2016 at 5:18 am

        I’m worried because we are looking at areas we can afford, which are pretty far from the busier areas of bushwick. I didn’t move yet.

      • Jeffrey Alexander on February 25, 2017 at 8:35 pm

        Hello Jessie. You article seems to be informative and helpful. I am looking at a place on McDonough Street Close to Saratoga Avenue. Any helpful advice?????

        • Jessie Festa on February 27, 2017 at 11:26 am

          @Jeffrey: You can check out all my Bushwick tips here: jessieonajourney.com/tag/bushwick.

          Brooklyn tips are here: jessieonajourney.com/tag/brooklyn

          Best of luck!

  3. Tony M on June 12, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Funny story. Can’t imagine anyone being scared in Bushwick in the 21st century. Before then, it was unimaginable that it would become the hipster mecca of today. These new transplant residents of Brooklyn love to call themselves “Brooklynites” and act like they got a street edge now, since they left Alabama. I guess people feel like they are cool when they move to an area that has some graffiti, ride public transportation, and see a homeless person near their new apartment . Brooklyn lost it’s edge along time ago. It’s also lost it’s REAL community too. Today, People buy homes there but will quickly rent them out and leave, so they can move on to the “next hot area”… R.I.P Old Brooklyn.

    • Jessie Festa on June 12, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      @Tony: I’m actually from New York — my grandparent’s came from Italy through Ellis Island and settled in Queens — and I think a lot of people move to areas like this because it’s affordable. I moved here a few years ago because I found an apartment that was actually on a blogger budget. I’m still in that same apartment, and very happy with it.

  4. Renee on August 24, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Hi! I’m new to New York and am thinking of moving to bushwick. Loads of my friends in Manhattan tell me bushwick is SOOOOO far and that they’ll never see me, but it’s only a 20 mins train ride. Do you feel you are sooooo far from Manhattan (I’ll be working in Manhattan so don’t want to feel so far from it)

    • Jessie Festa on September 7, 2016 at 8:06 am

      @Renee: Not at all! I can be in the Lower East Side in 15 minutes. It’s only 4 subway stops!

  5. Jonathan Molina on September 3, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    I just moved in and after reading extensive articles and posts online about the crimes in Bushwick, I feel very unsafe walking the streets. I have to work in the city and possibly leave work late at times. How safe will I be, walking the streets past 9 pm? I have to dress up for work, and as much as I don’t want to look like a target, I don’t have much of a choice. I live close to the intersection of Bushwick Ave. and Chauncey St. I don’t see any of the “gentrification” people mention (which makes them feel safer), perhaps I’m not close to it.

    • Jessie Festa on September 7, 2016 at 7:30 am

      @Jonathan: I frequently walk home after dark in Bushwick and don’t have any problems. I would suggest not texting/listening to your iPod while walking, and to feel safe I always carry a safety whistle or ROBOCOPP Personal Alarm while walking, but those are just precautions. I’ve never had any issues.

      If you’re interested in the ROBOCOPP (robocopp.com) they offer my readers $6 off with code “JOURNEY10”.

      Is Bushwick after dark like Park Slope or the West Village? No. But I’d say most of the crime that does happen here is gang related/targeted, and like I said I’ve never had an issue. Just be aware of your surroundings.

  6. Stephanie on March 12, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    I just visited bushwick last weekend (of course it was the coldest weekend lol). I had to comment because I literally fell in love. I was in awe. I was not expecting it to capture my spirit quite that much. Growing up in L.A people told me I’d hate it, boy were they wrong. Also, Skytown is amazing. Such a delicious brunch. Already looking into moving there soon! Glad you liked it after all 🙂

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