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Notes On Moving To Bushwick, Brooklyn

subway

Bushwick’s M Train. Photo courtesy of MTAPhotos.

“YOU ARE NOT MOVING TO BUSHWICK!”

This is my father’s response when I tell him I’ve found an affordable up-and-coming neighborhood in Brooklyn to move to. Growing up in New York in the 40s through 70s, he knew the city when it was less than desirable (to put it nicely). And while he’s always reminding me how he knew New York before I was born, I remind him that he hasn’t known it after.

bushwick

The “beautiful” view from my apartment window. May not be the most charming of landscapes, but at least I have sunlight!

Needing A Change

While for a long time I thought I would want to be a full-time nomad forever, as I got older I realized I could be more productive work-wise and strengthen my relationships if I had a home-base. I’d grown up on Long Island and loved the beaches, vineyards and countryside; however, my innate drive to make new discoveries led me to want to explore someplace new.

I’d been to Bushwick, also known as “Little Puerto Rico,”  once or twice for parties, but was unsure of how I felt about it. Sure, the rent was dirt cheap (for New York City standards, anyway) and the people I knew who lived there seemed to love it; however, there was no denying it was ugly: dog crap, decrepit buildings and 99 cent stores every five feet, an industrial history that was all too apparent, and a vibe that made you instinctively stow your iPhone and turn your keys into sharp brass knuckles.

Apartment hunting in NYC is a nightmare, so when I found an ad for a budget-friendly room that had windows, a closet and enough space for a bed (seriously, somewhere to sleep is not a given when apartment hunting here) I was sold. Okay, so it was in Bushwick, but it was close to five different subway lines, which would make it easy for me to escape to Manhattan.

bizarre bar

One of the many acts you’ll see at Bizarre Bar. Photo courtesy of Bizarre Bar.

A Change Of Heart

Looking back now, I can’t believe this was once my mindset. Now that I’ve lived here for nine months, this gritty, rough-around-the edges exterior is what makes me love the neighborhood, especially as I’ve gotten to discover its experimental art/farm-to-fork/craft cocktail/poetry slam/eclectic coffee shop/avant-garde personality. You now what they say: never judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, never judge a neighborhood by the animal feces- and garbage-lined sidewalks.

There’s nowhere else in New York City like Bushwick. It’s a true neighborhood where I actually wave to my neighborhoods (while their kids shoot me with water guns, but hey, you can’t say they don’t have personality). No matter what night of the week it is you’ll find something interesting to do, whether it’s heading to Bizarre Bar to watch clowns swallow fire-engulfed swords and burlesque dancers pull rosary beads out of their chochas; taking a Drink & Draw or a live music yoga class at The Living Gallery; cheering on a quirky Men’s Booty Bounce Competition at Bushwick Burlesque; strolling down Troutman to see a thought-provoking al fresco street art gallery; or bopping around an abandoned warehouse jamming out to a silent disco while live bodies suspended by meat hooks dangle from the ceiling. You also can’t beat the nightlife scene here, where you can have a filling meal crafted from artisanal ingredients and a craft cocktail or beer for less than $20, or a healthy lunch for “bodega prices” ($5). In New York City, that’s what we consider a steal.

molasses books

Molasses Books is a local book shop selling used books, putting on community events and selling cheap drinks! Photo courtesy of Molasses Books.

Shedding Tears For Bushwick

I don’t think I truly realized how much I loved Bushwick until I attended a poetry reading held by a good travel blogger friend of mine, Luke Maguire Armstrong. He published an anthology called “Bushwick Poetry,” a collection of poems written by locals that tells the story of this atypical and charmingly unattractive hood bursting with creativity and full of passionate locals. As Luke puts it, it’s the “communal story of bursting hearts reaching for transcendental vibes of artistic elation and American Spirits rolling tobacco.”

I love his description, which really came to life during the poetry reading. As I sipped cheap wine at a book store selling interesting titles for 99 cents, listening to the sincere words of my neighbors and discerning their undeniable affection for the area, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with these people. Over discussions of where to find the best craft cocktails (insider tip: you can get drinks just as well-made as in Manhattan for a much cheaper price) and what exhibitions were worth checking out, I made new friends that shared my appreciation of Bushwick.

For Christmas, a friend and I celebrated with duck meatballs, house-ground beef burgers and Troegs Mad Elf beers at Tutu’s in Bushwick. He caught me gazing longingly at the bar, asking me what I was looking at.

“Bushwick,” I replied, with a smile.

He looked at the bar again, confused. “What do you mean?”

There’s nowhere else like it in New York City. The ugly industrial buildings transporting you to charming country settings and bursting with innovative ideas, $7 craft cocktails, affordable food that rivals Manhattan’s top chefs, and complete strangers that become fast friends in minutes. I can see everything I love about Bushwick right here.

bushwick

Street art in Bushwick. Photo courtesy of EricaJoy.

My Plea To You

Next time you’re in New York City, I urge you to visit this artsy neighborhood. While it’s far from the most beautiful neighborhood in Manhattan, there are many restaurants, bars, galleries, theaters and event spaces worth exploring. Hey, if I’m in town I’ll even play tour guide! If not, a resource I recommend for finding places to visit is the Bushwick Daily, which puts out great articles on things to do, upcoming events and subway stop travel guides.

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9 Comments

  1. Lance | Trips By Lance on February 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Sounds great. This is one of the things we love about living in Memphis. We have a couple of neighborhoods like this, albeit on a smaller scale. If you have an open mind and aren’t too concerned with appearances you can discover some real gems. Glad you found a place to call home.

    • Jessie Festa on February 13, 2014 at 9:30 pm

      @Lance: I was just in Guatemala and actually met a couple who had stayed in an even more gritty neighborhood near me called BedStuy. They had loved it. I was shocked — and excited! I love meeting people willing to try new things and discover more than the popular tourist attractions. And thank you! 🙂

  2. Luke Armstrong on February 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Ha, I love this line, “There was no denying it was ugly.” Bushwick is that ugly person across the room who becomes more beautiful the more you talk to him/her.

  3. Lindsay on April 29, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Ahh, I had the same love and excitement for Bushwick when I first moved there, in 2009. Then a few months later, our apartment got broken into and I had thousands of dollars worth of (uninsured) photo gear stolen. We moved to Greenpoint the following month.

    I haven’t been able to look at Bushwick the same way since, and that makes me sad because there really IS so much to love about it. It’s only gotten safer and cooler since I left 5 years ago I’m sure, but I’m still scarred from the break-in! 🙁

    • jess2716 on April 29, 2014 at 3:02 am

      @Lindsay: Oh no! I’m sorry that happened to you :/ It’s definitely getting safer, although I’ll be the first to admit it’s not the safest place in NYC — not by a long shot — and you still need to be aware of what’s going on around you (and lock your doors). Oh another note, if you live in Greenpoint we should meet up for a drink and talk travel 🙂

      • Lindsay on May 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

        YES, definitely! Just started twitter-stalking ya – my handle is @lindsaypunk. Let’s be in touch soon! 🙂

  4. Sally on July 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Hi Jessie, I’m so glad I found your article! My daughter is planning on moving to Buchwich this August while attending school in Manhattan. Of course I’m worried crazy!! Are you familiar with the Buchwick Aberdeen area?

    • jess2716 on July 29, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      @Sally: Not to worry! I’ve lived here for over a year now and have never had a problem and love it. I’m familiar with that area. It takes a few days to used to the area, it’s a bit gritty on the outside. But once she starts exploring and making new friends — which is very easy to do around here — I’m sure she’ll love it 🙂

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