Monday, December 12, 2016

One Block Closer

Ah, I know the anticipation must be building beyond belief, but just one more block to go and we are there, Atlantic Avenue. But first we must get through this block.

American Apparel. This is what I don't like about gentrification, but it is a price you have to pay. When I first moved into this neighborhood it was a neat little place where you could buy their specialty, rotisserie chicken, and all sorts of sides for an extremely reasonable price. In fact it was downright cheap. And the place was always packed. Alas, as rents escalated they had to leave.

The next place to move in was a very nice upscale restaurant, Grappa. Excellent food and, as you might guess from the name, an impressive selection of grappas. I got to know the owners and one memorable, but not so rememorable, afternoon we sat and had a grappa tasting. Sadly, and I am not sure exactly why, the chef was replaced with one of the owners who was good, but it wasn't the same. And then, it just closed.

Now it is an American Apparel, which has no appeal. At least to me.

Next door is a place that has been around forever. If you want a quick slice or a pie to go, this is the place. Not my favorite pizza in the neighborhood, but my wife swears by it, as do many of my friends. It is the kind with the foldable crust favored by most New Yorkers. The kind of crust that lets you fold your slice in half so you can eat it as you walk down the street. They are a busy people. I prefer the pizzas with the crispier crust.

Moving right along, a place that I browse in, Game Stop. But I try to avoid it because I am prone to pick up yet another zombie game. Having gone through Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide more than once (two of the best zombie games I have ever played) I am trying to swear off games. But it is there if I have a relapse.

And for all your PC, phone, iPhone, etc., needs we have Radio Shack. Just like all the others, but it is convenient for when you want to pick up another cable or something.

Now that is it for the west side of Court Street between Atlantic Avenue and State Street. Across the street there are only three places.

 On the corner of State and Court you have a LensCrafters. I had my last eye exam there and picked up two sets of lenses for frames that I already had. After my cataract surgery I was too impatient to get my glasses so the first prescription that I got, the prescription, had to be adjusted after another six weeks or so. It takes a couple of months for your eyes to settle. Anyway, they did a fine job, and their prices are reasonable.

The Sports Runner's Shop has everything you might want for sports shoes. A bit on the pricey side, but we live in an increasingly upscale neighborhood so paying top price for a pair of running shoes, even if you don't run, is acceptable. Now don't hate me, I usually by mine at Modell's, just a few blocks away.

They do have a colorful window display, I must admit. And if I just need a pair of shoelaces I will drop in.

And, finally, we have a Red Mango. If you are in the mood for a frozen yogurt or a smoothie, this is the place to go. It is, however, another place I have never frequented. I guess I am just not a frozen yogurt or smoothie kind of guy.

Well, there you have it. Even though we haven't even gotten to Atlantic Avenue you can see the many offerings just a couple blocks from where I live. Books, movies, liquor and wine, pizzas..., well, you get the idea. There is a lot going on in my neighborhood. And we are just covering a small part of it.

Next, Atlantic Avenue. And I will start at the west end of it with Montero's Bar & Grill. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

A Bit Of A Stroll

It turns out that there was more than enough stuff just on the block of Court Street between Schermerhorn and State to address at one time so I guess it will take me yet another day to actually make it to Atlantic Avenue.

We start my trip on the west side of Court Street just around the corner from the block on which I live. Only two establishments, but they take up the whole block. When I moved here there was a closed down and boarded up porno theater that was overrun with rats. Then there was Queen, a venerable Italian restaurant that got bought out and relocated just a block away. Still one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Family owned and managed. They build me a dynamite Rob Roy and their pasta is made to order. But, that is another story. Then there was a dive bar on the corner of Court and State called, I believe Julio II. I am not really sure because I only went in their a couple of times. It was primarily Hispanic and I was not. Pretty much a beer and a shot place. I vaguely remember the bartender being behind Plexiglas, but I am pretty sure I am just imagining that. I never went in there when I was sober. There may have been some other stuff on the block, but if there was I don't

Anyway, they tore down the whole block and replaced it with a Barnes & Noble and a United Artists multiplex theater. Of course there was the usual gnashing of teeth and neighborhood reviews that delayed the completion of this development. I guess some people actually preferred the closed-down porno theater and the rats. I did miss Queen, though. It was dark wood and somehow more comforting than the new version. Although now that my memory of that place has dimmed I like the new one every bit as much.

I pop into Barne's & Noble on occasion but, I confess, I buy most of my books from Amazon. Mostly downloaded to my Kindle. And I rarely go to a movie at the multiplex although we did go to see Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them the other day. There were about 6 of us in the whole theater at a 12:30 PM showing. But we had to select our seats when we bought our tickets. Assigned seating. But the seating chart was wrong. Anyway, we just sat where we wanted.

Okay, onto my side of the street. Next to the bank that used to be a bakery and pizza place (well, I guess you bake pizzas) is a cleaners where I seldom go since I stopped working and wearing suits and dress shirts and a Verizon store where I do buy my phone upgrades.

The most important place, for me at least, is one door down.

Zap Liquors. Who needs a wine cellar when this place is a five-minute walk away. They always have a nice selection of wines ranging in price from under $10 to, well, out of my range. Decent selections of spirits as well. I probably visit them a couple of times a week and don't even want to know how much I spend in a year. The staff are like old friends (gosh, I wonder why) and are quite knowledgeable about their wines. Sometimes they have wine tastings but I hate to go to those. I always feel obligated to buy a bottle of whatever they are pushing.

I have never been into the next four places, but it is comforting to know that they are there if I ever feel the need. Although ever feeling the need for a bubble tea is unlikely. They all seem to do a lively business. I think they get a lot of before and after the movie business and a lot of lunch business from people who work in the neighborhood.

The Stolle Bakery used to be the Szechuan Cusine. It was a very good and inexpensive Chinese restaurant with a hidden surprise. Tucked in the back was a little bar where I used to hang out with a bunch of guys and we discussed sports, local affairs, the usual stuff. Not many people knew about it and it was always the same little crowd. The bar had a bit of a Tiki feel to it, although I was probably one of the only people who drank Tiki drinks. The main bartender, Lily, was a former actress in Chinese movies and she always dressed like she was on the set. A great place. Then it just disappeared. It was there when I left to go to Mexico and when I returned it was gone and there was just a hole in the ground. The owner of the place decided to build an apartment building and rent out the ground floor. Can't blame him. As he explained to me "Less headaches, more money." Still, I miss the place and the crowd in the back never really regrouped.

Well, that is one more little stretch of my neighborhood. I will try to get us up to Atlantic Avenue tomorrow.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Well, You Know How Things Go

My next post about my neighborhood and Atlantic Avenue will have to wait. The Mysterious Chinese Woman took me out for dinner last night. And a wonderful dinner it was at Convivium Osteria.

Had a great dinner and, when they didn't have the bottle of Cava that I ordered, they gave me a more expensive one at the same price. Food was delicious and the service was great. Not on Atlantic Avenue, but just a few blocks off.

Stopped at The Brazen Head, on Atlantic Avenue, on the way home and had a couple of Martinis. Booker gin, straight up, not too dry, and with just one olive. I am fussy. Turned out the bartenderess went to school with the son of one of my best friends. Now considering that my friend lives in Minneapolis and his son went to Southwest, also in Minneapolis, I thought this was an amazing coincidence. I ran cross country back then and Southwest always had one of the best teams. Still do. She also ran cross country. A very fun evening.

Interestingly, after going to the Brazen Head in Dublin I ran into an old friend who I hadn't seen for years at a bus stop as I was waiting to catch a bus to go back to my hotel.

Anyway, I woke up this morning feeling chipper and was going to go to the gym. But then I saw a glass of wine that I had intended to drink before going to bed last night and didn't, so I did. Then, for some reason, I thought a bit of Absinthe would be a good idea. So this is what you will have to deal with.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Getting To Atlantic

Atlantic Avenue, depending upon how I choose to get to it, is either two short blocks or one longer block and two short blocks from where I live. Two short blocks if I just head up Boerum/Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard, but that is the less interesting route. Although Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard (I prefer that name, it sounds more exotic) is pretty this time of year when they light it up. If you come into Brooklyn by way of the Brooklyn Bridge and keep going straight this is what you will be on. A nice stretch with multiple lanes and a wide median with plantings that change depending upon the season. 

Well, that is what it is until it hits Atlantic Avenue. Then it narrows down and ends, rather ingloriously, a few blocks later at an iron works. Not quite the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but a lot closer.

Anyway, I prefer walking down Schermerhorn, also known as The Street No One Can Pronounce Or Spell, to Court Street and then south for two blocks to Atlantic.

I live on the corner of Schermerhorn and Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard. I have been here thirty years now and can't imagine living anywhere else. Well, I can, but I wouldn't want to. That is because I often imagine myself living in a small apartment with peeling pea soup green wallpaper in..., well never mind. I don't even know why I often imagine such a thing.

And right across the street from me is the Transit Museum. We were going to go there yesterday but even when it just opened it was getting crowded. They said Tuesdays at 1:00 PM was the best time. We will see. They have a Coney Island exhibit now and I want to see that. I am a big fan of Coney Island, especially the bars. But that is another story.

Anyway, as I walk down Schermerhorn I pass an interesting place. It is owned by a Chinese fraternal society of some kind. The people who live there pretty much keep to themselves but I wave to a few of them who smile and wave back. Some of them collect cans for pocket change and are very industrious about it. I still remember when they were taking them out of a trashcan at a Greek Festival down the street and could not be chased away for love nor money.

This is the Greek Church just down the block where they have the festival. It is a week-long block party that seems to get bigger every year. Sadly, it has now become like a mini street fair. It used to be more authentic with a lamb roasting in the back and a lot of homemade goodies like moussaka and stuff. Slot machines and poker, if you know where to look. They still have some of the homemade goodies and gyros plus Greek beer and wine. They never have retsina though. A pity.

Next door to the church is a tobacco shop that has quite a selection of cigars and pipe tobacco, snuff, and pipes (some not for tobacco products). They don't sell cigarettes, though. Nicky, the owner, said it is too much of a hassle and he doesn't have enough room to stock them. Back in the day I would buy the occasional cigar from him, but I have given them up. I can't help but inhale when I smoke them.

At the corner now there is a bank. Bank branches have popped up everywhere. A pity, there once was a real nice bakery there that also sold excellent pizzas. But, as I have said, everything changes.

And across the street from that, also relatively new, is a Paris Baguette Cafe. That used to be part of the Bruno's Hardware store next to it, if I remember correctly. Then it was a flower shop for awhile. The upstairs used to be just for storage, but now it is apartments.

Not sure what the function of that structure next to it serves. It is always locked but is another entrance to the transit museum. Maybe, back in the day, that museum was an actual subway stop.

Anyway, that is my block. Next I will show you the two blocks of Court Street that I walk down to get to Atlantic Avenue, and then the real adventure, such that it is, will begin.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Atlantic Avenue

Atlantic Avenue, a scant two short blocks from where I live, is probably one of the most diverse avenues in the United States, if not in the world. At one end is the Brooklyn Bridge Park and miles away at the other end, as it crosses the Van Wyck Expressway, it morphs into 94th Avenue. But my stretch is anchored by two bars, Montero's Bar & Grill and Hank's Saloon. In between you have everything. More bars than you can shake a stick at, restaurants of every kind, from Middle Eastern to French, to soul food, to..., well, you name it. And you can find food stores ranging from your typical New York deli to Trader Joe's to Sahadi's Middle Eastern Grocery, a sprawling store that stocks just about every exotic ingredient that you could imagine. And if they don't have it, there are another half-dozen Middle Eastern stores that do. You have stores to serve your every need. And everyone lives in harmony in this stew of diversity.

I have decided to restart my blog that formerly chronicled my journey through a thousand bars in a single year to document this, to me, most fascinating of places before it irrevocably changes. As the neighborhood gentrifies, as so many do, many of the old places are leaving or changing beyond recognition. Change is inevitable. Atlantic Avenue, when I moved to Brooklyn, was a stretch you might not feel comfortable strolling about after dark. Some of the bars were downright dangerous. Now the danger is getting nicked fourteen bucks or more for a cocktail prepared by a mixologist who uses more ingredients than a chef uses for most meals, and bars that look like chemistry sets cluttered with bottles of special house bitters and who knows what else.

Now don't get me wrong, I can dump down a  Dolores Del Rio (Jalapeño Infused Blanco Tequila, Aperol, Passion Fruit, Lime Juice) at the Long Island Bar as well as anyone. But I also remember when the Long Island Bar was pretty much a beer and a shot place. I want to document my stretch of Atlantic Avenue as it is now, before it changes even more. And maybe throw in a memory or two of what it was like.

I hope you will enjoy this trip as much as you enjoyed the last one. I am sure I will have as much fun. And I encourage anyone who has their own memories of, or thoughts about Atlantic Avenue to share them.