Walk Around the Block: Bed-Stuy

By Jay Sterkel

I’m standing at the corner of Franklin and Lafayette, which marks the border between Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy. Two different cultures, both evolving with an influx of new residents. This is where I’m starting my walk today. I make my way through a melting pot of long time residents, new homeowners, and an array of renters, as I visit both neighborhood staples and budding enterprises that ask an old neighborhood new questions.

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At this corner, a cozy shop of worn wood and renown offers a squishy-sweet donut of your choosing. Dough. My. God. Daily specials with house made jams or eccentric glazes (today’s is Horchata), old standbys like the dulce de leche, or the satisfying grit of cinnamon sugar. It’s a glorious and boutique-y indulgence on a block of residences and fluorescent lit bodegas.

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Walking toward Bedford, you’ll find robust brick houses that miss a little of the shine and polish you might see in more manicured neighborhoods. Wrought iron gates show a little rust. Open lots with warning signs. Paint chips off weather-worn brick.

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Today smells a bit like trash day, but that might be coming from the closed off entrance to the G train at the corner of Bedford and Lafayette (don’t worry — the one across the street is very much open). This is the most convenient train stop in the area, so in many ways the businesses and homes in proximity reflect the dynamics of local foot traffic and residents.

This stretch of Bedford between Lafayette and Clifton reflects a juxtaposition that can be seen all over Bed-Stuy — a new glass multi-unit building, scaffolding surrounding new construction, a fenced-in gravel lot, a wholesome coffee and tea shop covered in laptops, and a proud brownstone from the 1880s are all on the same street.

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Swell Dive, a Filipino Tex-Mex tuck away, sits next to “Chinese and Japanese Restaurant,” a to go staple of the neighborhood. Black Swan, a pub-style affair with fancy interiors sits next to the adorably squat Bike Slug for quick fixes, flats, and gear heads.

Stonefruit Espresso + Kitchen sits on the northwest corner of Bedford and Clifton, a singular indication of the neighborhood’s evolving culture. Stonefruit, from the first inhale upon walking in, is a world devoid of spray paint or gravel. There’s a flower shop opening in the back, and people are welcome to take their laptops and rooibos iced teas there, along with any of their fresh and considered salads. Their address hangs on a flower box on the corner.

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Passing the faded Custom Auto Upholstery sign and liquor store, the now-famous expanse of stately Bed-Stuy brownstones stretches down tree-lined Clifton Place. This culminates, at this intersection with Bedford, in the Clifton Place Memorial Garden.

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The Clifton Place Memorial Garden & Park has been run by the block association for over 35 years. It’s been a while since their blog has been updated, but it’s still the place for the community to gather, grow, build, and exchange — necessary openings in the urban landscape that allow neighborhood history to remain a living entity, more than placards and dates.

Between Bedford and Lafayette, Clifton Place appears to consist mostly of commercial spaces with enormous garage doors warning “No Parking.” There are multi-family homes and luxury buildings, but sidewalks are likely to feature a palette of concrete mix or a forklift full of 2x4s. Industrial, up-and-coming charm at its finest.

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A shared workspace and shop of woodworkers’ dreams opens breezily to the street, housing specialists ranging from furniture design to sustainable surfboards. When I walk past I see an enormous, shined piece of reclaimed wood destined for a conference room in some high Manhattan tower.

A new fitness center, Sacred, posts dancing and fitness classes for adults and kids alike, and hot yoga (presumably only for adults). A quick look at their website reveals a full range of classes just as broad — and thorough — as they advertise.

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At the corner of Franklin and Clifton stands Chilo, a kickass black-tile and neon-lit bar with an enormous back patio and a resident taco truck you can smell for blocks. It’s a level or two above a dive bar at this point, but it’s a ready place to curl into a mezcal margarita, a cheap Mexican beer, and/or a shot of tequila. The taco mavens of NYC show up in droves, though, so whether the place is considered a food or drink destination depends on the night and time.

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And with a right turn onto Franklin, past the longstanding Citi General Hardware I make my way back toward the start — but this would not be a complete discussion without calling out the magic that happens at the Family Dollar. Support your local 99¢ store, people. There is a solid chance that somewhere in that building is something that’s wholly entertaining, if not useful. Moreover, it’s here because the members of this community shop here routinely, and you’re hard pressed for an opportunity to flip through a better and more affordable variety of glow-in-the-dark star stickers.

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Near the end of my walk is the neighborhood wine shop, Bouchon, which has an inventory catered to the local oenophiles and a conscientiousness of ethical, sustainable farming — it’s the second wine and spirits vendor on this particular walk, but for a different shopper. Bouchon places flyers in most neighboring businesses to avail itself as more than a wine shop; it hosts tastings, classes, and shares a book club with its sister store.

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Illustrated in the hodge-podge of a 15 minute walk, this block offers a varied sampling of New York City demographics. And if you play your cards right, you can start and end your stroll with a doughnut.

Do you have a block near you that tells its own story around you? We’d love to walk it! Just tell us about it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. And check out Nooklyn’s new listings nearby!

Photo Credits:
1) Photo pulled from Google Maps
2) Photo by author
3) Photo by Nick Doyle
4-9) Photo by author
10) Photo by Nick Doyle
11-22) Photos by author