Every international city has a neighborhood renowned for its street art, like Belleville in Paris or Kreuzberg in Berlin. Stepping off the L train at the Jefferson stop, it’s clear that this part of Bushwick is home to one of the best walking tours in NYC. And there’s no doubt that the businesses that take up residence here — from cafes to warehouses, workshops to health clubs — embrace the places where they live and thrive.
Asking a New Yorker about Bushwick in the 80s and 90s is akin to asking about an area on a map marked “Here Be Dragons.” It was not a place people would dream of moving to if they had alternatives. I’ve heard embellished stories of wild dogs in the streets, urban legends about clumps of barbed wire rolling down the sidewalk like tumbleweeds. For all the portrayals of late 80s New York City as a crime capital, it’s fascinating to think about the transformation of this section — from desert to oasis in one generation.
Looking in front of me, small businesses and warehouses up and down the street blend into murals that artists have bestowed. In fact, many business owners have commissioned custom art for their storefronts to stay in step with the neighborhood’s aesthetic.
I’m starting here because walking food is surprisingly sparse in this area. There are plenty of spots to sit and eat, but opportunities to grab something on the go are fewer than expected. Fortunately, this place serves “the best falafel you’ve ever had in your life,” along with a sweeping menu of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean grub: Shaksuka, sabich, labneh, and baklava for dessert (or lunch, no judgement here). But fear the spicy sauce.
Visit here if you’re prone to standing on the edge of rabbit holes. Yes, the movie that showed us just how crazy Parker Posey can get is also the name of a Bushwick nightclub. If you’re looking for a quiet pint in a simple, cozy, dimly lit bar, this isn’t it. A self-described “temple of expression,” House of Yes regularly hosts or produces events that embrace the expanding (and dissolving) boundaries of inclusion. Guests are encouraged to try new things, get creative, talk to new people, and dance like your costume will never shake off no matter how much you move. Programming is all over the place and breathtaking in scope. To avoid this place would be to avoid the cultural core of the neighborhood. Don’t miss it. Go dancing.
Shortly after passing a wood shop that has a Porsche, in pieces, sitting in the middle of an otherwise busy workspace, the next storefront is a private motorcycle club bearing a hand-painted “Members Only” on the outside in block lettering. The gentleman I asked about membership directed me to their website — presumably a member, and not, say, a spokesperson. As I was leaving, he ran past me, hopped onto his bike, fired it up, and pealed off.
Daya Yoga has been in its current space for the past four years after moving from nearby Ridgewood. With the move has come its commitment to creating a holistic community — a center for yoga “beyond the mat.” They have over 70 classes a week, a full spectrum of intensives and workshops, and even access to retreats and organized expeditions outside the studio and into nearby parks.
Taking a left at Jefferson and Irving, the block is fairly residential, an apparent departure from the open factory/warehouse spaces that pop up across the street. There’s no art, no bars, no noise — just residences and people that have been here to witness the neighborhood’s changes.
At the far corner of Troutman and Irving sits areperia Guacuco. If you’ve ever wandered into a street fair in New York City, then you’ve undoubtedly walked past an arepa stand, selling disks of cornmeal holding a gooey slab of mass-produced mozzarella. Do not presume that this demonstrates the dish best; the arepa is Venezuelan street food that can be served with pride and care, as the kitchen at Guacuco offers until 10:30pm each night — juicy chunks of braised pork, a range of cheeses that you probably never knew about, or perhaps flaky white fish and garlicky tomato sauce is more up your alley. Order two and sit and watch the people walk by.
Local Honey is a full-service salon that embraces the neighborhood aesthetic — the wall art even reflects the services they offer. They take pride in their attention to detail, from the perfect brow shape to the artfully painted nail. Local Honey even offers extra services for bridal parties and events, if you want to make a day of it (with champagne!). Side note, Nooklyn Stories has written previously about the owner, entrepreneur Kate Quintard, if you need even more reasons to check it out.
With all the warehouse space out here, it’s no wonder someone opened a commercial photography studio. Be Electric has built out four sound stages and they’ll offer any video or photo production services you might need. Whether you’re a new filmmaker or VICE, Be Electric offers a professional staff and atmosphere in a comparatively laid back setting. Even if you only have half an idea, give them a shout.
The Kings County Brewing Collective has been proudly brewing in this location since 2005 and happily opens its garage doors to day drinkers and brewery tourists (and/or their dog) alike. Google their events listings — they offer events from supper clubs to board game nights. An unbelievable range of beers come out of here, so expect to try something unique and delicious.
The Theater with “XIV” above the door houses “Company XIV,” a troupe dedicated to the decadence of the sun king’s heyday. You can typically catch a show Thursday through Sunday evenings (and more around the holidays). And make no mistake, these are SHOWS: singing, dancing, variety, circus, opera, ballet, burlesque, comedy, camp, and cabaret all in a single, sexy evening. If your roommate is able to persuade their Midwestern parents to come to Brooklyn for the first time, I would not suggest this as their first stop, but in all other circumstances, go.
Some days you’re the hammer, so the saying goes, and some days you’re the nail. Some days you’re in a long, cardio-filled conditioning class, and some days you’re reviewing the basics in a formal Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai training. Some days you’re strapped into your pads, learning how to manage stress and control aggression in an intense sparring match, some days you’re bonded to coaches and training partners in a collective, absorbing a modern take on one of the most enduring and traditional martial arts. All of these happen at Hammer & Nail.
Artichoke stands on the site once occupied by Bushwick stalwarts “Northeast Kingdom,” whose corner sign still juts out as a reminder of when this part of town was just getting started. For those who don’t know the titular Artichoke slice, it’s a feat of gustatory bravado — spinach artichoke dip with plenty of mozzarella slathered on an enormous crust. This is hardly the only Artichoke Pizza location in the city, if your concern is in the commute, but it’s worth a stop if you are exploring the area.
I doubt there is a better seafood date spot off this L train stop, so head to the bar at Sea Wolf around happy hour to score some oysters on the half shell. The menu changes seasonally to keep things exciting. Don’t like seafood? I can attest that the chicken and waffles is enough of a brunch to bring in-the-know sailors onshore. PS: word has just broke that you’ll be able to catch this vibe at a new location come spring.
Poutine, eh? A proud Canadian bar in Bushwick offers a vision of a romanced Quebecois nightlife in a boldly Canadian atmosphere (even the wood accents are Canadian Maple), and features an impressive variety of poutines aboot various themes, ranging from the NAFTA poutine — nachos on top of tater tots — to Chicken Tikka.
In a city full of bars that try to make coffeeshops of themselves in the daytime, the Cobra Club makes no missteps in repurposing itself into an espresso bar by day. Liquor bottles are still set up in the back, felt letter boards boast the usual draft selection for distributors around here, and all the Edison light bulbs are turned up to full. But the place is quiet, and people with both coffees and beers sit with their computers at the bar — a portrait of the modern freelance professional at work. I wasn’t there to see anyone showing up for the yoga classes in the venue in the back, and I don’t expect to see anyone at the pool table or Big Buck Hunter this early in the day, but I’m sure I’d be proven wrong if I sit here long enough.
These pictures account for about 20% of the amazing street art that I saw during my walk, and I’m sure that some of it is already changing. So go walk around, and don’t forget to take a battery pack in case your camera starts to tucker out.
All photos by Jay Sterkel (and his outdated iPhone camera).
Cover Illustration by Reyna Clarissa.