When I decided to switch my master’s thesis from 19th century Whaling on Nantucket to the current hipster movement, I have to admit I was a little behind on the research. I had spent three years of my American and New England Studies master’s program preparing myself to tackle the topic of the whaling industry in all its glory, only to find out that the time, commitment, and amount of research to achieve a cogent argument on the topic would be impossible. A research librarian kindly informed me that there majority of ship captain’s whaling journals, which hold all the vital information I would need on the subject, are not accessioned, and I would have to read through thousands of pages of entries–this was deflating to say the least. To put it another way, there are rooms in museums with hundreds upon hundreds of journals and logs with no way to look them up without flipping through them by hand. That is like saying you are looking for information on a relative that lived sometime during the first half of the twentieth century, but you have no idea where they lived, so you have to pour through thousands of census records, all written in script, and some more legible than others, with no idea where to begin, only armed with their name and date of birth. So I took on a topic that I was familiar with, and being a lover of current cultural events and movements decided to try and decipher the hipster subculture. Now I am not here to debate on the existence of such, but learning about this group of millennials and gen-Xers led me to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, deemed the birthplace of Hipster, the epicenter of cool, the center of hip.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, sits nestled against the Williamsburg Bridge with the East River languidly running along its shores, which was once over run with the hulking skeletal remains of industrial factories such as breweries, the domino sugar factory, and a mustard factory. In the mid to late nineties, when artists sought cheap housing, they found this derelict neighborhood, and took over, reinvigorating this area, helping it to become the gem it is today. Unfortunately as it goes, money follows money, and as the neighborhood became appealing to not just the artists, bohemians, hipster, and previous residents, so too did it become appealing to investors. The factories that loomed over the small brownstones like a specter of a prosperous and productive past, became eyesores and potential opportunities to investors who did not share the residential streets of this urban neighborhood, outsiders dictating how an area should look, so it is appealing to bring in more outsiders. Now today, only small vestiges of this past can be found, as the Domino Factory is pulled down one brick at a time, and the Old Dutch Mustard Factory is completely gone, nothing more than a memory in minds and upon epherma which will someday be stricken from memory, as the past is a fickle mistress.
As the waterfront is cleared of the remnants of an industrial past which once polluted the East River, Williamsburg is becoming gentrified at a staggering rate. As restaurants spring up, one after the other, and coffee shops and bars become as synonymous as Irving Gas Stations are to Maine, there is a sense of excitement and fun, with an electricity that creates an atmosphere of adult level amusement park. Walking down the streets of Williamsburg you will find an assortment for the casual observer, looking for excitement on an autumn weekend. Since the leaves are off the trees, there is no guilt taken by strolling through the maze of Urban streets, dismissing mother nature for the concrete jungle. Travel down Bedford or Kent Avenue and you will find quirky and interesting boutiques and artisanal shops, bars and coffee shops, music venues and modern art studios.
Williamsburg is a place of contradictions, a collection of streets where the laws of consumerism seem to be thrown out into the street and run over by the garbage trucks as they make their morning rounds. Side by side two dollar pounders of PBR are served next to tulip glasses of twelve dollar craft or Belgian beers. In a place where the guy to your left can have a handlebar mustache and dress like it is Victorian Era England, while to your right, a woman rests on the stool in late 1970s punk attire, with original Ramones T-shirt that she hunted for at the Goodwill, no one blinks an eye or affords a second glance. Yes, Williamsburg is where people are people, no matter how you want to live. It is like a modern art exhibit alive and roaming the streets. It is like art school let out twenty four seven, all the male students competing for the best Dali mustache, while one contemplates severing his ear just to one up all the other plebeians.
This explains the phenomenal brews that have come from Brooklyn Brewery and how they ran against the stream when craft brewing wasn’t even a term yet, and only few breweries in the United States dared to make a good tasting beer again. Visit their brewery and tasting room, and try some phenomenal beers. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Wait, whats that, you like pinball? Well you’re in luck. You won’t have to travel far to find a bar with arcade and pinball games. Waltz on into Jackbar on Havemayer Street, and try your hand at any of the games, with a beer or drink, of course. After you have watched the blinking lights as your silver ball slams the bumpers, walk down to The Post Office, on the same street, and have a whisky. This small and intimate bar restaurant is a small gem amongst the sea of quirky bars. Their specialty, whisky, and their bartenders, they know their malts. Sit down and have a shot, sip a finger or two, and have a back of pickle juice to help stave off any potential hangover.
If all this doesn’t entice you, find any of the local music venues ahead of time, and plan to catch a show. These many joints are usually masked with the worst looking building facades, that make one never dare enter the door without knowing first, but once inside, you will be pleasantly surprised. If music is not your thing, then do a daytime walk around the many artisanal shops or boutiques, where hand stitched clothing is still a thing, made with the finest cotton spooled on American looms. Looking for records or vintage clothes, you don’t have to look far. Try any of the vintage shops that crowd the shop fronts through vintage glass, names etched into their shiny plate reflections.
Williamsburg is as I have described it, a location for culture and excitement, culinary flavors and top notch cocktails and bars. The streets are safe, and many buildings are featured on Air BnB. In fact, the building we stayed in seemed to be nothing but rooms rented out through this online service. It was great, cheap, safe, and convenient. The building was built like Fort Knox, and there were multiple locks into the building to gain access to the floor you were staying on.
Overall, if you are looking for something to do on a cold weekend, and don’t mind popping in and out of shops with a hot coffee in hand and a warm muffler wrapped around your neck, then Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York is a great place to go. Artisans have found a home here, and the unusual is usual. Quirky is fun, hip is cool, but above all else, but retro is the fashion of the day. So don’t be surprised if you feel a wave of nostalgia washing over you as you see someone wearing moon boots and a t-shirt with iron on transfers once found in boxes of sugared cereals. Remember, it is Tres Brooklyn.