My second “Talk & Tour” class with the Fashion Institute of Technology took me on a full day tour of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Many of my classmates had been on the Bushwick tour with me two weeks earlier plus a group of out-of-towners. How people down South find these obscure walking tours in New York City is beyond me. Even I had to get the FIT catalogue from school. What made this tour interesting was that my family lived here when they first came to this country at the turn of the last century and both my Grandmother and Grandfather on my father’s side lived here until the 1960’s.
Our Instructor for the day was Trina Morris, whom I have taken many walking tours with which covered DUMBO, Carroll Gardens, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and finally Boerum Hill at a time when I was writing my first book, “Firehouse 101” (See IUniverse.com for details on the book), which was set primarily in Boerum Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods. I had used the walking tour to get a better feel for the neighborhood and after the tour was over that weekend back in 2002 came back to the neighborhood about 18 times over the course of writing the book to see the changes. Since writing my first novel, all of these areas have changed tremendously with gentrification All of Brooklyn just keeps changing. Trina seemed thrilled that I had an autographed copy of the book ready for her on the subway ride over.
Getting to Greepoint is not the easiest trip. We had to take the C Train from school and then transfer to the L Train (recent college train) to the G Train to get to the heart of Greenpoint. Unlike Debbie’s tour a few weeks earlier, Trina’s tour deals with going to all the best stores and restaurants whereas Debbie’s tour concentrated more on art work and dealing with owners opening new businesses. Both tours showcased the neighborhoods beautifully but there were times I felt like quite the tourist. Especially when the locals looked at us like we were from Mars. I felt that way when we were in Bushwick as well as the local residents looked perplexed on why we would walk around their neighborhood.
Our tour started at the G stop on Manhattan Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, the furthest point you can get into Greenpoint from Manhattan. From there we walked down Greenpoint Avenue and turned right two blocks away to Franklin Avenue. Franklin Avenue has been one of the shopping areas of Greenpoint for years but now newer residents are putting an upscale swing to it with boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores giving the street a nice mix of old and new merchants.
When I did a tour of the neighborhood, I stopped at Old Polish Bakery at 926 Manhattan Avenue for a doughnut. The selection of baked products look really good but word of advice. They must do their baking early in the morning because the doughnut was dried out (see TripAdvisor review).
Our first stop on the tour was Zoe’s Beauty Products Salon & Spa at 119 Greenpoint Avenue. This beauty spa has a full line of men’s and woman’s products as well as get a full day pampering. Take time to look at all their products as they have a full line of merchandise for every need. A very nice shop with friendly service and a good selection.
Our second stop on the tour was at Budin Coffee Shop at 114 Greenpoint Avenue, a beautifully designed store with wooden shelves and an open bar. Budin is what TV would call a ‘hipster’ shop but the service was friendly and they did make a mean iced tea. They have a nice selection of drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Check out their gift area as well. There is some unusual items. What was nice too was they let us use the bathroom and for that I give them a big thumbs up (see TripAdvisor Review).
Our next stop on the tour was a small clothing store named ‘In God We Trust’, which has a respectable line of casual wear. This biggest observation that I have found in clothing stores in these so called ‘hipster’ neighborhoods is that you can not find a size over 30 inches and a large for men. It’s like shopping at Bloomingdale’s today. They don’t want to sell to anyone who is not 5:5 and a waist of 30 inches. Even though the selection was interesting I’m not sure who they were buying for in the neighborhood.
A fun shop that we quickly went though was the East River Skate Shop at 86 Greenpoint Avenue. They had an interesting line of tee-shirts with unique prints and even though I am not into skateboarding, their line of skateboards would attract any adult interesting in trying the sport.
Walking to the end of Greenpoint Avenue facing the East River is the most beautiful view of Manhattan that had been hidden all these years behind factories. These factories today are becoming lofts, studios and restaurants with a bar called ‘Barge’ that was very active that afternoon. I was amazed on how busy the place was considering it was the middle of the afternoon. On the sunny clear day that is was it had the most spectacular views of Manhattan and a nice soundtrack going.
Also, at the end of Greenpoint Avenue is WNYC Transmitter Park, which shares the same views as ‘Barge’ and they show films there on Friday nights. They were setting up for the new ‘Star Wars’ film the night I was there and expecting a pretty big crowd. The park has beautiful views of Midtown around 34th Street. It has a nice smell of salt air as well. Frankly it could use a good weeding.
We turned the corner onto Franklin Avenue, which is where most of the gentrification is taking place. I was able to tour the neighborhood about a week later to get a better feel for it and Greenpoint is still a neighborhood, not unlike Bushwick, that is still in transition. Many of the old residents still make their home here and you still see it on the upper reaches of Manhattan Avenue, where a sizable Hispanic population still lives for now and on the lower parts of street where a sizable Polish population still lives.
Franklin Avenue is where everyone is moving in. The block faces, along with West Street, the East River where the views of Manhattan are priceless. West Street is where all the former factories and warehouses are located which is quickly being replaced by studios, stores and small factories where the new residents live and work.
When visiting the American Playground between Nobile and Milton Streets, you can see the rapid change in the population with men in their 20’s playing basketball and young mothers with their small children having playdates. It was a mostly white crowd that differed from other parks that I visited in the neighborhood.
On the way up to lunch, we stopped at Word Bookstore at 126 Franklin Avenue that has a great selection of independent and commercial authors and they had several local book signings set up. Its a small store with a depth to their selection and the staff is very friendly.
We then toured You & Yours Vintage Shop at 77 Franklin Street and People of Tomorrow Consignment Shop at 66 Franklin Street both offering a nice selection of clothing and accessories for the person and the home. You really have to know what you are looking for when visiting these shops because the merchandise is rather unique. What’s nice is that I found the service both here and at other stores on Franklin to be very personal and welcoming.
Lunch that afternoon took us to Brooklyn Label at 180 Franklin Street. As the kids say, OMG, this restaurant was incredible. The food was French Bistro and the brunch menu had a good selection of both breakfast and lunch items at very reasonable prices and the portion sizes were huge.
I had a Croque Monsieur ($12.00) that was out of this world. The sandwich was huge and the gruyere cheese had a sharpness and twang to it. It was served with a kale salad that had a delicious dressing and the French Fries were cooked perfectly. The sandwich was filled with so much ham and cheese that I could barely finish it. The meal was so big I had no room for some of their delicious sounding desserts. The service was friendly and flawless. This is a definite on anyone’s list when dining in Greenpoint (see review on TripAdvisor. I gave them an Excellent).
The food and the company made the meal perfect. It was nice getting to know the people I toured with that afternoon. Some of them had such interesting backgrounds and personal stories from bankers to lawyers to nannies, all of them had a story to tell.
After lunch our shopping trip had us zig-zagging along Franklin Street. We stopped at Pas Mal and Pip Squeak Chapeau at 99 Franklin Street to look at their clothing lines, Porter James, a home furnishing store at 116 Franklin Street. It carries a lot of 1960’s furniture. We also visited Adaption at 109 Franklin Street to look at more vintage furniture.
We stopped at the seafood store Little Neck Outpost at 128 Franklin Street, which had food for sale and lots of gifts and snacks as well. They had also have a selection of hot foods to take home.
On my own part of the tour, I went further up on Franklin Street to Commercial Street where the warehouses are giving way to condos and views of Manhattan and Long Island City, which was once thought to be the next SoHo.
Greenpoint Park at 243 Franklin Street attracted the most diverse amount of children and had beautiful views of the skyline. In a few years, I predict this will be the ultimate Yuppie park as condos and renovations are taking place in the buildings surrounding the park. Manhattan Avery Park (Newton Barge Park) at 37 Commercial Street has some of the best views of Newton Creek’s boating and sailing docks and some unique art work along the fences. Newton Creek is currently being cleaned up so much more activity is going on this side of the neighborhood as well as new condos, restaurants and an ice cream shop have opened here.
This is the tip of the neighborhood and there is a lot of renovations going on in the old factories and warehouses. Give it less than three years and this whole area will be luxury lofts. With the views of the city and access to many small pocket parks, this will become a very desirable area to move to in the future. I walked across Commercial Street back down Manhattan Avenue on the upper part of the neighborhood and you are starting to see the transformation of the neighborhood from Hispanic to a younger white crowd with more restaurant and bars opening up on this part of the neighborhood. There are still many reasonable Spanish restaurants to give a try that look quite good.
I took a detour for a snack at Franklin Pizza at 109 Franklin Street on the way back down. This slices here are nice sized and at $2.50 are a little pricey in current New York terms but the pizza is full of flavor and their sauce is delicious (see review on TripAdvisor). It is the perfect blend of old and new neighborhood as everyone eats here and it is a good gathering place for neighborhood gossip as I found out.
Our last store in this part of the neighborhood was Flying Squirrel at 87 Oak Street, a great little consignment store of clothes, toys and furniture for young children. The place was alive with activity as the kids seem to dominate in this store. The owner, Kate Schmitz, was really nice and explained her concept of the store to me, mixing brand new and consignment goods to attract the young families moving into the neighborhood. She also has a nice line of books as well. It is a great rainy day store for families.
We then took a turn in the block and walked down Oak Street to Guernsey Street to Meserole Street to the main shopping area of the Polish side of the neighborhood on lower Manhattan Avenue. Here we got to try two of the most well-known businesses in the Polish neighborhood, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop at 727 Manhattan Avenue and Polka Dot Café at 726 Manhattan Avenue (See reviews on TripAdvisor).
Peter Pan’s doughnuts are some of the best I have ever had. Who could make a choice? I ended up eating three doughnuts because they looked so good. I had their apple filled doughnut with a white icing, a crème filled doughnut and a glazed doughnut. It put a damper on my dinner plans but like the kids say OMG they were so good. This is one store you can not miss when visiting Greenpoint. I had heard about them for years but never realized how good the doughnuts were for munching.
The other store we visited was Polka Dot Café, Polish gourmet shop, that has now reinvented itself into both a gourmet shop for Polish food and a small café where you can order food. Trina had arranged for us to try some blueberry dumplings that were cooked perfectly and were delicious. I was able to down a few of them on top of the doughnuts. I was so impressed by the food that I doubled back after the tour was over and on top of everything else I ate I had chicken meatballs and a type of pancake that was filled with meat with a flavored ice tea. That chicken meatball made me proud to be part Polish and the food and the service was just excellent. I think the ladies got a kick that I was so happy with the food.
We all said our goodbyes by the subway as most of the people in my tour went back to Manhattan via the subway at Nassau Street. It was nice meeting everyone and Trina is a good tour guide. I am hoping that she arranges a tour of Bed-Sty next.
My last stop of the day was Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish at 607 Humboldt Street, a Polish Catholic Church that my Great-Grandmother Rock had raised money to help build at the turn of the last century. What a beautifully detailed church that my Aunt Dee later said she had been baptized in along with several great aunts and uncles had been married there. I stayed for the 5:30pm mass and almost cried through the service knowing how important this church was to our family and what a big part it played in our lives. It was a nice service and the priest did a nice job with the mass but it really chocked me up to know that this was part of my past. I felt like my dad was there with me.
As for me, I was so stuffed with food from all over and it was such a nice night to walk, I walked back to Manhattan. I made the turn down Bedford Street and walked through Williamsburg through the ultimate part of the ‘hipster’ neighborhood. It was like walking through a college campus. God, did these kids make me feel old. It was funny how I never felt this way when I used to do the same thing on Rush Street in Chicago. I guess every generation goes through it.
I walked through Williamsburg and then over the Williamsburg Bridge into the Lower East Side and walked across lower Manhattan to Houston Street to see if there were any interesting movies at the Angelica. With nothing I wanted to see, I took the subway back to Port Authority Bus Terminal to go home. I felt so much better after that walk and worked off almost everything. The trip to Greenpoint was really interesting and who knew that my Great-Grandmother was so ‘hip’.
Even if you are not an FIT Alumnus, check out the walking tours that the campus offers. They are reasonable, engaging and you will have a great time.