How Brooklyn Became Cool
How Brooklyn Became Cool
It’s one o’clock in the morning on a warm October night, and the streets of northern Brooklyn are eerily deserted. The hulks of warehouses and the chimney of the old Domino sugar refinery stand guard along the waterfront, while grim industrial buildings hunker down in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Steel gates hide the windows of small plastics and metalworking shops. Nearby tenements are silent and dark. You’re wide awake, though, driving through the darkness on Kent Avenue, bumping over warped asphalt and steering around potholes. You’re circling Williamsburg, looking for the neighborhood that made Brooklyn cool. First you pass the Northside, the original center of Brooklyn’s hipster culture, a cluster of art galleries, cafés, bars, and boutiques around the subway station at North Seventh Street and Bedford Avenue. Then you pass the Southside, where French bistros and Japanese hair salons have recently joined yeshivas and bodegas, and artists and graduate students are a noticeable presence on the streets. Ahead of you stretch neighborhoods that have been predominantly black since after World War II but are now rapidly gentrifying and becoming socially and ethnically more diverse—that is, richer and whiter: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill. The old Brooklyn Navy Yard sits vast and uninhabited just one block to the west. A few blocks beyond that, brownstone townhouses sell for a million dollars and up. Navigating solo through this dark landscape, you don’t see any sign of life. But when you turn onto the wider roadway of Flushing Avenue, you meet up with men and women walking in couples and groups of four. They are Hasidic Jews, women with heads covered in wigs and scarves, skirts below their knees, and black-hatted men wearing long black overcoats. Sabbath began at sundown. Because driving is prohibited then, any believers who are out on the street at this hour must find their way home on foot. After you pass the Hasidim, you find a few more people walking on the street; these men are wearing tight jeans and the women are in short skirts.
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