The day before my Mom and I packed ourselves and all my belongings into a rented Suburban to drive across the country, my Dad handed me a hundred-dollar bill and explained that I could use it as $10 per week to try new things. Until today, the bill had been nestled in my sock drawer, waiting to be broken. This morning, I woke up early and decided that today was the day to begin $10/week for ten weeks.
I created a little challenge for myself and dubbed it: “Know York.” The plan is to visit a different neighborhood in New York City every week for ten weeks, limiting myself to $10 per trip. I plan to log my explorations here in this blog, and explain to you a little history of each place I visit. So here I go…
Where is that exactly?
The easiest way for me to get there from the UES was to take the 4/5 subway line from 86th Street down to Union Square (3 stops on the express line), then transfer to the L train and get off at Bedford Avenue. Williamsburg is a direct shot from The East Village across the East River, which probably explains a lot of the artist migration… but I’ll get to that in a second…
Basically, Williamsburg is a fine melting pot of established immigrant families, artists, young people new to New York, and Indie-rock hipsters. The community was first established as “Williamsburgh,” a suburb of New York City (Manhattan) in the early 1800’s. Higher-class citizens resided in this prime pocket of real estate, until the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903 and thousands of immigrants crossed over from the Lower East Side to start a better life. By 1917, Williamsburg had the most densely populated blocks in NYC. In the 1930’s, a massive number of European Jews escaped Nazism by fleeing to Williamsburg, thereby establishing the Hasidic culture which still thrives today. Throughout the century, many more ethnic groups came to occupy and enrich Williamsburg culture, including Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. And during the last 20 years, a new breed of “immigrants” have moved East to the lovely river-side community: artists. With the rising rents of Manhattan, artists and musicians came to Williamsburg to enjoy lower rents, larger lofts, and convenient transportation to Manhattan. In fact, a number of fantastic bands have emerged from Williamsburg, including Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, TV on the Radio, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Matt & Kim, and Ratatat (and many others)! And may I just add here – the bands I just listed are some of my FAVORITE – so I guess I have a type: Williamsburg. Today, Williamsburg is a beautiful collaboration of juxtaposed cultures, which creates a vibrant and colorful community.
So tell us Ashley, what did you do today?
Well thanks for asking. First thing was the subway – which only took me about 35 minutes from leaving my apartment to arriving on Bedford Avenue. The first thing I discovered was that I need to do these trips on Saturday afternoons rather than Sunday mornings, because unfortunately, only about half the shops were open on Sundays, and most didn’t open until noon. I had no room to be upset however, for the weather boasted a fine 48 degrees (warm for me right now) and a beautiful blue sky. To kill my first half hour, I headed down to the water to catch a glimpse of Manhattan and see what all the fuss was about – living in Brooklyn. From the picture at left, one can confirm two things: 1) Williamsburg certainly has a nice view and 2) Hasidic culture still thrives! I actually snuck this snapshot as soon as I saw four flowing white locks approaching in my peripheral, then I politely said “good morning” and pretended to take more pictures… heehee I’m so sneaky. After wandering residential streets of the neighborhood, I found my way back to the main drag (Bedford Avenue) and decided I was quite overdue for some caffeine. I came across a coffee shop, “Verb,” where one of the members of TV on the Radio actually used to work (read about this in my Fodor’s guide). The first thing I noticed was the attractive young “hipster”-looking couple in front of me, toting along their almost accessory-like adorable son. The café was dimly lit, and blasted some amazing band I had never heard before. In hindsight, I regret not asking what they were playing. But really, the sound system in this coffee shop was incredible. Obviously, Williamsburgians have their priorities straight. The place was packed with a plethora of young artists, all intently gazing upon the gentle glow of their laptops. I was incredibly amused by the overly tattooed and pierced barista staff, who ignored me and the growing line of customers for a few minutes while they joked and gossiped about their Saturday night. After about two minutes, the fully-bearded cashier turned to smile and ask what I would like. I asked for his opinion on the loose-leaf teas and we agreed that a cup of Irish Breakfast would be my best bet. $1.75 plus $0.25 in tip jar = $2.00 spent.
After getting my beverage, I wandered back out to the streets and allowed myself to get lost in the mix of pedestrians out for their Sunday errands. I came across several clothing boutiques, a discount pet-supply store, a public pool (Mom, I took a picture just for you), and eventually made it to the Williamsburg bridge. Arriving here, I turned around and continued my walkabout through some different streets. I found it really refreshing to be in a neighborhood with smaller buildings, less traffic, and far less noise in general. (I write this as someone’s car alarm goes off outside my window for the umpteenth time today.) I was also astounded by the friendliness of drivers – an approaching Volvo actually saw me waiting to cross a street, stopped their car and waved and smiled for me to go. I know, right? But the highlight of my day was certainly when I arrived at “Brooklyn Industries,” a clothing store on Bedford that was flourishing a sign claiming up to 80% off. I was not disappointed. Let’s just say I didn’t factor in buying a winter parka to my $10 budget. It’s okay though, this was something I had been planning to purchase – and I ended up getting a perfect jacket at a great price!
After my adventure with the jacket, I headed back down Bedford to find some lunch. I had noticed a Thai restaurant earlier, so I popped in after spotting their $5.55 lunch special. “Tai Thai” served up a yummy spring roll with a huge bowl of delicious Pad Thai that did not disappoint my stomach. $6.00 + $2.00 tip = $8.00 spent. Lunch was perfect. After reaching my $10 budget for the day, and feeling the need for a naptime, I packed up and headed back to the subway.
All in all, my exploration was fantastic! Looking forward to a new adventure next week – any ideas what neighborhood I should check out? Please feel free to give me your advice!