Bushwick has become synonymous with new music and trendy eateries, cutting-edge artists and skinny jeans. But long before Bushwick was Bushwick, it was Boswijck; colonial Dutch for “town in the woods,” the name given the area by Peter Stuyvesant in 1661. Before that, it was home to the Lenape people, who sold the land to the Dutch West India Company for eight axes, 12 kettles and some wampum, among other goods. The Native Americans and Dutch were followed by French, Scandinavian and English settlers, then Germans, Austrians, Italians, African Americans and Latinos. Heavy industry arrived, too, transforming farmland and residential blocks into chemical plants and warehouses, and by the late 20th century, Bushwick was the epitome of urban blight and poverty.
In recent years, decrepit buildings have been remade into galleries and performance spaces, sometimes serving as legal canvases for street artists, and restaurants have begun drawing crowds from all over. These days, Bushwick is New Yorkese for “hippest neighborhood in town.” Read on to discover more.
261 Moore St., 718-417-1118
261 Moore St., 646-703-2715
From the outside, Roberta's resembles a bunker, as if the neighborhood's epicenter of cool required protection and fortification. Since its arrival on the scene in 2008, other destination restaurants have opened, but Roberta's remains the most popular—and perhaps the most ambitious. It began as a pizzeria, serving cleverly named pies like Charles in Chard and Fennel Frontier. The empire that pizza built now includes a multilevel garden and an Internet-based radio station, broadcasting such shows as Cutting the Curd (about cheese production) and Hot Grease (about sustainability and food issues) from a repurposed shipping container in the backyard. Roberta's also has pasta, salumi and entrées such as wagyu flank steak and smoked ribs. The restaurant's popularity allowed its owners—Chris Parachini, Brandon Hoy and Carlo Mirarchi, who runs the kitchen—to create Blanca, a minimalist, 12-seat restaurant, named one of Bon Appétit's Best New Restaurants of 2012. Customers can choose the music from the owners' record collection, but not the food, which consists of an elaborate, expensive tasting menu. Not surprisingly, it's one of the toughest reservations in New York.
Shops at the Loom
1087 Flushing Ave., 718-417-1616
Bushwick's version of a mall is housed in a renovated textile mill, with loft space above and nary a chain store in sight. At the Loom, you can practice your downward dog at Loom Yoga Center, celebrate Shabbat at Chabad House, gobble down a cupcake while picking out a skein or taking a free knitting workshop at Brooklyn Creative Studio, get inked at Gnostic Tattoo, play Scrabble over a caffeinated beverage at Kave Espresso Bar and relax in the building's mirrored courtyard.
1037 Flushing Ave.
The Narrows doesn't mess around: it consists of a narrow bar decorated with a few mirrors, some candles and numerous coats of glossy black paint. The art-deco austerity ends at the backyard, which has plenty of patio furniture and flowers. In the 1800s, German and Austrian immigrants brought beer to Bushwick, opening so many breweries in such a small area that the streets around Meserole and Lorimer were known as “Brewers' Row.” By the early 1900s, close to 50 breweries were in production in Brooklyn. In a nod to that history, this cash-only bar and lounge offers several local beers on tap, including Sixpoint Sweet Action, brewed in Red Hook, and Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, made in nearby Williamsburg. The Narrows also crafts creative cocktails such as Caulfield's Dream, which mixes spearmint, Demerara syrup, lemon, cava and rye whiskey into a float, and Bushwick Proper, which consists of St. Germain and Jamaican rum.
Circo's Pastry Shop
312 Knickerbocker Ave., 718-381-2292
You don't need a time machine to discover what a cannolo tasted like during World War II—just head here and try one. Circo's Pastry Shop uses the same recipe as it did when it first opened in 1945. The shop itself feels unchanged as well, with an assortment of plastic-wrapped birthday and anniversary cakes hanging from the walls, counter staff clad in light blue aprons and rows of fruit tarts, cream puffs and butter cookies—baked fresh daily—occupying the glass cases. Don't expect to see any cannoli on display, because those are filled to order in the back. If you're truly hungry, opt for the “family cannoli,” about the size of a loaf of bread and stuffed with 30 mini versions. Whatever you get, find a bench at nearby Maria Hernandez Park, named for an activist who was murdered for trying to evict drug dealers from the area in 1989. Listening to kids laugh and old folks gossip, or watching one of the incredibly intense volleyball games, will sweeten any dessert.
Tortillería Mexicana Los Hermanos
271 Starr St., 718-456-3422
222 Wyckoff Ave., 718-417-0941
Back in 2006 the owners of Tortillería Mexicana Los Hermanos, a tortilla factory, decided to open a little food cart immediately adjacent to its production line. This “nada frills” establishment has since grown into a permanent sit-down restaurant, separated from the factory by Plexiglas. Few tables can mean long lines, but the pleasure of knowing that the fluffy maize Frisbee used to double wrap a chorizo taco, say, is uber-fresh makes the wait worth it. Meanwhile, with multiple locations, Cholula has become a popular Bushwick/Bed-Stuy chainlet, an alternative when La Tortillería gets too crowded. The taquería on Wyckoff Avenue features Mexican staples like cemitas, sopes and tacos in a gussied-up bodega—think tables adorned with red-and-white-checked tablecloths nestled among plastic jugs of Jarritos and bags of chips. Friendly servers give patrons lots of time to pore over the extensive menu, and they'll bring all kinds of salsas—not that the flavorful fillings require any improvement.
Moore Street Market
110 Moore St., 718-384-1371
Located where Bushwick meets Williamsburg, Moore Street Market is also where Latin America meets Brooklyn. The market opened in 1941, part of a citywide effort to remove pushcart vendors from the street. Since then “La Marqueta de Williamsburg,” as it's sometimes known, has been under almost constant threat of extinction; as recently as 2007, outcry from the community helped save it from demolition. Skylights brighten the space, so even in winter it has a cheery vibe. (Vendors who play bomba, plena and other types of music help on that front too.) One of the spots, Botánica La Esperanza, specializes in religious artifacts, including incense, statuary and candles, as well as natural health products. The best-known stand might be Ramonita's Restaurant. A bilingual menu explains its rotating selection of Dominican and Puerto Rican food, such as arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) or alcapurria (a meat fritter). The mofongo—mashed plantains, shredded pork and pork crackling—makes for a can't-miss crunchy, soft, sweet and savory mix.
18 Wyckoff Ave., 718-386-3864
A tiny diorama rests in the wall at Northeast Kingdom, a depiction of a deer in wilderness that evokes the Vermont region from which this restaurant takes its name. But the pastoral imagery and emphasis on seasonality hark back to Bushwick's days of farmsteads as much as they speak to the New England roots of husband-and-wife co-owners Paris Smeraldo and Meg Lipke. Stained glass separates the kitchen from the dining area, which is done up in muted browns and has two elk head sculptures overseeing the many happy diners at lunch, dinner and brunch. Chef Troy Sand changes the menu every couple of weeks based on what's just been grown, foraged or butchered around town or upstate, often by the owners themselves. Recently, ingredients in the New American dishes have included hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, Japanese cucumbers, kabocha squash and heirloom tomatoes.
56 Bogart St., 718-599-0800
By now, it's a familiar New York City narrative: industry and manufacturing disappear, leaving behind hulking buildings in sometimes-troubled neighborhoods. Artists, looking for cheap rent and ample space, move in, and over time the area is transformed into a cultural hub. This metamorphosis occurred in SoHo and Chelsea; now it's happening in Bushwick. A former warehouse, 56 Bogart has commercial galleries and artists' studios. NURTUREart lives up to its name by showcasing the work of new and emerging artists, doing educational outreach and hosting Muse Fuse, a monthly salon with guest lecturers. Originally established in Philadelphia in 1986, Momenta Art specializes in emerging or underrepresented artists whose work hasn't been shown in commercial galleries. Another dozen or so commercial art spaces call the place home.
Street Art Murals
Along Moore Street, White Street, Seigel Street, Troutman Avenue and Gardner Avenue
Bushwick's vibrant art scene even extends past gallery walls and into the streets. Individuals and organizations work with property owners to spruce up desolate concrete with multihued messages. For instance, the Morgan Walls, around the corner from Roberta's, feature a rotating roster of styles, frequently centered on a theme but open to flights of fancy. Many pieces in the neighborhood were executed as part of Bushwick Open Studios, an annual June event in which artists welcome the public into their workspaces. A few years back CEC ArtsLink, which seeks to foster cultural exchange between the United States and 37 countries and regions overseas, invited the Russian artists known as Concrete Jungle to transform a wall into a black-and-white playful scene of bears in a forest, down the block from Northeast Kingdom. Another collective, the NYC-based Robots Will Kill, often paints in and around Bushwick, including along the auto body shops and factories at Ingraham Street and Gardner Avenue. Working legally lets the group develop intricate, large-scale murals. Of course, part of what makes this type of art appealing is its ephemerality: here one day, potentially gone tomorrow, due to weather, defacement, billboards or other large-scale advertising or the chance for another artist to make a mark on the world.