Must-See Brighton Beach: 13 Great Things to See and Do
by Laura Kusnyer, 01/01/2010
Café at Your Mother-in-Law (left) photo by Will Steacy; M&I International Foods photo by Paul Aresu
One of New York City's most exciting assets is its ability to transport people to new worlds for the price of a subway ride. Brighton Beach is one of those worlds. Also called Little Odessa, a reference to the Ukrainian city from which many of its residents hail, the Brooklyn neighborhood is known for its tight-knit, Russian-speaking community and the colorful shops, food emporiums and restaurants (much of their signage in Cyrillic) that line Brighton Beach Avenue beneath the rumble of the elevated subway lines. Once a beach getaway for wealthy New Yorkers, the neighborhood saw its first influx of Jewish immigrants—a number of them Holocaust survivors—in the 1930s, '40s and '50s; a second wave began when the Soviet Union relaxed its emigration policy in the late 1970s and continued through its eventual dissolution in the '90s. Georgians, Armenians, Uzbekistanis and many other groups from the former Soviet Union have settled here as well, their knowledge of Russian continuing to operate as a common bond. Georgia native Gio Asatiani, who works at boardwalk hotspot Volna, praises the sense of togetherness that different ethnic groups have established in Little Odessa: "We all found something familiar here, standing with each other. We speak the same language. It's definitely a community."
It's a community unlike any other you'll find in NYC. As soon as you set foot on Brighton Beach Avenue, you'll notice that few of the lively conversations at fruit stands and on the sidewalk are in English. Liquor stores hold hard-to-find treasures like Ukrainian honey-pepper vodka; a handful of caviar stands sell the delicacy at drool-worthy prices; and stores and restaurants tend toward the decorative and plush, as if they were transplanted from the Old World. Don't be shy to peek into windowless haunts and dive into conversation with shopkeepers, who at times might seem distant. Simply tell them their place of business is "beautiful"—which it more than likely will be—and the smiles will come.