50 Favorite Places #4
Bond St in Manhattan runs for two picturesque, Belgian block-paved blocks in NoHo. It’s lined with artful boutiques, luxury apartments and expensive restaurants, and is beloved by Instagrammers.
This is not about that Bond St.
Bond St in Brooklyn runs for roughly a mile, starting at 4th St in the Gowanus neighborhood, cutting through Boerum Hill and across Atlantic Avenue, eventually making a hard right in Downtown Brooklyn and becoming Dekalb. Sections of it have long been part of several of my standard running routes (e.g., my short Gowanus loop, my over-the-Brooklyn-Bridge 10 miler, and my Damascus-Bakery-is-calling-me ata’if route, among others). So I’ve watched the street change over the years, for good and bad and “it depends,” but until I decided to write about it here, I’d never traversed its full length in one go.
Come along with me, then, and explore Bond St from south to north. (If you’re not a runner, don’t worry – I’m currently injured, so we’ll be moving at an easy walking pace.)
We’ll start at the Gowanus Canal, which briefly swings west before correcting itself and turning south to empty into Gowanus Bay. Bond’s first block and a half, between 3rd St and the chain link fence posted with warnings to anyone who might be tempted to go for a dip in the canal, is as quiet as I remember it from my first years in the neighborhood. Quiet, but not unchanged: the truck bays of the old brewery complex, which used to be covered in graffiti and poster art, are now a hole in the ground behind a dark green construction fence. The former ice factory next door has been scrubbed and spiffed up with a brass address plate, but plans to turn it into a 550-seat restaurant opening in the spring of 2018 are evidently on hold. (The restaurant at 421 Bond was to be casual and family oriented, but with a kitchen rivaling the best in the world and a seasonal truffle menu, the kind of place you’d find in Europe . . . or Aspen. “Brooklyn never seen anything like this,” the would-be restaurateur told The Patch two years ago, and we still haven’t. Is it something in the murky water of the Gowanus that produces these hallucinations and delusions of grandeur, I wonder, or is it a contagion transmitted from developer to developer?)
Speaking of developers and delusions of grandeur, no section of Bond St has changed more in the last ten years than the blocks between the 3rd St and Carroll St bridges. Where low-rise warehouses once stood, a massive luxury apartment complex now towers over street and canal. I watched 365 Bond and its sibling project, 363 Bond, go up (the developer’s soaring imagination didn’t extend to names). During a brief, pre-construction period back in 2012-2013, when the warehouses were vacant but still standing and security was lax, an artist who lived across the street set out to cover the entirety of their walls with pasted-on cut-outs of flowers, butterflies and religious imagery. They didn’t get very far, and now both the walls and the artist are gone (the artist’s former home is still there, but unoccupied, with broken windows, rotted siding, a loose door and a “No Trespassing” sign).
What we have in their place is a 700-unit complex with a canal-side esplanade in back (open to, but little used by, the public), an interior courtyard garden, a rooftop terrace, library with fireplace, game room (for grownups), play room (for kiddies), state of the art fitness center, and I could go on. While the developer claims to have drawn inspiration from the Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood in Paris, there’s something about the self-contained nature of the building (why leave, when everything is right there?) that strikes me as un-Parisian – and certainly as un-Brooklyn. I don’t know from Canal Saint-Martin, but I do know that at street level, Bond between 2nd and Carroll has gone from this . . .
. . . to this:
Past Carroll St, the canal side of Bond is still lined with low-slung warehouses and industrial buildings all the way to Douglass. Some of these are dedicated to the behind-the-scenes work of TV and movie production, others to more traditional Brooklyn industries like restoring, or at least storing, wrecked cars. Their walls continue to provide a canvas for street artists, so we’re going to pause here for a moment to admire their work.
That’s just a small sample from an ever-changing gallery. Street art is ephemeral by nature, and some of my favorites are no more (like the guy spraying “Fuck Trump” in shades of red and pink, shown here). Others seem to have attained untouchable, iconic status, like the lovely piece by Swoon at Bond and Degraw that’s been there since at least 2016.
All along this stretch, there’s a stark difference between the blocks east and west of Bond St. To the east, industrial streets dead-end at the canal. To the west, tree-lined residential streets climb uphill to Carroll Gardens, lined with pretty, if modest (albeit no longer modestly-priced), brick row houses. Bond St straddles both worlds.
The canal ends at Douglass St, which is also where the Gowanus Houses, a giant NYCHA public housing complex, begin. The Houses extend two full blocks north, to Wyckoff. Opposite them, you’ll find mainly workaday businesses, like bodegas, laundromats, check-cashing services and supermarkets extolling their low prices.
That changes after Wyckoff, where the Boerum Hill historic district begins. With disconcerting suddenness, the housing stock shifts from unadorned towers for poor people to graceful Greek Revival and Italianate row houses, dry cleaners replace laundromats, and 99 cent ATMs give way to cute restaurants charging high prices for mindfully-sourced food.
In the interest of research, I dragged Eric to one of those restaurants for breakfast last weekend. “Building on Bond” should actually be called “BuildingS on Bond,” as it occupies what were once three separate buildings. The smallest, closest to Atlantic, used to be a barber shop, our server told us; he wasn’t sure of the history of the other two. I’m guessing hardware store and corner bar. The cozy interior features lots of wood; distressed walls covered in obscure, faded paintings and doodles; an intriguing paper roll system on each table, such as you might find in a cheese or butcher shop, that Eric and I played with discreetly during our meal; and assorted bric-a-brac evoking a century of retail trade. (How was the food, you’re wondering? It was fine, even if my two eggs over easy were inexplicably served with a side of french fries, rather than hash browns, and dainty slices of baguette instead of real toast. The coffee, from La Colombe, was excellent.)
We’re almost at Atlantic Avenue now. Cross it (carefully), and Bond becomes more commercial, focused on the working-class African-American and West Indian customers who shop the Fulton Street mall area. You’ll see notable churches, too, like the St. Cyril of Turau Cathedral of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, headquarters of Belarusian orthodoxy in exile, which fronts Atlantic Avenue but runs along Bond. Mainly, though, you’ll see hair braiders and quick printers and 99 cent pizza joints and furniture stores with no credit checks and smoke shops and bargain emporia – a chaotic but kind of wonderful jumble of small businesses unlikely to inspire Instagram hashtags. Where Bond turns and becomes Dekalb, a sign on the construction shed around the old Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn points the way to Junior’s Restaurant; you can’t get more Brooklyn than that.
Towering over this jumble are the gleaming towers of “revitalized” Downtown Brooklyn. City Point, pictured below, will soon be dwarfed by the borough’s first super-tall (over 1,000 ft) building – the reason for that construction shed around the Dime Savings Bank.
I suppose what I like most about Bond St is the way it passes so easily from one Brooklyn to another. In the space of a mile, it goes from industry to industrial chic, from public housing to gentrified brownstones, from ground level storefronts selling necessities to shiny towers selling the idea of luxury. Bond St contains the dreams of artists and the schemes of developers, the battles of neighborhood preservationists, immigrants’ hopes and exiles’ longings, and above all, the persistent, insistent thrum of people going about their daily lives.
. . .
On Manhattan’s Bond St, there’s a high-end parfumerie called Bond No. 9, after its address. Its scents supposedly capture the essence of various NYC streets and neighborhoods, from Central Park West to Governors Island. Bond St, according to Bond No. 9’s publicity materials, smells “modern sexy gourmand oriental,” with notes of “Bergamot, Muguet, Pepper, Cocoa Lmr, Coffee Beans, Creamy Chestnut, Patchouli, Vanilla, Leatherwood, and Sandalwood.”
Which got me to thinking: if Bond St in Brooklyn had a fragrance, what would it smell like? There’d be notes of fetid canal, of course, and also truck exhaust. A bit of coffee. A whiff of weed. The memory of fig, for the trees planted by Italian immigrants in the last century, like the one that once dropped its abundant fruit on the pavement between 3rd and 2nd. The aroma of sizzling halal meat and sugary nuts.
In other words, it would smell like home.