50 Favorite Places: Smith-9th St station

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50 Favorite Places #1

With this post, I’m starting a new project for 2020. The plan is to highlight 50 overlooked or off-the-beaten path places that I happen to like. It’s part of a general refocusing of this blog on travel, both within Brooklyn and New York City and farther afield. (If you follow this blog for running, birds or food, don’t worry – those things are a big part of how and why I travel, and will continue to feature prominently. And if you are unaccountably fond of my long-form pieces, I plan to continue dropping in a few of those from time to time as well.)

I should make clear from the outset that there’s no rank order to the “50 favorites” list. In fact, at the moment, there is no list. I’ll write about places as I revisit them, discover them, or generally get around to them.

Here it goes, then . . . favorite place #1: Continue reading

One Brooklyn runner’s totally idiosyncratic spectator’s guide to the TCS New York City Marathon

Welcome to Brooklyn, baby.

Welcome to Brooklyn, baby.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Originally published in October 2015, this post has been updated to reflect business closings (a sad fact of life for restaurants everywhere, perhaps especially in gentrifying sections of Brooklyn) as of September 2018. 

This is for you, marathon spectators! Thanks for listening to our whining, humoring our obsession, pretending to understand our talk of intervals and tempo runs and split times and generally putting up with us throughout our months of training. As if all that isn’t enough, you’ve further agreed to stand outside for hours in whatever weather November 1 brings. Some of you have traveled long distances and invested significant sums of money to be here on marathon day.

You deserve the race of your life.

I’ve been a spectator along the marathon course about as many times as I’ve actually run the race, so I know a little bit about spectating. The main thing you need to know is that it’s great; prepare yourself for a wild, raucous, exciting time. It can also be a little tiring. It may be cold. Cheering for random strangers will leave you thirsty and hoarse. At some point, you will get hungry.

Since I’m a runner who gets cold and thirsty and hungry a lot, and who uses many of her runs to explore Brooklyn neighborhoods (including, of late, obsessively running portions of the marathon course), I can help. And I want to help, because your cheers are what make the New York City Marathon, in my biased opinion, the greatest race in the world. Continue reading

Race report – the Brooklyn Half (May 16, 2015)

The scene at the Stillwell Ave station after the race.

The scene at the Stillwell Ave station after the race.

Why was I getting up at 5 am to run a race that starts within easy jogging distance of my apartment?

Because when a race has more than 26,000 entrants – making it the largest half marathon in the U.S., according to the New York Road Runners – it’s not a neighborhood event. It’s a global production requiring precision, political finesse, and the occasional tactical compromise.

Like starting at 7 am on a Saturday, so that most of the runners clear the vicinity of Grand Army Plaza before most Brooklynites are up and about.

Like requiring runners to walk through metal detectors to enter their corrals. (So what if they beeped for everyone?)

Like closing the baggage trucks at 6:10 am, so that . . . well, I’m not sure why the baggage trucks closed so early. I only know that (a) they stretched a loooooooong way down Eastern Parkway and (b) many unhappy runners clutching NYRR-issue clear plastic bags were sprinting toward their assigned trucks at 6:09:59 am. Continue reading

Presidential apartments

The Woodrow Wilson

The Woodrow Wilson

Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway is notable for a number of reasons. It is the world’s first “parkway” (the word was coined to describe it), designed by the prolific Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and constructed in the 1870s as part of a grand vision – never achieved – to link Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and other green spaces together via a network of tree-lined, Parisian-style boulevards.  From its source at the magnificent (if terrifying for pedestrians) Grand Army Plaza, the parkway flows past the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum before it takes a dog-leg and turns into a much more workaday artery (less like Paris, more like Buffalo) at Ralph Avenue.

Come Labor Day weekend, the parkway will be transformed into an ear-splitting, bejeweled, befeathered and beflagged West Indian carnival. (Summertime in Brooklyn is bracketed by two festive excuses for public semi-nudity, June’s Mermaid Parade in Coney Island being the other one.)

Eastern Parkway is a fun street to run because the two malls that parallel the main traffic lanes, originally intended for horses and carriages, are now given over to pedestrians and cyclists (who seem less crazy here than in many other parts of the borough).  You can run long, uninterrupted, relatively uncongested blocks between avenues while taking in the view. Continue reading

Hipster business names

thistle and clover

Fort Greene

A few months back, someone sent me a “hipster business name generator” that  randomly creates quirky names like “Mortar & Smoke,” “Bath & Sandstone,” “Coil & Death,” and so on.

As these examples make clear, a good hipster business name does not blurt out the nature of the business. To give a counterexample: although it includes two nouns linked by an ampersand, “KC Tasty Deli & Grill” down the street is decidedly not a hipster business. Hipster business names whisper and wink.  It’s acceptable to hint at what goes on inside, so long as the reference is obscure, archaic, or both (I’m looking at you, Runner & Stone, with love). Ideally, one or both nouns give off a musty whiff of 19th century London.  And while ampersands do look superior on logos, spelling out the word “and” is (barely) permitted. You may substitute a plus sign if your establishment’s esthetic is more mid-century modern than steampunk.

This first-ever Not another Brooklyn blog quiz invites you to match wits with local hipster entrepreneurs. Most of the names are taken from establishments spotted on runs around Brooklyn (specifically, Park Slope and points north) and lower Manhattan. (I did cheat a little by looking up other examples on Yelp to round out the list to an even 20. The alternative was a long run to Williamsburg, and I just wasn’t up to it.) Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day from Brooklyn

cupid crop

After yesterday’s text-heavy post, just pictures today. All of these images are from storefronts on 4th and 5th avenues . . . mainly in Sunset Park, but extending as far north as 4th ave and President street. I don’t know if they’re the work of the same artist, or if, over the years, certain conventions have become standard (androgynous couples embracing, Cupid in tighty-whities).

Whichever: enjoy! Continue reading

The banks were made of marble

Greater NY Savings BankFinance may be ascendant in NYC, but plenty of once-grand bank buildings are now repurposed as retail stores, fitness centers and (of course) luxury condos.  Here’s a small sample gathered from some recent Brooklyn runs, along with whatever information I was able to dig up about the history of each institution and location.

I like to think that the stories of these buildings, combined, help tell a bigger story about financial consolidation. The plot of that bigger story careens from one financial crisis to the next, with a hot redlining subplot, all set against a backdrop of Brooklyn’s decline as a manufacturing center and growth as a lifestyle brand.

I don’t pretend to do justice to that story here, just to hint at it.

(One acknowledgement that absolutely must go up front: as I was working on this post, I quickly discovered  that Kevin Walsh’s “Forgotten New York” blog has visited most, if not all, of these same sites – and many others as well. If you aren’t already familiar with FNY, and you have even a smidgen of interest in the social, economic and architectural history of Brooklyn and New York City, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.) Continue reading