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

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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

Eating Fifth Avenue – Tesoro Ecuatoriano

The shark is a nice touch.

The shark is a nice touch.

Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park is dense with Latin American groceries, bakeries and  restaurants. (The distinction between those categories can be fuzzy – many groceries have a lunch counter tucked away in the back, and that bakery with the pastel-frosted, tiered wedding cakes in the window also offers roast suckling pig on weekends.) For the next month or so, I plan to make (at least) weekly eating excursions, checking out as many different cuisines and specialties as I can, and writing about them here.

Eric joined me for yesterday’s inaugural trip. Our focus: Ecuador. Two Ecuadorian restaurants face off against one another in the block between 40th and 41st streets. We checked in first at Castillo; although its awning referred generically to Spanish-American food, the menu was thoroughly Ecuadorian, down to the hornado (roast pork) and pescado encebollado (oniony fish soup). At 1:30 in the afternoon, the place was packed with families sharing big plates of delicious-looking food. So packed, in fact, that the waitress behind the cash register just shook her head sadly when we asked for a table.

We were kind of sad, too. But we got a grip on ourselves, and crossed the street to Tesoro Ecuatoriano.

IMG_2411Where Castillo was loud with excited children and family members shouting over one another, Tesoro was loud with a Spanish pop soundtrack. The place was dark and bar-like, decorated with Christmas lights, tinsel garlands that had seen better days and, incongruously, a deer’s head and startled pheasant mounted on the back wall. A few solitary (male) souls sat at the bar, eating soup and drinking beer and watching a dubbed action movie about a disabled submarine. A lone woman was finishing her lunch. A small group of hung over-looking men talked and drank at the only other occupied table.

Eric went Chino-Ecuadorian with seafood chaulafan (fried rice), while I went for broke with a weekend-only special,  Arroz Tesoro. I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting (guatita, what’s that? does tortilla de papas mean a Spanish-style potato omelet?), but if the restaurant saw fit to put its name on it and trot it out on Sundays, I was going to be a sport and give it a try.

What this namesake dish turned out to be was a kind of “greatest hits” sampler. A big pile of yellow rice and a fried potato patty (ah, so that’s tortilla de papas) anchored the plate, surrounded by shrimp ceviche with toasted corn nuts, half a fried plantain, a generous slice of avocado, a heaping portion of hornado, and tripe in a creamy, peanutty sauce. (That, my friends, is guatita, and before you go all squeamish and say “ick,” please take my word that it’s delicious. Or don’t, and leave more for me.)

It was food for six normal people, which is to say, Eric and I left with enough for a smallish lunch the next day.

To my regret, I wasn’t able to try “Quaker.” I had no idea what this was going in – it appeared under the beverage listings – but some furtive, on-the-spot googling took me to an Ecuadorian food blog that offered a primer and, as a bonus, a recipe. Quaker, I learned, is an oatmeal-based drink (yes, the name derives from the multinational food conglomerate/PepsiCo division) that blends soaked rolled oats with fruit and spices. It can be served either warm or cold, and I want some.

By the time we gave up on finishing our food and asked for our bill, the action movie had been switched off in favor of Spanish futbol (Granada v. Real Sociedad), tenemos canelazowhich was also projected onto the giant screen at the back of the room, beneath the deer and pheasant. A couple and their young daughter came in and ordered batidos (milkshakes), the men at the bar ordered more beers, and the place suddenly seemed a little livelier.  I’m guessing that by evening, it was hopping.

The lesson: if you want a convivial lunch spot, go to Castillo (but get there early or be prepared to wait). Drop by Tesoro later to drink beer and watch sports – or, if it’s cold outside, to kick back with a canelazo.*

*A hot, spiced alcoholic drink to warm you on cold Andean nights and dreary Brooklyn afternoons.


El Tesoro Ecuatoriano on Urbanspoon

Featured in this post:

El Tesoro Ecuatoriano, 4015 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11232

Castillo Restaurant, 4020 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11232