A Bed-Stuy sampler.
About a month ago, tax monkey off our collective backs, a break in a long stretch of inclement weather and a small break in my increasingly hectic schedule, I, at the behest of longtime friend and staunch advocate of the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, the artist TRUE, decided to check into his Macon Manor, a lovely short stay rental in the heart of the Stuyvesant Heights historic district. TRUE lives in the garden apartment and welcome guests on the top three floors of his 102 year-old, art-filled brownstone. Arriving at three I grabbed a cold drink of water from the in-room cooler, took in the view of the landscaped garden and perused the well stocked library of books, games and DVDs. After a brief chat with a friendly Australian traveler who’d checked into the floor below, I settled into quiet, enjoying refreshing cross breezes in the floor-through apartment and a well-deserved nap — afternoon delight.
Afternoon light floods the living room.
Some of the in-suite artwork.
I awoke just in time to stroll the three or four blocks to Olivino, the newer sister location to Clinton Hill’s similarly named wine shop for a tasting. The gregarious co-owner, Tony Walker and his friendly, knowledgeable staff, welcomed a multi-culti mix of customers to join the oenophilic assembly. It was lighthearted, unpretentious and a pleasant blend of both longtime residents and newbies.
Olivino partner, Tony is flanked by Bed-Stuy newcomers from Japan and Sweden.
After nibbling assorted breads, cheeses & olives and sampling the evening’s tasting wines, I was sated and ready for a lazy return to the ultra comfortable bed at 424 Macon. I slept beautifully, really a wonderful night’s sleep and awoke to the sweet trilling of the birds on the tree-lined block and the gentle streaming of sunlight around the corners of the accordion pleated window treatments. I helped myself to the coffee provided in my small kitchen and ambled into the large, airy bathroom to prepare for the day and check out. With space at a premium for most New Yorkers, the apartments (sleeping 7 persons each) offer a wonderful, affordable way to put up out-of-town guests. Travelers from around the globe can get a taste of Bed-Stuy in a convenient location (near the A Express at Utica Ave).
The spare, zen-like bedroom features two super comfy queen beds.
True with a young friend.
Delighted by the temperate weather, I tossed on a summery frock and out I went to brunch with my friend Julia, a local resident and unofficial brand evangelist for Peaches, a restaurant on the corner of Lewis and MacDonough. An extension of her dining room, it is her Cheers, she its Norm and she sings its praises mightily. Weekend brunch is clearly poppin’ at this place, but it’s a great spot for dinner or an evening hang at the bar. Though I settled on and thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp po’ boy and coleslaw, I was nonetheless happy to see that in spite of the Southern/Soul food inspiration, there are several offerings to sate the vegetarian diner as well.
Owner Craig chats with Julia about the close-knit nature of the Bed-Stuy community and its local merchants.
Will serves up libation at the bar, while “Peaches” (a family elder for whom the restaurant is named) watches over from the portrait on the left.
As we left we bumped into the proprietors, Hillary & Lloyd Porter of the popular, next-door coffee shop/wifi cafe, Bread-Stuy where Hillary whips up scrumptious baked goods; life-of-the party Lloyd makes every visit feel like hanging with a favorite cousin and baby Maclemore has captured the attention of the entire community. Impromptu chess tourneys and DJ sets are not uncommon in front of this “village center.”
The Porters with their baby girl, “Macy.”
Bread Stuy. Photo by Bud
Anchoring the other end of the bustling block of Lewis Avenue is Crystal and Walston Bobb-Semple’s Brownstone Books. With its emphasis on titles of African diasporic interest serving the longtime predominately African-American community (their second location, opened last year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music has a largely performing arts-related inventory), Brownstone Books serves the literary interests of young and old with their children’s story hour as well as author readings, lectures and open-mic poetry night. I plan to return to get the August Wilson Century Cycle soon.
Crystal Bobb-Semple and the seminal collection of August Wilson’s Century Cycle stocked at Brownstone Books.
I bopped around a bit, taking in the scene at the four corners of Macon and Lewis: the recent renovations to the Macon Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library; Gallerist Richard Beavers shared his commitment to established as well as emerging artists of the African disapora at his House of Art. Estelle Harris’ recent addition to the SOLA (Shops of Lewis Avenue) mix, Creative Blossoms brings clean, simple floral arrangements and a gardening center to the neighborhood; and new Mom, Josie Almonte played with her gorgeous daughter while sharing her goal of bring stylish, affordable fashion, accessories and home accents to the nabe with her Little Red Boutique.
Renovated BPL Macon branch.
Currently on display at House of Art: Jennifer Crute’s hard-hitting, “I Pledge.”
With his urban setting and elongated figures, Bua’s “1981″ is reminiscent of the work from the late Ernie Barnes.
Little Red Boutique owner Josie with her little angel.
Kicky Spring shoes.
A sampling of the simple, elegant arrangements from floral designer, Estelle Harris’ Creative Blossoms.
Before heading to my hotly anticipated appointment with friend Rodney Hughes at his fragrance lab (see the post, Talkin’ Shop: Therapeutaté), he introduced me to another offering on the art front. Brooklynite Gallery is a labor of love and creativity from couple Rae and Hope McGrath on Malcolm X Boulevard. I knew Hope back-in-the-day from her fashion production company, Asha and was excited to see what she and her artist hubby have brought to the area east of the SOLA hub. They rehabbed a dilapidated old building in the ‘hood into a sleek, modern gallery which takes advantage of yard space and natural light. The gallery is a celebration of Pop Art with a particular emphasis on Street Art and pushing the boundaries. The gallery website, for example, features new media elements like Brooklynite TV, streaming live video and encouraging live chat.
Brooklynite Gallery. The McGrath family (from Global Fusion Productions.)
An iconic photo from National Geographic is re-imagined.
Culture reporter, music critic and local resident Siddhartha Mitter checks out the outdoor display at the gallery.
The office as seen from the backyard gallery.
On Sunday I had grits, eggs and thick slices of smoked turkey bacon at the counter of Ma-n-Pop, a humble diner with an Obama-inspired, patriotic stars-and-stripes decor while Beat Street played on the television hanging hospital-style overhead. A cheap, good meal in a real neighborhood joint.
Collard greens and potato salad at Ma-n-Pop
Later I was enchanted to stumble across Macon Hardware, a delightful hodgepodge of greeting cards, laundry carts, live plants, a selection of toy WWF championship belts and an extensive collection of church hats. When I saw a window full of Sunday-best crowns in a hardware store that proudly bore the name Mrs. Peter Hayes on the door, I had to take a peek. Mrs. Hayes, looking lovely in lavender was making a set of keys for a customer amid the nails, bobby pins and general store merch mix. She (and the space) reminded me of childhood Southern summers spent returning glass Coke and Mountain Dew bottles to Washington’s Servicenter in Kenbridge, Virginia where anything you needed could be found in Mr. Washington’s shop. I asked where she was from. “North Carolina, but I’ve been here 62 years, 47 in this building.” I noticed the prominently displayed black and white photo of her late husband and she began to share the story of how they once lived in the Marcy projects which were at that time, housing for military families, but the apartments were reserved for couples with children. They as a young couple were allowed to move in but “when I didn’t have a baby after six months, they said we had to move, but I wasn’t ready to have a baby.” With the gumption she still has today she convinced the powers that be to let them to stay. She has seen them come and go and with development many do go to somewhat nearby Home Depot, but she has a loyal community following (like that of paint specialists, Oz Hardware on Malcolm X) that I hope mightily continues to support her.
Mrs. Hayes, a photo of her late husband and the proprietor signage on the door of Macon Hardware.
Staff member Jace Rivera with Desmond Prince, owner of Oz Hardware.
I wrapped up my Bed-Stuy sojourn by strolling with friends to the nearby Weeksville Heritage Center, bordering Crown Heights for a free concert on the historic grounds by the awesomely talented DC native, Alice Smith. Giving body and incredible cool in the blazing heat, Alice performed a phenomenal acoustic set backed only by a guitar and sheltered by a yellow canopy which mimicked the sun.
There are many other treasures in this Central Brooklyn community: Solomon’s Porch restaurant, the new wine bar, Therapy, Hibiscus Day Spa, the positive vibes and healthful cuisine of Food 4 Thought Cafe, professional framing at the Lewis Gallery and the famed Italianate villa-cum-bed and breakfast inn, Akwaaba Mansion among them. Coming soon will be the area’s answer to the Brooklyn Flea, SOLA Public Market; another wine bar with organic nibbles, Liquid Oz; what promises with its wood-burning oven to be a delicious hotspot for Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza, Saraghina; upscale grocer, Butternut Market and from the mastermind of Cake Bliss, Margo Lewis, Dahlia’s, a Courtney Sloan-designed restaurant featuring healthy fare.
Though my trek was within the 11233 and 11216 zip codes, Bed-Stuy is a vast neighborhood bordering Bushwick, Brownsville, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights,East New York, and Williamsburg. Don’t sleep on the historical, architectural, cultural and gastronomical gems in this vibrant community.
(Thanks to Julia Chance for providing some of the photos)
Akwaaba Mansion 347 Macdonough Street 718.455.5958
Bread Stuy 401 Lewis Avenue 718.771.0633
Brooklynite Gallery 334 Malcolm X Blvd. 347.405.5976
Brownstone Books 409 Lewis Avenue 718.953.7328
Creative Blossoms 370 Lewis Avenue 347.240.9720
Food 4 Thought 445 Marcus Garvey Blvd 718.443.4160
Hibiscus Day Spa 558 Halsey Street 718.573.0831
House of Art 373 Lewis Avenue 347.663.8195
Lewis Gallery 225 Decatur Street 718.624.8372
Little Red Boutique 374 Lewis Avenue 718.443.1170
Ma-n-Pop Soul Food 349 Lewis Avenue 718.596.9933
Macon Branch, Brooklyn Public Library 361 Lewis Avenue 718.573.5606
Macon Hardware 339 Macon Street 718.574.4244
Macon Manor 424 Macon Street rental@TRUErealty.biz
Olivino Bed Stuy 426D Marcus Garvey Blvd. 718.249.0721
Oz Hardware 302 Malcolm X Blvd. 718.484.8830
Solomon’s Porch 307 Stuyvesant Avenue 718.919.8001
Therapy Wine Bar 364 Lewis Avenue