Archive for June, 2008

The End of a Grand Ole Time
June 30, 2008

Guest blogger, Julia Chance reminisces…

Say it ain’t so!

That was my initial reaction upon learning from Sharon that Grand 275 was closing. Grand was like my Cheers – a place where everybody, well, a lot of people knew my name. And I knew theirs. Since its opening back in 2003, I spent several afternoons there having brunch and many a night sipping tasty libations and grooving to the high energy beats provided by any one of a crew of talented DJs who knew how to get a party started.

When my boy Mark Chung first announced that he and friend Carmen Grau, were opening a little spot where folks could come for light fare and drinks, I made it a point of supporting their business every chance I got. I introduced out-of-town guests to Grand, met friends there for meals and drinks, brought my book club through for meetings on a couple of occasions, and generally talked it up to anyone in search of a cool neighborhood spot for hanging out. I’d usually describe it like this: By day it’s a mild mannered coffee shop, but at night, baby… A lot of people took my word about Grand and some became regulars themselves. I am forever grateful to Mark and Carmen for letting me hold a baby shower there for my sister. I was going through an extremely stressful time – my boyfriend had suffered a double brain aneurysm in the midst of me planning this event and at times I didn’t know if I was coming or going. My Grand Super Duo made the café available to me, complete with DJ, and whipped up a scrumptious buffet that had the guests raving.

Undoubtedly many of us lead hectic lives here in the Big Apple which leaves us yearning for community – a place where we can let our hair down with like minded folks and just have a good time. Grand was such a place. There you’d find artists, writers, entrepreneurs, students, neighborhood elders, techies with laptops on tables, moms and dads contending with rambunctious toddlers over brunch and fashionable kids conversing at the bar. And it was all love. As gentrification continued at a rapid pace in Ft. Greene and Clinton Hill, Grand offered some semblance of the type urban hipness and authenticity that many of us first peeped in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta have It!

My favorite moments at Grand were the many celebrations that Mark and Carmen gave over the years. Friends and I would head there for New York Marathon brunches after cheering the many racers sprinting down Lafayette Ave. On New Years Eve there we kicked up our heels and clinked glasses. And the September Grand anniversary parties were not-to-be missed events that for me officially marked the end of summer. Grand, being as small as it was could never contain the number of revelers that would turn out. We’d just spill out onto the street, over one hundred strong, and let the good time roll. In the early days you’d catch the corner boys across the street staring in awe at the multi-culti, gender-varied crowd – an obvious signal that the ‘hood was changing. And a cop car might cruise through now and again, but I never heard about any trouble from either.

Last Friday night when my taxi rolled up in front of Grand I witnessed the largest crowd I’d ever seen there. I stood for a long while at the door just taking it all in. Then I mingled, greeting old friends and meeting a few new ones. Throughout the night I asked folks, where are we gonna go now that Grand is closing? Responses were mixed. Some were optimistic that another place was bound to open where we could all meet up again for the same type of good times. Others took it as a sign that it was the end of an era that couldn’t be replicated. One woman jokingly offered up her place. One friend, a regular who’d first came to Grand with me, went on and on about how special Grand was. With drink in hand he declared, “Grand is what [places like] Habana Outpost thinks it is.”

“Um-hum,” those around him responded.

I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t leaving Grand that night until the bitter end. Not till the drinks had dried up, the music had ceased, the staff started putting chairs on tables and gates were rolled down. I sat with Eric Coles and photographer Dwayne Rodgers, watching the die-hards get their last dance in as DJ Bill Brown did his thing. Each tune took everyone higher and higher, with one brother seemingly levitating in spirited African dance.

Finally, around 7 a.m. Bill announced, “Last song. This is the last song!” As the volume lowered we all came together in a circle. I got the testifying started by getting in the middle and stating what Grand meant to me in the mere five years it had been in existence. I talked about the good times and thanked Carmen and Mark for providing such a cool and beloved spot. Others followed with their remembrances and praise. I hugged  everyone goodbye and stumbled out into the bright morning light feeling giddy, tired and spiritually fulfilled.

The place that was, Grand 275, from Lesterhead’s ClintonHillBlog

A fat, juicy thanks to author (Sisterfriends,) journalist and Brooklyn resident, Julia Chance for lending her voice and evocative writing to Pendulum.

A Grand Goodbye
June 30, 2008

Many years ago, in the late nineties, there was a tiny coffee shop on Grand Avenue between Lafayette Avenue and Clifton Place in Brooklyn called Edge City Cafe. Proprietor Ted Harris brought among other things, gourmet café , wonderful scones and a beautiful chrysanthemum tea to neighborhood largely devoid of such, not to mention employment for several students of the nearby Pratt. It was, perhaps, a bit ahead of its time and its shy owner moved on to greener pastures.

In 2003, I was glad to hear that a hip new spot serving coffee by day and adult libation by night would be taking residence at 275 Grand Avenue in the very spot (and adjoining space) of the former Edge City. I was elated to learn that cutie-pie Mark Chung (who I’d met nearly a decade prior) had actualized his dream of opening a restaurant. When he introduced me to his business partner/co-owner Carmen Grau, I realized she was the same fierce sista I’d outfitted in an Afro wig and leather hot pants for a Soul Train tribute photo essay about a year before. They were both personable, experienced (coming from Mesa Grill and Odeon, respectively) and mad cool. Their energy was infectious. They were excited, enthusiastic and basically built the modern interior of their new venture, the eponymous Grand 275 themselves.

Though they were able to make the delicious pressed sandwiches that became one of their hallmarks, their bar was not yet stocked when I brought friends Sonya Wells (who eventually tended bar there) and Jeannie Yepes to the new spot in the ‘hood. With a quick trip to the corner bodega for a six-pack, Mark returned and the group of us (Carmen too) sat in the left window, shared some brew and some laughs. I am a proud first customer (and recipient of the first “buy-back”) of the special place which has become a Clinton Hill institution and transformed a once dicey block into one with thriving commerce. Grand 275 (and Edge City before it) showed the potential and possibility of the area and paved the way for spots like the wildly popular Choice Market and the African-fusion cuisine of Le Grand Dakar.

I’ve celebrated birthdays there, both mine and those of others. I’ve enjoyed both live music and amazing DJs: Bills Brown and Coleman, Eric Coles, DJ Charlotte, DJ Pretty Flaco, DJ Styles and Michaela Angela Davis’ Mother’s Day sets with her teenage daughter, Elenni were great for a feel-good Sunday afternoon. I’ve brought in the new year a few times on their “dance floor.” I’ve watched films and listened to readings. I’ve tippled a “Grand Cocktail” or two and fell hard for the smoked salmon-brie sandwich and avocado-corn salad. At Grand 275 I’ve come to know a cross-section of diverse, talented and crazy beautiful people, be it over an apres-church Sunday brunch or a late-night, shit-talking session at the bar.

Carmen and Mark have worked tirelessly these past five years to create a place for the rest of us to unwind and get our drink, dance, grub, talk and swerve on. Thank you so much Carmen and Mark; we’ll let you go relax now, but know that you and your chill, unpretentious safe space have meant so much to so many and you’ll be sorely missed.

Asha Bandele bids Mark Chung farewell

Carmen Grau, in constant motion…

Below are flyers from various events and portraits of just a handful of the many people who have helped make Grand 275 the special place we’ll all remember.

Demetrius Jacks

Ché Fitzgerald and Kendrick Reid

Toshi Reagon

Meshell Ndegeocello and Michaela Angela Davis

Liani Greaves and her baby, Lauren

Danny Simmons

Michele Harper

Tonya Miller

Dan Sherman

Bill Brown and Grand 275 Waitress and Impromptu Dancer, Laura

Julia Chance

I am so sad that I was unable to attend the very last night of business, but my ace, author and journalist, Julia Chance vowed to hang in there till the nth and was there to shut it down for the last time. Check the next post, “The End of a Grand Ole Time” for her account.

I walked past the familiar warm red facade on Sunday morning. It bore a handwritten sign, “Thank You, Thank You. We Love You. Carmen & Mark.”

Fit For a Faerie
June 30, 2008

Thanks in large part to the dedicated effort of artist Berton Ridley, the life of artist Adrienne A. McDonald was celebrated this past weekend in a most moving ceremony by family, friends, fellow artists and arts supporters, fittingly, at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. Though Adrienne had been beautifully memorialized in her Washington, DC hometown, she had spent many years of her creative life in New York and had touched so many that her NY friends felt strongly that she should be celebrated here as well. Berton presided over the gathering and in beautiful tribute, shared his reminiscences and encouraged others to do the same.

Sherri Hobson-Greene and her teenage daughter Loni spoke poignantly of Adrienne’s impact on their lives, as she had once lived with them and had come back for a little “visitation.” Recently, upon returning to the home they once shared with Adrienne, they felt her presence. When they walked in Loni said, “It smells like Adrienne.” Adrienne had always surrounded herself with beauty and magic and the sweet smells of incense burning.

Adrienne’s incredibly poised and wonderfully candid parents, Virgil and Kelley McDonald shared humorous stories of their daughter. Ms. McDonald told a wonderful story of how she became fully immersed in her daughter’s creative life, when she and her daughter-in-law were enlisted to help Adrienne prepare for a doll show in Philadelphia. She laughed (as did the assembly of those who “know how Adrienne is”) as she told of Adrienne’s exacting standards. Baptism by fire, hook or crook, they together completed 100 dolls in time for the Philly show. Every doll sold. Ms. McDonald closed her remarks by admonishing those of us who have collected Adrienne’s dolls, “You take care of them, those are my Grandbabies.”

Yes, Ms. McDonald, we will treasure, cherish and keep them safe.

Adrienne beams at a fashion and doll show she held in the home of Kim and Ira James in the early 1990’s.

Mama Kim James models Adrienne’s exquisitely hand-dyed dress and makes sure everyone is well-fed; daughter Yhanni enjoys her faerie moment.

Photos courtesy of Adrienne’s former roommate, artist Franchell Mack Brown.

Big Loveliness
June 27, 2008

The Righteous One herself, Toshi Reagon took us to church on Grand Avenue last night. Backed by the marvelous Fred Cash on bass and the angelic vocals of Gina Breedlove, Toshi–in positively beautiful voice–performed a rousing, audience-participatory set in a moving send-off to her “absolute favorite place,” Grand 275. The mélange of her own songs, spirituals, Bob Marley, even Elvis brought the crowd to their feet, hands raised in high praise. The grateful audience squealed with delight when upon Liani Greaves’ urging, Toshi decided to extend the set after a quick ten-minute break.

“The Righteous Ones…”

Gina Breedlove and Fred Cash, Jr.

“By and by…”

Meshell at Grand 275
June 26, 2008

Patrons of Carmen Grau and Mark Chung’s Grand 275 were stunned last night by the news that the well-loved neighborhood hang will be shutting its doors on Friday, so Meshell Ndegeocello’s appearance there was welcome but bittersweet. She lent her talents in tribute to the popular gathering place with an intimate, but rocking set of about seven songs. Her fantastic vocals were backed by Jason on keys and the two Marks on drums and bass.

Tonight, Toshi Reagon will be blowing up the spot in salute and farewell to her favorite haunt.

DJ Bill Brown a Grand 275 mainstay, rocked the crowd (and a Red Coles tee) before Meshell’s set.

They’re Here
June 26, 2008

The much ballyhooed public art project by Olafur Eliasson is here. The New York City Waterfalls, posted at four points along the East River are now henceforth and until October 13, flowing. From the DUMBO office I frequent, there is an unobstructed view across the very active waterway to the post at Manhattan’s Pier 35.

Some are unimpressed. I, however, think they’re kinda cool.

Pier 35 from the office window a few days ago, during the test run.

Pier 35 from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Brooklyn Bridge and its Falls from the BBP waterfront.

At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge Falls.

A Great Day in Brooklyn
June 25, 2008

This past Sunday on the monumental steps of Fort Greene Park, photographer and restaurateur, KalaLea assembled a large gathering of Brooklynites who have impacted the Brooklyn arts community for the documentary project, A Great Day in Brooklyn, inspired by Art Kane’s iconic A Great Day in Harlem. I was honored to take part in this group of creatives and entrepreneurs including MoCADA’s Laurie Cumbo, Selma Jackson, Carl Hancock Rux and DJ Spinna.

Organizer KalaLea and entrepreneur, Anu Prestonia of Khamit Kinks.

Photographers Mark Blackshear and Dwayne Rodgers.

DJ Reborn and writer/filmmaker/Burnt Sugar bandleader, Greg Tate

Ever-stylish vintage clothing maven, Joan Van Hees and phenomenal crochet artist Xenobia Bailey

A similar project, with the same name has been conceived and shot by Jamel Shabazz. Just goes to show there’s a lot of greatness in the BK.

Brooklyn Moment #2: Mermaid Parade
June 25, 2008

We disembarked for our own Poseidon Adventure…

Brooklyn’s answer to Mardi Gras melds the lore of the sea with campy good humor and sideshow freakishness. The annual Coney Island USA Mermaid Parade is yet another thing I love about this borough. I went with my seven year-old friend and fellow Piscean Aria, for her first-ever walk in a parade.

As we queued up for the promenade down Surf Avenue, this lovely woman gifted Aria with a beautiful Murex shell.

Inspired by the Superheroes exhibit she helped create at The Met, this woman imagined Wonder Woman in mermaid form.

A little seaside zanyness…

Heels on wheels.

Jason and his Neptunaut.

My favorite of the day, besides the sweet-faced Aria, was the gloriously airbrushed couple who strode elegantly through the admiring crowds.

Summer Solstice Weekend
June 25, 2008

On heels of the miscommunication and technological misfires that are a hallmark of a Mercury retrograde period, this weekend was a soothing balm filled with art, music, food and friends. I kicked it off with my Prefuse 73-loving friend, Lafiya, at Whitney Live, the museum’s Friday night showcase of eclectic musical performances. The small space was filled to the rafters with fans of the multi-aliased musical wunderkind, who listened with rapt attention as he spun ambient sonic silk.

Wanting a little something to nosh on, we headed down to the wonderful Kasadela, an izakaya on 11th Street near the corner of Avenue C. The service is friendly and fast and the menus, both food and sake are outstanding. We nibbled on the creamy Japanese-style potato salad, lotus root chips and delicious chicken wings and nursed a couple of tastings of the beautifully smooth, appropriately chilled Ginban

As I made my way back home, the low-hanging, waning moon brightened my path and crossed it with that of a friend I’d been missing (a delightful remnant of the just-ended Retrograde.) In a near-wordless reunion, imbued with meaning, we reconnected. Logophile though I am, it is affirmation that language is not always spoken. With a smile, we parted, and I carried some of that enchantment with me the next day to share with my 7-year-old friend at her very first Mermaid Parade. (more on this in the next post)

After a day of parading in Sun and Surf (Avenue, that is) I happily communed with a vibrant group of artists and arts supporters at the return of Avant Yard at MoCADA. It felt like a family reunion, with so many of the artists (like Sadikisha Collier, Laura James and Dirk Joseph) I came to know in the nineties when I curated the art exhibitions at Brooklyn Moon. Music from a host of musicians, was performed live throughout. My former roommate, multi-hyphenate artist, Malik Yusef Cumbo organized the exhibition and event.

Malik Yusef Cumbo by his photo illustration.

Jennifer Cruté is perhaps best known for her hip, cheerfully-rendered illustrations, but she has come to tackle serious matters in her paintings. Her meditation on misogyny’s detrimental ramifications on women is powerfully startling.

Jenn Cruté sits before her painting.

The party continued just across the street at the home of Brooklyn activist, Eric Blackwell with more music, food and mingling. My buddy Dan and I strolled back to our Clinton Hill nabe and capped off the night at Bar Olivino (Fulton Street between Vanderbilt + Clinton), the quaint, intimate new bar from Katrin Polinari, owner of the nearby wine shop, Olivino.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of being photographed with several other Brooklynites from the creative community for A Great Day in Brooklyn (more on this in another post) followed by more artistic communion at the opening reception for the Jamel Shabazz-curated photo exhibition, Positivity at Danny Simmons’ Corridor Gallery.

from Positivity, the work of Toronto’s Che Kothari.

Though I’d intended to round out the weekend with the Salif Keita concert at the Prospect Park Bandshell, fatigue and a deluge prevented me from going. I hear from the die-hards who withstood the momentary monsoon, that it was a show not to be missed.

Free v.2
June 25, 2008

Note: the list has been updated yet again. Download the latest at the Free v.3 blog post.

Okay folks, be sure to download version two ( free08v2 ) of my summer freebie list. Some updates include the MLK concerts in Wingate Park (Erykah Badu, y’all!), Movies With a View in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Tamar-Kali at the Weeksville Historical Society’s Rebel Soul series and Films in Tompkins, the annual film fest in Tompkins Square Park (Blade Runner shows tonight).