A Grand Goodbye

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.”

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6 Responses

  1. You guys over in Fort Greene have been so fortunate to have had Grand 275 for the time that you did. We’re still waiting for such a spot in BedStuy, but seemingly there’s no takers…

    Sorry to see them go. Great pix!

  2. Sharon, your writing has made me sorry I missed the experience. Its always sad to see a small shop go…something tells me the infectious energy of the owners won’t keep them down for long

  3. Yeah Grand was/is a neighborhood institution that will be missed. One of my very first blog posting was about one of the many good times I had there:

    http://thehotnessgrrrl.blogspot.com/2005/11/brooklyns-finest.html

    Fort Greene has had its SPOT in the form of Brooklyn Moon back in the late 90’s when everyone from Erykah Badu to Jessica Care Moore to Mums all made dynamic appearances. Right now Smooch Cafe is seemingly taking over the reins so aptly held by Carmen and Mark. I’ve seen Imani Uzuri and Eisa Davis (now in Passing Strange) perform there and have had the best of times. Their vegan fare is tasty as are the drinks, so check it when you can and, if I remember correctly, it is also a Black woman-owned spizzot.

  4. sharon,
    thank you for this.
    all the pictures made me well up with tears like the penguin in the cartoons….transitions are always disorienting.
    we will be off for a while, but the universe is benevolent and will reorder us. one smile in the crowd was eric, he gets his baby back “we’ve had him for five years”. so lets dive into eric’s + mark’s hearts and expand their joy and let it add warmth to our lives + relationships. maybe mark will NOW share his egg salad.

  5. I’m glad you brought Eric up, Michaela, because I’m sorry that I didn’t have a photo to put up of him. And try though I might to catch Carmen in a photo my last night there, she was in constant motion or someone would pass in front of her just as the shutter clicked.

  6. Sharon,

    I am so sad to hear about the closing, and I was not able to say my goodbyes. Love Mark and Carmen. They have been so good to Annie and I, and I will miss them. The photos in your piece and, the piece itself is wonderful.

    See you soon.

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