Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn must be New York’s hottest neighbourhood with the coolest people. From the striking, 200-year-old brownstones to several streets recently winning “Greenest Block in Brooklyn”, the neighbourhood has attracted an influx of artistic millennials and young couples, as well as many black-owned businesses that reflect the area’s prominent African-American and West Indian heritage.
Ban Leow, a Malaysian resident of Bed-Stuy since 2007, knows the charm of the area well and enjoys working locally at the luxury real estate firm, Halsted. “I love the architecture, the mix of cultures, including the hip-hop culture and jazz. I moved here for the people,” he states emphatically. He goes on to list influential celebrities from Bed-Stuy that give him a sense of place and history: MIA, Nora Jones, Laurence Fishburne and Chris Rock.
The neighbourhood was designed to be strolled through, but you can begin by stretching out on a bench inside Fulton Park. On spring and summer days, chess matches are hugely popular, with old timers (and young men brave enough to challenge them) crouched intently inside of the intimate, tree-park that runs along Fulton Street and Stuyvesant Avenue. It’s a meeting point for those passing by to get on and off the A or C train, or to stop to dance to the tunes of the outdoor DJs on the weekend who include special themes like Prince tributes or Motown Oldies. On warm weekends, the community sometimes throws family nights, with free outdoor movies and old-fashioned popcorn booths.
For those with a shopping habit that needs constant appeasing, a walk down Lewis Avenue reveals a plethora of retail options – and food stops – along the way. For example, HL – named for the corner on which it resides on Halsey/Lewis – is a vintage record shop opened by Martin Brower in February this year. Originally from the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn, Brower has been a vintage record, clothing and book dealer since 1995, when he moved here from. Along with music, you can also snag woven Mayan shirts, ballet slippers, vintage trunks or even a well-loved bike.
A newcomer on Lewis Ave, Khem’s Jerk Shop is run by Khem from Jamaica and his partner Brod from Antigua. A Bed-Stuy resident for decades, Khem wanted the intimate and colourful space to welcome guests with West Indian hospitality and playful décor. “Smells so good in here,” says a customer as she walks in: the smell of Caribbean food is distinct with the fragrant aroma of fresh bread and jerk spices, and the only thing absent is sand and the sound of crashing waves. The steamed salmon on a bed of Kale, topped with tomato, red peppers and carrots should be paired with the boozy punch with sorrel and ginger.
A favourite neighborhood meet-up, Georges-Andres is a quirky coffee shop that was opened by French mom, Karine Petitnicolas, whose friends call her SuperFrench. There are antique couches, lamps, clothing and accessories that rotate in and out as a sort of vintage shop concept. Find a couch (or an old sports chair), grab a coffee by La Colombe and nibble on Ceci Cela pastries. Employee, Hannah Nacht, loves making cool and unusual shapes such as sunflowers and flying whales in the foam. The hangout is also great for families with a well-stocked kid’s corner. Karine owns a fitness studio across the street. The name? SuperFrench, of course.
While Georges-Andres is French-themed, the year-old Kafe Louverture located on Halsey Street takes you on a trip to Haiti. Owned by long-time residents, Joanne and Anthony Cunningham, the couple named the coffee shop after the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, and features mostly Haitian artists with sculptures, paintings, and jewellery for sale. There are also poignant photos of elders and kids taken during Anthony’s trips to the island. If you have a tickle in your throat, be sure to order a lemon ginger cider – strong and potent – made with freshly-strained ginger.
To catch a show, hop on a bus to the Herbert Von King park, one of Brooklyn’s oldest parks with an expansive green space, playground, dog run, and an amphitheater-a hotspot for free summer concerts such as the annual Summerstage.
While Herbert Von King gets your heart pumping, the intimate Richard Beavers Gallery located on Marcus Garvey Boulevard inspires introspection. Featuring work by international artists, the collections depict street art, realism, and inner-city themes favoured by the owner and curator, Richard Beavers. “I have passion and appreciation for art and wanted to share it with the community, especially to an underserved community,” says Beavers in a refreshing, unapologetic tenor. “I am communicating through the art I choose to curate.”
No trip to New York would be complete without some New York style pizza. Opened in 2014 on Malcolm X Boulevard and Bainbridge Street, Daddy Green’s is pizza heaven with head-turning specialties like spinach chicken caeser and Super Mario. The shop also features rotating art exhibitions and plenty of room for ordering pies with friends.
If you want to wind down after a day of trekking Bed-Stuy, a bottle of great vino can be found at Bed-Vyne Wine& Spirits. A few years ago the wine and spirits shop hosted the South African-owned House of Mandela wine brand launch for the US market, with Nelson Mandela’s daughter and granddaughter in attendance.
The lifelong residents of Bed-Stuy are eager to share their memories of growing up running down the sidewalks and chatting with each other from their sturdy stoops. Barbara Sidbury, a resident for 83 years, says: “There is no place like Bed-Stuy, and it’s a great place to live whether young or old.” No wonder Jay Z and Biggie Smalls gave regular shout-outs to their hometown Bed-Stuy in the 1996 record Brooklyn’s Finest. They never forgot their roots – their ‘hood. And neither will you.