Forgive my language, but there’s some serious shit happening these days in Gowanus and it only seems to be gaining momentum. First there was the bike shop. Then the killer pie store. Then the revisionist clam shack. Then came Brooklyn haute cuisine, and the amazing pastries. Now there’s a member’s only social club for the arts, and a 17,000 square foot shuffleboard parlor. A fancy-schmancy grocery store with a 20,000 square foot greenhouse, too. The latest opening is super-cue chain Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue, and despite there already being some great smoke options in the area, our family went last week to check it out for dinner.One unexpectedly positive side effect is that the formerly bleak stretch of Union Street between Third and Fourth Avenues is now consistently redolent of hickory and spice. The restaurant itself is cavernous, huge, and bustling– perfect if you have a big group to contend with, or just a noisy kid. And the food? Well, come on. It’s great. These guys haven’t been packing crowds in every night for years at the Harlem location by accident. Let it be said, I still think the burnt-ends from Fletchers rule and the brisket from Fort Reno a close second– but the Dinosaur ribs are pretty much the best around. Thick, meaty babybacks that fall off the bone, moist, sweet n’ spicy. Might be worth the trip for the ribs alone.But I don’t want to give short shrift to a must-order specialty they call Dino Poutine. Like college-era disco fries squared, I want you to imagine hot hand-cut french fries covered in brown gravy, pimiento cheese and a mountain of tender pulled pork, garnished with a heap of scallions. There it is, and it is good. If it’s a heart attack in the making, is there a better way to go?
I don’t know about you, but I get sick of the gym. Same old same old, and so I look for alternative things to do for exercise. I’d heard about a place called “Brooklyn Boulders” that supposedly housed the biggest and best rock climbing facility in the city, and so yesterday I decided I’d go climb me some rocks. Located in a former Daily News truck garage in Gowanus, this 22,000 square foot complex is an unquestionably amazing sight. The cavernous interior has been fitted with 20+ foot high climbing surfaces at various angles and shapes, and it’s dotted with thousands of oddly shaped and brightly colored “boulders” for climbers to grapple.I learned there are lots of different kinds of climbing techniques, but for simplicity the two I readily comprehended were belaying and bouldering. Belaying is the thing where the climber is harnessed while climbing a sheer wall, and the rope is fixed at the summit on a sort of pulley, with a second person at the bottom holding the end in case the climber gets into trouble. Hmmmm, I thought, seems like a lot of technique. Maybe not for my first time out. So I went for bouldering, because that was advertised as “if you can climb a ladder, you can boulder.” Being fairly adept at ladder climbing, I thought I should be able to master bouldering pretty quickly. I got my weird pointy climbing shoes on and was ready to try it. How hard could it be?
This shit is hard. No joke, it’s really hard! The grips are murder on your hands, you need serious hand strength. And it’s also like doing tons of pull ups. But the most challenging aspect is you can’t just shimmy up a wall because you get two steps in and realize you don’t know where to put your damn hands. You see, all those rainbow contusions on the wall are coded for different climbs of varying difficulty. For instance, let’s say you spy a purple beginner’s handhold near the ground, labeled zero (for difficulty.) All the subsequent hand and footholds to the top would be purple, and those are the only ones you can use. So with little more thought I just jumped right in. I got halfway up, about six feet… and fell back down to the mat. BAM! I tried to affect an air of “I meant to do that.” Undeterred, I tried again. I made it to the same place but my hands got slippery, and BAM! Dusting myself off, I began to feel a little salty. Climb a ladder, my ass! I never fell off a damn a ladder. And to add insult to injury, there are kids there scampering up these inverted walls like rhesus monkeys. I’m talking 8 year olds, man. So I felt truly humbled, and honestly started to think maybe I should cut my losses and go. Not wanting to be hasty, I sat down over to the side to enjoy the 90‘s grunge rock being piped in and I observed folks bouldering who actually knew what they were doing.Turns out, there is a Miyagi-like science to bouldering. The climber stands and studies the wall first, plotting where their hands and feet should go depending on efficiency. As they climb, they take a moment once they have a new hold… they become still and focused and then there’s an explosion of energy as they propel themselves to the next hold. It’s a very graceful thing to watch. So I tried again. I figured out where my hands and feet should go all the way up to the top, I tried to copy their zen, and dammit if it didn’t work! It felt great getting to the top, though I had no idea how to get down. (You go half way, then drop.) After several successful climbs, I felt I had conquered level zero on that one section. How humbling (once again) to discover there are like 15 higher levels of difficulty, and they change the routes constantly.But in the end, I really did enjoy it. It’s an exciting and fun way to exercise. I would suggest to you: learn from my hubris! Brooklyn Boulders offers some really affordable basic bouldering and top rope classes. There’s no need to suffer through the learning curve. Although, I will say that learning it my way will certainly enable you to perfect the art of the casual plummet.
Because few of us actually have a dwelling large enough to accommodate our entire life, most New Yorkers cultivate a secondary storage place to keep all their extra stuff. The old Carlin bit is 100% true. And we accept this as a way of life; that a certain portion of our belongings will not make the cut to actually stay in the apartment with us. And so we box up all this junior varsity stuff and move it off site. If you’re lucky, your storage is in your building. Or maybe in your vacation house upstate. But often times it’s in some temperature-controlled metal safe room somewhere in an outer borough.And we pay rather handsomely to bury our stuff somewhere… I think we pay $169/month for our own 65 degree aluminum coffin in Gowanus. I bring this all up because I was at the storage facility very recently (I’m having a baby, which involves a veritable shell game of stuff manipulation within the apartment) and I took a look at all this crap we’re holding and I was struck with the idea that it’s all very strange. What is all this stuff we keep and why is it so impossible to part with it? Like a latter-day Fort Knox, we keep these items under lock and key: mattress and box spring, a Fender amp, formal dresses, an ottoman that looks like an elephant, folding chairs, Grandma’s silver, Marvel comics from 1983-1988, high school yearbooks, a lacrosse stick, CD’s, a chest of drawers, a mic stand, hard cover English literature bought in 1997-2010, framed prints, bags and bags of baby/toddler clothes for girls which we will never again need, toys, old linen, deflated balls, and so on. I’m not a hoarder, but to look at my storage unit you might develop your own opinion.Practically speaking, standing in the doorway of your storage unit is a little like looking at your life in a tin time capsule. Memories, nostalgia, bits of the former you, all of it boxed, bagged and tagged — but mostly it’s the lesser stuff you forgot you even owned. I know how it gets there. All it takes is a fleeting impulse that suggests, “…but I might need this hotplate someday.” And in a suburban existence, this would no doubt be the stuff that finds its way up into the rafters of a stuffy attic or down in a dank basement. But in a land where having a washer/dryer in your apartment is an accomplishment and a $450 parking spot a way of life, I guess it only stands to reason that we would pay a la carte to keep some kind of tether to our own dusty past and be happy to do it.
Drinking at the bar? A movie? Dinner? Meh. How about something really different this weekend when the sun goes down… Consider a trip over to the Gowanus Nite Market. The most recent iteration in the pop-up market phenomenon, the GNM is a 5,000 square foot eclectic indoor bazaar featuring local artists and vendors, cold beer, tasty foodstuffs, and a live DJ spinning. One other pretty intriguing detail: this market happens to be located inside the lower level of a gigantic industrial warehouse chock full of boutique movie props called “Film Biz Recycling.” Why not, right? The party starts at 7pm and goes to midnight. It’s a truly unique nighttime experience, only in Brooklyn (natch.) Eat your heart out, Brian Williams.
We’ve been fascinated for several months about the strange entrepreneurial magic that’s been brewing on Third Avenue in Gowanus. Formerly a sleepy crawl of vacant storefronts and assorted social clubs; of late, there have been several really excellent restaurants, cafes and small shops that have taken root up and down the strip. The latest place is called Runner & Stone. I had to look it up, but the name’s origin refers to the two stones used to grind grain in a traditional mill, the runner stone and the base stone. Wikipedia aside, what’s more interesting is that the kitchen is manned by a fairly dynamic duo: the former chef de cuisine at Blue Ribbon Brooklyn and the head baker from Per Se. I knew I wanted to try it but I’ll admit to being confused: What the hell is it? A bakery? A restaurant? A café? We went last weekend for brunch, and as it happens Runner & Stone is all those things. The interior of the restaurant is bright and minimalist, which is perfect because there’s little to distract you from the first thing you see when you walk in: the baked goods. Jesus, dude. I’m not a big sweets guy but what was on display looked so over-the-top we decided to be fatties and order what we decided to call a “pastry course.” We had an apple turnover, an almond croissant, and a cheese danish. They were honestly all varying degrees of perfection, but the almond croissant was hands down the most ridiculous thing ever. Please order that. But we expected them to be good, so no surprise. The surprise was the remainder of the brunch. I had the eggs Benedict over fish cake wrapped in pancetta. Take a gander at this plate. The eggs were perfectly cooked, the hollandaise was light and frothy and the fish cake/pancetta thing was crispy, salty and amazing. I sopped it all up with their fresh baguettes and creamy house-cultured butter. Pure friggin’ breakfast joy. One other note– get their hash browns. Courtney had them with her fluffy omelette, but I coveted them. Go ahead and double order them. And three cheers for Runner & Stone, we’ll be back next time for dinner!
I grew up on Long Island and as an 80′s era pre-teen, a cool thing to do was go to the roller rink on the weekend. It was called “Laces,” and I spent many a Saturday with my buddies there. In those halcyon days, skates had four wheels, chicks wore Jordache unironically and the cool kids always huddled in the middle of the rink. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys low hanging fruit, go ahead and make your wisecracks, but dammit, it was ridiculously fun. If you’ve ever known the joys of speeding through the glittering sequined lights around dark rounded corners to the amplified sounds of Rick James, only pausing to rest for a spirited round of Galaga… then I have some great news for your weekend.This Saturday at the Brooklyn Lyceum you can relive all your childhood roller-disco memories, because they are hosting a Roller Skate and Disco Dance party. If you’ve never been to the Brooklyn Lyceum, the backstory is that it originally opened in 1910 as an indoor bathing facility, but today is an arts and cultural center on the edge of Gowanus playing host to a range of theatre, music, dance, markets and community activities. And apparently, roller disco parties. Bring your own skates and the kids to roll from noon til six, and then from six to midnight it’s just for the adults to get their rollerfreak on. I can only assume/hope there will be this song, and this song, and maybe this song, and that there will be bland square pizza and Dr. Peppers to go around.
Ready for a strong statement? 4 and 20 Blackbirdsin Gowanus has hands-down the best pie in Manhattan. If you have a holiday (the caramel apple is our favorite for Thanksgiving) or special occasion and want to truly blow your friends and families minds, then pre-order any one of their amazing pies.
Biking back over the Union Street Bridgetoday I stopped to watch a group of artists quietly painting the battered waterway. It was a really surprising place to see artists at work. It called to mind for me this thing I read once which touched on Monet’s series on the river Thames.
At the time, it was the Industrial Revolution and Monet was seeking to capture the natural beauty of a commercial river filtered through the smog and rainbow hues of pollution. Maybe this group was trying to do the same thing; to find natural beauty where it might still be hiding in the Gowanus. But then I thought maybe that’s kind of a stretch. Regardless of intention, pretty cool to watch artists at work, though.