City Living: Crown Heights
Photos by Marie Claire Andrea (More images in Thursday's edition of amNewYork)
Special to amNewYork
For a glimpse of Crown Heights, stand on a weekday afternoon outside the Kingston Avenue subway station, where residents stream onto Eastern Parkway, Frederick Law Olmsteds sweeping, tree-lined boulevard that divides the large central Brooklyn neighborhood roughly in half.
There, Haitians, Hasidic Lubavitch Jews, African-Americans and whites emerge from the station. They head home, onto quiet streets of row homes, apartment buildings and housing projects, and onto avenues peppered with curried goat restaurants and kosher fish shops. The pulse of reggae music fills the air as traditionally dressed Lubavitchers go to pray. The diversity of Crown Heights population and streets alone makes it worth a visit.
Its a neighborhood filled with promise, yet still working to turn a corner since the racially fueled riots of 1991.
The geography and makeup of Crown Heights can be confusing. The neighborhood straddles two community boards, two City Council districts and two police precincts. In every case, Eastern Parkway is the divider. Though technically part of one large neighborhood, these two areas have little to do with each other.
This neighborhood has worked hard to pull itself up to get going in the right direction, said Suzanne Spellen, a Crown Heights community activist. The glory days are not behind us because were really in our glory days now.Essential Visit
The Chassidic Discovery Tour
305 Kingston Ave., 718-953-5244, jewishtours.com
This is a unique opportunity to step inside a world most New Yorkers know little about. A rabbi will guide you through life in the Lubavitch community, among other interesting features.
Like many other neighborhoods, Crown Heights real estate was hit hard by the economic downturn. An example can be found on East New York Avenue, where vacant condos that were supposed to sell for $250,000-$350,000 were obtained by the city to house homeless families. Additionally, many Crown Heights residents who were priced out of Manhattan are now moving back since prices have fallen in the recession, said Greg Todd, an associate broker with The Corcoran Group in Fort Greene. Still, Todd says that he sees strong potential in Crown Heights.
Studio on St. Marks Avenue with lots of light
One-bedroom on St. Johns Place, completely renovated, two blocks from the No. 3 train
Two-bedroom on Dean Street, newly renovated, on landmarked block
Studio duplex condo on Park Place, completely renovated, on quiet block
Two-bedroom condo on Park Place, new construction, in elevator building
Two-family house on Lincoln Place, needs some work, one block from the No. 3 train
Contact: Greg Todd, The Corcoran Group, 718-496-5139
Places to meet friends, have a drink and relax are few and far between in Crown Heights. A recent influx of young residents has led to the opening of a few spots that have helped invigorate the nightlife scene.
Tavern on Nostrand
813 Nostrand Ave., 718-778-7160
Half a block into Crown Heights South, Tavern on Nostrand is a popular 4-year-old dining and after-work drinks spot that came under new ownership in March. There is an intimate, neighborhood feel at the bar, where Tuesday-Friday happy hours offer $5 well drinks and $4 beers. An owner said a name change is coming soon.
434 Park Pl., at Washington Ave., 718-230-3666
You have to look carefully for this low-key bar on a Washington Avenue corner. The only indicator that theres something going on inside is the small chalkboard listing happy-hour specials. The newly opened bar features a generous 3-8 p.m. happy hour seven days a week, where its $2 off all drinks. Instead of the usual standbys, there are 16 rotating beers on tap from Cooperstown, Chicago, Germany, Belgium and Vermont, among other places.
618 St. Johns Pl., 718-975-0196
Part old mechanics garage, part outdoor beer garden, Franklin Park has a typically laid-back Brooklyn feel, partially thanks to the music (think Mark Ronson and Marvin Gaye). The beer garden is routinely packed on summer weekends, where many patrons sip Sixpoint Craft Ales from Red Hook.
Though there are a surprising number of restaurants in Crown Heights, few manage to stand out, but here are several worth a visit.
Abigail Café and Wine Bar
807 Classon Ave., 718-399-3200
This bright, airy spot, which opened a year ago, offers a diverse, affordable selection of wines and tap beers, along with an ambitious menu that often hits the mark. The roasted monkfish with a pea puree and roasted radishes is a refreshing summer dish. Abigail also offers a jazz brunch, and holds various weekly events that are detailed on the Web site.
732 Classon Ave., 718-622-3100, cash only
This small Mexican restaurant serves flavorful food to a neighborhood crowd. In the tacos ($3), the vegetables are fresh, and the sauces are vibrant.
Davids Brisket House and Deli
533 Nostrand Ave., no phone
Though its just over the Atlantic Avenue border into Bedford-Stuyvesant, this old-school joint is worth mentioning. Inside this narrow, informal spot, youll taste some of the best pastrami and brisket sandwiches ($7.50) outside of Katzs in Manhattan. Thinly sliced brisket, doused with juices, on rye with mustard and a pickle from Davids is a true New York City lunch.
803 Washington Ave., 718-398-3575, cash only
There are a seemingly infinite number of West Indian restaurants serving jerk chicken and other specialties in Crown Heights, but this one is the best. You might have to wait for a seat at this restaurant across Eastern Parkway from the Brooklyn Museum, but its worth it. If youre looking for an authentic taste of West Indian Crown Heights, order the jerk chicken platter ($8) and a Ting grapefruit soda to drink.
Valerie Bowers, a 65-year-old former librarian, has lived in a three-story row house on Dean Street in Crown Heights since 1949.
What was the neighborhoods character and flavor like when you were growing up?
It was more integrated. There were more white people. Theyre starting to move back now. You had bakeries, butcher shops, individual greengrocers and ice cream parlors. We didnt have to leave the neighborhood to shop for clothing, which you do now. It was just a safe, friendly place to live.
Are there still remnants of that Crown Heights?
With all the crime problems we had in the 70s and 80s, this has been a stable community. So many of the properties have been passed down by families through generations. I still know my neighbors on either side from a long time ago. Its not a transient place.
Is there anything youd like to change?
Nostrand Avenue. I would like to see a better variety of commercial stores. I dont know how many roti shops, how many nail shops there are, but theres hardly any variety.
What do you think attracts people to this area?
The neighborliness. Its a real community.
If someone had a few hours to spend in Crown Heights, what would you suggest they do?
Walk around. I would go down Dean Street, turn right at New York Avenue, and just look at the houses.
Again, the lack of quality retail in Crown Heights is a concern, but the diversity of the neighborhood results in a variety of stores that add flavor to the neighborhood.
500 Prospect Pl., 718-622-3494
The outlet store for Dumbos Bluberi and Prospect Heights Redberi sells fashionable off-season vintage and designer womens clothing, bags, shoes and jewelry. Clothing is up to 60 percent off, bags up to 50 percent, shoes up to 40 percent and jewelry up to 30 percent.
Judaica World of Crown Heights
329 Kingston Ave., 718-604-1020,
A block from the Lubavitch headquarters is Judaica World, one of the best places for Jewish items in New York City. It sells, among other items, menorahs, mezuzahs, Sabbath candleholders, yarmulkes, and Jewish books and music.
Raskins Fish Market
320 Kingston Ave., 718-756-9521,
Since 1961, Raskins has offered a wide variety of fresh kosher fish, pickled vegetables and other Jewish specialties. This is a taste of the real old Jewish New York that, for the most part, long ago left the Lower East Side.
Brooklyn Beverage Barn
1423 Bedford Ave., 718-783-0101
Another former auto garage turned drink-themed establishment, Brooklyn Beverage Barn has a selection of beers from breweries such as Flying Dog, Dogfish Head, and St. Peters a rarity in Crown Heights.
Weeksville Heritage Center
1698 Bergen St., 718-756-5250
Three historic homes from one of the first free black communities in the country still stand in the northeastern section of Crown Heights. Named for James Weeks, who bought the land in 1838, the village was once home to about 500 residents.
Brooklyn Childrens Museum
145 Brooklyn Ave., 718-735-4400
The attractive museum features child-friendly exhibits that teach visitors about Brooklyn, its ethnic groups and cuisines. Children can also learn about area stream and woodland creatures and see live frogs. A performance theater, gift shop and cafe are within.
Jewish Childrens Museum
792 Eastern Parkway, 718-467-0600
This is a state-of-the-art, hands-on environment where children can learn about the Jewish faith, traditions, holidays and kosher foods. They can also eat at a kosher deli.
200 Eastern Pkwy., 718-638-5000
Housed inside a grand, 1895 Beaux-Arts building, this is the second-largest art museum in the city. It features permanent collections of paintings by prominent artists, ancient Egyptian works, and masks from Africa and the Pacific Islands.
Bedford Avenue at Dean Street
See several pieces of historic Crown Heights here: a statue of Ulysses S. Grant on horseback, the former Unity League Club headquarters and several examples of classic Crown Heights North architecture.