Clinton Hill: Real history with a modern artistic flare
A walk down any of its streets or avenues shows that the historic, residential Clinton Hill is rapidly undergoing a change.
Restaurants, bars, bakeries and boutiques continue to pop up along its main corridors, Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street, ushering in a charm to roads that were once deemed too dangerous by residents.
And tucked away on residential streets one can find a number of relatively new coffee shops like Clinton Park Café, nestled snugly on a brownstone block, Outpost Café, and Urban Vintage.
But though many new businesses have set up shop in the last 10 to 15 years, some long-timers remain — a testament that the community isn’t giving in so easily in to gentrification. Some of those businesses include the Clinton Hill Simply Art and Framing Gallery, which has been around for more than 21 years and Mike’s Coffee Shop which has been there for more than 70 years.
“It’s one of those neighborhoods that you can’t describe with one brush stroke,” said Benjamin Wilchfort, owner and manager of Brooklyn Suites, a company at 464 Classon Ave. that rents out furnished apartments to corporate travelers.
Named after the sixth governor of New York DeWitt Clinton, the tree-lined blocks in this nabe are adorned with majestic brownstones, historic mansions and Victorians.
According to the book, “The Big Onion Guide to Brooklyn,” in the late 19th century it was considered a prestigious place to live.
Oil tycoon Charles Pratt moved there in 1870. He later established The Pratt Institute of Art on Willoughby Avenue in 1887.
Clinton Avenue, with its stunning historic mansions, several of which were owned by the Pratt family, is known as “Millionaires’ Row.” It also has one of the city’s greatest concentrations of intact row houses from the post-Civil War era.
Similarly, A large part of Clinton Hill is designated as a historic district.
According to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, those jagged boundaries extend roughly from Willoughby Avenue in the north to just shy of Fulton Street in the south, to the east by Hall and Downing Streets and to the west by Vanderbilt Avenue.
“You can tell when you’re in Clinton Hill; it’s beautiful and quiet,” said Todd Triplett, a resident for 13 years and owner of FREECANDY, a mixed-use art gallery and music at 905 Atlantic Ave.
Triplett said the nabe fosters innovation since it draws inspiration from The Pratt Institute, which contributes largely to the area’s artistic community, St. Joseph’s College, and the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, the historic shipyard that now serves as an industrial hub.
“There’s an infusion of creativity here that’s constant and stronger than other neighborhoods,” he said.
The area’s checkered past began to see an overhaul around 1999.
The Myrtle Avenue Revitalization project (MARP), founded in 1999 by Pratt President Thomas Schutte, was instrumental to the transformation of Myrtle Avenue. MARP along with the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, created six years later, worked to improve the avenue while keeping some longstanding businesses in place.
“A lot of people don’t view Clinton Hill as a second choice because it’s improving. Families can be very happy here,” Wilchfort said. “And I don’t think it’s in any danger of becoming over-gentrified.”
Clinton Hill sits between Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Its northern boundary is Flushing Avenue and the Brooklyn Navy Yard and its southern boundary is Atlantic Avenue. From east to west it stretches from Vanderbilt Avenue to Classon Avenue.
Clinton Hill is dotted with cozy cafes, some tucked away on tree-lined blocks. An abundance of various restaurants and eateries line Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street.
SoCo, 509 Myrtle Ave. This southern fusion restaurant is a big hit in the neighborhood, serving up a mix of Cajun/Creole, barbecue and soul food. 718-783-1936.
Urban Vintage, 294 Grand Ave. One of the quaint coffee and tea spots in Clinton Hill, Urban Vintage is loved for its cozy character with lots of natural light. They also sell jewelry, housewares and other novelties. 718-783-6045.
Mac Shack, 901 Fulton St. This tiny eatery’s specialty is its variety of gourmet mac and cheese, including the BK classic mac and the Mac Daffy, with smoked duck. 718-230-0727.
A sampling of bars caters to Clinton Hill’s low-key, laid-back nightlife scene.
The Fulton Grand, 1011 Fulton St. The Fulton Grand is known for its craft beer and whiskey selection as well as the seasonal beer specialties and Belgian and German brands, among others. 718-399-2240.
The Emerson Bar, 561 Myrtle Ave. Frequented by residents and Pratt students alike, this funky literary-themed bar makes for an entertaining night with a live DJ, board games and pool. They also offer 12 beers on tap and outdoor seating in the back. 347-763-1310.
Hanson Dry, 925 Fulton St. Another beloved neighborhood bar, Hanson Dry is known for their reasonably priced drinks and friendly atmosphere. Drinks include The Dublin Dare, mixed with Jameson Black Barrel and honey syrup and their classic Bee’s Knees, mixed with Damrak gin, honey and lemon juice. 347-422-0852.
Leisure Life NYC, 559 Myrtle Ave. For the dapper gentleman with a taste for unique style, Leisure Life NYC will most likely supply what’s needed. The choices of vintage shirts, jackets, hats, jewelry and home accessories ensure a well put together outfit and living space. 347-725-3167.
Green in BKLYN, 432 Myrtle Ave. Green in BKLYN caters to those living or wanting to adapt an eco-friendly lifestyle. Recycled paper and biodegradable products, as well as hypoallergenic and organic products are some of what’s offered. 718-855-4383. Closed Mondays.
Barking Brown, 468 Myrtle Ave. A well-loved gem of Clinton Hill, this quaint boutique carries trendy accessories and clothing for women at affordable prices. 718-638-3757.
BLDG 92: Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, 63 Flushing Ave. The Brooklyn Navy Yard spans a few neighborhoods including Clinton Hill. BLDG 92, located just outside of Clinton Hill in Fort Greene, is the yard’s new museum. Filled with a rich historical record of New York City’s well-known ship yard, which played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, BLDG 92’s “Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future” exhibit is a must-see. Admission is free. 718-907-5992.
Pratt Sculpture Park, Dekalb and Hall streets. The entire Brooklyn campus of The Pratt Institute is a sculpture park — the largest in New York City, according to the school. A range of sculptures from artists like Robert Indiana and Dorothy Frankel grace the 25-acre campus grounds. 718-636-3600.
FREECANDY, 905 Atlantic Ave., Second Fl. This gallery/performance space promises a sweet experience. The multiuse venue got its start from a Kickstarter campaign created by former Pratt student, Todd Triplett. The aim is to showcase underexposed artists to underexposed audiences. Freecandy.tv.
Construction on a 232-unit building at 490 Myrtle Ave. began this month.
The building will include 48 affordable apartments and house an Associated supermarket, which was formerly at the same address, along with a TD Bank.
According to the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, a plan to build Myrtle Plaza, a pedestrian space on Myrtle Avenue between Hall Street and Emerson Place, was approved late last year by the New York City Public Design Commission.
The $6 million project is set to be 25,000 square feet and will include improved crossings, art installations and space for community programming.
Construction is set to begin this summer and will last over a year. The plan is to break ground in 2014.
Q&A with Sarah Chinn, treasurer of the Clinton Hill CSA
Sarah Chinn, treasurer of the Clinton Hill Community Supported Agriculture, moved to Clinton Hill in 1999 and lives with her partner and two kids. The CSA provides fresh, high-quality produce and caters to middle and low-income residents. Shares are distributed every Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 56. The produce is from Windflower Farm in Valley Falls, N.Y.
What attracted you to Clinton Hill?
We knew that when we wanted to buy this was it. It was our No. 1 choice because it’s racially mixed, it has a history of having [an] arts community and there’s not a lot of turnover. We have neighbors who’ve lived here for generations.
What do you do for leisure here?
There’s a playground on almost every other block. It’s a terrific neighborhood for people with kids. We’re near to Underwood Park and over the boundary at Fort Greene Park there’s sledding in winter.
What are some problems here you’d like to see fixed?
Rents used to be cheaper; they are not affordable anymore and that’s not right. The condo buildings raise rents and you can’t park — that I could do without. We could also use a full-length G train instead of its four cars