Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Adventure Continues.

My arrival and first few hours in Brooklyn were spent settling into base camp at the Wythe Hotel, but after breakfast and exploring a little, I was ready to meet some of the locals.  I had no agenda that entire day, so I was free to walk as far as I wanted, delving into the depths of the surrounding blocks. 

When you look at map, Williamsburg seems pretty huge and daunting...  But when you are actually walking through the neighborhood, it's really not all that big.  In fact, before you know it, you've travelled a few miles and are approaching another enclave that is completely different from where you began.  The streets are completely flat, so walking long distances isn't nearly as taxing as, say, San Francisco.  I would venture down five blocks easily, take a left, keep wandering about five more and then take a sharp right and end up finding myself three miles away.  You find beauty and oddities in the most unexpected places around here.

I had several hours to kill, so I just kept going... and going... and going.  I found myself meandering south, down Kent Avenue, surrounded by newly built condominiums.  This must be the "gentrification" so many people had been discussing while I was sitting at Reynard's for breakfast.  These huge, glossy, out of place buildings are home to who knows how many people along the waterfront.  They aren't particularly unflattering additions, but I can see why some of the neighbors would be bummed by their massive presence.  I'm not clear as to what was in their spot previously, and I'm sure there are positive effects as a result of their existence, but compared to the quaintness of the rest of the area, these big boys are definitely... well... blocking out the sun. 

What appears to be the best part, in my opinion, of structures like The Edge condominiums, is that they seem to be directly related to the renovation of the East River State Park.  From what I could tell, the park looked to have been given a pretty decent face-lift in recent years.  The comfy grass patches, the newly installed lighting, shellacked park benches and adolescent trees all seemed like new kids on the block- a welcomed sprucing up of the area, no matter.  There were hundreds of people lounging, sharing a picnic, playing ball with their dogs and enjoying the unusually clear skies.  Lucky for me, it was the perfect day to take some amazing photos.  The view of Manhattan from the ferry landing was just completely irresistible, stunning even.

Folks, the first photo is not a pieced together panorama shot (the hubbs was amazed).  I took it, standing with a bottle of water in one hand, baby bulldog at my feet trying to get my attention, with my camera, in between passing bicyclists.  It was an unbelievably gorgeous day.  Even the front of the ferry boat appeared to be smiling as it skipped across the water. 
I spent a decent chunk of time just sitting in the park, admiring the view and taking in the scene.  I thought to myself, "I could live here."  I even started plotting exactly how I could make that happen.  Can you blame me?  The mix of new and old in Williamsburg is fascinating, if not always welcome.  On that particular day, I was ready to pack my bags and search for an apartment and a job.  Instead, I kept walking...

I found myself headed up Bedford Avenue in early afternoon, baking in the light and sunshine that was drowning North Williamsburg.  I didn't mind the heat, and I certainly didn't mind the people watching.  I think most folks were at work, but the one's that were left out and about were friendly, helpful and unique in their own way.  They didn't mind my stopping to take photographs, pet their dogs or ask questions about the surrounding area, which was incredibly refreshing.  It never ceases to amaze me how warm, open and excited people are to communicate with each other here, especially in Williamsburg.  It may be bold to assume, but in my experience, I've felt nothing but love from New Yorker's.  Ok, never mind the occasional sideways glance at my hair, which is to be expected, but at least that usually results in a funny conversation none-the-less.
This brings me full circle to Wythe Ave.  By mid-afternoon I was hot, hungry and incredibly thirsty for a tasty adult beverage.  Hey, where I come from, glasses of Cava are flowing freely by 3pm, so it was about time to sit down and relax a little.  I'd made my way around what felt like 20 square miles on very little fuel and I needed to re-charge for the evening's festivities, so I headed my way back to the Wythe Hotel.
To say I stumbled upon Kinfolk Studios would sound ridiculous.  Ridiculous but true.  When leaving my hotel in the morning, I took a sharp right onto North 11th Street, completely missing the block straight in front of me by about 35 feet.  I was so excited to see the New York skyline, I simply followed the seagulls and the strange salty breeze coming from that direction, avoiding the large, curious "outdoor-indoor" design studio/cafe/gallery/bar right under my nose.  Thankfully, it sucked me in on my returning trek- much to my own embarrassment that it had been there, in my face, all along.
Kinfolk Studios (Brooklyn) describe themselves as, "A creative space featuring a rotating selection of projects highlighting the finest in art, music, food and culture."  To say the very least.  What started as a collaborative bicycle design company has blossomed into a creative empire.  I absolutely do not want to misrepresent in any sense here because I have the utmost respect for these folks, so I'm going to use their own words:
"Kinfolk Studios is an international design studio formed in 2008. Kinfolk evolved from our desire to create unique handcrafted products and memorable social experiences. Using our combined experience from a variety of disciplines we set out to source the highest quality designers, builders and techniques."
"Kinfolk is Akira, John, Maceo, Ryan and, Salah. Our vision started as simply trying to make the bikes that we had in our heads. Simple handmade products whose aesthetic is classic yet modern and most importantly timeless. It’s never been to be the biggest bike company, or to get rich, or anything like that. And we figured if we wanted these bikes, then other people probably would too."
We aren't just talking your run-of-the-mill cruiser bike here.  We're talking top of the line, outstanding performance, absolutely stunning (and pricey) designer road bicycles.  I'm not an aficionado myself, but even I can tell superior quality in craft when I see it.  Just wanted to give the design team a quick shout out.
My experience at Kinfolk Studios had nothing to do with bicycle design and all to do with meeting some fabulous, creative, energetic people who were a joy to share a few pints with.  Let me start by saying that the Brooklyn location is a breath of fresh air when it comes to venues, both on the East and West coasts.  The large rolling garage door hangs open in a welcoming manner, with chairs and small tables spilling onto the sidewalk.  Feel free to wander in, sit at the bar or on one of their many recycled hardware benches (evidently, according to staff, picked up from the Wythe Hotel building pre-renovation).  The back room of Kinfolk is decked out in a luminous mural, allegedly hand painted by the fellas across the street at SKY High Murals, along with a photo-realistic art piece hanging high in the atrium.

Notice on the right hand side next to photo-painting a rail built of wooden slats-- for you trivia geeks out there, those are wooden looms, recycled and re-used from (you guessed it) the old cooperage textile company next door, otherwise known as the Wythe Hotel.
I sat alone at the bar and ordered a beer from the delightfully friendly bartender/barista.  It was midday, so Kinfolk was pretty quiet, with the occasional coffee seekers wandering in.  I proceeded to sit and chat for about an hour, slowly being introduced to people as they started filling in.  Each and every person associated with Kinfolk Studios was as genuine and interesting as one would expect from such a creative place.  I was lucky to make nice with the boys who run Frej- Kinfolk's very own pop-up Scandinavian restaurant. 
Frej (pronounced FRAY) is currently undergoing some seasonal changes and will back in the fall.  I had the rare chance to chat with the young chefs of this burgeoning Nordic-inspired fine dining brigade for a few hours, casually.  It was enlightening to meet such fresh faces in the world of 4-star restaurants, all eager and easily excited by the culinary possibilities on the horizon.  From what I hear, Frej possessed only 18 chairs (all housed in the back of Kinfolk) and a 3 month waiting list, due to the very limited and highly prized seating arrangement.  Not to mention the food- most, if not all, sourced locally and completely fresh, farm-to-table style.  The wildfire started to rage when foodies from all over the greater New York area found out that these fellas were serving a five course tasting menu for only $45 dollars a pop.  Regarding the quality and ingenuity of Frej's cuisine, the New York Times described it as, "an entire meal of uncommon ingredients sensitively assembled can be had for less than the price of some Manhattan entrees."  I look forward to hearing more about this crew of renegade food fiends and their next endeavor.  They deserve all of the success in the world- best of luck to them and may they find their ultimate niche.
In addition to housing the hot spot Frej, Kinfolk Studios also hosts a variety of special events, such as music dj's, art gallery openings and private affairs.  If you are anywhere in the neighborhood, stop by, grab a beer or cocktail, enjoy the atmosphere and party till the wee hours.  The staff is awesome.
Whew!  That's all I have for now, but it doesn't even cover the evening of my first night in Brooklyn.  Coming up- a great dinner visit to the alluring Cafe Mogador... Stay tuned!
Happy reading,
* Kinfolk Studios bicycle photo courtesy of Kinfolk Studios.
* Night life entry photo courtesy of NY Times. 


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