Brooklyn's party of choice

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With belly dancers, ethnic food, sidewalk sales and a

potpourri of music and entertainment, the annual Atlantic Antic returns Sunday

to a 10-block retail strip along Atlantic Avenue. About 500,000 people are

expected to flood "Brooklyn's Main Street," as the 1.5-mile stretch extending

from Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights to Fourth Avenue in Boerum Hill is known,

for a day of sheer merriment.

"It's everybody's favorite street festival. This is the kind of place you

come to meet and mingle with your neighbors," said Liana Hawes, a spokeswoman

for the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corp. The group produces the

festival, which is celebrating 30 years of history. "You feel like you're part

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of the community."

The Antic will be a veritable open house for many antique and home- design

stores and fashion boutiques, which will display discounted eclectic

merchandise for sale on the sidewalks. Art galleries also will be open.

Visitors will hear live jazz, rock and roll, funk, blues and drumming. A

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disc jockey will spin tunes from 1974 - the year the Antic was launched - and

there will be room to dance in front of the main stage at Boerum Place.

People also come to the Antic to eat; choose from a smorgasbord of

barbecue, jerk chicken, spit-roasted lamb, stuffed grape leaves, Asian pastries

and more, reflecting Caribbean, Middle Eastern and other ethnic cuisines

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generally available on the avenue.

The Antic was conceived by two avenue florists, Howard Lewis and Harry

Reid, as a way to drum up business in the borough's downtown.

"They wanted people to look at the street in a new way, as a cool place to

shop, eat and just hang out," Hawes said.

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Thirty years ago, Atlantic Avenue was "a down-at-the-heels" thoroughfare,

said Dennis Holt, who was president of the Boerum Hill Association at the time.

Hawes said: "This festival was very important for Boerum Hill. It made

people look at the avenue as more than just a truck route." The section where

the festival is held runs through what is now a special historic zone.

A parade kicked off the Antic at its launching. Three-legged runs and foot

races also were popular features. The festival grew over the years as more and

more establishments and entertainment were added.

"The Arab merchants joined in, and it really took off after that," Hawes

said. "A lot of people plan their New York trips and their shopping around the

Antic. It's just fun and games; that's why they call it the Antic," she added.

"It's a quintessential New York experience."

The Antic attracts corporate sponsors, "but it still maintains an authentic

grassroots feel," Hawes said. There was no Antic in 2001 because permits were

not being issued for special events after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

But it has never rained on the Atlantic Antic, according to Holt.

Entertainment this year will be presented on five stages. Some of the

performers have become institutions at the event. There's veteran Antic

"Maestro" Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak, from one of the original Lebanese-American

families on Atlantic Avenue. He plays the dumbeq (a Middle Eastern drum) in his

Amer- Aba Orchestra, which includes such instruments as the oud (strings), an

Arabic flute called the nye, violins, keyboard and guitars. Seven belly dancers

will be in Kochak's entourage.

The "Maestro" was the percussionist in the tavern scene in the Broadway

revival of the musical "Zorba," starring Anthony Quinn. Kochak also wrote the

hit song "Shish- Kebab-Rock" in the late 1970s, which helped popularize Arabic

music in the United States. Also an artist, Kochak painted the signs in many of

the avenue's store windows.

The Gowanus Wildcats Drill Team also will be back. This troupe of 35 girls,

ranging in age from 7 to 18, presents a routine that combines cheerleading,

step-dancing and marching performed to rap music.

"You have to see these girls go. People love them," Hawes said. There also

will be gymnastics and soccer drills.

A cheesecake-

eating contest is another highlight. The reigning champion, Eric "Badlands"

Booker, will defend the title he earned after downing 50 cheesecakes last year

in the allotted 12 minutes.

The Federation of Black Cowboys will offer horse and pony rides for

children, and there will be "a big chair for them to sit in and dream about

their future," Hawes said.

Visitors also can study proposals to make the avenue more

pedestrian-friendly in "Building the Boulevard," the Atlantic Avenue Local

Development Corp.'s master plan, which will be handed out.

WHEN & WHERE The Atlantic Antic takes place 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday along

Atlantic Avenue from Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights to Fourth Avenue in

Boerum Hill. For more information, call 718-875-8993 or visit

www.atlanticave.org.

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