East Williamsburg, often written off as nothing more than a hipster ’hood, is an up-and-coming Brooklyn nabe with a friendly community feel, a multi-layered history, and a thriving artistic scene.
The answer to the question, “Where is East Williamsburg?” is often vastly different, ranging from “anywhere near the Grand L stop” to “it doesn’t exist.”
Though hotly debated, the nabe is transforming too quickly to have one unanimous definition of boundaries.
“Real estate in the area has changed quite a bit, in part because there is more infrastructure than several years ago, especially around Meserole, Montrose, and Johnson streets,” said Rolan Sereny, the principal broker at and founder of Brick and Mortar, a Williamsburg real estate company. Lofts are the norm here in terms of new real estate.
The McKibbin lofts, infamous for more than a decade for raucous parties, bed bug scares and its rep as an art school dorm, may have started the trend, but other properties, especially around Siegel and Grand streets, are continuing it.
“There are a lot of loft spaces there that are still available to convert with better prices per square foot than Williamsburg proper,” Sereny said. “There are more opportunities than Williamsburg because it is less over-developed.”
According to a report by MNS Real Estate from July, the Williamsburg market saw losses in the second quarter of 2013, with price-per-square-foot decreasing 19% and median sales dropping 22%.
However, the report highlights East Williamsburg as an increasingly popular place to live, stating a “majority of the new development sales occurred within ‘East’ and ‘South’ Williamsburg.”
Reports from the Department of City Planning show the population of Brooklyn Community District 1, which includes East Williamsburg, increased nearly 8% from 2000 to 2010, one of the highest rates in the borough. There are older residences predating the loft buildings that boomed in the ’90s, including smaller multi-family apartment buildings on Humboldt and Grand streets and numerous public housing projects.
These include the Borinquen Plaza Two Houses at Humboldt and Boerum streets and the Bushwick Houses at Bushwick Avenue and Moore Street.
Nearby, the lively stretch of Graham Avenue — also called Avenue of Puerto Rico — bustles between Skillman and Flushing avenues at the western boundaries of the neighborhood. Here, numerous butcher markets, party stores, furniture shops and ethnic diners thrive, while Spanish-speaking area residents chat on the wide sidewalks.
The large and historic Latino community is one of the lesser-known aspects of East Williamsburg.
“East WillyB,” an original web series created by Julia Ahumada Grob and Yamin Segal, seeks to change that.
Focusing on fictional bar owner Willie Jr. and the trials he faces as “the old timers retire, the new generation forgets their culture, and the hipsters start taking over the hood,” according to the show’s website, the series attempts to showcase themes of gentrification and the Latino identity in East Williamsburg.
The artistic neighborhood is peppered graffiti, which is often more grand-sclae pieces than scribbled names. Of note are the artist Smithe’s large depiction of an eagle on Vandervoort Plaza and the graphically colorful anatomical portrait of a whale on the façade of the bar and restaurant Tutu’s. The walls of United Transit Mix, a concrete company located between Boerum and McKibbin streets, often serve as a temporary canvas.
Event spaces and artist galleries also dot the streets of East Williamsburg, lending to the area’s reputation as an artistic community.
Artistic classes including screen-printing and jewelry making are taught regularly at 3rd Ward at 195 Morgan Avenue, while Teaching Studios of Art at 55 Meadow Street offers popular open studio sessions.
If East Williamsburg sounds like a pleasant place to open up shop or rent a loft, real estate experts agree.
“East Williamsburg is a great place to invest in,” said Sereny. “We will continue to see many developments in the area.”
One of the most common definitions of the nabe has the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the north, Maspeth Creek to the east, Flushing Avenue to the southeast and Graham Avenue to the west.
It’s hard to catch the sights of East Williamsburg without walking or biking, but trains and buses do serve the neighborhood. And although the Flushing Avenue station is in Bed-Stuy, it’s just blocks away and has J and M service if the L is down.
-- L to Graham, Grand, Jefferson, Montrose and Morgan
-- B24, B57, B43, B46, Q54, Q59
-- Brooklyn Public Library, 340 Bushwick Ave.
-- 47 Debevoise St.
The 90th Precinct covers East Williamsburg. According to NYPD CompStat reports, there has been a decline in overall crime in the area. However, there were eight rapes reported to the precinct by mid-September in 2012, versus 12 so far this year.
Mahzen Grill, 739 Grand St. Located right near the L Grand stop, Mahzen Grill offers Turkish culinary classics. With its reasonable prices, a nice mezze (a selection of small dishes) is recommended. 718-302-2010.
Dun-Well Doughnuts, 222 Montrose Ave. Vegan or not, Dun-Well’s doughnuts are more than worthy of the calories. Baked fresh twice daily, these succulent rounds of fried dough come in a variety of flavors. 347-294-0871.
Momo Sushi Shack, 43 Bogart St. This much-hyped neighborhood favorite lies right on the edge of Bushwick and consistently dishes out beautiful plates of Japanese cuisine. Heads up: cash only. 718-418-6666.
duckduck bar, 161 Montrose Ave. This casual bar keeps the cheap drinks flowing quickly and good tunes spinning late. 347-799-1449.
Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan St. This spot has a low-key, neighborhood vibe, fun themed nights (Wednesday is trivia; free karaoke Thursdays), large flat-screens and tasty vegan snacks. 718-366-6311.
Post No Bills, 253 Bushwick Ave. Friendly bartenders and $6 beer and shot specials make this bar, located on a busy stretch of Bushwick Avenue, one of the more casual haunts in the area. 347-721-3631.
Dolly G’s, 320 Graham Ave. Dolly G’s has an excellent selection of vintage clothing at very affordable prices. It specializes in revamping threads. 718-599-1044.
Shops at the Loom, 1087 Flushing Ave. A collection of 21 shops, offering goods ranging from craft supplies to jewelry and services such as tattoos and haircuts, Shops at the Loom continues to evolve into something of a modern mini-mall. A Chabad house is located here as well. 718-417-1616.
Mary Meyer, 56 Bogart St. Three ways to describe Mary Meyer’s clothing: eclectic, cool and well-crafted. Great for funky accessories, beautiful prints and interesting silhouettes. 718-386-6279.
Loom Yoga Studio, 1087 Flushing Ave. #117 Also located in the Loom, this yoga studio has convenient hours, friendly instructors and a variety of other workshops, including meditation and specialty classes. 646-504-0121.
House of Yes, 342 Maujer St. A combination performing-arts center and exhibition space, House of Yes serves the neighborhood as a creative workshop with reasonable prices and a nonjudgmental approach. Call for hours. 585-217-7209.
Cooper Park, Maspeth Ave. and Sharon St. A short walk from the Graham stop on the L, Cooper Park is a great place to spend an afternoon. Take the kids to the playground or the dog to the dog run, or play a game of pickup basketball at one of the courts. nycgovparks.org.
The downside to East Williamsburg being an up-and-comer in the real estate market is the effect of rising rents on manufacturing industries.
In 2009, the City Council adopted proposed changes for contextual rezoning in parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, allowing more buildings to be used as residential properties.
Leah Archibald, executive director of East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corp., or EWVIDCO, discussed the impact of the influx of residents. “It drives up prices of remaining real estate,” Archibald said.
“I’m not saying they can’t coexist, but experience has shown there’s always someone that will complain about noise,” he added.
EWVIDCO, which was founded in 1982, serves to promote the development and retention of industrial businesses in East Williamsburg.
According to the group, almost 11,700 workers have industrial business jobs in North Brooklyn.
Q&A with Meny Vaknin: Chef at East Wick
Chef Meny Vaknin, part owner of East Wick, 112 Graham Ave., formerly worked at Boulud Sud, part of Daniel Boulud’s acclaimed restaurant empire. Here, he chats about the five months that have passed since this “New American comfort food with a Mediterranean twist” eatery opened.
Why did you choose this location?
We are trying to be pioneers of the neighborhood. There was not much around, and it’s an up-and-coming area. We want to bring more buzz and young, hip people here.
What makes East Wick stand out around here?
We serve good-quality, affordable foods. We’re trying to keep people local. This way, people can have seasonal foods without going to Williamsburg, and hopefully more places will open up in the area.
What is your goal for the restaurant?
We want to be remembered as the restaurant that started a movement in the neighborhood.