Chic boutiques and top-flight restaurants are rescuing Smith Street. Could this be the hottest spot in the outer boroughs? It's noon on Smith Street, a rapidly gentrifying strip in Brooklyn that has become a shopping, eating, and drinking destination for tourists from Australia, Germany, Japan—even Manhattan. At Halcyon, a coffeehouse among the 19th-century storefronts that line the street, the day's first cup of espresso is just now being served. One of Halcyon's owners is asked about the establishment's untraditional business hours.
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Chic boutiques and top-flight restaurants are rescuing Smith Street. Could this be the hottest spot in the outer boroughs? It's noon on Smith Street, a rapidly gentrifying strip in Brooklyn that has become a shopping, eating, and drinking destination for tourists from Australia, Germany, Japan—even Manhattan. At Halcyon, a coffeehouse among the 19th-century storefronts that line the street, the day's first cup of espresso is just now being served.
One of Halcyon's owners is asked about the establishment's untraditional business hours. There's no question that Shawn Schwartz and his partners are running a sharp operation: Halcyon attracts a hip, energetic crowd, as do the almost three dozen restaurants, bars, and boutiques that have opened in the past couple of years along this block stretch. Still, what kind of coffee shop opens at noon?
Schwartz starts explaining why he and his partners created Halcyon way back in , when the street was only a fraction as gentrified as it is now. Like a giant public living room, with as much intimacy as a public space can have.
Ah, those halcyon days. The counterpoint to the new breed of Smith Streeter—indeed, a counterpoint to Schwartz's idea of what a living room should look like—is never far from one's mind here. Just peek into the red-velvet and gold den of an elderly, housedress-clad Italian woman who recently answered the door at a brownstone just around the corner from Halcyon. It was a. Then, shuffling around a knee-high ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary and vases overflowing with silk flowers, she ushered her visitors in for tea.
Fortunately, her son was indeed still breathing. This woman is part of a community that believes there are two types of people in the neighborhood: Italians and liberals.
Yet it's hard to find an old-timer who's bitter about the district's evolution. Just seven years ago, treeless Smith Street was a poster child for urban decay: Crumbling sidewalks had sunken alongside the dimly lit street, which itself was caving in because of poor maintenance and the improperly backfilled subway underneath. Business vacancies persisted, after having peaked at about 30 percent in the eighties, and many of the shops that weren't shuttered or converted into cheap, dark apartments were occupied by members-only Hispanic social clubs.
Drugs and prostitution were a problem. The landscape was as flat and bleak as a ghost town. He worked for years to fix up this street—in much the same way that urban pioneers on Beale Street in Memphis, High Street in Columbus, Ohio, and Main Street in the Over-the-Rhine section of Cincinnati revitalized their neighborhoods.
In the area surrounding Smith Street, a fledgling urban revival had taken hold in the late sixties, led primarily by hippies who were lured from Manhattan by the low cost of renting or buying three- and four-story brick town houses and Greek Revival and Italianate brownstones.
The group also organized the purchase of potted greenery to place in front of stores. By the end of , Smith Street's first boutiques had opened: Astro-Turf, with its midth-century furnishings, and Refinery, selling handbags and furniture designed by the owners.
Other new businesses—a French restaurant, a pair of cutting-edge clothing stores—followed. And followed. The latest shops offer everything from evening gowns to southern African bowls made of recycled telephone wire. The food ranges from American to Vietnamese to tapas to sushi.
Original wooden lintels meet spare window displays and understated signs; restored tin ceilings meet cool and spare, or warm and eclectic, interiors. The old-world elements that endure—the remaining social clubs that spill flamenco music out their doors, the Latino men flipping dominoes at card tables, the Italians playing boccie in Carroll Park, the Yemeni kids tossing pebbles on game boards spray-painted onto the sidewalk—are respected by the newcomers.
For a while last year, there was fearful talk among store owners that what had happened in Manhattan's Nolita neighborhood—a thorough transformation from ethnic to cool chic, with a prevailing competitive attitude—might happen here. But in general a surprising camaraderie exists among the merchants. Still, some regret that the street has become gentrified so quickly that entrepreneurs such as young designers are already priced out.
My friend owns this building. He's not going to raise my rent. Even better, the owners can rent or sell the whole building to expats from Manhattan and live like kings on Staten Island. Not so much concerned as bewildered, lifelong residents and shopkeepers point out that there used to be nothing romantic about owning a store in Brooklyn.
Parents raised their children to do something loftier, perhaps work for a big corporation, not get stuck behind the counter of a store as they did.
They aren't the only ones caught off guard by this new breed of entrepreneur; one out-of-towner couldn't believe that his year-old daughter had settled in Brooklyn: "I always thought Brooklyn was a place you left, not moved to—unless you were going to play for the Dodgers!
Three large apartment buildings—some rentals, some condos—are going up on or near the trendiest section of Smith Street. Even at the street's least-developed southern end, change is afoot.
Here the subway snakes up from underground, and the street seems to disappear beneath it. The look of this border area is reminiscent of Dickens's Hard Times.
Many newer residents are couples or young families—liberals, maybe, but liberals earning a fat salary. Back at Halcyon, Schwartz eventually arrives at the reason why he opens at noon: "I'm not a morning person. It's simply not part of the lifestyle here to rush out of bed or spend the day cooped up in an office. There's a heavy emphasis on lounge. Exquisitely simple jewelry set with semiprecious beads.
Felt handbags and ceramic vases. The store's own designs for children and women — including dresses and linen pants — are at once simple and luxurious. Flirt No. Romantic shirts and pants handmade from vintage fabric. Refinery No. The three have a genius for uncluttered contemporary designs.
Stacia New York No. Stacy Johnson's collection ranges from underwear to evening wear, each piece fashionable without being predictable. All are sewn in the adjacent studio. Frida's Closet No. Sexy, high-style silk and cotton dresses, skirts, and tops inspired by Frida Kahlo. Marvelous 20th-century furnishings and decorating items collected by a Marseilles-born veteran of Manhattan's 26th Street flea markets.
Mai Mai No. Inspired imports from southern Africa — mobiles made of plastic-coated wire, embroidered cotton pajamas — assembled by a former museum curator. Astro-Turf No. Twentieth-century vintage housewares, with an emphasis on chrome and kitsch. David Allen No. Reasonably priced Herman Miller furniture surrounded by inspired artwork, mostly by Brooklyn artists. Swallow No. Glassware galore — plus ceramics, jewelry, and even glass "magic eggs" that glow.
Chef Tanya Holland combines French cuisine with multi-ethnic cooking to produce Smith Street's most interesting food, served in a space that casts candlelight on a seventies rec-room aesthetic. Restaurant Saul No. The creative American dishes in this dignified dining room are the most sublime and grown-up on Smith Street. Patois No. Subtle French food in a bistro environment — with a garden out back. The Grocery No. Understated American masterpieces—such as pan-roasted stuffed squid—in a cool, gray dining room or under a fig tree in the garden.
Vinny's of Carroll Gardens No. Great old-school Italian, served family-style. As cool and comely as a bar gets. Angry Wade's No. An American-style pub. Bar No. The polar opposite of pretentious. Quench No. The slickest bar on the strip. Fab massages and foot treatments in a typical Brooklyn apartment house.
Great food, beer, and music. A block farther east is one of Brooklyn's best clothing boutiques, Butter Atlantic Ave. The racks are rich with new designers, including Leslie Parks, wife of a co-owner of Patois. Not bad for a bar in a so-called outer borough. Shooping and Eating on Brooklyn's Smith Street. By Jessica Dineen May 15, Pin FB ellipsis More. Image zoom. Alli Arnold. Close Share options. All rights reserved.
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Check it out! Inside I quickly found beautiful clothes. Great service. Unique style. Check it out. Very friendly and helpful salespeople. Love this store! Always find what I'm looking for and something I didn't know I needed! I also love their large inventory of Herschel bags, awesome customer service as well! I can always find a great, well priced gift for everyone in my life and get ALL my socks there! Super friendly and always treats customers like neighborhood friends.
There's something for everyone ——The product is cool, contemporary and reasonably priced I always pop in there to pick up a unique collared shirt or a t-shirt a day before meeting with clients on a new project. During the winter, I bought a bunch of gloves and warm hats.
New stuff every time I'm in there. There's a Vietnamese sandwich shop down the block, so I hit them both. Style Read Less.
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