My first foray into Brooklyn landed me in this decent sublet in the Ditmas Park area, sharing an apartment on the third floor of a massive old Victorian style house complete with a few stained glass windows, ostentatious palatial bathrooms (with signed tiles of Don Mattingly baseball cards, for some reason), along with a reading nook and secret room in my closet that mysteriously has a refrigerator in it. The neighborhood is comfortable and relaxed, quirky in some ways, multicultural with lots of middle eastern families and Halal restaurants and such. Nearby Courtelyou Road has a lefty coffee shop, a nice food coop and a bizarre combination flower shop/bar. Even if it wasn’t all that nice, it’s only a month sublet anyway, but it’s more than adequate.
When I tell people where I live, they usually respond with a sort of “uhh….. where?” look, which is understandable. I half-jokingly tell them it’s the new new New Brooklyn. Williamsburg is so over it’s hard to remember when it began, I say, and Bed-Stuy just can’t get the traction. DITMAS, Y’HEAR?.
It’s possible this could one day be true, of course, with the large houses that are starting to draw interest as people are priced out of the rest of Brooklyn.
But New York magazine has already taken it a step further. In their Reasons To Love New York issue, No. 39 is: “Because Ditmas Park is the New San Francisco.” Here’s the blurb:
What New Yorker with a repressed slacker-hippie side hasn’t fantasized about ditching Gotham for calmer, quainter San Francisco? Some locals have been satisfying that yen by simply moving to Ditmas Park, the Victorian-packed enclave south of Prospect Park. It isn’t just that the West Coast metropolis and the west-of-Flatbush hamlet share an abundance of turn-of-the-century painted ladies (which in Ditmas now fetch up to $1.8 million and reach their height of Gothic-Oriental grandness on both sides of stately Albemarle Road). You can also see similarities in the restaurant scene: The reigning culinary draw, the Farm on Adderley (1108 Cortelyou Rd.; 718-287-3101), references Chez Panisse (okay, that’s in Berkeley, not Frisco) in its strident locavorism and mismatched plates. And Ditmas’s tiny, cozy Cinco de Mayo (1202 Cortelyou Rd.; 718-693-1022) can hold its own in the Mexican brunch department against the Mission District’s Pancho Villa Taqueria (although the latter’s burritos are admittedly better). Then there are the political echoes, with the Beat- beloved City Lights bookstore and Café Trieste intertwining at Vox Pop (1022 Cortelyou Rd.; 718-940-2084), where, on a recent Sunday, you could order a Cesar Chavez personal pizza, buy lefty tracts, and listen to a live drum circle from a group called Manhattan Samba. “The vibe there’s very San Francisco,” says local Joshua Levy, managing editor of change.org, a “social-action blog network” based in, naturally, S.F. “It’s a bunch of communists hanging out and drinking Fair Trade coffee while reading conspiracy books,” he half-jokes. Not that every Ditmas denizen embraces the comparison. Political-contribution records show that chunks of Ditmas actually lean red, notes Liena Zagare, who writes the popular Ditmas Park Blog. And Mary Kay Gallagher, a longtime Ditmas Realtor, points out that those Bay Area Victorians are mostly stuck together. “Ours are detached,” she says. “That means a driveway and a garage and a backyard.” But is it big enough to leave your heart in?
I like this area — A group of us went to the Farm on Friday where we were served bacon-flavored vodka, a horseradish martini and a delicious vegan mushroom truffle under a soundtrack that could have come off any of our iPods.
And let me clarify that I’ve only been to San Fran once on an extended layover from LA back to DC, a trip where I stumbled across an absolutely impressive amount of donut shops and 99 cent porn theaters.
But Ditmas Park, you’re no San Francisco. There just isn’t that much here yet. The items listed in the NYMag blurb are about it so far. I envision one day someone will build a music club out here that will start attracting the hip crowds, leading to all sorts of new growth. Vox Pop has a big business plan on their Web site about how they want to become the independent alternative franchise to Starbucks, bolstered by the new era of good feelings in the Obama administration. And maybe someone will figure out how to make it significantly warmer in Ditmas in the winters, which would be nice. Even better, perhaps the producers will be swayed to film the Full House reunion next door.
Or they could open up a bunch of 99-cent porn theaters, and it would start to look like SF real fast around here.
(Photo credit: personal collection)