The man with the manicured nails and Burberry sweater looked suspicious. So did the blue-eyed blonde yapping into a Motorola in the front booth. Then a beefy, tanned Eurodude wearing Gucci sunglasses—indoors–strutted by like he was auditioning for his own E! special. Suddenly, an enchanting evening at the new Blue Ribbon restaurant in Brooklyn’s Park Slope felt under siege by … Manhattan.
Stop the F train! After bragging for years that they’d never schlep out to the sticks for anything other than a Yankee game or a steak at Peter Luger, Manhattanites are Ponce de León–ing across the bridges, questing for entertainment kicks. Queens gets hit on the weekends, as does the Bronx, but the Manhattan invasion is most intense in Brooklyn, where Williamsburg and Carroll Garden’s Smith Street are swamped with wide-eyed expeditioners who cradle copies of Time Out New York like Peterson’s guides, examine storefront menus like moon rocks and, more often than not, stick out like fanny-packers fresh from Düsseldorf.
“You can always tell who the people from Manhattan are,” said Andrea Rosen, a comic who waits tables at Galapagos, a Williamsburg club. “They’re like, ‘Ooooh, Brooklyn–who knew it was so close?’ Duh!”
Yes, Brooklyn’s hip–la-de-dah. You’ve heard it a billion times, forked over $25 for McSweeney’s issue No. 6 and ha-ha’d at the Williamsburg hot map in Vanity Fair and the rapturous chronicling of Smith Street in The Times. But consider the twisted social order this Manhattan-into-Brooklyn invasion hath wrought. Remember the scruffy pioneers who yelped about the Thursday-through-Saturday invasions of suburbanites and outer-borough dwellers–the bridge-and-tunnel crowd–who infested their haunts and committed their once-edgy neighborhood to theme-park oblivion?
Well, look who’s yelping now! “I consider Manhattanites to be the bridge-and-tunnel crowd!” roared State Senator Marty Markowitz, a Democrat from Flatbush.
So, Brooklyn ho! To itchy downtowners for whom Chelsea feels chilly, the Village looks creaky, and Tribeca feels tired, Brooklyn is the flirty, tattooed girl at the party–the one they heard about for years, but just couldn’t bring themselves to talk to. To them, the Isle of 212 looks increasingly like the Paramus Mall, and Brooklyn is virgin countryside, sexy and somewhat mysterious. “Manhattanites have found the promised land that we have known for years!” said Mr. Markowitz.
“At this point, Brooklyn is much cooler than Manhattan,” said Ms. Rosen, the Galapagos staffer, who grew up on Roosevelt Island (“So I can say this stuff”) and now lives near Flatbush Avenue in downtown Brooklyn. “Downtown Manhattan might not be Great Neck yet, but it’s definitely Port Washington at this point. Midtown is Jersey.”
This Brooklynmania was preceded, of course, by the latest wave of neighborhood-rattling, rent-spiking gentrification. For ages, people priced out of the city have been swimming across the river, seeking cheaper housing, larger bedrooms–even, it’s been said, trees. These newcomers begat restaurants and stores primed to their lily-white tastes (microgreens in foie-gras vinaigrette! Betty Boop furniture!), and eventually a self-supporting subculture grew up around them. Bodegas started stocking Volvic; newsstands began to sell Harper’s. College kids moved in, longtime residents got driven out, magazine editors’ ears perked up. And then came the rich-but-bored Manhattanites. But they don’t want to sponge up the last few good apartments; they want to play.
“Just recently, me and a couple of friends went to Spectrum, which is the old club where they shot Saturday Night Fever,” said Bill Previdi, a creative director for an advertising agency who lives near Wall Street. “It’s still open; it’s near Bay Ridge. And it was fantastic …. There was no attitude or anything.”
Brooklyn Bistro Safari
“We definitely have a Manhattan crowd,” said Blue Ribbon co-owner Bruce Bromberg, who settled the latest outpost of his Manhattan restaurant mini-empire on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue. “A lot of our loyal customers live in Manhattan, and they come out and say, ‘I can’t believe this is Brooklyn.’”
They’re not the only ones. To many Manhattanites, especially those born outside the city, Brooklyn used to represent some kind of Great Beyond, a historically rich, aesthetically depleted, faraway vastness–cool to be from, nice to visit, just not more than once a year.
But now, amid a climate of great change throughout the boroughs, Brooklyn is being touted as a breath of mellow air, an antidote to velvet-roped obnoxiousness. “It’s quieter; it has a nice atmosphere,” said Noelle Imbert, a Hell’s Kitchen resident spotted recently outside Uncle Pho, a restaurant on bursting-at-the-seams Smith Street. Ms. Imbert’s words were echoed by Trisha Lawson, a lawyer who lives in the East Village, who said of her recent trip to Blue Ribbon: “Certainly, it was comparable to going out to dinner in a trendy restaurant in Manhattan. In fact, I ran into a colleague there …. The atmosphere was very good.”
Food, of course, proved to be a critical lure to Brooklyn’s Manhattan crowd. Nothing makes a pampered New Yorker’s heart flutter like the whisper of a new restaurant; fussy foodie diehards would go to Fresh Kills if a disciple of Jean-Georges set up shop amid the seagull turds. Manhatteners are nothing if not predictable: Braise it lightly and float it in a nage, and they will come.
The food might be familiar, but there is something different to these Brooklyn joints. The Brooklyn Blue Ribbon is, for all intents and purposes, a Manhattan restaurant. It’s plush red and sleekly designed, with pretty, smooshed assemblages on dishes and an angular-cheeked dining crowd that looks airlifted from Blue Ribbon’s Soho location. But on a recent night, the vibe felt a notch nicer. The wait for a table was shorter, the crowd a bit more subdued, the staff less rushed; you felt as though you could knock over your wine glass and no one would notice, much less stare. Actually, you felt like you could drop-kick your basket of peasant bread across the floor. “Everyone is just very laid-back out there,” said Mr. Bromberg.
Similar things can be said about Bistro St. Mark’s in the Slope; about Relish and Plan-Eat Thailand in Williamsburg; about Patois and the Grocery and Sur and Bar Tabac and all the others on Smith Street. Blather on all you want about the Manhattan-quality food and whom the chef studied under, but Brooklyn’s real allure is its diffident, unbossy, almost … stoned feeling of non-Manhattan-ness.
Brooklyn even seems low-key when it employs the old Manhattan tricks designed to keep out the dorks. “There’s a bunch of other places I don’t know the names to,” said William Niemeier, a Manhattan artist who recently put on his cross-trainers and tromped out to Galapagos for drinks with another Manhattanite, Paul Divone. “That’s part of the appeal, that they don’t have names.” Indeed, a nameless bar in Brooklyn feels pleasingly haphazard, like they couldn’t afford the signage and the jukebox; a nameless bar in Manhattan feels desperately cheesy, cooked up by Lizzies in a P.R. lab.
They Killed Williamsburg!
No one’s saying that Manhattanites never went to Brooklyn before Williamsburg bars had reflecting pools or Smith Street morphed into a charming little colony for sous chefs. We know you’ve been going to Grimaldi’s for pizza since you were 9, and we know there’s always been a B.A.M. crowd, a Coney Island crowd, a Montague Street crowd, a Brighton Beach crowd and so on. But this is more pervasive. Now there’s a Manhattan crowd heading to DUMBO, to Greenpoint and to Fort Greene every week, not just when Ralph Fiennes blows into town to do Shakespeare.
What’s weird is that the arrival of Manhattanites–once considered the essence of sophistication–is seen by some Brooklyn residents as the death knell of cool, the equivalent of Mom and Dad showing up at the freshman dorm in Bart Simpson T-shirts. To some, the fact that New Yorkers are there means that parts of Brooklyn are officially over.
“When Diner opened, I loved it, because for $8.50 you could get a plate of mussels and fries, and it was so delicious and cheap,” Brooklyn writer Amy Keyishian wrote in an e-mail discussing Diner, the aggressively trendy Williamsburg eatery. “Then it became The Place. All of these people show up, and I guess I didn’t really think of them as Manhattanites per se, but that’s exactly what they are. They’re all buddies with the owner and they pull up in their convertibles and yap about the purebred dogs they’re buying and everyone’s so super-fancy.”
Williamsburg–an easily reached Manhattan playground sometimes derided as “Avenue E”–is a particular target for these critiques. “Williamsburg is just the fucking pits,” said Alec Hanley Bemis, a writer who lives in Carroll Gardens. “That place just sucks. It’s definitely the Manhattan people. It’s evil.”
Of course, there’s something amusing about Brooklyn invaders decrying Brooklyn invaders. Mr. Bemis, noting the irony himself, said he’s recently encountered the “phenomenon” in his own neighborhood, finding “people who have been in Carroll Gardens for a year talking to other people who have been in Carroll Gardens for a year” about the neighborhood’s decline. (The Onion recently lampooned this kind of conflict in a satirical article headlined “RESIDENT OF THREE YEARS DECRIES NEIGHBORHOOD’S GENTRIFICATION.”)
“Who are these post-collegiate types to be offering opinions about what’s Brooklyn and what isn’t?” asked John Kearney, a former Manhattan resident who lives in Park Slope. “There’s an inherent absurdity to it.”
Derek Campbell, a Park Slope resident who co-produces Movement, a popular Wednesday-night music party at Frank’s Lounge in Fort Greene, chuckled about newcomers who whine about the Manhattanites minnowing into Brooklyn. “There are more important things to be concerned about–namely, neighborhood displacement,” he said.
Indeed, Mr. Markowitz, who is running for Brooklyn borough president, said he was mostly concerned about how the “Manhattanization” of Brooklyn would impact housing prices. “The kind of housing that Brooklyn needs is [the kind] that people like me and people with less income than me can afford,” he said.
But Mr. Markowitz welcomes this transient surge of Manhattan visitors, and especially their accompanying wallets. “Let me put it this way,” the State Senator said: “We’ll take their money anytime.” By and large, he and others applaud the new eateries and cosmopolitan options, adding that their formerly phobic Manhattan friends–“Brooklyn on a Friday? Are you kidding?”–are now more likely to come visit.
“It is easier,” said Laurie Mattera, a Web-site producer who lives in Kensington. “My Manhattan friends who come to Brooklyn, they feel like they’re on vacation!”
And now they’re part of the landscape, these usually sure-footed Manhattanites suddenly lost in Brooklyn. They ramble around, a bit dazed and frazzled, but also invigorated as they sniff out experiences they can no longer have back in the land of the World Trade Center, Bungalow 8 and the $3,200 studio apartment. They stumble, they walk past the unmarked bar five times, they show flashes of obnoxiousness and they jump on the subway going in the wrong direction–but, like any good tourists, they keep the locals entertained.
“The other night, I was going out to get some beers and I ran into a couple of middle-aged women lost in the middle of Bedford Avenue,” said Jeremy Walker, a 22-year-old Williamsburg resident who works in film production. “I asked them what part of town they were from, and they said, ‘We’re from a place we like to call Manhattan.’”
–Additional reporting by Benjamin Ryan