BroBos in Paradise

‘ANYONE WANT ANYTHING?’

IT’S POSSIBLE TO back away from BroBoism, of course. GQ editor Mickey Rapkin, whose book Theater Geek publishes June 1, moved to Carroll Gardens in 2007. He did it because he was 29 and wanted to buy an apartment, and doing so in Brooklyn made the most financial sense. Plus, a lot of his friends in the media lived there; if they liked it, he figured, chances are so would he.

Whoops.

“I hated it. From day one, I hated it,” Mr. Rapkin said. “I would get out of the subway at Carroll Gardens at 9 o’clock at night, and it would be dead. It was so sleepy. I felt too young to be in a place that was so sleepy.”

The commute killed him. Not only was it long, it was full of social hazards. “The F train is like the publishing express,” Mr. Rapkin said. He sounded traumatized! “You think you’re gonna get reading done on the train until you run into everybody you interned with 15 years ago.”

In October, Mr. Rapkin decided he couldn’t take it anymore. He sublet his apartment and resolved to sell it as soon as the market rebounded a little. Now he’s in the West Village. “I love it! I feel like myself again,” he said. “Manhattan has changed a lot, but it’s still noisy and it still feels electric and there are still people around all the time. I hear people screaming outside my window at 4 a.m. and I find that comforting.”

But the most committed BroBos insist their kind of comfort is not a mark of having given up, but simple progress.

As Saturday afternoon dragged into evening and the flea market died down, an actor named Ryan Mills was tending bar at the super-friendly Fort Greene watering hole Moe’s and thinking about whether, as a bona fide BroBo with a backyard, he was somehow worse off than the New Yorkers who came before him. Mr. Mills moved to Manhattan in 2003, where he couch-surfed for a while. The night of the blackout that year, he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with some friends and wound up at a party in Dumbo. There were throngs of people crossing over into Brooklyn that night, he recalled, and on their way in, they were greeted by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, hanging from the suspension wires and yelling into a bullhorn: “Welcome to the greatest city on earth, ladies and gentlemen! Brooklyn!” Everyone on the bridge roared, and Mr. Mills was delighted. “I was like, ‘This is where I want to live.’”

Mr. Mills said he knows all about the romantic idea of making it New York, wherein “you might have to live in squalor and live in a shithole with a ton of other people but you’re in New York.” But that kind of urban roughing—it is just not a feasible option anymore. “Those spots now go to people who are willing to pay for that idea.”

Mr. Mills had an occasion to rough it not long ago, when a friend asked him to house-sit for six weeks on St. Mark’s Place. “It was hell on earth,” Mr. Mills said. The porn stars who lived upstairs controlled the heat and kept it boiling hot all the time. It was December, and they had to keep the window open. At the end of the six weeks, Mr. Mills asked his friend how much he paid for the place. The sum—$2,000 a month—made him laugh.

“I feel like that idea about how people ‘gave it a shot in NY’ is completely inconceivable now. It’s just over. It can’t be done,” Mr. Mills said. “I don’t need a ZIP code to prove anything to anybody.”  

By nightfall, the flea market had quieted down and Moe’s bar had filled up. The fellow from Harlem who hosted drinks for his uptown friends the previous evening was rushing to a party in Boerum Hill, and was standing outside the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway stop trying to figure out which way east was. Nearby, a pack of BroBos in their mid-20s drank beer and wine on a rooftop on Smith Street, right above an establishment called the Nutbox and across the street from a butcher shop. One of them ordered sushi using an app on his iPhone, the consummate BroBo device of ease and pleasure.

“Does anyone want anything?” he asked. Of course someone did.

Reader, the sushi was delicious.

lneyfakh@observer.com