Is Brooklyn the New Manhattan?

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday February 8, 2011

Brace yourself for the new bridge-and-tunnel crowd: Manhattanites are heading to Brooklyn en masse in search of fun. Fueled by a desire for cheaper drinks, more elbow room and the seedy underbelly that the city has lost, more city dwellers are now hopping on the N, Q, F, or L trains to seek their kicks.

"I think people generally think of Brooklyn places as being a little more relaxed," said Bill Roundy, the man behind the comic book-style bar reviews in the Brooklyn Paper. "I actually chatted up one guy who was a tourist at the Excelsior Bar in Park Slope. He was staying in Manhattan, but said he came specifically to check out Brooklyn bars, because they weren't as uptight as some places in Chelsea, and had a wider variety of people."

Local lesbian party promoter Ellie Conant confirmed this trend.

"Brooklyn is edgy, unique, and kind of dirty-but not in a Jersey way," she added. "The girls like to get down, and they are fancy in a glittery way, with body paint and cut-up clothes. It's a Brooklyn kind of style."

According to some, Williamsburg is often the gateway neighborhood for those searching for Brooklyn's bounty. "Somehow taking the L train is not as much of a barrier as the Q or F, even though it is not any further, really," said Roundy. "Aside from going to Williamsburg, Manhattanites will only come out to other parts of Brooklyn for a special event, like a band playing in the basement at Union Hall, or the That's My Jam queer party, or Hey Queen! at Sugarland, where they hosted the launch party for the transman magazine 'Original Plumbing.'"

Roundy, who travels across the borough seeking visually interesting bars and crowds for his column, said he often chats up people traveling to Brooklyn with a specific destination in mind; they go to Greenpoint to see a show at Warsaw, or Park Slope to see a band play at Union Hall.

Conant said her original migration to Brooklyn was more about finding the edge the Disneyfication of Manhattan had whitewashed away.

"When a lot of lesbian-specific bars started closing or becoming 'Jersified,' if made us want to run for our lives," said Conant. "There was something about the West side bars that felt both sanitized and a little creepy. Snapshot was always in Manhattan, and for a while it filled the role of the queer bars that had gone missing. But after that, I started Choice Cunts in Williamsburg, as a response to Metropolitan Bar's 'Girls Girls Girls' party on Wednesdays."

Conant, determined to have a weekend women's party, found a venue for parties like Muff Muff Give in the midst of hordes of hipsters in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint. "People with bands wanted to play, and there were so many venues for them in Brooklyn."

There's Just No Room To Dance!
For some city dwellers, the lure of outer boroughs like Brooklyn and even Jersey City is the age-old one of real estate. "If I go to Brooklyn, it's because I want to go to a beer garden, or a place with higher ceilings," said producer Scott Mark, whose home is centrally located on MacDougal Street near New York University. "In the city, sometimes you are rubbing elbows with people you don't want to. In Brooklyn, you have to make the effort to rub elbows with the right person."

Mark further reflected on Brooklyn's increasing cred.

"I do know that parties like Blowoff are held in Brooklyn, because there's no space here in Manhattan," he said. "Roxy and Twilo are gone, and Santos Party House is the only dance bar I can envision with the space. What I would like to see is someone taking over a loft in Brooklyn, and charging $10 or $15 cover for a party like they had in the '90s. I'm 40, but I'd still love to go out and dance until 5 in the morning. For a Manhattanite like me, I'd take the subway to some place I'd never heard of to go to that underground club or loft, and take a car service home. It would still be cheaper than the entrance cover to Home or Pasha."

Economics is definitely a factor in seeking of a good time. "Drinks are cheaper, and from a gay perspective, boys are younger (and cheaper) both figuratively and literally," said Mark.

Cost is also a factor for the girls.

"The funny thing about much of what goes on in Brooklyn is that's what it's all about-bar guarantees, drink deals, and covers are all much cheaper in Brooklyn," said Conant. "The recession has something to do with it; people don't have the money for expensive circuit parties. I mean, I charge $15 at the door, which is really steep, but I'm throwing first class parties."

Others say the influx of Manhattanites to Brooklyn has only served to make Brooklyn... well, too much like Manhattan.

"I feel like Williamsburg can be just as uptight as Manhattan, just in a different way," said Roundy.

"There are young hipsters throwing parties with music nobody knows, which are so obscure and eccentric I can't even dance," admitted Conant. "I feel like sometimes I they are almost retaliating against bigger parties, which is good for some crowds but is not really my scene."

For Conant, the change became a deal-breaker. "Eventually, I moved Choice Cunts from Brooklyn back to Manhattan because I felt like it had become saturated with girl parties," she said. "The only parties left in Manhattan for ladies were weekly or monthly parties with insane cover charges, or those geared to lipstick lesbians. Moving Choice Cunts was about bringing Brooklyn to Manhattan."

Even for those folks who don't frequent bars and clubs, Brooklyn has become the place to find what's edgy. Andrew Horowitz, curator at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, said he frequently travels to Brooklyn for theater, dance, and readings.

"I don't go out to party, but I go to see new work, because that's my job," he said. "On a practical level, that's where all the artists live; they got priced out of Manhattan. There is a lot going on in Brooklyn, Bushwick especially: the Bushwick Starr, the Williamsburg Center for Performance Research. There are a lot of smaller, newer venues opening up there, people have loft spaces with events."

Horowitz's favorite haunts include the corridor along Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, including SODA; BAM in Fort Greene; High Dive on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and even spots in Ditmas Park.

Like Horowitz, Mark said he also enjoys visiting art galleries located under the Brooklyn Bridge, checking out parks and public places, and the fact that there's "just more space."

Whether it comes down to cutting-edge parties, prime real estate, or simply more bang for the buck, it is clear, for the time being, Brooklyn has become a destination in its own right.

"I think everything in Brooklyn is a little less expensive," said Horowitz. "As prices rise, artists and creative, interesting people move to where it's more affordable, and Brooklyn is exploding pretty quickly. And it's going to continue to explode as long as there are more affordable places for people to move to."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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