When I moved to New York City in 1999, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg represented the frontier of hip.
The big story back then was how a wave of college graduates looking for cheap space a quick subway ride from Manhattan were pricing out the artists who had occupied the former warehouses in Williamsburg for years, both legally and illegally. I knew some of those young, gentrifying pioneers. A couple of friends rented an apartment in an old spice factory, a mammoth space they partitioned into rooms with thin plywood walls. The place reeked of cinnamon and clove, and had rats. Down the street stood Cokie’s, so called because an in-house drug dealer sold bumps of cocaine in the bathroom. At night, hardly anyone ventured down these side streets off Bedford Avenue.
Fast forward a year or two, and Williamsburg had become a haven for hipsters, the place to spot fashion trends before they happened. Irony — vintage tee-shirts featuring 80′s cartoon characters, mullets and white tank tops, cans of PBR, seventies-style handlebar mustaches — ruled the day. Musicians lugged amps onto the corner to play noise-rock, artists set up lawn chairs and screened Super 8 films on brick walls, heroin-chic thin men and women smoked cigarettes and talked about dancing the night away at the now defunct club Twilo.
My, how things have changed!
Those young hipsters are now in their thirties, and many who have stayed in the ‘hood have kids. Real-estate developers have long since renovated those make-shift apartments into luxury condos and posh pads, attracting a different kind of urban elite — the kind with more cash flow. Call them BroBos for Brooklyn Bohemian, or perhaps Brooklyn Bourgeoisie, the moneyed liberals who eat not just organic, but local, artisan, and house-made delicacies. Kimchi, pickles, stinky cheese, cured meats, and pre-prohibition era cocktails are big, preferably all at the same meal (yum). As are kids.
An article on DNA Info yesterday talked about how once edgy eateries are coping with the descent of breeders on the brunch scene. One couple even wheeled their crib up to the al fresco tables at Rosarita Fish Shack, so they could enjoy lunch on July 4th while their babe played at the foot of the table! The Surf Bar reports kids burying themselves up to the neck in the sand that covers the bar’s floor, and using water from their glasses to build sand castles. Restaurants like the acclaimed Parish Hall have installed permanent booster seats on some of their tables.
In other words, Williamsburg is the new Park Slope, just with tighter pants. The streets are becoming crowded with stroller traffic, and ten years of “no smoking” in NYC restaurants and bars means that once adults-only joints have become family-friendly establishments.
I can attest to this first hand: on a trip not long ago to Williamsburg’s Radegast Hall and Biergarten for a friend’s bachelor party, a family sat across from us sipping from steins while entertaining an infant. Come on, folks. It’s Saturday night! No wants to see a baby through the bottom of their pint glass. And this is coming from a parent who used to take his kid out to bars — in the afternoon. I’m all for drinking with kids, but there’s a time and a place. Especially as a parent, babies in a bar can be a real buzz kill. I go out to get away from the little guy, not be reminded of him.
Ah, but parents in Brooklyn expect that establishments will accommodate their conflicting desires to be both a hip urbanite and a doting parent. I’m of two minds about this. Even though I’m a parent, my BroBo appetites remain, and I’m excited to share my love of good food with my son Felix. And yet some spaces I want for myself.
For example, my wife, son, and I went out to dinner last night to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We spent more than $100 on a delicious meal that we ate somewhat rushed, because the tired little guy seemed on the verge of meltdown. Felix spent most of the meal with his head in my wife’s lap, crying with impatience for his dinner, while my wife soothed him instead of having a conversation and enjoying her cocktail. Later, he was so worn out by the whole experience that he threw a tantrum at bedtime. “Next year,” she said. “We celebrate my birthday alone.” Sounds good to me!
So sidling your own crib up to a sidewalk cafe table? This, I can not abide. You should love your child and place him or her at the center of your universe. You shouldn’t expect others to do the same. Otherwise, your children get the message that they’re entitled to special treatment, which they’re not. Whether that’s a sad thing or a great thing depends on your point-of-view.
By no means does becoming a parent equal the death of hipness, as long as you’re smart about it. Know when to include your child, and when your child is ready to be included, and when to leave the kid at home. Don’t expect establishments to cater to your child’s every whim, and be respectful of non-parents or parents who are taking a break from their kids. Now that, is cool.