Dumbo – it makes perfect sense

The sun returns. I have to pop my head outside to gauge the temperature because the repeating weather forecast on the NY1 channel quotes in Fahrenheit and I’m used to Celcius now. It has been a roller coaster of weather extremes this week and the confusion is evident on the street with some people in shorts, T-shirts and sandals while others are wrapped up in a couple of layers beneath fleece jackets. The former are in the know.

Williamsburg has been recommended to me. This laid back suburb of Brooklyn is the best part of an hours journey from the comfort of my Upper West Side hotel room, including a bridge crossing of the East River. Upon arrival I am greeted by wafts of pot from a guy walking by and that sets an appropriate tone for this middle class area. Things have a naturally slow pace here. People amble. The streets are generally narrow and residential with the townhouses generally 3 or 4 floors high – an antidote to the vertiginous silhouette of Manhattan.

Archetypal Williamsburg street
Archetypal Williamsburg street

First things first. I can’t continue this weeks consumptive catalogue of chaos, culminating on the Katz-tastrophe of yesterday. My digestive tract has filed for a restraining order against my mouth so I’m going to stick to recognised meal times and food groups starting with fruit and orange juice for breakfast.

A moving service just for Top Hats? That's posh!
A moving service just for Top Hats? That\’s posh!

Williamsburg is indeed a good recommendation (thanks Sarah). Life is centred around Bedford Street where cafes, book shops and boutiques line the way. People stop and talk on the street and it is obvious why folk want to live here. A detour to the East River provides a marvellous view of Manhattan that must add a significant premium to apartments in the new 20 storey development at the waters edge.

View from Williamsburg shoreline
View from Williamsburg shoreline

Local signage indicates that this is the site of a large former sugar warehouse. The Brooklyn Brewery is situated a couple of blocks north and they would presumably have been a major customer.

The G line south leads me to Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It is a geographical oddity sitting as it does hidden in the dominating shadow of the imposing blue and white iron Manhattan bridge. Yet again this is another small distinct district, attracting edgy art galleries and small businesses to its warren of old industrial cobbled streets.

Ghosts of times past in Dumbo
Ghosts of times past in Dumbo

The galleries are so hip and informal you don’t always realise you are in them. I wondered into one ground floor warehouse unit to discover it wasn’t a gallery at all but a business meeting for The Economist. Business imitating art?

Dumbo - there's life in the shadows
Dumbo – there\’s life in the shadows

The small but fabulous Brooklyn Bridge Park offers uninterrupted views across to Manhattan with Manhattan Bridge to the right and Brooklyn Bridge to the left.

Manhattan Bridge
Manhattan Bridge
American steel
American steel

To fully appreciate the latter I reluctantly polished off a sublime ice cream courtesy of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company who were shifting cones and tubs as fact as they could milk the cows on this sunny day.

What view? It's all about the ice cream.
What view? It\’s all about the ice cream.

The walk back across Brooklyn Bridge is mandatory and also packed. It’s not just tourists – far from it. Many commuters use the bridge and in the current rush hour who can blame them. Most of them appear to be yattering on blue tooth headsets, whether pedestrian, on bike or (yes) skateboard.

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge

Back on Terra Firma there’s a crowd of people watching a collective of awesome street dancers bringing Michael Jacksons moves back to life, plus a few more he could never pull off. These guys are hugely talented and deserve all the money they collect from their appreciative audience.

Jacko could never do this
Jacko could never do this

That’s not the end of the street entertainment in these parts. I chance upon chess alley next to City Hall. Mostly old guys pit their considerable wits against each other and all-comers oblivious to the people striding by or the fearless squirrels that dodge between them.

Guys pulling off different kinds of moves
Guys pulling off different kinds of moves

It’s 6:30pm and I am desperate for a beer. Uncertain where to go in this part of town the subway to Greenwich Village beckons and it’s back to Douglas Street – the apparent epicentre of student boozing. The heaving “Off The Wall” delivers only promises of being served and after 5 minutes of inaction I’m back in Tuesday nights basement bar across the street for relative solitude and service. Unlike last time I refuse to be dragged into an all-nighter.

And – I’ve just been bought a pint by a very attractive Columbian girl. I just can’t help it. Technically she is handing out beers for a brewery promotion, and the beer is Bud Light (!) but deep down I know she can’t resist my Hugh Lawriesque English charms. We have a good old chat about the forthcoming world cup and she informs me that her country are shit now and she will be supporting Brazil. As for the Bud Light – well if it wasn’t free… she was almost apologetic in offering it when she realised I was English as she assumed I just wouldn’t lower myself to it. Turns out I am shallower than I appear.

Bud Light. Has it come to this?
Bud Light. Has it come to this?

My intentions of a Chinatown meal are being hampered by navigational problems. The problem in this town is that every intersection consists of two street names but how can you tell whether you are crossing to the North or the South? Two girls carrying a large poster promoting a Karaoke bar rested on a long pole suggest I stay in the area. I’m less inclined to ask why then to ask what they intend to do with the pole.

A long queue at Joes Pizza combined with the glowing reviews posted outside persuade me to find out whether the hype is true. It is very good pizza though I would doubt its “best in the city” claims. There’s a picture of Upper West Side resident Ben Affleck with the owner and he is quoted as saying it’s the only pizza place he will go to. Right.

Slices are a reasonable $3 each but a police officer next to me pays $6 for three whole pizzas. I’m not arguing. Attempts at conversation don’t really work – the NYPD have to hand in any sense of humour when they accept the badge but at least I avoid incarceration. That might not have happened a few years ago. I’m not joking – their record for social injustice is legendary but they are trying to tackle it. In a final “slice” of entertainment for the evening a lady introduces a “friend” to her husband on the sidewalk outside with world record levels of insincerity. She might as well have told hubby out loud “this is the bitch from work I’m always sticking the knife into when I get home”. I love it!

Not enough variety today? Want to know just that little bit more about the NY psyche? Here’s what I read about in a local magazine on the subway home – ladies you know you will all be doing this in 6 months time!

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