Don’t feel bad if you still don’t understand the buzz about Brooklyn. Neither do I, but I keep trying. My latest adventure in the borough was a walking tour of Bushwick, one of Brooklyn’s grittier neighborhoods. Urban pioneers are opening small businesses here with a “Field of Dreams” optimism. And colorful street art makes the area a great place for pro and amateur photographers to explore.

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The streets of Bushwick are gritty but these beautiful flowers and the vendor’s smile brightened the whole neighborhood. Photo: The Open Suitcase LLC

Bushwick? Bushwick? My inability to identify Brooklyn neighborhoods marks me as hopelessly unhip. And I prefer to stay that way. I’ve tried to get to know and love this outer borough but we can’t quite seem to connect.

A Parking Nightmare

Post-graduation, many of my friends settled in Windsor Terrace and Park Slope. I lived in the NYC suburbs so visits to them involved a car and hours spent sitting in traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I would arrive, chat for a few minutes, and then head back home. I never stayed late or slept over. The New York Police Department has a policy called “alternate side of the street parking.” It terrified me. I assumed that my car, no matter where I parked, would be towed come morning.

Lately I’ve stuck my toe back in Brooklyn to test the waters. I’ve gone to events at the Barclay Arena; it’s okay, but it’s not Madison Square Garden. I shopped for junk at the Brooklyn Flea. I found it overpriced and overcrowded. I’ve tried just walking the streets, hoping to trip over something wonderful. Usually I just trip over a piece of upended sidewalk. There’s so much noise about Brooklyn that I must be missing something, but I don’t know that I really care to find it.

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One of the fun parts of taking the walking tour was getting my photo taken with my daughter by tour leader, Jessica Festa. No selfies needed! Photo: Jessica Festa

Bushwick on Foot

However, I’m open to seduction, so I joined travel blogger and Bushwick resident Jessica Festa on her Bushwick Beer, Bites & Art #Instawalk. Bushwick is located in the northern part of Brooklyn and it’s big, covering over 350 square blocks. It serves as home to approximately 100,000 residents. Bushwick was an urban war zone for decades, with riots, looting, and fires. As other borough neighborhoods blossomed, Bushwick continued to wallow in crime and poverty. But prices are soaring in other parts of Brooklyn, so people are willing to settle in a place that’s still rough around the edges.

If you book the tour, be prepared to walk. Jessica’s always surprised that guests arrive sporting inappropriate footwear. The tour lasts 3.5 hours and you’ll spend most of it on your feet, with one subway transfer. And bring your preferred camera. Jessica’s an experienced photographer, so she’ll point out unique features you might want to shoot, give you some camera phone tips, and you won’t have to resort to selfies – she’ll snap you posing in front of the neighborhood’s street murals along the way.

Beer: Past and Present

Stops on the tour include a visit to a cafe for a demonstration of the proper technique for crafting a perfect cappuccino. We also popped into Hops & Hocks, a beer and ham bar. I’d never heard of the combo, but it works. The space is tiny and filled floor to ceiling with craft beers to go and dozens of artisanal snack items like Bjorn Quorn (solar popped popcorn). I really enjoyed tasting the beers on tap and sampling slices of exquisite charcuterie.

During the tour, Jessica talked about the history of the original Dutch settlement called Boswyck or ‘woods district’ and the neighborhood’s evolution, including its heyday as one of America’s premier beer producers. Schaefer and Rheingold were manufactured here and the tour winds through Brewer’s Row, a 12-block area that was once home to 12 breweries.

Although the breweries are gone, the neighborhood still has a raw industrial feel to it. Large, boxy warehouse buildings mingle with 70’s-era apartment buildings, with traditional Brooklyn brownstones sprinkled in the mix.

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Bushwick is slowly gentrifying but the neighborhood is still rough around the edges. Photo: The Open Suitcase LLC

The Bushwick Collective

Although the architecture’s less than inspirational, the magnificent murals known as the Bushwick Collective are stunning, amusing, and disturbing. A local resident whose father was murdered in the neighborhood informally curates the street art. Artists donate their time, supplies, and talent, and the local businesses provide the wall space. Restaurants, bars, and clubs are set back between the murals, contributing to a hum in the neighborhood that gives you the feeling that Bushwick is on the rise.

To me, gentrified neighborhoods all seem to be whipped up out of the same recipe; they’re created by mixing some coffeehouses with street art with a few farm to table restaurants and some loft apartments thrown in for good measure. I asked Jessica what makes Bushwick unique. She thought for a minute and stated that it’s a weird place and she didn’t expect that to change. I pressed her for an example. She gestured to a restaurant across the street. “A waitress over there quit. But she worked her last shift. Nude.” Hopefully, Bushwick will be able to keep its weird when the money starts rolling in.

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Does Bushwick have what it takes to become a hot Brooklyn neighborhood like Williamsburg? Only time will tell. Photo: The Open Suitcase LLC

If You Go:

Bushwick Beer, Bites & Art #Instawalk- a 3.5 hour walking tour of Bushwick, Brooklyn. $65 per person. Tour dates and times are flexible; submit a contact form and indicate your preferences. Recommended for individuals interested in photography or who are looking to explore a unique corner of New York City. If you’re thinking of moving here because you’ve gone to some great late-night house parties, the tour’s an excellent way to see what life’s like during the day.