For years, young professionals and families turned up their noses at Bay Ridge, a working-class area of southwestern Brooklyn, because of how far it is from Manhattan.
But as real estate prices in trendier Brooklyn neighborhoods continue to climb, more and more city slickers are taking a second glance at the “original Gold Coast,” as locals call the area. With its phenomenal public schools, copious outdoor spaces, restaurant row, and affordable housing, Bay Ridge has a lot to offer.
The influx of young people has also changed Bay Ridge. Trendy, pricey restaurants have popped up on the main drag, a new crowd stays out later, and rents have significantly increased. Suddenly, Bay Ridge’s lifelong residents fear being priced out of their homes.
The last shred of Old Brooklyn — the grimy, comfortable, working-class borough where a cup of coffee cost a buck — is giving way to “Girls”-era, hipster New Brooklyn. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.
For a time, the only people who knew of Bay Ridge were crusty, old-school Brooklynites and those familiar with 'Saturday Night Fever.' The film's protagonist, played by John Travolta, captured the middle-class, family-oriented values of Bay Ridge in the 1970s.
The neighbourhood was developed more than a century ago as a seaside retreat for wealthy families. Mansions, since torn down, dotted the ridge along the tidal strait separating Brooklyn from the more suburban Staten Island.
As rapid rail transit arrived in the outer boroughs, so did the Irish, Italians, and Norwegians. Since much of the city's working-class revolved around the maritime industry in the 20th century, they came to work on the docks.
While the Scandinavians left in the '70s, the Irish and Italians retained a stronghold for some time. Their history is immortalised in the traditional restaurants, like Vesuvio's, established more than 50 years ago.
Today, Bay Ridge is a melting pot, filled to the brim with Lebanese, Greek, Eastern European, Russian, Chinese, and Arab communities.
And the fabric of the neighbourhood is changing once again. As real estate prices in trendier Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope skyrocket, young professionals and young families have set their sights on Bay Ridge.
Sose Aroyan (left) was born in Bay Ridge but lived in Armenia her whole life. She returned for her studies. Here, she's seen walking Bay Ridge's restaurant row on Third Avenue with sister Karina.
For outsiders, owning property in Bay Ridge seems like a steal. The median sale price is $US656,000, as compared to $US1.4 million in the hipster mecca of Williamsburg, and $US1.35 million in Park Slope, Brooklyn's 'stroller central.'
The influx of young people first hit during the recession. The years between 2008 and 2011 were some of the best in Bay Ridge real estate history, says Leo Panteleakis, owner of Leonidas Realty. Stockbrokers living in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn were losing their jobs and could no longer afford city rent. They sought real estate refuge in Bay Ridge, where prices are fair for sizeable units.
'I didn't want to live in a shoebox with 5 other people -- Bay Ridge is cheaper, ' said Tom Baxter (left), who moved to the neighbourhood 7 years ago. He works in Chelsea, about a 40-minute subway ride on the NR lines (which one resident says are nicknamed 'the Never and the Rarely').
This migration however, has caused massive spikes in real estate value. Both the median home sale price and median monthly rent are up 14% year over year, and rents are up 30% over two years.
Bay Ridge took the lion's share of Brooklyn's new development sales in the first quarter -- nearly 20% -- and sold more new two-bedroom homes than any neighbourhood in the borough.
Aside from the prices, it's easy to see why Bay Ridge is becoming so popular with all types of people.
There's something for everyone here. It's one of the few areas of Brooklyn where you'll find four-floor walk-ups on the same block as white-picket-fenced houses.
Daniel Levins moved to Bay Ridge eight years ago when he could no longer afford Manhattan real estate.
It's the kind of neighbourhood where families stay for three or four generations. Last year, the Citizen's Committee for Children crowned Bay Ridge the best place to raise youngsters.
Bertilde Pierre-Louis plays with her daughter Jenia in the park. Pierre-Louis emigrated from Haiti in 2009 and moved into a one-bedroom apartment with her husband Jean, who runs a non-profit that develops health programs for children in their home country. With the couple expecting their second child, they're hunting for a three-bedroom in Bay Ridge now.
And Bay Ridge provides more 'green space' per child than any Brooklyn neighbourhood -- 83 kids per acre of parkland.
The largest park, Owl's Head, contains rolling hills, walking trails, a playground area, a skate park, and stunning views of the New York skyline.
You can even spot the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which featured heavily in 'Saturday Night Fever.' Opened in 1964, it was the world's longest suspension span.
The nearby Shore Promenade is a runner's paradise. It stretches 4.5 miles alongside the Belt Parkway and hosts frequent 5K and 10K races throughout the summer.
The gem of the shore is without a doubt the American Veterans Memorial Pier. It recently added on an Eco Dock, a $US1.1 million storm-resilient dock which will be used for educational programming and recreational boating.
From the pier, the island of Manhattan seems incredibly peaceful. The view makes it a popular fishing destination with locals.
Bay Ridge has its share of colourful characters. George, a retired commercial clam baker, has been fishing at the pier every morning for 30 years. He gets up between 2:30 and 3 a.m. and drives his motorbike to the very end of the pier. He jokes, 'I'm the mayor down here.'
Once a hidden gem of Brooklyn, Bay Ridge is not so hidden anymore. The change has spurred some tension between the old and the new.
While there aren't many obvious signs of the yuppie/hipster invasion -- yet -- the locals notice the changing demographic. 'I saw some people with tattoos get off the train and I was like, oh, that's happening now,' said Zoe Bortz (right) who was visiting a friend.
Emily Atkinson, a Bay Ridge native, and Zoe Bortz sit in the glow of a fast food restaurant on Bay Ridge's Fifth Avenue.
Suddenly, words like 'farm-to-table,' 'artisanal,' 'locally sourced,' and 'beer garden' are being thrown around in a neighbourhood chock full of mum-and-pop pizzerias and pubs.
Louis Coluccio, born and raised in the neighbourhood where his grandfather started an Italian food importing business some 50 years ago, opened the upscale marketplace A.L.C. Italian Grocery in 2012, as a nod to historic salumerias.
The quick-service menu walks the line between old-school Italian and earthy-crunchy: serving both arancini -- rice balls stuffed with fresh risotto, reggiano cheese, and parsley -- and raw kale salad with beets.
Caluccio says the best selling items in the store are the made-in-Brooklyn fare, like the Sfoglini pasta and Nero Black Gourmet Coffee. Where there's local food, there's young people.
The new kid on the block, Coffee Lab, opened its doors just 2 months ago. The trendy internet café serves coffee from Williamsburg roaster Toby's Estate and organic milk from Whole Foods' distributor. An 'acoustic covers/YouTube artists' playlist hums over the speakers.
When the shop received early coverage in blogs and local press, commenters wrote that The Coffee Lab's hipster influence would destroy the community. Owner Don Lee says, 'You have to understand, there are still stores in the area that sell coffee for a buck-fifty.' The decadent Nutella latté costs a cool $US5 here. (Ed. note: Worth it.)
The hostility Lee faced is not unprecedented. A handful of people protested outside the artisanal sausage and craft beer bar Lock Yard and the organic wine bar The Owl's Head when they opened in recent years. (Both businesses are run by Bay Ridge locals.)
The so-called 'hipster venues' are bringing in a new breed of renter. The resulting increase in demand, coupled with a decrease in supply, drives up apartment prices.
Allison Robicelli, a third-generation Bay Ridge resident who lives in the house her grandparents bought 100 years ago, says those people are angry because they're scared of being priced out. 'When Brooklyn got hot, if you were from Brooklyn, you immediately recognised your time here was limited,' Robicelli says.
Robicelli, who owns Robicelli's Bakery, made a game plan to ensure her family could weather the real estate storm. She and her husband Matt recently added a storefront to their wholesale cupcake business.
Robicelli says she, Louis Coluccio, and other small business owners get called 'hipsters' all the time. 'I think people don't know what a hipster is,' she laughs. 'We're being labelled because we're young entrepreneurs under the age of 40.'
She says she will fight to stay in the neighbourhood, even as it shifts. 'I played with the idea of moving to Manhattan or a trendy neighbourhood in my early 20s, but my brand of a****** is out here. Everyone is New York is an a******, but these ones I understand,' Robicelli says.
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