New York Daily News
Aug 10, 2003
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|Once down at the
Atlantic Ave. experiments with urban chic
When Robin Weiss moved from
California to Cobble Hill to open a pricey shoe store a
block from her sister's upscale clothing boutique, she was
convinced Atlantic Ave. had all the cutting-edge quality
required to attract discerning shoppers. She's one of a
number of visionary thirtysomething merchants who believe
this still-funky stretch of Brooklyn thoroughfare, which
cuts through Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Brooklyn
Heights, is poised to become a hot, hip scene.
A well-known destination for those seeking antiques and
Middle Eastern food, Atlantic Ave. is seeing restaurants
open every month. Boutiques now outnumber the bail
bondsmen, and if locals have their way, the temporarily
closed "behemoth" known as the Brooklyn House of Detention
will not open its cells again.
Across the street from Weiss' sparsely filled store,
named jelly, Suzan Silver can be found arranging exotic
pillows, purses and wall hangings at her six-week-old
shop, Silver Tao. The store is alive with international
flair: A 100-year-old Japanese wedding kimono hangs on the
wall, and Silver's desk is wrapped in a gold-threaded
Indian sari. Also for sale is a Ch'ing Dynasty red wooden
cabinet from nearby Silk Road Antiques - an emblem of the
strong system of "networking and bartering on the block,"
Silver says. "Atlantic Ave. is not a destination yet. But
there are some very dynamic entrepreneurs here, mostly
Charlie Smith is one of them. The owner of a
vintage-clothing shop, Scarlet Ginger, she sees a
similarity between Atlantic Ave. and London's trendy
Chelsea district. "It reminds me of home, New Kings Road
in London that's lined with beautiful antiques stores and
the odd design store in between," says Smith in a bright
There are also longtime Middle Eastern establishments,
including at least a dozen restaurants offering delicacies
from countries such as Lebanon and Yemen. Dennis Halaby of
Damascus Breads says the area's demographics have shifted
dramatically since the old days: "At one point, this
neighborhood was a Little Arabia swarming with Middle
Eastern restaurants and stores."
Charlie Sahadi, owner of Sahadi Importing, says that
when property values started to soar 30 years ago, many
residents of Middle Eastern heritage sold their houses and
left. He kept his store where it was, and today shoppers
of all nationalities head there to stock up on olive oils,
cheeses, nuts and grains. Sahadi says he learned that his
"Middle Eastern customers love specialty foods, and
specialty-food customers love Middle Eastern food. People
are more interested in trying other cuisines today."
Standing between a distressed mirror and the old metal
bar at his new French bistro, Bacchus, co-owner Redha
Boutaghou says the past year has seen a big growth spurt.
"I see Atlantic Ave. getting better and better," he says.
A cafe is almost ready next door, and a restaurant is
nearing completion across the street.
Julie Ipcar, who has lived in the neighborhood her
entire 33 years, says she opened her Flying Saucer cafe
for selfish reasons. "You gotta build what you need," she
said, an adage that applies to her second business, Last
Exit, a bar anchoring the opposite end of Atlantic Ave.
Unlike other parts of Brooklyn, the rents are still
good in Boerum Hill, and Ipcar sees "landlords getting
much pickier about who they rent to." Rents on commercial
spaces are attractive (the average is $21 per square
foot), and there aren't too many left, according to Sue
Wolfe, a real-estate broker and vice president of the
Atlantic Ave. Local Development Corp.
But more are being created. A major face-lift is
underway at Atlantic and Court St., where the municipal
parking lot is making way for a project including 250
rental apartments, stores and a YMCA with swimming pool.
Ground has been broken for a 10-story building of condos
and stores at Smith and State Sts.
One of the greatest challenges is making the heavily
trafficked street pedestrian-friendly. "We want people to
walk the avenue from one end to the other," says Wolfe.
A walk along the avenue reveals a variety of moods and
cultures. Just west of the shrouded, fenced-off,
century-old IRT subway kiosk on Flatbush, Atlantic is
gritty and quiet; businesses are a mix of Islamic
bookstores and halal meat markets. At Third Ave., a
bright, boxy Walgreens is a surprise. At the old Ex-Lax
building, which houses co-op apartments with terraces and
roof gardens, the feeling changes, and purple signs
proclaim "Discover Atlantic Avenue."
There's a pervasive sense of nostalgia as you pass
places named A Matter of Time, Circa, In Days of Old, Olde
Good Things, Time Trader and Breukelen, a gift shop with
the borough's 17th-century Dutch name. David Marshall's
business is booming at the Antique Room because Victorian
furniture is in style. Marshall, who has lived above his
palatial showroom for 30 years, says people have always
headed to Brooklyn's antiques row for discounts. "They
still feel like they're going to find bargains," he says.
On a sunny Sunday, as young couples browse among his
brass beds and Italian crystal chandeliers, Dany Williams
watches the world from a tapestry-covered stool outside
his shop on the block - from Bond to Hoyt Sts. - that's
most densely packed with antiques stores. People used to
come to Atlantic Ave. with a single purpose, he says:
antiques. Current customers have a different experience in
mind. "There's a boutique-y, SoHo thing going on now."
The new lineup
Boutiques and antique shops
Antique Room, 412 Atlantic Ave., (718) 875-7084. "La
cr de la cr of Victoriana" is how David Marshall describes
his museum-quality 19th-century furniture. Be sure to
check out the elegant garden.
Breukelen, 369 Atlantic Ave., (718) 246-0024. Brooklyn
artists are represented amid South African wooden bowls,
hand-blown English glass, raku spheres and shag area rugs.
"A lifestyle store" is owner Thomas Gibson's term for the
space he shares with another discriminating gift shop,
butter, 407 Atlantic Ave., (718) 260-9033. Clothes by
modern designers like Marc Jacobs and Martin Margiela.
Sibling store of two sisters who also own jelly, 389
Atlantic Ave., (718) 858-8214.
Circa Antiques, 377 Atlantic Ave., (718) 596-1866. A
good place to start searching for high-end 19th-century
(mostly American) beds, tables, dressers, armoires and
lighting, besides picking up a historical walking guide
for Atlantic Ave.
A Cook's Companion, 152 Atlantic Ave., (718) 852-6901.
Pots, pans, gadgets and cookbooks. After Labor Day, it's
moving to 197 Atlantic Ave.
Dany, 358 Atlantic Ave., (718) 237-0710. A colorful
mix of styles and objets d'art.
darr, 360 Atlantic Ave., (718) 797-9733. A former
buyer for the Japanese department store Takashimaya,
Hicham Benmira, has stocked his small store with
Asian-styled tabletop and home accessories. A shop called
sir, at the same address, showcases designer Joanna Baum's
deconstructed clothes; (718) 643-6877.
Melting Pot, 492 Atlantic Ave., (718) 596-6849.
Handmade batik, done on the premises, decorates pillows,
scarves, tote bags and baby quilts.
Rico, 372 and 384 Atlantic Ave., (718) 797-2077. An
art gallery at one address, a sleek, contemplative
home-furnishings store at the other, both overseen by
designer Rico Espinet.
Scarlet Ginger, 376 Atlantic Ave., (718) 852-8205.
Remodeled vintage clothing and hand-painted furniture made
by a clever Englishwoman named Charlie Smith. Dress, shoes
and jewelry rentals are in the works.
Silver Tao, 394 Atlantic Ave., (718) 422-7700. An
offshoot of Kimera Designs (366 Atlantic); Suzan Silver's
pillows, purses and wall hangings are custom-made from
ethereal, exotic Indian and Chinese fabrics.
Restaurants and bars
Bacchus, 409 Atlantic Ave., (718) 852-1572. New French
restaurant and wine bar with garden. Decorative touches:
an antique grape press, wine-bottling apparatus and a
wide-planked pine floor. On the menu: terrines, boudin,
steak tartare and coq au vin. Cash only.
Brawta Caribbean Cafe, 347 Atlantic Ave., (718)
855-5515. Still drawing a crowd after 10 years, for things
like pan-fried porgy, jerk chicken and conch roti with
plantains, steamed cabbage and rice and peas. Try sorrel,
sea moss and peanut punch.
Caravan Restaurant, 193 Atlantic Ave., (718) 488-7111.
Moroccan, Middle Eastern and French dishes, with $15
dinner prix fixes of shish kebabs, tagines, curries and
Downtown Atlantic, 364 Atlantic Ave., (718) 852-9945.
Four-month-old restaurant offering American-style steaks
and seafood. Cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes and tarts are
baked in-house. Weekend brunch, live jazz Friday nights.
Flying Saucer, 494 Atlantic Ave., (718) 522-1383.
Located on a quiet block, this is a comfy hangout with a
garden for reading, meeting friends or unwinding over tea
and coffee drinks, grilled sandwiches, soups, salads and
Magnetic Field, 97 Atlantic Ave., (718) 834-0064. Free
(for the moment) jukebox, live music Saturdays. Deejays
Monday, Thursday, Friday, late Saturday. Brooklyn beers,
$2 until 8 p.m. Sunday, then $3. Zany UFO wallpaper.
Meson Flamenco, 135 Atlantic Ave., (718) 625-7177.
Tapas, steamed mussels and seafood paella at a convivial
bar for sangria-sipping and listening to live music
Fridays; flamenco dancing some Saturdays.
Montero Bar & Grill, 73 Atlantic Ave., (718) 624-9799.
A legendary gathering place.
Moroccan Star Restaurant, 148 Atlantic Ave., (718)
643-0800. A mix of Moroccan, Middle Eastern and French
food that includes lamb couscous and pastilla (phyllo
stuffed with chicken, raisins, almonds and walnuts).
Peter's Waterfront Ale House, 155 Atlantic Ave., (718)
522-3794. The Kobe-beef burger is a popular special, along
with ribs, French-fried onion rings and a long list of
Stir It Up, 514 Atlantic Ave., (718) 643-3716. Homey
new West Indian restaurant.
Shinjuku Japanese Restaurant, 177 Atlantic Ave., (718)
935-1300. Modern sushi bar with dining area and tsunami
rooms that opened their doors July 4. Kitchen-made hibachi
and a "love boat" loaded with maki, sushi and sashimi are
Soul Spot, 302 Atlantic Ave., (718) 596-9933. Tiny
place for big appetites craving Southern-fried chicken,
macaroni and cheese, fish and grits, fried catfish, oxtail
and curry goat. For dessert, there's coconut cake, bread
pudding and peach cobbler.
Specialty food shops
Damascus Breads and Pastry, 195 Atlantic Ave., (718)
625-7070. Pita bread, pyramid bread, spinach pies and
zaatar bread are all made at this 72-year-old bakery.
Heights Chateau Wines, 123 Atlantic Ave., (718)
330-0963. Recently moved to this more spacious, stylish
Sahadi Importing Co., 187 Atlantic Ave., 624-4550.
Superbly stocked with gourmet ingredients, Middle Eastern
foods and condiments.
Atlantic Antic, Sunday, Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. to 6
p.m.: Annual street fair, now in its 28th year.
Brooklyn Historic Railway Association: Explore the
hidden depths. Tour an early rail tunnel under Atlantic
Ave. It dates from 1844 and was rediscovered by Brooklyn
archeologist Robert Diamond. For information and September
tour dates, call (718) 941-3160.
A, C, G to Hoyt St.
F to Bergen or Jay St.
4, 5 to Nevins St. or Borough Hall
2, 3 to Hoyt St.