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L-Ification

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“In fact,” Dori says, “you know the only thing we don’t got around here?” She looks over her shoulder at the girls behind the counter. “Waitresses!”

There is a standard residential restlessness that itches New Yorkers and hermit crabs alike. We are always trying to trade up, or at least sideways, for more space or a better neighborhood. The fringes of Graham Avenue feel just far enough from Manhattan to be potentially affordable, and yet not so far away as to make you wonder why you’re not simply moving to Philadelphia. If I were ever going to stop paying rent, this wouldn’t be a bad neighborhood to call my own.

Apparently, this is not an original thought, because, lo and behold, right here on Bushwick Avenue, I find Select Real Estate.

With the anti-Bush bumper stickers on the building and a commie-cool color scheme of Chinese red and McDonald’s yellow, Select clearly knows its hipster market. So does Mina, the Punky Brewster–ish agent behind the desk, who wears cool mandarin clothes and square glasses and dyed tips to her straight black hair.

Select has mad style. But strangely, it doesn’t have real estate. At least not now, not for me.

“Unfortunately, absolutely everything right now is under contract,” Mina says. I’d come in asking about buying a house, or a building, or a two-family, or a fixer-upper. Or a condo, or a studio, or a one-bedroom. “We really don’t have anything left,” she explains. “You’ve come at a funny time.” The most recent sale happened to be directly next door. It was on the market for less than 24 hours. This was yesterday.

Mina sends me on my way with a red-and-yellow business card and the address of a $4 million, 33,000-square-foot brick brewery half a mile to the southeast. (By the time I get home, the Select Website lists the brewery as “under contract.”) (10)

And still farther along Bushwick Avenue, between the Grand Street and Montrose Avenue stations.

Ten minutes ago, I was just another New Yorker left on the sidelines of the real-estate game. Now I feel like I’ve been ejected from the stadium.

As the L progresses east here, the signs of gentrification begin to fade. I start to see Chinese food sold behind bulletproof glass and liquor-store displays of pint-bottle booze, all Boca Chica rum. The coffee shop is not an attachment point—it sells coffee, to go, with a napkin on top. The few people I see on the street, aside from the occasional cop on the corner, are black or Latino guys (11) with oversize Yankees caps pulled over their ears and sideburns shaved like Mr. Spock and tattoos of Mom and Jesus.

For the first time all day, this feels like a long walk. And for the first time, I’m fairly confident that it’s about to end. In the distance I see the big-block buildings of the Williamsburg Houses. It’s the beginning of the projects. (12) And, I figure, the end of L-ification.

It’s also lunchtime. Luckily, there are Mexican-food joints on either side of the Montrose Avenue L station. On the left is a new outpost of a chain called El Loco Burrito, (13) which has a sort of San Fran rock-and-roll burrito theme. On the right is El Chile Verde, which has more of a cockroach (14) theme. I choose the green chili.

Inside, I find a grill and four-top gas stove and a stout Mexican man with jaw muscles as thick as mutton chops. His name is Chico. At least that’s what he’s called in Manhattan kitchens.

“Is from a movie maybe? I don’t know,” Chico says. “Chico. Chico the Man?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Chico and the Man. It was a TV show.”

Here in his own place Chico serves home-style Mexican, which I translate into two carnitas tacos with onion, cilantro, and salsa verde, with limes and radish on the side, and a Jarritos watermelon soda. “The new people who move here, many people from Texas and California,” he says. They know home style.


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