Brooklyn’s Great Good Places: More Exploration
I visited two radically different places one day last month, in two of Brooklyn’s great neighborhoods. I loved them both. Berg’n is a gigantic, hypersocial beerhall & foodatorium. Bed-Vyne Brew is a rustic, intimate corner bar focusing on beer, wine and music. Both are a damn delight.
You can live someplace all your life and not know everything about it, and that goes double in NYC. Triple, even. But I’m making a dent. I’m making a dent. This book I’m writing (Great Good Places of New York to be published by Rizzoli in 2018) is getting me out there, exploring neighborhoods from the the top of the Bronx to the bottom of Brooklyn; the west side of Manhattan to the Far (and I mean FAR) Rockaways on the sandy shores of Queens. It’s renewed my love for my city. You can do it, too. Get out there and play EXPLORE! YOUR! CITY!
One Saturday this summer we hopped on our bikes at the crack of noon and headed east, to the wilds of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood for brunch at a place called Berg’n that we’d heard so much about. Berg’n (coincidentally located on Bergen Street) has a cool concept: a giant beer hall featuring some favorite food vendors from Brooklyn’s wildly popular Smorgasburg, a weekend foodfest where local chefs cook and sell their chow from booths, kind of like you’d see at a typical street fair, only good. At Berg’n, they have four food vendors on site, each in their own indoor kiosk. When we visited, the four were Landhaus (high-quality burgers and bacon), Mighty Quinn BBQ (old-school barbecue with New York style), Tramezzini (Venetian style sandwiches made on imported Italian bread), and Lumpia Shack (Filipino-inspired spring rolls and other goodies).
Several of Berg’n’s many tap beers on tap are local, and the fully stocked bar offers bottles of hard stuff distilled right here in New York, too. Bonus: in the hallway to the bar’s left, you’ll find a full-service coffee bar with pour overs, espresso drinks and baked yum-yums. So Berg’n covers all your food and drink needs. But wait! There’s MORE!
A huge projector screen TV hangs on the west wall in case you want to keep an eye on the game. This doesn’t set the tone of the place and make it a sports bar (Berg’n is too big for its personality to be defined by even an enormous TV), but it’s there if you need it.
Picnic table seating allows plenty of room for large groups of friends to meet up, and for parents with strollers. (Sorry. Brooklyn needs that. The borough is blowin’ up with kids, and mommy and daddy need to socialize.) It’s good for the littluns, too, to see their ‘rents have lives outside of the house, and bring them (the littluns) into it at times. My folks would take us to their friends’ parties, BBQs, picnics, etc., and we got to see how adults socialize in a real and healthy way, AND we got to run around, going apeshit with the other kids. We didn’t go to EVERY grown-up party, mind you — my GOD, no! — just the family-friendly ones. I loved it.
So Berg’n is a social hub where people go on dates, with groups of friends, with the kids, all dining and drinking and having a hell of a time. You can even go there alone, say, to work, and get your ass out of the house and bask in some social energy. Berg’n is rowdy and fun and loud and huge. In the best tradition of the classic German beer hall, it’s one of Brooklyn’s great good places.
Fully brunched, we hopped on our bikes and headed north to Bed-Vyne, a luscious little peach of a corner joint in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood. I love this place. Friendly, knowledgable service. Small and unpretentious space, rustic and woody inside and out. Outdoor seating, cool owners, solid beer list. And wine for the wife! Everyone wins here.
We hung out on a chill Saturday afternoon, but we’ve got to head back for some music. From the looks of the many posters on their walls, their music nights are sexy and playful, and if the playlist when we were there is any indication, they’ll feature some mighty cold cuts, as we said in the ’90s.
The clientele made this place even better. We met some nice dudes with dogs out on the deck, so bonus points for dogs. (Always bonus points for dogs.) And right next door is the affiliated Bed-Vyne Wine shop, where we met Ayo, one of the owners, a cool, kind, welcoming cat. (I like cats, too. Even when they’re people.)
Bed-Vyne and Berg’n are newish establishments in what were traditionally black Brooklyn neighborhoods. The borough is changing, gentrification is happening all over, and it’s cool to see racially mixed crowds at so many neighborhood joints. Bed-Vyne was about 50/50 black-to-white when we were there. Berg’n was mostly white, maybe 75-80%. Changing times in Brooklyn. It’s lively, it’s hoppin,’ and it’s a neophile’s* paradise.
Berg’n and Bed-Vyne are two of 50 bars I’ll be drawing and writing up for the book Great Good Places of New York: 50 Favorite Joints from the Five Boroughs (Rizzoli, 2018). You can buy the art here. Check it out!
*A term popularized by cult writer Robert Anton Wilson, a neophile (new=new, phil=love) is a person with a strong affinity for novelty.