Biking the back streets of Bushwick

I’ve been squeezed for time in general lately, so I’ve had to fit my neighborhood visits in when I can. Coupled with the progressively earlier sunsets of autumn, this has sometimes led to artificial deadlines.

I visited Bushwick on Saturday afternoon. Since it’s such a big neighborhood (about 1.75 square miles by my back-of-the-envelope calculations – around the size of lower Manhattan below Delancey), I decided to take my bike. I also brought along an old digital camera, from perhaps 2003; its limited memory gave me 55 medium-quality shots, so I was unusually picky about what I captured.

I started my trip by biking to the Broadway Junction complex. Bushwick starts just north of here, and there is some industrial spillover. Here I found a recycling facility where thousands upon thousands of plastic bottles, in bags and on pallets, were waiting to be handled. This picture does not come close to showing the full extent of the operation.

Bushwick Avenue is the neighborhood’s main artery, but it’s not a place for cyclists, especially toward its southern terminus, where it’s a four-lane speedway lacking the buffer of parking. I had to get out of there fast, but there are several dead-end streets before I reached one with access to the northeast. I’m sure my knuckles were white for these two minutes.

Unfortunately, skipping these side streets means I missed out on seeing the exterior of the Bushwick Av-Aberdeen St station, which Time Out New York named one of the “coolest” subway stops. (I’m still gathering data for my list, but you might be familiar with two nominees.) I did manage to catch the similarly unusual Wilson Av station, though.

There were some familiar styles of architecture,

Some unique facades, which looked a bit out of place in this section of Bushwick,

And beautiful examples of design. Here are Engine 252 from 1896 (it still says “BFD” on the outside) and P.S. 106 Edward Everett Hale, a red sandstone building from 1895.

No lions this time, but I did find some bulldogs and elephants. There were also two sets of realistic-looking, full-color tigers in front of adjacent buildings. I would have gotten a picture except a few EMTs were busy wheeling a guy out on a stretcher, so I felt it imprudent to stop.

I followed the Brooklyn-Queens border where it zigzags. At Wyckoff Avenue and Putnam Street, a man with a speaker system was exhorting passersby in Spanish to accept Jesus as their savior. As I fumbled with my camera to get a picture from the opposite corner (in Queens, technically), his colleague stationed there gave me a flyer: “How to be SAVED and know it”. The address on the back belonged to Ministerio de Visitacion y Ministracios, Cristo es la Solucion.

Speaking of Spanish: Puerto Rican flags are everywhere in the southeastern half of Bushwick.

Another church on the Brooklyn side of the border, St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church at St. Nicholas Avenue and Linden Street, was the site of a wedding. A Rolls Royce waited outside with a super-stretch limo behind.

As I rode northwest, my intent was to swing around at Flushing and head back south to other parts of Bushwick. The skies began to turn dark, however, and a frigid wind began to blow. It wouldn’t be too long until a storm rolled in, and I figured I had a few minutes to find a place to hang out before I got drenched. I sought shelter in a bar that looked like it had promise. (Of course, there was time to get a picture of some shoes on a wire.)

That bar was Pearl’s Social and Billy Club, and it did have promise. At this time of day (4:45) it was mostly regulars, mid-20s to early-30s, who were bantering with the staff. The female bartender was mixing drinks using recipes from the book “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”; few were meeting with her approval, with the exception of one that apparently tasted like candy corn. I eschewed cocktails in favor of a Wolaver’s Pumpkin, which was topped with cinnamon, a great addition.

The storm that was coming in missed the area, and by that time I was hungry. I realized that Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, one of my favorite restaurants, was on the same street (Starr); lo and behold it was on the same block. You’ll never find fresher tortillas in New York, since they’re made in the building. You need to eat these on site, though. I went to Chavela’s in Crown Heights the following night, which also serves these tortillas, and they weren’t nearly as good.

I met up with my friend Joel after dinner, back at Pearl Social. Joel volunteers at (and writes about) the Bushwick Farm-in-the-Sky – clearly, he had been inspired by our visit to Hattie Carthan Community Garden – and had been hard at work moving stuff indoors all day. This time I had a cocktail, which was delicious. We might have been the only two in the bar without visible tattoos. I must admit the somewhat bawdy sense of humor, complete with double entendres, plastered all over the walls was to my liking.

Across the street is El Pollo Mas Bueno, which offers live “chickens, fowls, turkeys, pigeons, and rabbits”. It’s a sad sight; the proprietors place the live animals in cages right in the window. If you have the stomach for it, you can see what I saw here and here.

The clouds cleared up, but the sun had gone down, and the winds had not abated. I could have used a sweater on the ride home. A walking – definitely not cycling – tour of Bushwick Avenue will have to come some other time.

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