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Post details: Romantic Brooklyn Waterfronts, Lowering The Bar, Christina's Restaurant

08/31/06

Romantic Brooklyn Waterfronts, Lowering The Bar, Christina's Restaurant

The Most Romantic Brooklyn Waterfronts,
and Other Places You Didn’t Know You Could Fish

By Cathy Erway

Everyone’s talking about when and where their Williamsburg waterfront park is going to be made. I heard it’s just a dump of dirt on Kent Avenue. I heard they’re opening it in mid-to late August. I hear them working on it from my apartment. I crawled through the fence inside it and then a cop asked me to leave because I was trespassing.

I think we all need to relax. Before the herds come to claim the park that’s being created on Kent Avenue between North 7th and North 9th, it’s a good time to enjoy the best of the other waterfronts in the borough, kiss somebody you like, and stare at the water together. Or, at the very least, taste the salty, thick, sea air in Brooklyn without going all the way down to Coney Island. So bring your kite and your heart on your sleeve, because some of the waterfront parks and piers in Brooklyn are just as urban and gritty and still gorgeous enough to become your new main breeze.

VALENTINO PIER (at the west end of Coffey Street in Red Hook)

The View: The Statue of Liberty is partial to Red Hook, the only land that it cheerily faces directly. Also seen are lower Manhattan, New Jersey in the distance, and the Verazzano Bridge on the far left of this expansive stretch of water.

The Scene: A small crowd of locals—kids, couples, and sporting-types (especially bikers since it’s the wisest way to get here). You can fish, canoe, or kayak here if you have the means to, but it’s far from necessary to gear up.

Why You’ll Fall in Love: This long, narrow pier has alcoves of small benches along its length, but there’s nothing that quite compares to the sparkling view and being surrounded by water standing at the end of the pier at night. Open much later than most waterfronts—from dawn to 11:00 p.m., so you’ll get to enjoy that night sky.

GRAND FERRY PARK (Grand Street and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg)

The View: The Williamsburg Bridge isn’t much to look at, and neither are the low-rise condominiums that make up much of the skyline along the East River Park across the water in Manhattan, although the Empire State Building looms large. The Domino Sugar Refinery that borders the area is the most significant structure here, a relic of the Brooklyn waterfront’s dominantly industrial past.

The Scene: Relatively, it’s a tiny place, so if you find yourself there with just one other guy with no shirt on, it’s probably best to go home. On a summer night, though, it’s usually as crowded as just about anywhere in Williamsburg, and the rocks lining the shore and small scattering of green splintered benches and picnic tables are modest enough to give the feeling of being in your favorite dive bar. The Parks Inspection Program last year rated it “unacceptable” in overall condition (just a nod to give it some more attention, presumably). And when it’s the only waterfront space legally open to the public in Williamsburg as of yet, who could give a flying frog?

Why You’ll Fall In Love: Because being there will make you feel dirty.

Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park (New Dock St. and Water St. in DUMBO)

The View: The bridges are the main attraction of this well-manicured northern tip of the Brooklyn Bridge Park. You’ll feel as small as a peanut with a full view of the Brooklyn Bridge on your left, and the searing base of the Manhattan Bridge on your right.

The Scene: Young professionals and some families, and other locals who aren’t too afraid to dip their toes into the “beach.” Avoid weekends as there could very well be enough people there to meet the person you might fall in love with.

Why You’ll Fall in Love: Being literally Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge will hearken memories of watching Dumbo when you were six, which should put you in the reflective, sentimental place of mind you want to be in on a date. The day I went there, a wedding entourage was taking photos against the backdrop of a lively fire department boat that was spewing whale-like spouts of water in a fan and creating rainbows in the sky. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that. Check for events like movie screenings in the evening, but the park generally closes at dusk. With the BDNQ trains constantly rumbling on the bridge overhead, this is an active, urban park.

Beard St. Warehouse Waterfront (Beard St. and the southern end of Van Brunt St. in Red Hook)

The View: The waterfront surrounding the civil war-era warehouse that now houses BWAC, the Brooklyn Waterfront Arts Coalition, is a community hotspot due to the new Fairway Market and the Water Taxi stop. Along the pier you’ll have a distant view of the Statue of Liberty, while on the other side of the building some gnarly dilapidated old docking machinery sinks at every earth’s turn a little bit more into river. Also, the QE2 and other humongous cruise liners officially decided to dock here, so if you happen to visit while they’re there, you’ll get to experience the bizarre scene of one single boat from sea-to-clouds wiping out the entire sky.

The Scene: Old and young, people going to or working at the BWAC, Fairway Market, Red Hook Waterfront Museum, or Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie factory.

Why You’ll Fall In Love: Even if you don’t usually fall in love at the sight of factory wreckage, you probably will after taking in all the blossom-speckled life surrounding it. Open until dusk, it’s one of the must-see spots to find a bit of solace in the middle of a busy day.

East River State Park (so far, on Kent Ave between North 7 and North 9)

The View: It’s a spectacle of midtown Manhattan—luminous buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler appear close enough to touch, and, what can I say - for all the Manhattanites that will move into condominiums in this locale, it should aid their homesickness some. Originally the site of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, where rail cargo ferried in from New Jersey was unloaded in the late 1800s, we have yet to see how this area known for reckless, rubble-strewn illegal romping will translate into its newly groomed counterpart.

The Scene: Construction workers, trespassers, tractors and broken glass: all one happy family.

Why You’ll Fall In Love: If you’re too cynical to have tried going to the other parks I recommended, I want you to think very long and hard about what it is you want in love, and life. Then put this in a bottle, toss it in the river, and just see for a few days what it feels like to be always waiting for something much more spectacular to happen. You just see.

Keep checking the New York City Parks Department’s website for updates and for directions. The Greenpoint 197-a plan for development approved of in 2002 calls for more parks and open public spaces that have yet to be explored, and more information on proposed plans—which include a park at Bushwick Inlet, and expansion of Grand Ferry Park—can be found at the websites for The Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks & Planning, The New York League of Conservation Voters, and The Trust for Public Land. The New York City Water Taxi’s website already indicates a soon-to-be stop where the south Williamsburg luxury condominium, Schaefer Landing, is expected to make its debut late fall this year. But until all the hullabaloo over the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront plans really unfold, rest assured that there’s already some unexpectedly good, sexy uses of a bit of corroded shore in your very own hometown.

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New Liquor License Restrictions

By Adam Lefton

If you were expecting Bedford Avenue to become the next Bleecker Street, think again.

The New York State Assembly is considering legislation that will limit the number of new bars opening in New York City neighborhoods, only allowing the State Liquor Authority to issue three liquor licenses per 500 feet. Supporters of the law say too many bars side by side in residential areas disturb the peace.

“The most detrimental effects are when establishments cannot control their crowd, which then spills out into the street resulting in fights, noise, and garbage,” said Joseph Lentol, the state assemblyman representing Williamsburg and Greenpoint, two of the neighborhoods most at-risk to bar clustering.

The current law restricts the issuing of liquor licenses minimally and at the discretion of the SLA. When a bar applies for a license, the community can lodge an official protest if its proposed location is within 500 feet of another bar. The SLA holds a hearing, but, according to Ward Dennis, chair of Community Board #1’s Public Safety Committee, the request for a license is upheld as long as a single community benefit can be determined.

This, Dennis adds, gives the SLA too much leeway.

“What tends to happen is the SLA is very liberal as far as community benefits,” Dennis said. “And really anything can be a community benefit. If the community wants to really fight, the only way is by lawsuit, which costs a lot of money. Not every community can do that.”

CB1 has, once, successfully fought the opening of a new bar in the courts, preventing the Lower East Side music club, Sin-e, from expanding into Williamsburg.

The proposed new law will be more straightforward, prohibiting more than three bars from sprouting within a 500-foot area, with judgments on community benefits falling under the jurisdiction of the local governing body.

It will allow for exceptions, because even Lentol recognizes that bars benefit the community as well.

“There are many positives,” he said. “It brings creativity to the neighborhood—it’s great for the local economy.”

The problem, then, is finding an efficient process to reward the good and punish the bad.

“The issue is to seek balance, or better balances.”
In their defense, bar owners claim some disturbances are the result of the smoking ban, which forces patrons outside for their nicotine fix and increases noise on the street.

“It’s great not having smoking in bars, but it’s loud outside,” said Kit Tipley, one of the owners of Triple Crown, a hip-hop bar on the corner of Bedford and North 11th Street that Lentol says is one of the most egregious offenders in Williamsburg.

Triple Crown recently added better soundproofing, but Tipley claims the statistics provided by 311, the city’s complaint hotline; are tainted.

“It’s anonymous, so the same person can call many times.”

While pre-existing establishments like Triple Crown will be grandfathered in, Charlie Kain, owner of the recently opened Maracuja Bar on Grand Street, anticipates that, if passed, the new law will hurt older businesses, too.

“Would you rather own a bar on Bleecker or 12th street?” Kain asked. “A lone bar doesn’t flourish.”

Kain, who lives above Maracuja, opened his bar hoping that others would pop up around him.

“People come to Williamsburg because it’s a destination. If they start cutting back on liquor licenses, it becomes less of a destination. You can’t have everything.”

In early May, the assembly held a public meeting to discuss the problems created by having too many bars in one place. Restaurant industry professionals and organizations attended to voice their concerns.

“I listened to the bar owners and understand some of their concerns,” Lentol said. “I do believe the bill needs some adjustments.”

In Williamsburg and Greenpoint, these adjustments will allow exceptions to the law to be determined by CB1.

According to Dennis, giving power to the community is the best course of action.

“It would be better from the community’s point of view if we had an option. There may be a case where we want four bars.”
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You Can Get Anything You Want…
At Christina’s Restaurant

By David Cohn

In the back corner of Christina's Restaurant (853 Manhattan Avenue) in Greenpoint are pictures of the owner, Krystyna Dura, with some of her international friends. But Dura, who immigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1980s, doesn't have just any friends—they are some of the most famous actors and singers in Poland. In addition to snapshots with American personalities like Nicole Kidman, Governor George Pataki, and Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from Princess Bride), Dura has amassed a photo collection of her posing with famous Polish singers and actors, many of whom she says eat at her restaurant when they come to New York.

Customers who sit in the far back booth will find themselves dining on beef goulash and stuffed cabbage underneath a picture of Dura with her longtime friend Mariusz Kwiecien, Poland's most famous opera singer. Dura met the baritone one Christmas when friends brought him over to her house to sing carols.

"After that, we've been close friends," said Dura, who through Kwiecien has been introduced to dozens of international opera elites such as Diego Florez, the world-renowned tenor from Peru. It's through personal networking that Dura has managed to have all kinds of actors and singers dine at her restaurant, each new friend commemorated with a picture on her wall of fame, which has collected over 35 snapshots.

"It's normal for Polish actors to eat here,” Dura said. “The American actors less, they have Manhattan, but the Polish actors know this place and come to eat when they are in New York.”

Today Christina's restaurant is known both in New York and Poland as a destination in Greenpoint for Eastern Europeans and curious New Yorkers to get a taste of Polish delights. The restaurant is run almost completely by female chefs and waitresses that have emigrated from Poland, many of whom, like 25-year-old Clemintina Kopyto, clad in a short black skirt, are working part time to pay for school.

"[Waitressing] is the easy way to get a job for young girls in the United States," said Dura, who got her own start as a waitress when she moved to New York.

Like so many in Greenpoint, Dura left Poland during the political unrest of the late 1980s. Dura, 41, left her job as a store manager and her parents and brothers and moved to Brooklyn with her husband and daughter in 1989 to work as a waitress at Little Poland, a Polish-themed restaurant in the East Village. While working there she got the idea to start her own restaurant; since her husband died of a heart attack eight years ago, Dura has managed the restaurant by herself.

"It's hard to move to a different country and find space for your whole family. We just left and said we had to do something. I never imagined I'd own a restaurant, but I think I'm successful," said Dura. "A lot of people know the restaurant," she added.

Dura is always looking for ways to expand her wall of fame. She points with a smile to a picture of her with Krzysztof Kolberger, a Polish movie star she met on her last trip back to Poland in February.

"He was happy to see me and he said he would come [to New York] with a group in September and come over and eat," said Dura. "Then I will meet more people," she continued.

She can't tell you when, but at some point during her 17 years in New York, Dura has become a bit of a celebrity herself. Polish Greenpoint customers know her face from the pictures that adorn the restaurant's wall and often greet her with a polite "dzien dobry Krystina" (Good-day, Christina). Dora claims she even has been stopped in Central Park by members of the Slavic community who want to know what actors have come to her restaurant recently.

Capitalizing on the popularity of Christina's Restaurant, Manhattan tourism outfit Bike The Big Apple Tours has included Christina's Restaurant as a lunch stop during their ethnic neighborhoods bike tour. Bike tourists start off the day in Midtown and bike through Queens and stop off at the Polish restaurant mid-day to stalk up on kielbasas and potato pancakes before shoving off to view the orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg.

"When we do bike tours we investigate the restaurants in the area," said Richard Sanford, who leads the bike tours for Bike The Big Apple Tours. "Christina's has good waitresses and people react favorably if we go to an ethnic restaurant in the neighborhood of the people who make the food. It's not that the food [elsewhere] is no good or anything, it's just that the whole atmosphere, the ambiance, goes together," he said.

While the restaurant has been the focus of Dura’s professional life, like for many immigrants, Dura's daughter, Monica, has been at the center of her hopes and dreams.

"I wanted to give her a good future," said Dura. Although Monica, 24, would help her mother at the restaurant when Dura was sick or shorthanded, she has pursued a career as a financial consultant. Monica graduated from Iona College's Hagan School of Business, where she received her masters.

"I'm really proud, she did what I wanted actually," said Dura.
But for local Greenpointers, Monica is best known for her picture on the wall of fame at Christina's Restaurant—it is twice as large as all the others and stands by itself just in front of the kitchen.

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