On Communal Watering Holes

Tim in Gowanus, Brooklyn

<em>Tim works at Brooklyn Brewery, and is passionate about bringing people together. He also, with a couple friends, hosts a monthly variety show, featuring local musicians, comedians, and really anybody else who has something to say.</em> <em>I read an <a href="https://stories.zagat.com/posts/t-cole-newton-on-the-importance-of-neighborhood-dive-bars">article</a> recently written by the owner of one of my favorite bars in New Orleans - one of my favorites mostly because it was one of my local neighborhood dives, located just blocks from my apartment. Cole, the owner, writes about the importance of these types of bars - accessible spaces to spend time together as a community. I was reminded of sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s work on ‘social infrastructure’ in his book</em> Palaces for the People <em>(2018), except where Klinenberg writes about libraries as bastions of communal programming, Cole writes of dive bars as cheap locations for getting a little red in the face and chatting a little too loudly with your neighbors. Both and, is my answer. Let’s keep them both: they’re equally worthy.</em>

I’m very literally on the boundary between Gowanus and Park Slope. I’m on the Eastern side of Fourth Avenue, which is generally the demarcation line. It’s all technically part of the Gowanus watershed, but nobody cares about that when they’re filling out an address card. When I first moved in, no matter who I told my address to, people would have opinions about where I actually lived. Half the time it was like, that’s Park Slope, and the other half would be like, that’s gotta be Gowanus. You know, we figure that our front door is across the street from a tire shop and a bodega, so that’s pretty much Gowanus. But right around the corner on our street here there’s all brownstones, and people with little gardens and stuff. And that’s as Park Slope as it gets. So it is kind of interesting to very much ride the line on it.

You strike me as someone who would be down for a slightly more abstract question. If you could describe your neighborhood as a sound, what would that sound be?

I’m gonna go with tires. Especially because I live on Fourth Ave. which is one of the trucking routes for down here, so this is a pretty steady traffic corridor. This is also where a lot of the taco trucks come out of Sunset Park and some of the neighborhoods to the South. This is pretty much their commuter line, it seems. I really only noticed since I’ve been working from home. It’s every day, late morning, I see a bunch of the taco trucks going back and forth because they’re going back to fuel up. And it’s been kind of wild to see that happen. But Park Slope in general, especially as you get closer to the Park, is very bike-friendly. There’s a lot of strollers, there’s a lot of kids on scooters. So tires of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions would be the answer for that.

How long have you been in that spot?

Just about three years, and I’m in the process of renewing the lease for another. The neighborhood in general, but this spot in particular is very much a Place that I want to stay, so I’ve been doing my best to make that happen.

And why is it a Place you want to stay?

It’s a really interesting gradient to me, being able to walk from pretty much any point in the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a super walkable place, it’s a lot of wide sidewalks, it’s a lot of accessible blocks. But you can go so rapidly through so many different enclaves and communities and income levels and families and all sorts of stuff, and you get to see these wildly different lifestyles all sort of running up against one another. And that kind of dynamic is really what draws me in about a lot of New York in general, but areas like this in particular, where you can walk a little further South and be very squarely in a working area. There’s a lot of industry still on Third Ave., a lot of what people would call ‘gritty’ in a real estate pamphlet. You can walk five minutes East and it’s these stunning brownstones that have their own Instagram and weird shit like that. And it’s just remarkable to see all of it right next to each other. You get kind of the joy and sorrow of seeing it all right next to each other. But it is really interesting to watch all these people mix in all these spaces. Like, the park is everybody’s. Green-Wood Cemetery is everybody’s. And it’s pretty rare, I think, that you see that level of disparity in terms of economic class mix and not have there be as much friction as there could. Obviously there’s always the flare-ups and what not. But by and large it feels surprisingly harmonious.

That’s awesome. I do feel like that’s really rare, that kind of diversity. So feel free to take this wherever you think, but what are some of the ways that you try to give back to the area, or build up community?

I mean, I think that a lot of it has come into focus as something that’s crucial, as opposed to something that’s nice to live in, in the past few weeks especially. It’s not like, oh it’s so inconvenient that our favorite Chinese place is closed. It’s like, oh no, I know those people. There’s a family involved in that. This is a very real story.And the way that that all knits together, and the way that you yourself fit into it, is something that I think is very easy to lose track of. So it’s important to be extra aware if you can, especially if you’re coming from a position of privilege. I’m a big, weird-looking white guy. A lot of people are not going to mess with me. That opens a lot of really stupid doors that I do not deserve opened. So it’s up to me to make sure that I’m using whatever economic advantage I have and whatever position that I have to try to support people in the community. Sometimes it's a little bit more straightforward, like are you going to go to the huge grocery store up the street that has the hour-long line? Or are you gonna go to maybe three other shops, but you know the people who work in all of them? I think a lot of those personal ties really drive a lot of that together.

I live above one bodega and across the street from another one. The one I live above is more of a beer shop, which is always kind of fun, and the guy across the street is more food-based. During COVID, our roommate had a presumed case, so we were on strict quarantine. We were locked in for a solid two weeks before my other roommate and I could go out for supplies. And I was able to DM my guy across the street and be like, hey man, we’re locked in, one of the roommates is sick, we need some stuff, can we do a drop if you have time? He treated it like it was second nature, like it was nothing. That place is not set up for delivery. It wasn’t like I had him on GrubHub or something. So he got us what we needed, and then I called him up and read my credit card over the phone. And I feel like you can’t do that in neighborhoods where you don’t know where you are and who you’re dealing with day in and day out. That’s a very specific example of how it benefits you. But if you’re not putting in the time to support those people, they’re not going to support you either. Paying attention to where you’re spending your money and where you’re showing your support in a variety of different ways is really key to stuff like that.

Place/Love Project · Tim R

For sure. And I really like what you said about always trying to be aware and think about your place in all of this. That’s definitely one of the guiding things behind these interviews and this blog, is figuring out a collective way to document what is all of our place in all of this.

Yeah, because it is always an ecosystem, and especially in New York City. I’ve been living in the city proper for... counting [college] would be eleven years as a quote-unquote New Yorker.I’m sure that I can call myself a local and what not, and I have a lot of really annoying opinions about very small food wars that no one should ever care about. But no matter what, anytime you’re in a place that you didn’t grow up in, you need to make sure that you, the outsider, are going to be able to treat that appropriately. If you can become a part of that fabric, that’s excellent. That’s definitely what you should have a goal in mind to do. But it’s not something that you can force your way into and be like, hey surprise - I’m gonna take over the joint! You have to find how that community fits together and find how you can bring your touch to it.

Yeah. Do you feel like your work at Brooklyn Brewery ties into all of that at all?

Yeah. When I first started giving tours at the Brewery way back when, I used to work with Miss Gabe Barry, who's now our education manager for Europe, and she always preached that the bars and the various establishments like that are kind of like the last of the common watering holes. There’s not really a lot of common spaces in America in particular but the world at large where it’s encouraged that you come together and just be in a place and mix as a group, and have that pretty much with no timeline. There’s not a show, there’s not a sporting event, there’s not a real end goal. It’s just a place that serves, you know, hopefully good drinks and whatever food and that’s enough to bring people in and let them cross-pollinate. This is the community element. These are the landmarks and the things that draw people together and make it into a community, and not just a bunch of people living on a block.

That was honestly one of the things that drew me to the neighborhood very early on. I visited a friend of mine who lived down here before I did and they took me to Owl Farm. And I was like man, this is one of my platonic ideal bars right here. There’s not a lot to get in the way of the beer list and it can be a super geeky one. They always have neat things rotating in and out. And I was like, I hope that I can fit into this someday, and I feel like I’ve sort of struck that balance. Luckily enough, this is kind of becoming a larger and larger home for breweries in the city as well. So now it’s very easy from my apartment to walk to - I’m trying not to leave anyone out here - Other Half, Folksbier, Svendale, Strong Rope, Finback, Sixpoint, Wild East, and Threes. And I guess Five Boroughs if I was really gonna put the good shoes on and haul South for a bit. But you know, that’s kind of become part of my routine now if I’m trying to work in a walk and I’m definitely not doing enough gym work. I go and hit a handful of breweries and my gym work is carrying way too many cans home up way too many flights of stairs. But it’s cool to have these places pop up and kind of watch them develop and form that following and get their populus and bring people together and bring them out in a really cool way. I hate to keep circling the coronavirus lens, but it’s been really interesting to see all these small breweries in this neighborhood and across the city and the state and the world: how they’ve been trying out fledgling delivery ideas and curbside pickup. And we can joke all we want about beer being recession-proof, and how people always want to drink - it’s true, yes - but so many of these are supported by people that have such a deep connection to these Places and the people within them. I think it’s a really important thing to just notice that it is such a community hub, and it does bring people into that focus and can be something that’s maybe a little more approachable than a more typical bar. It’s really exciting to see that and it’s fun to be a part of it.

Nine breweries within walking distance… I can see why Tim doesn’t want to leave. I would agree though, a community can never have enough of these types of open, accessible, not-necessarily-transactional third spaces to build our associations and ‘social capital’.

What are the ‘watering holes’, the communal spaces, in your neighborhood? And how are you a part of that fabric?

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