My Brooklyn, Then and Now.

September 1, 2014 | By WENDELL JAMIESON

The floor-to-ceiling windows provided a panoramic view of Manhattan. But I was more interested in the foreground, below me — Brooklyn.

New concrete-and-glass apartment buildings hitched up against the water near East River and Bushwick Inlet Parks. A group of people — they looked young, but it was too far to be sure — stood talking and smoking beneath the red neon sign of the Kent Ale House. Rows of silvery and green trucks waiting to be filled from the rusted tanks of Bayside oil gave way to the brick warehouses of Williamsburg, and then the rowhouses of Greenpoint.

We were staying in the Wythe Hotel in a room that was a perfectly distilled essence of what Brooklyn has come to represent: stylish yet relaxed, ironically embracing its industrial roots, with reclaimed wood ceilings, a minibar of indigenous boozes (Kings County bourbon, Van Brunt Due North Rum) and snacks (Mast Brothers Chocolate, Kings County Jerky), and one wall covered in Flavor Paper wallpaper, also locally sourced, as they say. I can’t usually identify wallpaper brands, but I knew this stuff, because my wife and I had wanted to use another design for our tiny vestibule before deciding that paying for college for our children was more important.


The author in front of his childhood home in Park Slope. Credit Walter Jamieson Jr.


I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 44 years, but this was the first night I’d spent in a hotel there. I wanted to know: What does it feel like to be one of the thousands of tourists who now flock to my home borough?

When I was growing up, the only hotels in Brooklyn were those like the Plaza Hotel around the corner from us in Park Slope, with its hourly rates and cars double-parked outside; from the sidewalk you could see the plexiglass window over the front desk, and the johns with their wallets open.

Making a reservation at the Wythe had been a different experience.

“We need you to sign a waiver saying you won’t have any other people in your room,” the young woman had said after I gave her my credit card number.

“A waiver?”

“The rooms are so nice that things can get crazy. We need to make sure you don’t have any parties.”

I agreed to this prerequisite.

Now we were looking at the view. “I want to live here,” my daughter said.

A few weeks earlier we’d had Mother’s Day dinner at Frost, an old-school Italian restaurant, also in Williamsburg. The place was packed. It hadn’t changed much over the years beyond the fact that the crushed-red-velvet walls were painted yellow. The waiters were still unfailingly attentive in their red jackets; the seafood cooked perfectly, tasting of the sea but not fishy; the generous antipasti drenched in snappy vinaigrette. There wasn’t nearly as much male facial hair as we’d see at the Wythe — in fact, there wasn’t any — though there was a lady with a blond beehive so high it blocked out the sun, or at least the view of sunset-tinted, vinyl-sided rowhouses outside the windows.

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