Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.
The waterfront community Sheepshead Bay comprises the end of Brooklyn’s alphabetical grid, with Avenues W, X, Y and Z criss-crossing the former barrier island, which has since been artificially extended.
For a time in the 19th century, the neighborhood was known as a lesser version of its southern counterparts Brighton and Manhattan Beach, as Sheepshead’s hotels and recreational offerings didn’t yet share those areas’ respectable reputations.
Still, the neighborhood was host to numerous pillars of local entertainment, including the Sheepshead Bay Race Track, a horse-racing facility opened in 1880 that sported, in addition to its dirt course, America’s first-ever turf course.
As for the name, the neighborhood took it from an eponymous hotel established in 1844, named for the adjacent bay’s formerly abundant population of sheepshead saltwater fish. In turn, the fish are so named for their disturbingly sheep-like teeth — click here for an image (warning: unsettling fish teeth).
Today, Sheepshead Bay is home to a dwindling bungalow community, the 43-year-old burger joint Roll-N-Roaster, Russian and Uzbek cuisine galore, and plenty of old-school Brooklyn character. While the namesake sheepshead fish are now hard to come by in the area, neighborhood seafood spots are still plentiful.
Tucked Away in Sheepshead Bay, the Last of Brooklyn’s Bungalows
Renderings Show Ambitious Condo-Mall Complex With Plaza Coming to Sheepshead Bay
What to Do on a Day Trip to Sheepshead Bay