Like many famous thoroughfares, Bedford Avenue and what it conjures in our cultural consciousness belies its more complex and unique history. While today we often think of hipster culture, small local boutiques and trendy restaurants, there’s a lot that went into transforming the avenue in Williamsburg into what it is today. The area around the L train stop is the most well-trod, but Bedford Avenue is in fact Brooklyn’s longest street, stretching from Greenpoint all the way to Sheepshead Bay.
Looked at in its entirety, Bedford Avenue speaks to many aspects of Brooklyn’s history–a transformation from rural to urban in some areas, a bustling commercial corridor with architecture to match its future prospects in others. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the portion from Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint to Broadway in Williamsburg.
Greenpoint and McCarren Park
Bedford Avenue begins without much fanfare in Greenpoint, just off the intersection of Manhattan Avenue and Nassau Avenue. The businesses along the triangular block that is created from the junction reflects the shifting demographics of the neighborhood. Neighborhood establishments like a Polish restaurant, a locksmith and laundromat give way to Five Leaves, the popular corner establishment planned by Heath Ledger before his untimely death. On balmy days (even in winter) you can find Brooklynites sitting outside sipping a cocktail and taking in locally sourced, organic fare. But don’t miss the Film Noir Video Store just next door, a holdout of the disappearing neighborhood video rental spot. Owner Will Malitek says that Film Noir is “dedicated to classic and obscure music and movies” and when you chat with him in person, it’s clear he’s equally versed in both.
After Five Leaves, Bedford Avenue opens up onto McCarren Park. On the map, it looks like the street literally cuts through the park, but in actuality Bedford Avenue feels more like the edge of it due to the unfinished nature of the tennis court area, used in summers for Northside’s Summer Screen film series.
Ever wonder who McCarren was anyway? He was a New York State senator who came from a working class Irish background and learned his trade on the Williamsburg waterfront in its sugar refineries and barrel factories. Apart from McCarren Park’s athletic amenities, which include a running track, ball field and soccer field, look out for its two pieces of WPA-era architecture. First, the famous McCarren Park pool, which was used as a beloved concert venue until 2008 (before its rehabilitation and reopening in 2013). Then closer to Bedford Avenue is the building that houses the bathrooms and the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn (OSA). Along the tennis courts, look out for the hanging “BROOKLYN LOVE” mural, an initiative by OSA.