“This is a perfect starting place,” I say to my him, while visiting my brother at the Bushwick apartment he just moved into. “I have lots of friends whose first New York apartments were in Bushwick.” Andrew replies that if that’s true, a Bushwick basement must be the epitome of “first New York apartment.”
“I wanted to have some art on the walls by the time I had people over, but that just didn’t happen,” he apologizes, but there is no need. I am not the kind of older sister who needs to be impressed; I just want to see that he is doing well on his own. The basement is spacious, with crooked floors and mismatched tiling, but it’s clear that the most pressing need is not art but a bookshelf. Stacks of books sit on most available surfaces. I do mention this to Andrew, and he laughs and agrees.
“These are just the books I’ve bought since I’ve been here.” he adds, “I haven’t even moved my books from home yet… but it’s amazing how much you can stack.”
The upstairs kitchen/living area is shared with five other young men, and has a shelving unit entirely devoted to protein powders, Settlers of Catan, and poker chips. This makes me smile. My brother never went to college (he’s more of a self-educator, hence all the books), and I’m glad he’s getting to have this kind of domestic experience.
The tour continues with the outdoor space, which is a patio with a few tables, a grill, and a tiny putting strip. He and his friend Joey recently invented a game in which you put a golf ball into a glass using a tennis racket. It is called “Gennis” and the rules are handwritten in Sharpie and hanging on the fridge. There are empty beer bottles on almost every available surface outside. Andrew explains that they have people over all the time for parties and barbeques.
But what Andrew likes best about his new place are the bookstores in the neighborhood. When we get to the first one, Andrew walks right by the notables in the window and the new fiction table without so much as a glance. “Look, you already got me this one!” He’s pointing to an old copy of Dharma Bums hanging near the back of the store, protected in a plastic sleeve. These are Andrew’s favorites. We leave and I’m regrettably empty-handed and Andrew has three new (old) finds.
The second bookstore, Molasses, is a mere block from Andrew’s apartment and is more of a cafe, with tables and chairs scattered amongst the stacks. At 9 p.m. on a Saturday, a very few patrons drink out of mason jars and sit alone, reading. The small bar has string lights hanging above it and serves tea, coffee, beer, and wine. My husband and I order beers, and my brother gets chamomile tea. “I come here at night a lot to drink tea and read,” Andrew says. “They are open until midnight everyday.” We find a seat at a small wooden table by the poetry section. “The other night I was sitting here and reading a book I brought with me, but then I got stuck reading a book of poetry. So then I bought it.”
I tell him if I lived in this neighborhood I would come here everyday. I love the small space, having the option of coffee or wine, and the sign behind the bar that says “NO LAPTOPS AFTER 8 P.M.”
We’re getting hungry, and my husband asks my brother if he has found a good corner deli, so he takes us there next. Andrew’s recommendation is the three dollar bacon grilled-cheese. So we order three and eat them back at the apartment, outside, while friends of Andrew’s new roommates play King’s Cup indoors. Occasionally, a very drunk person stumbles outside to smoke a cigarette or check the grill for leftovers. “I have no idea who these people are,” my brother admits. A familiar face comes out at one point and asks if we want to go out later, but Andrew explains that although he was drinking earlier in the day, and has already switched to tea.
So Steve and I head home to our own Brooklyn neighborhood and leave Andrew to his basement and his books.
Back at Molasses, Andrew had mentioned that he should open a similar bookstore cafe one day. “I’ll call it Brooklyn Basement Book & Bar. It works because the words Brooklyn and Book go so well together.”
“It definitely works,” I agree.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.