Hoppy Hour—Craft Beer Explodes onto the Scene

Revelers toast at One Stop Beer Shop.  Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

Revelers toast at One Stop Beer Shop. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

By Mary Yeung

The baby boomers had their revolution—civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war, anti-poverty—and now their children are having their own: the craft beer revolution. Thank God, because for a while there, everybody was worried that kids born after 1975 were becoming permanent slackers.

Beer taster at Bier Merchants. Photo by Benjamin Spell

When the wine-loving food critic Alan Richman released his list of ten favorite craft beers in GQ recently, we knew that the craft beer revolution had arrived. Clearly, beer is not just for blue collar workers, college students, football fans, and wife beaters anymore. Much like premium coffee, its marketing has taken on the language of wine culture. At stylish bars, you can get a flight of beer, order beer cocktails, or learn how to pair fancy food with fancy beer. It’s even okay to drink beer while appreciating fine art. Red Hook’s Sixpoint Craft Ales recently teamed up with the Museum of Modern Art to create a stein beer worthy of MoMA’s pricey restaurant, where art lovers dine.

Overall, U.S. beer sales have been flat for the last two years, while the sale of craft beer has risen a whopping 11%. Now before you get all beergasmic, keep in mind that craft beer only represents about 10.3% (in dollars) of the total U.S. market, while the big three beer giants (Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors, and SAB Miller) still hold 79% of market share. The other 9.7% is claimed by imports. But an 11% gain in sales is still damn impressive, proof that the craft beer movement has legs. At last count, there were over 1,900 breweries in the U.S., a huge leap from 80 in the 1980s, but still far short of the 4,000 plus breweries that existed in the boozy 1860s. Back then, anyone who had a bathtub made beer. But 13 years of Prohibition (1920 to 1933) put a stop to all that.

One Stop “Dark and Smoky” a Porter beer and moonshine cocktail. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

Now beer is back! Blame it on the internet, ubiquitous food shows, or the lousy economy. Young people who once would have been snapped up by banks, advertising agencies, law firms, magazines, or Wall Street are now lazing around their parents’ basements looking for stuff to do. Some are taking up cupcake baking, some are up-cycling old rags, some are dreaming up new reality shows (Hipster Housewives?), some are hacking into Facebook or Pentagon websites, but the smart ones are making beer. Modern day brewers can also thank President Jimmy Carter, who signed the bill legalizing home brewing in 1979, dismantling one of the last vestiges of Prohibition. Carter must have foreseen that someday there would be a “lost jobs” generation that needed to make beer for a living. After all, Carter had a less accomplished brother, Billy, who once was paid to be a spokesman for Billy Beer (Falls City Brewing Company). It was all very cute until Billy was caught on camera relieving himself in public while Jimmy was still in office.

What is Craft Beer?

Shortly after home brewing was legalized, beer lovers started experimenting with kits and hops. Soon, those with an entrepreneurial spirit got their product into local pubs and restaurants. Because they were making small batches, they could afford to use high-quality ingredients and not water down their brew with corn or rice products like the majors. As a result, their beer had more robust flavors. You know how it is: youth with pent up creative energy fueled by fizzy alcoholic lubricants opening Pandora’s Box. Beer makers today are America’s new mad scientists, throwing every kind of herb, fruit, gourd, chili, chocolate, and even lava rock, into the mix.

Our European cousins are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at the audacity of messing with something as traditional as beer. In Germany, many brewers still adhere to the centuries-old beer purity law “Reinheitsgebot,” which frowns on exotic ingredients. Although some aspects of the law have been repealed, brewers are still doing stuff the classical way. According to Renee, one of the owners of Breukelen Bier Merchants, on Grand Street, when European tourists visit, they want to buy American craft beer. “They want to taste the local stuff,” she says.

In fact, some American craft beers are making inroads into an entrenched Europe. According to the Guardian, Sierra Nevada‘s Pale Ale, Goose Island’s beers, and Brooklyn Lager can now be found in British supermarkets. Some experts credit the American craft beer movement with turning around the reputation of America’s beers. Others point to the marketing brilliance of these creative breweries. Cool graphics and catchy names attract young drinkers. Who can resist monikers like Noble Rot, Bitches Brew, He’Brew, Ruination IPA, Old Engine Oil, In Heat Wheat Beer, and Irish Death?

Beer Central

While Portland, Oregon, is the epicenter of American craft beer, Williamsburg and Greenpoint are craft beer central in New York. There is literally a bar on every corner, and even dive bars serve an impressive array of craft beers. Williamsburg was once home to Dutch and German brew masters, so it’s only fitting that an East Coast revival should have North Brooklyn as its center.

At One Stop. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

Spuyten Duyvil, on Metropolitan Avenue, was an early innovator and is considered by beer geeks to be the local “Temple of Craft Beer.” “That’s because we go out of our way to find unique beers, which we’ve been doing since we opened ten years ago,” says bartender Alex. On the day I visited, the focus was on the Maryland artisan brewery Stillwater. Its Debutante farmhouse ale is on Richman’s top ten list. On tap were Kuhnhenn Prometheus, Mikkeller Blackhole Stout (aged in whiskey barrels), Otter Creek Anniversary Ale, Reissdorf Kolsch, and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted (served from a cask). Alex also likes Germany’s Bamberger Mahr’s unfiltered lager in a bottle. “Bamberger is one of the best breweries in the world,” he says. We ordered a bottle and loved it. It was crisp, smooth, and well balanced. Foodies will also find this a great place to sample artisan cheeses, cured meats, and pickles.

Another bar that stocks a lot of craft beer is d.b.a., on North 7th Street near Bedford Avenue. d.b.a.’s older sister, d.b.a. Manhattan is considered the first craft beer bar in New York City. “Back in 1994, you really had to go out of your way to find good craft beer,” says Al, d.b.a.’s bartender. The Brooklyn branch opened three years ago and stocks over 200 bottles from all over the world, including the celebrated Jolly Pumpkin collection. There are about 16 beers on tap and three cask brews. I enjoyed the Winter Lager, with a hint of chocolate, from Kelso Brewery. “We’re known for our cask beers,” says Al. “We have a cask festival in March, after St. Patrick’s Day.” Al talked about a cask from the newly formed Bronx Brewery. “It’s actually brewed in the Bronx and tastes pretty good. People want to know what the Bronx is up to,” he says. The Bronx Brewery somehow managed to convince a local Catholic church to allow them to grow some hops on church ground so they could develop a beer using wet hops. And why not? Monks have been brewing beer for centuries.

In Greenpoint, one of the newest bars specializing in craft beer is One Stop Beer Shop on Kingsland, where you’ll find the next trendy thing—beer cocktails. In addition to having 16 tap beers, bartender Pamela recommends the Orange You Glad? A cocktail for beginners. It’s made with Original Moonshine, orange juice, agave, muddled orange, and lemon, and topped with Brooklyn Brewery’s BK Sorachi Ace. (BK Sorachi Ace is also on Richman’s top ten list.) “My boss, Ben, spent a lot of time searching for unique ingredients for the cocktails,” she says. Pamela’s favorite beer on tap is La Chouff, a golden blonde ale from Belgium’s Achouffe Brewery, and Founder Centennial IPA from Michigan. One Stop Beer Shop also has a growler delivery service.

Another well-regarded craft beer shop is Brouwerij Lane, on Greenpoint Avenue. They’re known for expert bartenders who are happy to let you sample the beer before ordering, and they often host artisanal beer events like Imperial Stout weekends. There’s a backyard, a wood burning furnace, and 19 exotic beers on tap. What more do you need?

Most bartenders who specialize in craft beer are very patient. “Let us know what style of beer you’re looking for and we can work with you,” says Al at d.b.a. That means, “Don’t just say I want to try a light beer,” rather describe the kind of beer you enjoy, whether it’s stout, IPA, sour, local, gluten-free, German, or Bud Lite.

Bier Merchants growler jugs. Photo by Benjamin Spell

Beer shops that serve food are also a wonderful place to learn about beer. At Breukelen Bier Merchants, on Grand Street, they stock over 500 bottled beers and usually have about 16 beers on tap. The three owners—Denise, Renee, and Greg—are craft beer experts and are there to help you with new selections. The atmosphere is usually a bit calmer than your typical bar, and you can get sandwiches or beer snacks and hang out at the communal tables. Breukelen Bier Merchants offers growler services and cheese-and-beer pairing events. On tap recently were Sixpoint Gorilla Warfare, Wondering Star Thunderbolt, Saranac white IPA, and Southhampton Diere de Mars. Renee says the most interesting bottle beer she has in stock is the very rare, Polish-style smoked beer, Piwogradziskie, made by a German brewery. “It’s very interesting, a little sour, a bit smoky.”

On Franklin Avenue, there’s The Diamond, a bar with a well-chosen micro beer list. It has a relaxing patio and free shuffleboard, and you can dine on cheese and meat plates. They have special events like ladies’ arm wrestling and pre skiing parties. Apparently, somebody there organizes ski trips.

Back on Bedford, check out Lucky Dog, a dog friendly beer bar. They’ve got a patio, 20 beers on tap from famous breweries, plenty of bottled beers, and a cask engine. You’ll see all the favorites: Dogfish Head, Ommegany, Troegs, and Reissdorf. There’s also shuffleboard and a doggie treat dispenser, and you’re welcome to bring your own grub.

At Gordon Bennet, an old world Irish pub and grub on South 6th Street, we decided to let bartender Margaret choose a tap beer for us. She picked Kostritzer Schwarzbier, a black beer from Germany. We also ordered a chocolate bread pudding as a bar snack, and amazingly, the two went together like Brad and Angelina. This is a nice low-key bar where you can catch up with your friends while grabbing a bite to eat.

A favorite import at Spuyten Duyvil. Photo by Allen Ying

Pubs as Adult Amusement Parks

What makes visiting North Brooklyn beer pubs so thrilling is that they all have different themes, decors, and cultures. There are metal bars, dive bars, punk bars, gay bars, geek bars, and friendly neighborhood bars. There are authentic and family friendly biergartens (Radegast Hall & Biergarten), or handsome bars, like the one with a Bauhaus interior and an outdoor biergarten (Loreley). There are bars with bowling (Brooklyn Bowl, The Gutter), bars with arcade games (Barcade), dog friendly bars (Lucky Dog, d.b.a, Mark Bar), and dive bars with well-priced craft beer (Mugs Ale House). And then there is that bar with the house-made beer, including a black Chocolate Stout and Maple beer (Brooklyn Brewery). There’s also a hall with 6,000 sq. ft. and a steampunk interior (Spritzenhaus). But that is nothing compared to the mind blowing hall being built in Bushwick. Well Beergarten on Melrose, will be the largest in the city at 4,000 sq. ft. indoors and 11,00 sq. ft outdoors.

The craft beer movement fits right into the locavore ethos of the new millennium. It’s a way to support local craftspeople and is so much a part of the local economy that our Assemblyman, Joseph Lentol, sponsored a bill back in 2005 to promote and create a New York Beer Trail that brings beer loving tourists from around the world to the Empire State. It has been estimated that the craft beer industry has created over 100,000 jobs for New York State alone. Let’s drink to that.


Time to Hit the Dirt: Starting from Seed

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By Kimberly Sevilla
Owner, Rose Red & Lavender
Floral Design Studio and Organic Garden Center

I love seeds.
I like looking at the catalogs, reading the descriptions, trying the varieties, saving them, collecting them, and trading them. I enjoy talking to seed growers and sellers and getting all nerdy about the different cultivators and reminiscing. When we say Brandywine, or Moon and Stars, even Freckles and Deer Tongue, we smile, because we know what that means, and we all have our favorites.

If you haven’t tried it, using seeds to start your garden can be very rewarding. There are so many varieties that just wouldn’t be available if you didn’t grow them yourself, even things that (gasp) would not be available at the farmer’s market. I know, I know, they seem to have everything. But there are some bizarro things out there: purple, conical cauliflower and a plant that grows potatoes and tomatoes.

Or how about red, yellow, and pink carrots? Lettuce, radishes, beans, and sunflowers are very easy, and if you are timid, I suggest you start with them.

Photo by James Prez

We teach a few classes on starting seeds, and I’m always proud when students come back with pictures of what they grew. One student moved on to start his own rooftop seed company and farm.

I personally have tried almost every method of seed starting, and there are two that I swear by. Okay, three that I swear by. They are winter sowing, jiffy pellets, and baby beds.

Seeds are a miracle, and once water is added, the whole process begins. Have you watched your garden in spring and noticed how bare the earth is, and how, suddenly, after a warm day, life pops up out of nowhere? Weeds, weeds, weeds, and lots of them. No one mollycoddles these plants, no one sets up grow lights or painstakingly cares for them, and yet they grow. What’s up with that? Sometimes you’ll notice that seedlings look a little familiar, and, many times, healthier, but they’re smaller versions of ones you started weeks before. Those volunteer tomato plants, sunflowers, and herbs just pop up, all on their own. Get out! They rest all winter, and when the time is right, POP! The volunteer plants almost always catch up to the ones I started, and even outgrow them; not fair.

This is the premise behind a method called winter sowing. Basically, you take your seed starting kit, take out container, milk jug, or what have you, and you plant your seeds, water them, and place the whole thing outside, in the middle of winter, in the snow if you like. When the time is right for those seeds to grow, they will, with no help from you, and they will thrive and be healthy. Just be sure to water them when the weather warms up. The cold kills any of the damp-off fungi, and also helps striate hard seed coats. This is the only way I’ve been able to successfully grow lupine and columbine (both native plants) from seed. Funny enough, tomatoes and peppers also do very well with winter sowing. When the seedlings are large enough, just movethem where you would like them to be in the garden. Yes, it’s that easy. No need to worry about planting charts, frost dates, grow lights, etc. It almost takes the fun out of it, but it works.

Jiffy pellets, I love, love, love them.
Starting seeds can be messy, and the fine seed starting mix can go everywhere. Filling trays is a hassle and it always makes a mess. One year I discovered Jiffy 7s and I was hooked. Jiffy’s are little flat disks of peat moss, but when you add water they pop up into little pots surrounded by netting. Storage is easy and they last forever.

Put three seeds in the little pot, cover with a clear lid, and wait for your seeds to sprout. Take the lid off and watch your plants grow. When transplanting, put the pot directly into the soil. It’s that easy. Sometimes I rip off the net, sometimes not. The jiffy pellets come in mini greenhouses with 6, 12, 20, or 72 pellets. Seventy-two will fit into a full tray, and they work great in combination with the plastic six packs that come with the 72-cell greenhouses. Seventy-two plants! Once you get started, you’ll want more, and more, and more. Other methods, like peat pots, newspaper cups, paper towel, etc., never worked that great for me. There were always watering issues, mold (especially with the newspaper cups), and general poor performance. I would steer clear of these.

The last method, baby beds, is similar to the winter gardening method but uses a cold frame instead of individual containers. You basically set up a small raised bed about 2? x 4? and fill it with a light mixture of vermiculite and peat or coir, with some sand. Three parts peat or coir to one part sand and one part vermiculite. A 15g smart pot would also do well.

Plant your seeds, well spaced, in little rows (don’t forget to label them). When they’re big enough, use a transplant trowel (skinny and thin) to move the plants to where you want them. If you like, cover the box with plastic hoops or an old window or piece of glass, creating a cold frame. Don’t forget to prop it open on sunny days, or you’ll have an oven.

The backs of seed packets have lots of great information. Ignore most of the planting instructions, except if it tells you to direct sow, as some seedlings don’t like to be moved around much. Remember to space your seeds; each has the potential of becoming a little plant. A pack of lettuce seed can hold up to 400 seeds, so avoid at all costs making a little furrow and sprinkling all the seeds in that furrow. Thinning is a waste of time, and a waste of seed, and it damages the plants. It’s always best to put three seeds in a spot, every few inches. One out of three is bound to grow.

For more information, I recommend reading All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, which has lots of useful advice for small, urban gardens. Also check out Hudson Valley’s Seed Blog at seedlibrary.org, which has a six-week session about seeds.

Rose Red & Lavender
653 Metropolitan Avenue
Williamsburg, NY 11211
Flowers, Plants and Beautiful Things
(718) 486-3569

Domino Sugar Factory Plans Falling Down


Concept Plan by Williamsburg Independent People includes gallery space and an art park accessible from the waterfront. Courtesy WIP/By-Encore

Domino Falls Down (Architect’s Newspaper)

CPCR Donated over $100K to Local Supporters (Eastern District)

Lawsuit Could Hurt Domino Development Plans


Old articles

The controversial residential development proposed for the site of the Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg has cleared every planning and landmarks hurdle. But despite the green light from the city, the site sits dormant. The developer, Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR), declined to comment on the status of the project, but in September, Architectural Record reported that the company was seeking additional investors to move the project forward. The Rafael Viñoly-designed New Domino complex of five towers is slated for 2,200 units, 660 of which the developer says will be affordable housing.

For the full story in Architect’s Newspaper, click here.


Grape and Cacao—wine and chocolate pairings at BOE

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Raaka 71% dark chocolate with sea salt, 2006 BOE Social Club Red, 2009 BOE Chardonnay, and 2010 Cabernet Franc Rose, were among several wines and chocolates paired at a recent BOE wine and chocolate event. Photo by Jonathan W. Walton

by Jonathan W. Walton

In the dimming light, sprawled out before us on a big communal table at the BOE (Brooklyn Oenology) tasting room, were several half empty bottles of New York wine surrounded by ten or so mounds of Brooklyn-made chocolate. Chocolate and wine makers together, we dove in one by one, systematically comparing over 80 combos without realizing that the smorgasbord had grown to overflowing. Between testing a riesling with smoked chocolate, and gearing up for the black-truffle-chocolate pairings, I took a step back and tried to fathom the decadence before us on this chill winter night. With a deep breath, I washed down the riesling and got back to work.

For most folks, the idea of eating a load of cocoa in the weeks after a certain chocolate-filled Hallmark holiday is not exactly appealing. But I’d make the case that, just like rose after the end of summer, and Champagne in the cool months following New Year’s Eve, chocolate and wine are a unique culinary treat to be enjoyed in many contexts and freed from the chattels of February romance.

It used to be a simpler world for chocolate and wine, a world made up mostly of port and a lot less top-tier dark chocolate. As the chocolate industry shifted toward more artisanal producers that feature single-origin bars and unique infusions, the options for pairing table wines greatly increased. One perfect example is a match-up of Brooklyn Oenology’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc with Mast Brothers Serrano Pepper Dark Chocolate. In the old wine and chocolate paradigm, a Sauvignon Blanc would never be considered a good match for chocolate, but with Mast Brother’s addition of the serrano pepper to their chocolate, the tables turn. Herbaceous notes of the Sauvignon Blanc that would have fallen flat on a simple dark chocolate come alive when had with the serrano pepper; the chocolate actually highlights latent peppery flavors in the wine! A good pairing indeed, and one that couldn’t have existed with chocolates of Valentine’s Days past.

Over the last few weeks of pairing local chocolates with local wines, I noted that remarkably few patterns emerged to guide one’s matching choices in the expanded categories of fine chocolate and wine. The classic advice still holds fairly true, that you want to select a chocolate less sweet than the wine you will be having with it. For something like a milk chocolate, or anything in the below 60% dark range, you can look to the fortified sweet wines of the world. One of my favorite match-ups highlighting this end of the classical approach is Fine and Raw’s supple bonbon bar paired with Channing Daughter’s Pazzo, a madeirized dessert merlot. While the bonbon bar is relatively sweet, the Pazzo is sweeter still, and its lightly oxidized style brings out many interesting secondary flavors in the chocolate.

On the other end of the classical chocolate-and-wine pairing spectrum you can marry dry table wines to the best, darkest chocolate you can get your hands on. Brooklyn Oenology’s 2006 Social Club Red is a delicately complex, dry bordeaux blend that is more at home with pasta situations than anything sweet. This red is refreshingly dry when had alone, which means that if you were to pair it with anything sweet, say a Swiss milk chocolate, it would transform the wine into something tasting more like vinegar; it would be sour. In comes Raaka Chocolate’s 71% dark bar with sea salt. This amazingly savory bar changes the texture of the Social Club Red a bit, yet the rich quality of the bar, along with its touch of salinity, triggers your thirst and makes the Social Club Red all the more gluggable.

While these two pairing examples show the usefulness of the classical chocolate/wine approach, I have encountered as many, if not more, pairings that disprove the dark/milk, dry/sweet matching logic. There are so many more unique chocolates available today than in years past; many of these bars’ singular flavors pair unpredictably with table wines. It might be more confusing than it used to be to pair wine and chocolate, but where there are more pitfalls there are also more undiscovered flavors and hedonistic moments to be had. My advice, sadly, is pretty simple: try a ton of different combos and keep an open mind about how each pairing changes both the chocolate and the wine. And above all, enjoy!

Brooklyn Oenology Winery (‘EN-ology, or simply ‘BOE’), a local winery which applies the work of Brooklyn artists on its bottle labels, is hosting a new wine release party and artist reception on Friday, April 6th from 7pm – 12am in its tasting room at #209 Wythe Ave at N. 3rd St. in Williamsburg.  The party celebrates the release of Brooklyn Oenology 2010 Pinot Gris ‘Orange’ Wine, and the opening of a solo exhibition of work by artist Jeff Huntington, whose painting “Torrera” is featured on the 2010 Pinot Gris label. 

To celebrate, BOE will feature $2 off glasses of 2010 Pinot Gris, 10% off all bottles of BOE wines, and complimentary snacks will also be served.  BOE winemaker Alie Shaper and Jeff Huntington will both attend and the reception is open to the public.   All are invited.

Alex Melamid, Artist Healer-in-Residence

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by Sarah Schmerler

Chances are you have never met an iconoclast like Alexander Melamid. A conceptual artist turned self-proclaimed “art healer,” he’s had a pretty impressive (if the word can even apply to iconoclasts) career. Back in the 1990s, he was known as part of the duo Komar and Melamid, when their art was spotlighted in such august, fame-dispensing institutions as the Venice Biennale, Documenta, and the Guggenheim. Among other things, the two polled the American public and came up with “The Most-Wanted Painting in America”—a cheesy, bucolic landscape complete with George Washington, a deer, and other treacly fare. (It’s a project they did in 16 other countries as well, with equally queasy-making results.) Melamid split from Komar in 2004. At 66 years old, his work leans so far to the edge of irony that it makes Duchamp look conservative. These days, Melamid is concerned with reaching a greater public beyond the walls of museums, using masterpieces—or perhaps, the public’s sheeplike “faith” in fine art—as a method of healing ills of all sorts: insomnia, impotence, depression. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he has declared himself an art healer, an art prophet, and even, yes, a deity. He’s given out art-healing communion (absinthe) on the streets of London; opened a functioning art-healing clinic in Soho (where you could strip and have masterworks like Van Goghs and Renoirs projected onto your body); and is currently serving as a bonafide healer, making rounds at Queens Hospital. Yes, he showed me his security badge, it’s real. I met Melamid at a donut shop and found him to be a charming character of the A-1 variety; an artist who wants what every artist you’ve ever met wants: to save the world. Warning: before you read our conversation, know that Melamid is serious. He embodies what he is/does/says. Play along, or play…alone. P.S. He healed me.

SS—Mr. Melamid… AM—That’s not my name. I just want you to know, you can’t call me that.

[taken aback] Okay…what shall I call you? That’s the name I took. It was simpler, you understand, to have a history, a past. You have heard of Melamid? I am more or less the same age as the original. Comrade Melamid: one of the greatest Russian artists who ever lived.

[confused] Really? He wasn’t really that famous, was he? [looks slightly hurt] Well, I suppose…perhaps not so much… but by Russian standards he has had a glorious past. And honestly, I am trying to make a career but it’s very hard here. As Melamid I have at least a past, some shows…you understand.

That’s fine, it’s only natural for artists: self merchandizing, branding. Yes, it’s only natural to want to brand. And I cannot pretend I am Jasper Johns. I mean, with this Russian accent?

Yes, I see. Okay. Will you let me guess your real name? Is it something like “Malefischinski”? Something like that? Yes. That’s great. You can call me that.

Good. Mr.…Mr. Malefischinski, can we get started? Certainly.

Great, because I’m in need of healing. My problem isn’t that I don’t see enough art—my problem is that I see too much of it. And the big thing is, almost all of it is mediocre! I’m becoming genuinely anxious… No, no, no. Calm down. You have it all wrong! If we go deep down we understand there is no “good” or “bad” in art. In the 19th century there began a new notion, “art for art’s sake”; now, it has grown into a secular religion. Before [in other ancient, tribal cultures] art was depicted as having an outside power; now the power is within us. It is a [closed] system and museums and the like are its temples, its churches. When you are outside of a system, everything seems crazy, its beliefs nonsensical, but when you are inside it’s [fine]. Christianity, Marxism, Freud. There are still some Marxists out there! There are still people who believe that Freud made great discoveries! But it’s all lunacy. My parents said to me [as a child]: everything about art is good; you have to study it, you have to look at it. And only lately I’ve said: “Well, what is it exactly good for?” It’s good for this. For healing!

[Melamid takes out his laptop and a portable projector. I close my eyes. He beams an image on my forehead for about a minute. I feel much better.] Look, that’s what I used on you.

[An image of Vermeer’s portrait, “Woman with Pearl Earring” is projected on the donut shop wall.] I also must confess that I have a lot of trouble with money, making enough, managing it, keeping enough around, even for basic necessities. Wow. That’s serious. A nice person like you. What do you do? And why do you look at so much “mediocre art”?

I’m an art critic. Ha! No wonder you don’t have any money! Being an art critic is one of the most unhealthy professions there is. It’s like working in medical science and saying you’re a medicine tester. Here you are, eating the medicine. What happens if you take too many aspirin? You get sick! You can’t experiment on humans. [Laughs] Maybe we should have animal testing for art critics?

Yes! I could take a hamster and put him in front of me, between me and the painting… A hamster would be fine. He would block the negative energies.

And if the hamster survives… …You would know, the art is not “bad,” it’s safe.

And if he dies… …if the hamster dies, the art is “bad.”

Would it be okay to take canaries to Chelsea? Canaries would work, sure. But wait, I have something for your finances.

[Melamid beams another image on my head. This time, an image of one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans. Once again, I feel better, plus a bit warm and woozy.] Now you are cured. Your money problem will resolve itself in a couple of days. Don’t worry any more.

Thanks. So, are you G-d? Well, sure, yes, I am so great that…

Typical artist response. What’s your next project? I am instituting a prize for artists 80 years old and over. Like the Turner Prize, but for older artists. I feel we are in a time of senility. The end of a glorious epoch. Modernism started with young vigorous men with their penises up; now we are in a stage of the limp, of senility, and those greatest artists are of course older: Richter, the late Picasso, de Kooning. We forget things. “Neo-Senilism,” that’s the future of art. What’s happened years ago keeps happening over and over. I am now trying to get money for this prize.

Speaking of money, I am thinking of switching from art criticism to selling art. Do I have your blessing? Of course! That’s the only thing art is good for. To make money. Tell me, as a writer, are you paid for this article by the word, or are you given a flat fee?

A flat fee. Then we’d better stop, no? You’ve done too much already.

I agree. 

Trent’s Top Gallery Picks—March 2012

Installation view of Charles Atlas’s video projections “Plato’s Alley,” 2008 (left), and “Painting by Numbers,” 2011. Photo courtesy Luhring Augustine Bushwick

Installation view of Charles Atlas’s video projections “Plato’s Alley,” 2008 (left), and “Painting by Numbers,” 2011. Photo courtesy Luhring Augustine Bushwick

Luhring Augustine Bushwick, 25 Knickerbocker Ave., through 5/20

After more than a year of renovations, bluechip gallery Luhring Augustine has finally opened its Bushwick outpost, in a nondescript gray warehouse building with a polished exhibition area. To consecrate the space, Luhring presented a magnificent show of video works by Charles Atlas.

Called “The Illusion of Democracy,” Atlas’s three large projections are brilliantly understated, taking as their subject six simple numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. In “Painting by Number” (2011), the digits (hundreds of them) float by as if part of a cosmic ticker tape. They weightlessly snake along three walls, explode from the center like a supernova, suck back into the middle like a black hole, or spin like a celestial pinwheel. These swift changes in direction are powerful enough to elicit bodily reactions; viewers instinctively lean forward when the numbers pull inward or move back as they burst outward

If that piece feels corporeal, the other two videos play with the mind. “Plato’s Alley” (2008) has twitchy bars and grids that slowly build up through computerized mitosis to fill the white cube it’s projected upon. Numbers suddenly occupy each box within the grid like a giant Keno board, before coming down in a flurry. The biggest projection, called “143652” (2012), has bright colorful bars that slowly sweep across six giant digits, transposing their placement and changing the tone of the background. This pattern ends when the numbers become a glorious expanse of twinkling stars.

What makes these works most magical is Altas’s power to turn six boring numerals into things of grace and near limitless capacity. If Luhring Augustine keeps mounting exhibitions as good as this one, we should hope they stick around Bushwick for a long time.

International Studio & Curatorial Program, 1040 Metropolitan Ave., through 3/10

Maider López’ “Polder Cup,” 2011. Photo by Maider López/SKOR/Witte de With/ISCP

Last year, Basque artist Maider Lopez set up four soccer fields near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, for a day-long tournament. Far from regulation, these homespun pitches, in various sizes, were arranged on a lowland cow pasture, with murky irrigation canals cutting through them. The exhibition at ISCP included group portraits of the teams, an aerial shot of the fields blown up to mural size, walls painted grassy green with white lines, and two videos of all the action. But the tournament itself, called the “Polder Cup,” was the real star of the show.

In the videos, we see how the contenders had to rethink the game, given the strange terrain. Teams position themselves on both sides of a canal as a general strategy, kicking the soccer ball over the water. (Though officials occasionally have to scoop out soggy balls with nets.) Players fall into the channels more than once, and one guy looses a shoe in the muddy depths. That’s not to say these amateur competitors don’t enjoy themselves—everyone seems to have a jolly time, with smiles and laughs and backslaps exchanged throughout the championship. Outside the actual competition, spectators float across the fields in canoes, and a marching band plays spirited tunes as dairy cows munch on grass in the distance. These games are nice to watch in the gallery, but, man, they would be so much more fun to play.

City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave., through 4/29

Enrico Miguel Thomas’s “59th Street.” Photo courtesy of the artist / City Reliquary

Enrico Miguel Thomas has been dubbed “The Subway Artist of New York.” (The tagline even appears at the bottom of his e-mails.) That’s because he can often be found making drawings of subway stations throughout the city—and he has created hundreds of them in the past few years.

In his practice and his style, Thomas is a kind of post-post-Impressionist. He works quickly, propping his easel on sidewalks and inside the transit system (72nd Street, Union Square, and 34th Street-Herald Square are favorite depots) to compose lively pictures in colored marker, sometimes on white paper and sometimes on free subway maps provided by Metropolitan Transit Authority attendants. These humble materials are meant to demonstrate that you don’t need money to make art.

Stripes and slashes imply the hurried movement of commuters darting up and down stairs and trains swooshing in and out of stations. Stillness in these pieces often comes in the form of token booths or hot-dog carts—their boxy structures offering a sense of stability. Other times, passengers themselves are static, as in an illustration of two homeless men in puffy coats snoozing upright on a bench on the Union Square platform. Whether hidden or loosely sketched, faces never have much detail in Thomas’s art, as he concerns himself with entire spaces rather than individual personalities. These works fit in perfectly at the City Reliquary, a place as devoted to preserving and displaying New York’s oddities as Thomas is to recording the vivacity of the subway ecosystem.

The Doctors Are Coming, The Doctors Are Coming

Nancy Redman

Nancy Redman

By Nancy Redman

After a few years of doctors moving to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, all our medical needs can now be taken care of locally. As a result there is no need to travel out of the neighborhood.

An estimated 312 hours of travel and 520 dollars in cost are saved yearly. This number is the result of 2 individual medical appointments with 3 hours roundtrip travel time on train or bus weekly. The 520 dollars saved affords our neighbors 27 Mocha Frappuccinos, 17 Carmel Macchiatos and 6 Bacon & Gouda Sandwiches per year.

How to be a good patient.
Every doctor has a standardized form to simplify your medical history.
Please answer these pertinent questions and remember to bring them with
you to save time.

Do you now or have you ever coughed, sneezed, had an itch, a twitch, a cramping, a strain, a blotch, a bruise, a drip, a bloating, an irritation, a rash, a swelling, a redness, a sting, a chill, a drooling, a drooping, a dropping, a hive, a stiffness, a shaking, a looseness, a floater, a belch, had gas, a scratch, a pimple, a leaking, a tingling, a wheezing, a spinning, a limping, a sniffle, a bump, a redness, a reflex, a bite, a growth, an ache, a pull, a sweating, or a rotten banana.

For each symptom please list all dates, what activity you were doing and if you were wearing a hat?

Answer all questions:
Why you think you have experienced these symptoms?
How long did it take to go away?
How did they go away?
Did they go away?
How often do they come back?
Was your brother-in-law with you?

Please circle appropriate answer.

These symptoms occur:
Very often, quite often, often, sometimes, seldom, very seldom, almost never, never again, never say never.

How many doctors did you or do you currently see for these symptoms?
Did you get a second opinion from the first doctor?
Did the third doctors second opinion vary from the first two doctors first opinion?
Do you think you got too many opinions?
What’s your opinion?
Are you now or ever have been a hypochondriac?
How many opinions have you gotten as evidence?

The Doctor Is In – Brooklyn – From Head To Toe

Is there A Doctor in the House? Yes, Quite a Few

Dr Cascya Charlot (right) and her sister Dr. Giznola Charlot, recently opened a joint practice on North 9th Street. Standing in the back, Giznola's husband, artist James Haggerty. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

Sisters, Dr. Giznola Charlot (at left) and Dr. Cascya Charlot, recently opened a joint practice on North 9th Street. Giznola’s husband, artist James Haggerty stands in back. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky

By Genia Gould & Alyssa Pagano

It wasn’t long ago when going to a weekly therapy appointment, or having a suspicious mole checked out, an allergy shot, or getting pretty much any simple medical procedure, meant a trip into “the City.” Some residents even returned to their hometowns outside of New York, for simple procedures, even for having their teeth cleaned.

But increasingly, medical services are becoming a part of the Williamsburg fabric. It’s possible to get all of the above mentioned services, and even see a heart specialist, get an X-ray, have a mammogram, or receive physical therapy.

Following the tsunami of new galleries, restaurants, bars, housing developments, like clockwork the next step in the growth of the neighborhood are the offerings of professional services—doctors in private practice and hospital satellites.

Many doctors are arriving and setting up their first practice and are happy for the opportunity to be on the ground floor with an expanding population that needs their services.

Dr. Konstantin Rubinov, 30, a resident of the neighborhood for a number of years, was employed by  a busy Manhattan dental office, but felt he could give more personal care in his own practice. “They cared more about production at the end of the month,” he said.

Dr. Konstantin Rubinov opened his dental practice in 2010. Photo by Benjamin Spell

Rubinov contracted an independent company to write up a demographic study of the area, confirming his belief that there were not enough dentists for the 120,000 residents living on the Northside.

He located his practice in a building on North 6th Street and Wythe Avenue, which houses several other health-related practices as well, including medical massage and chiropractic services. In keeping with the neighborhood vibe, his office also features curated artwork.

Rubinov is interested in a holistic approach to dentistry and offers his patients nutritional counseling. He also believes all major diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, manifest in the mouth first, so focuses on what’s known as the “oral-systemic connection.”

Allergist Cascya Charlot, 36, and podiatrist Giznola Charlot, 39, who are sisters, decided to team up and opened an office at North 9th Street. Two months ago they moved into a space they designed with an upbeat chartreuse color scheme.

Cascya Charlot already runs a busy practice in Park Slope, and Giznola Charlot works full time as an attending podiatrist at Kings County Hospital, so while they are establishing themselves in the community, the office hours include weekend and evening hours.

When I arrived to speak with Cascya Charlot, a handful of twenty-something men and women were waiting to see the doctors, including a young woman waiting for an allergy shot. “My boyfriend,” she said, “lives in the area, and it’s very convenient.”

Giznola Charlot’s services run the gamut of medical foot care, but also include medical-grade cosmetic services for people who shouldn’t go to a salon, like those with diabetes. “But it can be for anyone who would prefer a medical pedicure,” she said.

Another doctor following the trend of opening second offices in the area is Bobby Buka, 30, a dermatologist who opened his new office on Broadway near Bedford Avenue. His first office is at the South Street Seaport.

TriBeCa Pediatrics began in 1994 in Lower Manhattan. Since then they have followed the baby boom around the city. A few years ago they opened an office on Berry Street and now have a total of nine locations and are affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College/New-York Presbyterian Hospital. Their offices are cool places for both adults and kids to wait. Their philosophy is one of low intervention, as they believe that, “most childhood illnesses are simple and self-resolving.” “We should be vigilant in monitoring symptoms, but we also must respect the body’s natural defenses and avoid unnecessary, possibly detrimental interventions.”

Every new business adds a new dimension to the community. That was the case when the well known Four Blood Types Diet doctor Peter D’Adamo who recently opened an office on Metropolitan Avenue specializing in diet, health, and allergies. His original intention was to be close to the Hassidic neighborhood but found the Grand Street location accessible to the whole community.

Mental Health

Seeing a therapist in Williamsburg when it was still an industrial neighborhood was unheard of. Heading into the city was a form of sanity in itself. But in the last few years several psychologists have opened private and group practices in the area.

Services now include Leslie Seligman, specializing in marital therapy; Lyn Solomon, who has an art and analytic psychotherapy practice; and Nadia Jenefsky, who, since 2005, has operated the New York Creative Arts Therapists / Art Spa on North 10th Street, a group practice offering several therapy modalities, including art, play, and drama.

Psychologist Daniel Selling, Director of Mental Health for the NYC jail system and in practice on the Upper West Side, has opened a full service mental health care office Williamsburg Therapy Group, with both psychologists and psychiatrists on staff. He currently sees patients in an office on Grand Street near Wythe Avenue.

“Finally, residents of Williamsburg no longer have to travel to Manhattan to find quality mental health care,” said Selling.

Health Care institutions make their presence known, not to be outdone by small practitioners, NYU Langone, Beth Israel, Quest Diagnostics, and New York Eye and Ear have all also made their presence known. The services that these institutions now provide includes internal medicine, gastroenterology, orthopedics, bariatric surgery, cardiology, wound care, vascular medicine, and diagnostic testing.

Andrew Brotman, senior vice president and vice dean of clinical affairs for NYU Langone, said the hospital is aware of the huge draw from Williamsburg to Manhattan.

“So for us it was more about trying to serve the community that we already have a relationship with [on their side of river],” he said.

NYU Langone occupies space at two locations, a floor of a medical building at 168 Havemeyer Street, and at 101 Broadway, home to several other practices, including New York Eye and Ear, Quest Diagnostic laboratory, and a midwifery practice.

While some of these institutions have been in the neighborhood for some time, they have primarily targeted ethnic populations including Polish, Orthodox Jewish, and Hispanic communities. Beth Israel opened a cardiology office on Greenpoint Avenue that is attracting a new group of patients, while the hospital’s other long-time outreach offices on the far Southside have mainly served the Hassidic community.

Last but not Least—Hospitals

Hospitals are the last piece of the puzzle and are still a sticking point in the community because there are no acceptable emergency or critical care facilities that serve the neighborhood, let alone offer hospitalization.

The closest hospital is city-owned Woodhull Hospital, which recently affiliated with NYU Langone. According to Brotman, NYU got involved two or three years ago and took over the contract to manage the medical staff. “We’re committed to upgrading and recruiting high grade, board- certified staff to that facility,” he said.

He also explained that they have significantly expanded the cancer program and are in the process of upgrading the emergency department, as well as adding a new pediatric program.

Until Woodhull improves significantly, a resident can request that an ambulance go to a particular hospital (See “Emergency Exit” in this issue).

Like schools, health services have an important impact on the community, and we will continue following the story.

Small Businesses Demand Compensation for L Train Closures

The lure of Williamsburg is that it’s just one short subway stop away from Manhattan. But when the trains are not running, it might as well not exist. It’s hardly “the vibrant street scene” envisioned in the 2005 rezoning for the neighborhood, and unfortunately it’s the businesses that are left holding the bag. The Williamsburg neighborhood depends on the L train.

The final straw occurred this past November when there was a non-disclosed scheduled shutdown for construction by the MTA, regrettably, on the busiest shopping days of the year: Thanksgiving weekend’s Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. What were the managers at the MTA smoking?

Unfortunately, the MTA relies on 10-year-old records, from a period when very few people came to the neighborhood on weekends. In the meanwhile, ridership has increased a whopping 141% above capacity. There are as many people using the L train on weekends and late nights as during rush hours. It has become just about the most crowded subway line in the city.

At a February meeting on the issue held in Williamsburg [see related article in this issue], there were a lot of ideas about how to get the MTA to redeem itself, including extending the deadline for small businesses filing quarterly sales taxes. But the idea we think has the greatest potential to help local merchants was suggested by Howard Blumberg, of the clothing shop Peachfrog. He suggested the MTA give local businesses free advertising on the L train. We even suggest they might also place ads on many subway lines with maps on how to transfer to the L train to Brooklyn for great shopping.

The cost to the MTA to implement the idea is a pittance compared to what the shutdowns have cumulatively cost merchants.

A manager at Radegast Beer Hall, Tim Hudock, broke it down into dollars and cents. He said the beer hall does 50% of its business on Saturdays, and that for the Thanksgiving weekend shutdown they experienced a 122% loss when compared to earnings for the same Saturday last year (calculating in their 61% growth this year).

“That could be someone’s salary. That’s someone with a wife and kids at home,” said Hudock, adding, “If that’s what happened to us, then the entire neighborhood is feeling this.”

Williamsburg’s many new businesses are the most dramatically affected by the shutdowns because they’re just getting started. James Rosen, owner of The Woods and the new restaurant Masten Lake, said, “We took about an 80% hit, and for a three- month-old business, it’s almost impossible to swallow.”

An organizer for Bushwick Open Studios 2011 described their nightmare, when they spent five months preparing for their 5th annual event, only to be bushwhacked when the MTA gave notice of a weekend shutdown one week before the event. Another casualty of the L train shutdown was Taste of Williamsburg, which went from a huge success one year, to zip the next, due to the train shutdown.

“Why are the trains shut down? What are they doing?” Peachfrog’s Howard Blumberg asked facetiously, “washing windows?” For years the MTA has been touting the implementation of the Japanese-designed CBCT system, which has computers running the trains.

For a project that was announced as completed in 2005, the MTA has now finally fessed up that while they completed the signal work, they didn’t have the upgraded trains to run with those signals. So for all these years they have been running subway trains on two separate signal systems, the old and the new. This is according to an insider source, who wishes to remain anonymous. Now we are told they do have the upgraded trains, but have to remove the old signal system, hence the shutdowns. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but with the MTA, you never know.

—The Editors