For a look at how Brooklyn’s rich used to live, take a stroll down the mansion rows of Washington Avenue and Clinton Avenue in historic Clinton Hill. A down-South feeling emanates from some of the front-porched estates, many of which once belonged to navy admirals and industrial bigwigs such as Charles Pratt, the oil baron and philanthropist who founded the neighborhood’s art and trade school Pratt Institute. Of course the neighborhood has evolved. At social gatherings in the area these days, you’re more likely to hear kids impromptu free-styling to hip-hop than discussions about ships, petroleum, or ironworks. Yes, the Hill keeps it real: filled with green leafy streets and beautiful brownstones, the mansion rows are flanked by the typical Brooklyn mix of barbershops and beauty parlors on Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street. Say hi to rogue-ish Pratt students and tip your hat to the bodega owners as you shuffle to the G Train or the bus stop.
Borders: Franklin Avenue to the east, Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street to the south, Vanderbilt Avenue to the west, and Myrtle Avenue (some argue Park Avenue) to the north
Transportation: Trains aren’t common in old Clinton Hill, but the C stops at Clinton/Washington, as does the G, which also stops at Classon Avenue. The G does not travel to Manhattan. Buses: B38, B48, B54, B52, and B61. Taxis run $7 to $15 from lower Manhattan.
Main Drags: The southern stretch of Dekalb Avenue is filled with Fort Greene’s shops and bars. Pratt students find cheap eats on Myrtle Avenue and grocery stores along Lafayette Avenue.
Average Price to Rent: Studios, $800 to $1,100; one-bedroom, $900 to $1,800; two-bedroom, $1,200 to $2,200; three-bedroom, $1,500 to $3,000. Thanks to Pratt, it is possible to find cheap studio art space by checking the bulletin boards in the coffee shops (see below).
Average Price to Buy: One-, two-, and three-family homes run from $550,000 to $1 million. Co-ops can be more affordable than renting, especially if you’re willing to live in a high-rise around Hall Street or in the Clinton Hill Cooperatives. Studio, $89,000 to $125,000; one-bedroom, $100,000 to $280,000; two-bedroom, $180,000 to $350,000. Buyers are most attracted to Clinton Hill’s stunning mansions with rooms as wide as 30 feet. A lot of area owners are Pratt professors or former students who bought years ago for next to nothing.
Coffee Houses: Tillie’s of Brooklyn (248 Dekalb Avenue) is a favorite among kids and older working artists. The fledgling Café Suave (559 Myrtle Avenue), supposedly still in business despite its “Closed” sign, has a humble 1940s feel, and hosts a Stitch and Bitch sewing circle on Sundays. In the great tradition of ’50s style diners, Mike’s Coffee Shop (328 Dekalb Ave) serves typical greasy breakfast food and burger fare.
Cultural Institutions: Pratt Institute is right in the heart of Clinton Hill, sponsoring art shows and housing what was the first public library in Brooklyn. Pratt Area Community Council (201 Dekalb Avenue) is a non-profit that helps first-time homeowners—especially people of color—secure affordable homes with reasonable mortgages.
Parks: Underwood Park (Lafayette and Washington avenues) is a five-year-old’s heaven, with two mammoth jungle gyms and soft fall space. The park is large enough to accommodate parties and barbecues, but groups of 20 or more need a permit. The basketball courts at Greene Playground on Greene and Washington avenues are always active in the late afternoons with pick-up games.
Food: Bergen Bagels on Myrtle (486 Myrtle Avenue) always has a line midday. If celebrity cred counts for anything, Rosie Perez was recently spotted picking up takeout at Thai 101 (455 A Myrtle Ave), which has great iced drinks and cheap, fresh food. Sietsema recommends Locanda Vini & Olii V (129 Gates Avenue) for inventive Italian fare. Or try Castro’s (511 Myrtle Avenue) for oversize tacos and vegetarian cheese enchiladas.
Best Bars/Clubs: With live DJs every night, the Five Spot Supper Club (459 Myrtle Avenue) is one of the hottest nightspots around, with curtains and candles creating a dark and sultry atmosphere. Fort Greene is so close, and many migrate south for fun: Alibi (242 Dekalb Avenue) has an unfinished-wood porch for smokers, a pool table, spray-painted walls, a deer-hunting arcade game, and happy hour from 6 to 8.
Politicians: Clinton Hill was represented by James E. Davis (D), the councilman recently shot at City Hall. His staff remains in the neighborhood. Other pols include State Assemblymen Roger L. Green (D), State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D), and State Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D).
Crime Stats: The 88th Precinct serves Fort Greene and most of Clinton Hill (the 79th Precinct serves the area north of Classon Avenue). As of July 6, the 88th precinct reported three murders, up one from last year; 11 rapes, down three from last year; 210 robberies, up 42; 80 burglaries, down 19; and 89 felonious assaults, up one.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 19, 2003