Close-Up on Cobble Hill


Portions of this article have been updated.

“People are getting a little snooty,” says resident Sharon Sperber of close-knit, mostly gentrified Cobble Hill. Known for fine cooking and somehow unobnoxious ultra-cuteness, this mini-hood (sans subway or post office) stretches from predominantly Yemeni Atlantic Avenue down to Italian American Degraw Street. Yuppie-inhabited brownstones and small businesses light the way.

Known as Punkiesberg during the colonial era, post-Revolutionary War Cobble Hill birthed Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill, and the 1870s Home Buildings, among the first quality low-cost housing in New York. Although brownstones were renovated into upper middle-class homes in the mid-20th century, the neighborhood didn’t get hot until the late 1990s. Today, Cobble Hill’s diversity is attractive to many locals. A number of seniors live in the Cobble Hill Health Center, and a methadone clinic separates a trendy Thai restaurant and a small opera house. “I want to move to this neighborhood,” says Emira Habiby Browne, executive director of the Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC) on Court Street. “There’s a sense of comfort, of vitality. After 9-11, I didn’t feel threatened.” Despite scattered death threats, Browne says, “We had so many people calling us, wanting to volunteer and being concerned about us—people who wanted to walk kids to school and help women who wore the hijab. I’ve never felt like people didn’t want us in this neighborhood. It feels good.”

Boundaries: Atlantic Avenue to the north, both sides of Court Street to the east, Degraw Street to the south, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the west. Nearly the entire nabe is a landmarked historic district.

Transportation: Take the F or G trains to Bergen or Carroll Streets, or the A,C,F to Jay Street/Borough Hall or M, R or no. 2,3, 4,or 5 to Borough Hall. About 20-25 minutes to Union Square.

Main Drags: Low-rise Court Street isn’t the epicenter of the South Brooklyn restaurant/arts boom (that distinction belongs to trendy next-door neighbor Smith Street), but it’s doing just fine, boasting arts, social service organizations, hip boutiques, schools, pet stores, and hardly a scuff or stain. On the Cobble Hill (south) side of fat Atlantic Avenue, medical centers, hospital parking, vacant storefronts, and banks frame a small number of Arab American goods joints and restaurants. Clinton Street’s automotive din was immortalized by local wordsmith Aaron Naparstek in publicly posted “honkus” (e.g. “You from New Jersey/honking in front of my house/in your SUV”). Random House has since published the collection.

Average Price to Rent: Studios rent for between $1,200 and up ($850 and $1,300), one-bedrooms from $1,500 to $2,300, two-bedrooms, $2,100 to $3,000, and three-bedrooms, $3,000 to $5,800.

Average Price to Buy: “Inventory’s very tight,” says Linda VanderWoude, associate broker at William S. Ross Real Estate. One-bedroom co-ops sell for $300,000 to mid-$400,000s, and two-bedrooms $700,000 to $800,000 (for mid-$300,000s to $600,000). Houses range from $700,000 to $3 million; many of these are three- to four-story brownstones, with rental space. “A million dollars is probably going to buy you a fixer-upper,” VanderWoude notes, but on the bright side, property taxes are a fraction of those in the bordering Heights.

Green Space: Award-winning Cobble Hill Park flatters its grand surroundings with a leafy half acre of Greek revival planning. In January, pick up wood chips and mulch harvested from Christmas tree corpses. Van Voorhees Park, fittingly named after a Dutch settler with 85 great-grandchildren, offers sports facilities and play equipment.

Community Organizations: Last summer, Sharon Sperber spent 12 hours canning red Italian paste tomatoes, from a crop available to members of Cobble Hill Community Supported Agriculture ( for three weeks of the 29 week season. CSA, a middleman organization between organic farmers and South Brooklynites, instructs its members in “the seasonality of food,” says Sperber, the new General Coordinator. “We’re in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve got four seasons, and strawberries don’t grow here all year.” For $377 per season, members pick up 29 weekly bags of whatever’s hot off the stalks.

The AAFSC (150 Court Street, 718-643-8000) migrated to Cobble Hill in October 2000. “It’s a good thing that we had finished our renovations” before 9-11, says Habiby Browne, when the Center was deluged with “a whole community that was being targeted and profiled and investigated and discriminated against.” In addition to performing advocacy, the center directly serves one to two thousand New Yorkers annually. “If they are already in deportation proceedings,” she says, “we will escort them, we will translate for them, we will go to court with them.”

Best Theaters: Old-school Cobble Hill Cinemas (265 Court Street, 718-596-9113) shows $5 first-runs on weekdays before 5 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday evenings, plus weekend first shows. The Vertical Player Repertory (219 Court Street, 212-539-2696) features independently produced, often sold-out operas.

Best Restaurants: Court Street’s restaurants barely outlive Purim goldfish. After Marc Elliot’s acclaimed Whim went under in February, Elliot (who went from underage pizza boy to high-ranking Navy chef to food scenester) opened Southern seafood joint and oyster bar Blue Star (254 Court Street, 718-858-5806), which offers a full bar and smoked fish dishes like Elliot’s LA-based zaide used to procure. During Saturday Bluegrass Brunches, try the seismic grits and eggs: fried eggs with fleshy roasted tomatoes, rosemary-spiked grits that taste like savory rice pudding, ketchup-soaked “Brooklyn home fries,” and a mimosa. Rotating bands (including the Dwyer family, with three musicians under 15) play inside the restaurant and out.

Best Stores: Cobble Hill supports two independent bookstores: stellar Book Court (161-163 Court Street, 718-875-3677) and the dirt-cheap, disheveled Community Bookstore (212 Court Street, 718-834-9494). Rashid Music Sales (155 Court Street, 718-852-3295) has sold Arabic-language tunes since 1934. Cobble Hill’s flagship Home Spa (300 Court Street, 718-596-8668) offers holistic health counseling as well as skincare and massage. Staffers say they appeal to vanity rarely and only to seduce customers into a healthy lifestyle. Clients “feel an energy here that draws them to us,” says owner Debra Ann Townes. “There’s something out there that’s not right. If we were to sell hugs for a dollar, people would line up around the block.”

Politicians: City Councilman Bill DeBlasio, State Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman, State Senator Martin Connor, and Congressional Representatives Nydia M. Velazquez and Major Owens; all Democrats.

Crime Stats: The 76th Precinct serves Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Red Hook. As of September 25, 2005, it reported 2 murders, 2 rapes, 113 felonious assaults, and 122 burglaries. (As of mid-April, it reported no murders, same as the previous year-to-date; four rapes, up one; 23 robberies, down 15; 21 felonious assaults, up one; and 34 burglaries, down four. Between 1993 and 2003, crime dropped 61.21 percent, less than the city’s overall 66.05 percent decrease).