Long before the cocktail bars, farm-to-table restaurants, and $6.49 million apartments, Williamsburg was a working-class neighborhood. The waterfront lots that are now filled with expensive luxury rentals were once garbage-handling facilities. Felice Kirby, former owner of Williamsburg’s oldest bar, Teddy’s, could hear the trash carts rolling down the streets early in the morning when she first moved to the neighborhood in the Seventies. Part of what led to the area’s revitalization and subsequent gentrification were community groups, like Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the People’s Firehouse (PFI), who fought for better conditions and public spaces. East River State Park (90 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn) was one. On Sunday, September 13, that hard-won green area is being transformed into a food-lovers’ mecca with the sixth annual Taste Williamsburg Greenpoint.
Taking place from 1 to 5 p.m., the one-day festival features more than 50 local exhibitors offering a wide array of food and beverages. New additions include Anella, Lilia, MP Taverna, Williamsburg Hotel, the Camlin, Champs, El Almacen, and Fabbrica. Expect to see dishes like crispy pork belly bowl with hoppin’ john rice and beans and house-made hot sauce from the Heyward; oysters from Maison Premiere; tacos from Zona Rosa; and eccentric ice cream flavors from OddFellows Ice Cream Co.
Sponsored by Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants (BABAR) and Brooklyn Brewery, the festival aims to highlight local eateries. While bringing new businesses into the fold every year, the event has expanded its horizons with restaurants and bars from farther out in north Brooklyn. Since the neighborhoods have become so interconnected, with many chefs and business owners starting out near the river and moving deeper into the borough, Taste organizers decided it was time to highlight more of these vendors. Bushwick eateries, such as Fritzl’s Lunch Box, have been added to the lineup. “We always try to have a percentage of new vendors,” says Kirby. “There’s a taste of Bushwick this year. It’s an opportunity for the business owners to showcase the evolution of businesses and give back to the community where they started.”
Tickets start at $35, which includes four food and two drink tastes. These tickets can be used at six different restaurant vendors. All proceeds are going directly to the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center (NTHCCC), the organization that spawned from the collaboration of NAG and PFI. The group is currently at work raising funds to renovate and reopen the Engine Co. 212 Firehouse. Once opened, the building will serve as a community and cultural center, providing permanent homes for advocacy groups (like NAG and PFI) as well as arts and education programing.
Back in the Seventies, PFI and community activists fought to keep the old firehouse open in the midst of city cutbacks. Boy Scouts, entire families, and elderly residents protested the closure with a sixteen-month occupation of the building. It remained open for nearly another three decades. In 2003, Bloomberg shuttered the station, but the original sit-in gave way to a nonprofit advocacy group for residents. PFI still works toward providing green space in the area, and it has responded to the current changes by working toward growing true affordable housing and protection for residents and fostering a dialogue with government agencies.
So far, $1.7 million has been raised for the community center, much of that coming from government funds. The ultimate goal is to pull $2.6 million from the public and private sectors. The groups are hoping to close the gap by 2016. All proceeds from Taste will directly contribute to the project. “For us to come together as a community, to celebrate community, to build a community center — it’s a wonderful full circle for the history of this neighborhood,” Kirby says. “I feel so proud when our industry does things like that.”
East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront is located at 90 Kent Avenue. Visit http://bit.ly/TASTE15PR.