Close-Up On: Boerum Hill


Portions of this article have been updated.

Professionals and artists from Manhattan moving into “North Gowanus” in the early ’60s gave it the made-up name “Boerum Hill” to improve the neighborhood’s appeal and property values. While it had been mostly Puerto Rican and African American since the war, the neighborhood soon grew whiter. Today, the 45-block area of 19th-century Italianate, Gothic, and Greek Revival redbrick houses has become something of a bedroom community for twenty- and thirtysomething office workers. However, “it’s not just a bunch of white yuppies,” says Allen Barcelon of Renaissance Properties (71 Hoyt Street). Affordable considering its location (it borders affluent Brooklyn Heights) and proximity to Manhattan, it has also become famous for its seemingly endless turnover of restaurants and boutiques that sprout an addition almost once every four months.

Boundaries: State Street to the north, Fourth Avenue to the east, Degraw Street to the south, and Court Street to the west

Transportation: Take the F train to Bergen Street; the 2 or 3 to Hoyt or Nevins street; the N/R line to Pacific Street; or the A to Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Twenty minutes from midtown.

Main Drags: Dubbed Brooklyn’s new “restaurant row,” Smith Street offers a kind of slow death by kitsch with its fake French bistros and boutiques. Atlantic Avenue is famous for its antique stores, Arab restaurants, and large Arab community.

Average Price to Rent: “This is the least expensive of the downtown neighborhoods,” says William Harris, a broker at Renaissance Properties. Studio, $1100 and up ($800 to $1000); one-bedroom, $1500 and up ($1200 to $2000); two-bedroom, $1700 and up ($1150 to $3000); duplex, $3000 and up ($2500 to $4500).

Average Price to Buy: Most houses in the neighborhood are brick-faced row houses that sell for around $3 million ($1 million). “Maybe you could get” a three-family house “for $900,000 ($750,000),” says Barcelon.

Green Space: There are a number of community gardens, including those at 159 Wyckoff Street and State Street between Hoyt and Smith streets, and a small park at 473-77 Pacific Street with a playground.

Landmarks: Two spots in the neighborhood, favored for their pristine, tree-lined streets with slate sidewalks, are federal landmarks: the stretch of State between Hoyt and Smith streets, and the area roughly between Pacific and Wyckoff and Hoyt and Nevins streets.

Famous Residents: Rumors abound: actress Nell Campbell (Rocky Horror, The Wall), singer Joan Osborne, authors L.J. Davis and Jonathan Letham, former congresswoman and Brooklyn D.A. Elizabeth Holtzman, and designer Daryl K. have all lived here.

Best Restaurants: Robin Des Bois (195 Smith Street) is part French restaurant, part antiques dealer and good for brunch, although the lines are longer to get into faux bistro Café LULUc (214 Smith Street).

Best Bars/Clubs: Angry Wade’s (224 Smith Street) is a popular but comfortable hangout with a pool table. Like Robin Des Bois, Halcyon (227 Smith Street) will hawk you the chair you’re sitting in. They also sell vinyl and host DJ parties, including a “Hangover Helper” on Sunday afternoons. The Boat (175 Smith Street) is a dependable, inexpensive favorite.

Happenings: Every two years, the Boerum Hill Association (718-928-2425) sponsors a tour of historic homes in the neighborhood. “The Atlantic Antic,” held every summer, features hundreds of neighborhood food vendors, music, and other performances.

Politicians: Councilman David Yasski and Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, Assemblywoman Joan Milman, state senators Velmanette Montgomery and Martin Connor, and Congressman Edolphus Towns—all Democrats. The Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation has formed a committee to redevelop Atlantic Avenue from Fourth Avenue to the waterfront, with an eye to improvements like public benches, traffic signs, and islands. “This is an area that’s finally ready for some real development. Now there’s a debate about its future,” says Evan Thies, a spokesman for Councilman Yasski. After lengthy deliberation, the Empire State Development Corporation will link three dour blocks of Schermerhorn Street east of Smith Street with busy downtown Brooklyn and the Fulton Mall.

Crime Stats: The 84th Precinct serves Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Vinegar Hill, and the Farragut Residences. As of September 25, 2005, it reported 0 murders, 6 rapes, 158 robberies, 100 felonious assaults, and 106 burglaries. (As of February 2, it reported no murders and no rapes, same as last year; 32 robberies, up 12 from last year; 10 felonious assaults, down four; and 19 burglaries, same).