Who’s on Third? Everybody!
A slew of new watering holes and Park Slope-esqe storefronts are sprouting up along Gowanus’ Third Avenue area, an industrial sprawl once sparsely populated by the odd dive bar or corner store, and some denizens witnessing the change give thanks to the fetid waterway from which it springs.
“This crazy polluted canal has given a bunch of people an opportunity to realize their dreams,” said Jonathan Schnapp, co-owner of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, a tropical-vacation-themed getaway that dropped anchor just a block away from the Gowanus Canal two years ago.
Schnapp says the largely industrial zoning that is kept in place, for now, by plans to clean up the canal and the surrounding toxic land has given artists and entrepreneurs a condo-free haven to spread out and lay down roots for their small businesses. The proprietors of the Shuffleboard Club lucked out with a vast warehouse space just as the canal-front scene was getting off the ground, giving them a front-row seat to the overflowing of new eats and treats on Third Avenue, once home to metal shops and tire repair companies.
“It was pretty desolate,” said Ashley Albert, Schnapp’s co-pilot, who lives in the neighborhood. “It was dark and there weren’t a lot of people on the street. But we knew it was coming.”
The change has come in waves over the last few years — renowned ice cream parlor Ample Hills Creamery opened next door to the Shuffleboard, Fletcher’s BBQ started slinging Texas-style brisket down the street, and a herd of innovative techies have recognized the area as the new frontier for space and affordability, with song-annotation start-up Genius announcing its imminent move from a handful of Williamsburg apartments to a 43,000 square-foot office space. Most recently, Hazel Village, an earthy toy store specializing in organic, hand-stitched cuddle buddies, opened its first storefront on Third Avenue.
Sister-run sweets shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds was one of the pioneers to set off what has since been hashtagged the Gowanaissance, leading the charge in 2010 with delectable pies served out of the duo’s first brick-and-mortar storefront on the corner of Eighth Street, and the trendsetters said the canal’s magic was palpable even before the food and tech explosion.
“It sort of had that magical, ‘We can do this’ kind of element,” said Emily Elsen, who co-owns Four and Twenty Blackbirds with her sister Melissa.
Elsen worked in a nearby art studio for four years before she was inspired to open a shop with her longtime baking partner, and says the emptiness of the canal-side avenue made it the perfect place to set sail.
“Gowanus was ripe for change because it’s a lot of post-industrial empty buildings that would really benefit from being cleaned up,” she said.
Canal district pioneers say they are merging seamlessly with mainstays like the old-school Italian joint Two Toms, famous for their giant pork chops, and Canal Bar, a classic dive with cheap drinks and friendly bartenders. Albert says the Shuffleboard Club was welcomed by the old-timers with open arms.
“It feels like we’re part of a neighborhood,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like we just popped up and there was no history or life here before. We’re not pushing stuff out, it’s all one thing together.”