Brooklyn Brewery beer is now a premier Friday night lubricant for hipsters and other young people who flood the bars and clubs that glut the major avenues of Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
But when the brewery opened more than 20 years ago on Meserole Street in nearby Bushwick, things were different.
“The trucks delivering beer to the warehouse would not come after dark,” said Steve Hindy, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery. “They were afraid.”
Crime was crippling in the late 1980s, and it was still lurking in 1991 when Hindy and his company moved to N. 11th Street and Berry Street in Williamsburg. He remembers the junkies. He remembers being robbed at gunpoint at the brewery when a bandit made off with $30,000 in 1995.
Gradually, things improved, following a course of gentrification that has since become nearly cliché. Artists and creative people pushed out of SoHo were taking up residence among the established black, Latino, Italian, Polish and Orthodox Jewish communities in the northernmost Brooklyn neighborhoods by the early 1980s. They made the neighborhood cool and, after a decade or so, the artists were pushed aside by the trustifarians, or hipsters with a wealthy background. They made the neighborhood hot for bars and clubs and restaurants and Starbucks and luxury condos.
But the hipsters’ disposable income, along with that of the yuppies and professionals who followed them, also inspired reclamation of the area’s decaying waterfront, bringing the prospect of new parks and open space, along with luxury dwellings that popped up like mushrooms after the 2005 upzoning of the waterfront.
“It’s been a revolution here,” Hindy said.
When Brooklyn Brewery started, in an area of the borough once known 100 years ago as brewers row, Hindy delivered to five customers. The only one in Williamsburg was Teddy’s Bar and Grill, which is still open and is one of the oldest continuously operated bars in the city. Now there must be more than 300 bars, restaurants and clubs in the area, Hindy said.
Despite the “tremendous influx of young people” into the neighborhoods, many of the traditional communities survive. The Orthodox Jewish community is going strong, and Polish is still the dominant language of Manhattan Avenue. Italians can still be found along Union Avenue, though that population is aging.
With the influx of young people and the high rents they brought with them, Hindy worried he, too, might be pushed out of the neighborhood. But the economic downturn was a blessing in disguise as Brooklyn Brewery not only renewed its lease, but has plans to expand.
“We’re glad to stay here,” Hindy said. “In the gold rush, it looked like we might not be able to.”
— Michael P. Ventura