Outback coffeehouse! Hip Aussie cafe hits Bedford-Stuyvesant

Sip’s up: Alexander Hall moved to Brooklyn from Australia eight years ago and now runs a small empire of Aussie-flavored cafes.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Bedford-Stuyvesant is the new Brunswick, Australia.

That is the claim of an Australian transplant who opened a cafe in the Brooklyn neighborhood last month and named it “Brunswick” after a gentrified suburb of Melbourne. The proprietor said that, despite being across the globe from each other, the two locales have a lot in common.

“Brunswick is very multicultural,” said Alexander Hall, who owns a string of cafes in Manhattan and is expanding his caffeine empire in Brooklyn. “That’s why I wanted to call this one Brunswick, because Bed-Stuy is so diverse too.”

Hall moved from Brunswick to Brooklyn in 2006 and, three years later, opened his first cafe Milk Bar in his adopted home neighborhood of Prospect Heights. He has since opened cafes in Manhattan and a second shop in Prospect Heights and has another Brunswick on tap on Prospect Park West in Windsor Terrace.

“I looked for opportunities where there weren’t any coffee shops,” Hall said.

The latest venture opened last month on Decatur Street at the corner of Marcus Garvey Boulevard, an area Hall said was in need of a place to get a good cup of joe.

“I like to go into a neighborhood and be the first guy there,” he said, adding that hiring from the communities where he has cafes is very important to him, too.

We consulted some other Aussies and Brunswick the neighborhood sounds more like an industrial part of Williamsburg or Bushwick than the brownstone-lined blocks of Bedford-Styuvesant. Brunswick was once known for its low-rent industrial spaces and the bohemian community that coalesced around them, but it is pricey these days, said one in-the-know woman from the area.

“Brunswick was on the cusp ten years ago: still cheap-ish, still with a bunch of empty factories ripe for artist studios and band rehearsals, and underground parties,” said Emah Fox, a musician and artist who lives in Brunswick and grew up nearby. “It was a really vibrant scene.”

But more recently, the district has seen an influx of affluent young families, new businesses, and shiny apartment buildings, she said.

“The first decade of the millennium it just exploded with cool cafes and indie-designer boutiques,” Fox said. “Rents skyrocketed.”

A gallery owner from Down Under agreed that the Brunswick-Bedford-Stuyvesant comparison holds water.

“I can see parallels,” said Tristian Koenig, who just got home from visiting an artist in Brooklyn. “They both have a similar vibe in terms of creative industries and younger people and families moving into an older area.”

Brunswick the coffee shop has the trappings of its modern-day namesake. Its baristas operate behind a reclaimed-wood coffee-bar, serving elaborate dishes — think fennel radicchio salad — in small portions and single-origin espressos. Entrees cost around $9 and espresso drinks start at $3. The quality accounts for the still-unusual-on-Marcus-Garvey prices, Hall said.

“My businesses aren’t cheap. They’re not bagel shops,” Hall said. “So we have to make it worth the extra money.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Polished: Hall’s newest cafe Brunswick opened in Bedford-Stuyvesant in May.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini