This post is a self-guided tour of Bushwick Brooklyn and doubles as a travel guide. Bushwick, one of the original six towns of Brooklyn, comes from the Dutch word “boswijck,” meaning “town in the woods.” Chartered by Director General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant in 1661, Bushwick was settled in the nineteenth century by tobacco and grain farmers from France, Scandinavia, England, and Holland. In the mid 1800′s a majority of the immigrants in Bushwick were German, so by 1890, Bushwick established a brewery industry, including 14 breweries operating in a 14 block area called “Brewer’s Row” and Bushwick was dubbed the beer capital of the Northeast.
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The subdivision of farms begun in 1869 led to a population growth that gained even more momentum after 1888 when railway access made commuting to Manhattan easy and living in Bushwick increasingly attractive to professionals.
After World War II, Bushwick started losing both its economic linchpin and middle class stability. The beer companies began to move their production outside of New York City, and families fled to the suburbs. The biggest blow came on July 13, 1977, during a citywide blackout that lasted 26 hours. The looters and arsonists ran wild in Bushwick and by the time the lights came back on, 35 Bushwick blocks were nearly destroyed and $300 million in damage was done. Within a year, one-third of Bushwick’s stores closed, and more than 40 percent of Bushwick’s commercial and retail establishments went out of business; by 1980, the population had fallen by more than 20 percent. Bushwick’s social problems persisted through the 1980′s with the onset of the crack epidemic. In the mid-90′s, community social service initiatives and construction of low income housing set Bushwick on an upswing. Though still one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Bushwick is now the next place for colonization by hipsters who are priced out of neighboring Williamsburg. Some even call it East Williamsburg.
(Point A) – Morgantown
The Morgan Avenue area of East Williamsburg/Bushwick is a hotbed of artists, musicians, and other young Brooklynites. Morgantown, as it’s sometimes called, is lined with hip bars, gourmet restaurants, health food stores, art galleries, and converted factory apartment buildings. Surrounding this island of culture, however, is block after block of factories and warehouses, some operational and many empty. The massive walls of warehouses serve as open canvasses for the best muralists and graffiti artists from around the world. The fun in Bushwick is simply strolling and discovering a newly painted mural on some random street. There are however some well-known locations and we have inclu8ded those in this list. We also offer New York Graffiti and Street Art Tour.
(Point B) – Murals at Morgan Avenue at intersection of Harrison Place
Just one of many well-known streets to spot Bushwick’s outdoor vibrant art scene. Contrary to thought, not all street art is created illegally – in fact individual artists and organizations work with property owners to spruce up desolate concrete with multi-colored art.
(Point C) – The BogArt 56 Bogart Street
Diagonally across the street from the subway station is BogArt, a four- floor former factory now filled with art spaces, studios and galleries, that provided the neighborhood with its first major art center when it opened in 2005. Galleries like Studio 10, Momenta Art, Bogart Salon, Agape Enterprise and Interstate Projects have set up shop in the building, and a number of painters, sculptors, jewelry makers and other artists have rented out studios and workspaces.
(Point D) – Fine & Raw Chocolate 288 Siegel Street
Who says food can’t be art? Fine and Raw combines the best of both. Think of this as a Hip Willy Wonka chocolate production facility. Environmental Sustainability is not just a trendy fad in Bushwick, it’s a key focus for many small shops and food makers. Fine & Raw is a great example of such a shop. It’s a “bean-to-bar” manufacturer, which means the owners and staff are personally involved in every single step of the chocolate-making process. They buy cocoa beans from small local farmers around the world to make sure they’re free of toxins, chemicals and pollutants. Materials used in packaging is recycled and even the ink on the wrappers are vegetable-based. Better than the fact that they are eco-friendly, they are also customer friendly and offer free samples of their product such as Bonbon Bar stuffed with a bonbon truffle, a Smoky Mesquite Bar, and Cacao & Coconut Chunky Bar with coconut butter and blue agave. Hours for the factory and shop are Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm; Saturday from noon to 6pm; and closed on Sundays.
(Point E) – Murals at Siegel Street
Another of several blocks in Bushwick that offers prime wall space for street artists from around the world. A stroll down this street and others listed below might lead you past colorful murals that change often. One could go to Bushwick every week and find something new.
(Point F) – Roberta’s Pizza 261 Moore Street
Roberta’s put Bushwick on the map, literally. Before Roberta’s moved in, no one was hanging out in the warehouses surrounding the Boar’s Head bologna factory, let alone considering calling this place home. As people looking for raw industrial inexpensive places to move into, the first hipster arrivals to Bushwick discovered Roberta’s. Today Roberta’s has a Michelin star partially due to its unusual combinations of ingredients, many of which are grown on their rooftop garden. Celebs love Roberta’s – the Hillary and Bill Clinton held a fundraiser there in 2012. It’s also rumored that in the days after their famous elevator blowout, Beyoncé stormed out of Roberta’s leaving her husband Jay Z at the table. If you are going to be left alone at the table, it better be a place that serves great food! Open Monday-Friday 11am-Midnight. Brunch Saturday & Sunday 10am-4pm, Dinner Saturday & Sunday 4pm-Midnight
(Point G) – Murals along Grattan Street
Another street where you will likely find an overdose of color, vitality and vibrancy. Just a small warning: although Bushwick is an art/hipster haven, the neighborhood is not necessarily a safe one, particularly at off-hours or night. In December 2015, 3 people were shot and one died as a result of a botched car robbery. So please use good judgement when wandering the streets of Bushwick. Keep an eye out for both mural beauty and any suspicious activity.
(Point H) – Shops at the Loom 1087 Flushing Avenue
In what used to be a pillow factory, The Loom is not your typical mini mall. It’s a cooperative building for creative professionals; loft spaces, artistic neighbors and independent retailers, Inside the minimalistic space are 20 boutique shops, stores and offices. Find everything from gallery space to a cycle shop, tattoo parlor and a yoga studio. This 25,000 square foot space is brimming with handmade clothing, kooky, funky home decor at The Index, cheap designer vintage at Closet Envi. Grab an artisanal sandwich and Maine blueberry soda t the Deli and General Store and park yourself on a weathered leather chair in the lobby or in the cobblestone courtyard on a bench. Oh, and there is free wi-fi!
(Point I) – Bushwick Collective
This massive street art project founded and curated by Joe Ficalora invites artists from all over the world to contribute murals to the neighborhood. For a much more detailed history about the founders of the Bushwick Collective check out this post and video.
Many of the streets used by the Collective are inside the pink lines on the map. Key streets to see some of the masterpieces of the artists commissioned by the Collective are Jefferson Street and Troutman Streets between Cypress and Knickerbocker Avenue. St. Nicholas Avenue and also Gardner Street are two other good locations to check out. Famed street artists like Buff Monster and Jerkface are sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. The work changes frequently so to keep up with all of Bushwick Collective’s latest work you can follow them on Instagram Instagram or on Facebook. A great street art website StreetArt NYC can help navigate the world of Street Art throughout Bushwick and all of New York City. They offer an interesting Street Art finder app for $2.99.
(Point J) – Vander Ende-Onderdonk House 1820 Flushing Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens.
When you walk from the Bushwick Collective to the Onderdonk house you not only go back in time 300 years, but you crossover into another borough, Queens. Here in the neighborhood known as Ridgewood, hidden between big factories and billboards on an ugly stretch of Flushing Avenue sits New York’s oldest Dutch-Colonial house built in 1709. This house is of such historic importance that it is listed on the National, State, and City Historic Registries. This lovely historic home sits on 1.5 acres of quaint land with a garden and chicken coup. The home is preserved and decorated according to the period. They have many items on display along with maps of the area during the time. You can wander the garden and it’s a great place to catch your breath after the overwhelming kaleidoscope of Bushwick’s murals.
Hours: Saturdays 1pm-4pm. $3 donation.
A far cry from the Onderdonnk House is this luxury apartment building that opened in 2010 with a controversial reputation in the neighborhood. Bushwick rents have skyrocketed in the past 5 years, as Williamsburg art scene became predictable and less edgy. Ad artists moved into old factory buildings and abandoned lofts 10 years ago, the neighborhood is on its way to going the Williamsburg route- overpriced apartments that artists can’t afford who then must look elsewhere to create their work. Thus started the Battle of Bushwick, between the ‘hipsters’ who settled the Brooklyn neighborhood 10 years ago declaring war on rich kids moving into this new luxury building with their parents paying their rent. Locals complain that the rent is so steep — $2,200 for a one-bedroom and up to $3,400 for a three-bedroom — that the complex is actually causing rates to go up throughout the neighborhood. On the other side, CastleBraid has a unique culture rarely round in New York buildings. The complex is a ‘commune’ of sorts, with its own Facebook Group for residents to communicate with each other to share news, tips and goods. Residents ask each other to borrow appliances, take suitcases overseas, or for advice on where to get a good milkshake in the neighborhood. Even more unusual and rare in New York is the occasional free rent in exchange for artistic services. A sculptor received six months of free rent for creating CastleBraid’s custom-made gate. Similarly, a building-sponsored film competition resulted in two residents winning six months of free rent. CastleBraid continues to be a point of contention in Bush wick, but the residents and their close-knit community aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,
Historic Bushwick Avenue
Bushwick hasn’t always been about art. But like CastleBraid above, there was a time when Bushwick was home to wealthy folk. In the late 19th century and earlier 20th century, a 14 block stretch in Bushwick was known as Brewers Row (mentioned earlier in this post). Wealthy brewery owners and other manufacturers built large villas for themselves and commissioned churches and other cultural institutions along the Bushwick Avenue. In between these masterpieces, are smaller row houses and other multifamily dwellings that were home to workers in this small industrial enclave.
(Point L) – The William Ulmer House 670 Bushwick Avenue.
This Romanesque Revival brick fortress built in 1885 for William Ulmer, who owned the Ulmer Brewery (the Ulmer Brewery building can be found at 31 Belvidere Street, also in Bushwick). The house was eventually purchased by Dr. Frederick Cook; a physician and explorer who claimed to have been the first man to have reached the North Pole. His claim was eventually discredited as was his claim of being the first American to summit Mount McKinley. Cook later served seven years in prison for stock fraud.
(Point M) – The Brooklyn Public Library’s DeKalb Branch 790 Bushwick Avenue at corner of DeKalb Avenue
This free-standing, brick and limestone Classical revival style was built in 1904-05 as one of the first branch libraries built in Brooklyn. The money was provided by Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who gave a multi-million dollar gift towards construction. The library was a much needed resource due to the neighborhood’s tremendous population growth at the turn of the 20th Century.
(Point N) – South Bushwick Reformed Church 855-867 Bushwick Avenue at the corner of Himrod Street
This New York City Landmarked building was constructed in 1853 and thus predates the development of the wealthy mansions built by the beer barons of the late 1800′s. The church has been in constant use by the same congregation since it was built! Its architectural style, a mix of Georgian type masonry church adapted to a Greek Revival style stands out amidst its environment. The tower is modeled after the works of famous English architect Christopher Wren (who built London’s famous St. Paul’s Cathedral).
(Point O) – St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church 138 Bleecker St between Wilson Ave & Central Ave.
This is one of the tallest buildings in Bushwick and can be seen from all over the neighborhood. Located on Central Avenue at the corner of Bleecker Street, the church was built in the Spanish Baroque style with towers, a dome and tons of carvings outside and inside, making it one of the more elaborate church buildings in New York City. It was constructed in 1910 with a sizable donation by brewer Leonard Eppig — the church was named for his daughter Barbara. The parish has served a German, then Italian and now a Hispanic congregation.
(Point P) – Gustav Doerschuck Mansion 999 Bushwick Avenue
Though slightly altered, this is one of the most intact mansions in Bushwick Built in 1890 for this wealthy German brewer, this granite and brick Romanesque Revival Style mansion was intended to convey prosperity and power and it succeeds. The combination of granite and brick, along with the tower makes this mansion a small scale castle. The property is now owned by the Federation of Multicultural Programs, Inc., a social service agency that houses and cares for mentally handicapped clients.
(Point Q) – Linden-Bushwick Garden the corner of Linden Street and Broadway
In the shadow of the noisy J line elevated subway in Bushwick lies this small community garden,
Community gardens provide much needed oases in the urban jungle. This 19,000-square-foot plot of land was once owned by the family responsible for brewing Schaefer Beer and used a horse paddock. When they sold the deed for the land, it contained a condition that the land must forever be maintained as open space. It was never built on, and in a city where open land is coveted by developers, this plot of land was safe from being built on. Instead community volunteers have cultivated this plot over the years and now it is a thriving garden where you can find everything from jalapenos to mustard greens to strawberries. This garden is a testament to the desire by locals to keep the area a small non-commercialized close-knit community.
That’s it. Let us know what you think. If you liked this tour, please share this with your friends and family who might be interested in Bushwick. Be sure to check out our other tours of Brooklyn, including our Street Art and Graffiti Tour of Bushwick as well as our other tours in Manhattan.