The irony wasn’t lost on this old sailor: Last night, I was treated to a serious steak at a decidedly non-hipster haunt near my new home in Williamsburg. Destafano’s satisfied all my carnivorous urges and also introduced me to some of the locals in my new hood, people that don’t have a used dresser packed with plaid shirts back home. Williamsburg, with its hipster hangs, massive flowering parks, and quaint shops, is grounded in the old-school Italian and Polish populations who’ve been here forever, and, thankfully, who readily accept their newish quirky residents.
It’s a neighborhood much like the one I just left, the super-gentrified tourist-trap North Little Italy, which was renamed with a real estate agent’s moniker, Nolita. It was meant to assure newcomers that this wasn’t the Little Italy of gangster lore, but a new chic hood dominated by actors, artists, chic restaurants, and boutiques. When I got to Nolita 7 or 8 years ago, it was all that—quiet and trendy. I would have a breakfast at Gitane or Habana while saying hello to a couple dozen neighbors. It was too good to be true — and it was too good to last. The fabulousness attracted the tourists and yuppies. They came in hordes. The local shops and cafés changed to meet their needs. Prices on everything, including rents, skyrocketed.
A few years ago it became impossible for a local to visit these haunts, with hour-long waits not uncommon. Sure, the other day I saw a very tired and wet Gabriel Byrne leaving his place to catch a bite. Eight years ago I would have stopped and chatted with my neighbor. Nowadays, it’s become like the rest of Manhattan, a place where you don’t know those who live nearby. The new construction and high rents have diminished the diversity and friendliness. Gentrification has taken the neighbor out of the hood.
Last night my new friends at Destafano’s talked about Noho. They lived there when it was little Italy or The Village. They, too, have migrated to Williamsburg for much of the same reasons as I did. While I followed the hipster migration, they found a small enclave that still has the values they cherish. The old neighborhood had lost its charm. Williamsburg still had it. Destafano’s is all that: broccoli rabe and panacotta to die for, and families and conversations that made a stranger feel at home. We talked of Ray—the actual real Original Ray’s Pizza, who passed just a couple of years ago, and Vinny Vela, who’s also out here. We talked about this guy, and that one, and of Little Charlie’s Clam House, which is now Travertine. Ironically I’m going to Travertine tonight. Travertine is a great place that made me forget it was Little Charlie’s. Destafano’s was so good and so friendly that it made me forget my Nolita years.
Tonight’s party at Travertine centers around a beautiful young actress’s birthday. I’ve known Evy Bjorn since she was around 4 years old. Her dad, an actor as well, managed at Café American, which is where Nobu downtown is. It was there I did fun, experimental fashion shows that started in the kitchen, went into the aisles, passing the large windows of the restaurant, wended out the front door to the street where large crowds gathered, and then flowed back through the service door for a change. Evy was sometimes running around being cute. We met up years later at clubs around town when she was old enough to vote. We remain great friends. Her story is one of survival while she tries to make it big. I gave her her first gig working with New York and now Vegas legend, Mike Diamond. She was a bottle host at a thankfully forgotten joint called Madison. She moved on to work with Travertine force Ruben Rivera, who was running the door at Mansion at the time. Then it became M2 and she was still there. She has bartended and waitron’ed at dozens of joints. If she is working 4 days a week, she looks for more shifts. Shifts pay for her career. She is now bartending at Upstairs. Her day job has had her stunt driving in Steve Carrell’s flick Dan in Real Life. She’s always studying, auditioning and collaborating. Her night jobs afford her the flexibility. Without a vibrant night scene, and the jobs it creates, we’d have far less talent struggling to make it here. That’s often lost on the NIMBY’s who fail to respect that nightlife brings needed jobs to this job-starved city. If you ask her what she’s up to she spouts “auditioning a ton, some commercial modeling,trying to get funding for a Franc Reyes pilot, and another pilot by Zach Dunham, finishing up and writing my own pilot, and looking to put together my first gallery show of some of my pieces by the end of the summer. Taking my career to the next level. Oh ,and in an Improv Group at The PIT.”
At a community board meeting the other night, yokel locals held up signs and shouted at respectable operators vying for board approval for their projects. Operators who would provide work so that our communities are full of Evy Bjorn’s doing their thing and paying their way. The locals just shout and spew vile, harass, and lie. The biggest lie being that they actually represent the community. I told someone with some clout that the only way to end their power is to hold them accountable individually in court. Sue individual ”neighbors” and board members for libel if they libel, when they libel. Hold them accountable for the threats and lies, which are so much a part of their toolbox. Tonight I’ll head to Travertine to celebrate Evy and a thousand others who still believe if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. In the city that never sleeps, Evy and her ilk sleep less than most.