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Inside Brooklyn: Park Slope

(Photo: planetizen.com)

Few neighborhoods in Brooklyn elicit as wide a range of reactions as does Park Slope. To many, the affluent neighborhood represents a pinnacle of Brooklyn architecture, dining, class and comfort. The streets are noticeably cleaner, the brownstones look out at looming trees, and the windows in the restaurants form a parade of “A” posters. Park Slope is Brooklyn living like we imagined it would be.

Still for many others, Park Slope is a symbol of gentrification in its most negative sense. The culture and energy that existed in the neighborhood’s pre-1970’s heyday has been thoroughly homogenized, dissolved to a bland whitewash of overpriced clothing stores and pram-pushing nannies. We couldn’t afford to live there, and we’re all the better for it.

The reality is somewhere in between. Park Slope is not best-of-everything Brooklyn, but neither is it a gentrified bastion for the out-of-touch upper class. So let's take a closer look at one of the most revered and polarizing neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

History and Demographics
The northern quadrant of Prospect Park rests on the summit of a hill, which slopes down to the west, finally leveling off around Third Avenue. Park Slope rests on that slant, from which it got its name. Park Slope was originally inhabited by the Lenape Indians, who tilled the land for two centuries before ultimately conceding it to the colonizing Europeans. Park Slope played an integral part in the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as The Battle of Long Island), the largest single battle in the Revolutionary War. Development increased during the 19th century, buoyed in part by the advent of a ferry system installed in 1814 that left from nearby Brooklyn terminal and provided Park Slop residents with easy access to the city.

But the period of Park Slope’s history inextricably linked to the neighborhood’s mixed reputation begins with its mid 20th century decline and subsequent rapid gentrification. Similar to nearby neighborhoods like Sunset Park or Flatbush, Park Slope withstood a mad exodus of middle class during the Fifties and Sixties, an event unfortunately known as white flight. But unlike the other neighborhoods, Park Slope gentrified almost overnight, as artists and counterculture denizens took advantage of the low rents and supposed edginess, followed by the young professionals and eventually the stroller-pushers.

In spite of its rich history and various cultural and entertainment offerings, Park Slope lacks diversity. While a cultural mix marks so many Brooklyn neighborhoods, Park Slope is pretty much just white. Non-Hispanic white people make up almost 70 percent of the population, while the percentages of African American and Hispanic residents decreased by 12.1% and 22.7% respectively between the 2000 and 2010 census. The immigrant population also dwindled, but there was a minor uptick in Guyanese, Korean, Russian and Ukrainian residents.

Average Rent
Park Slope, along with Dumbo and sections of Brooklyn Heights, is home to the most expensive real estate and rents in the borough. No amount of fancy PR wording can dance around it; there’s a steep price to pay for a station-elevating address. Studios and one-bedroom apartments typically range from $1,500 - $2,500 per month; two-bedrooms from $2,500 to $3,000; and three-bedrooms and larger from $3,250 on up. Buying property is expensive as well; just last year, Park Slope’s beloved “Pink Building” on Garfield Place sold for $2.075 million (and promptly had its famous paint stripped).

It isn't impossible to land a steal. A quick check of Brooklyn real estate website Trulia.com reveals several studio and one-bedroom pads to be had for under $1,500 per month. And, as the boundaries of the Slope continue to push into Gowanus and Sunset Park, the range of prices will continue to expand. 

Architecture
Park Slope arguably boasts the best set of brownstone row houses in Brooklyn. Thanks in part to the brownstones, Park Slope now contains the largest swath of protected buildings in the entire city: 2,575 historically-designated places in the Park Slope Historic District, which outdoes second-place Greenwich Village by more than two hundred structures. But the Park Slope Civic Council, the group which lobbied for the expansion of the Historic District, is pushing to double the District’s boundaries by adding 3,000 buildings in the next decade.

The Historic District makes up almost the entirety of the southeastern corner of the neighborhood, from Seventh to Eighth avenues and Seventh to Fifteenth streets. Many of the brownstones that define the district predate 1910 and exhibit a “neo-Grec” architectural style.

Popular Spots
In sharp contrast to the neighborhoods typically featured in Inside Brooklyn, Park Slope does not lack for nightlife and eating/drinking venues. The main commercial streets, Fifth and Seventh Avenues, are lined with award-winning restaurants, bars and specialty shops. The best way to experience Park Slope is to simply walk south along Seventh, beginning at one of the named streets like Union or Garfield, and hook west to Fifth until you stumble upon something that catches your eye.

For late-night revelry, there’s Union Hall at 702 Union Street. The sprawling, multi-level bar features an indoor bocce court, a stately (as their website puts it) library façade and outdoor garden seating. Converted from a warehouse, Union Hall gets jam-packed on weekend nights. The faux library upstairs has a fireplace, leather seating and a more mellow atmosphere; downstairs is a concert venue with an alternating lineup of musicians and comedians. Other popular Park Slope bars include The Dram Shop on 339 Ninth Street, a smaller venue with a wide array of microbrews, shuffle-board and delicious French fries; Pacific Standard at 82 Fourth Avenue, with Sunday trivia night and a West Coast slant; and The Rock Shop at 249 Fourth Avenue, a multi-level bar with a concert hall downstairs and rooftop seating and pool tables on floor two.

It’s impossible to list in one article all the great restaurants in the neighborhood. Personal favorites include the Chip Shop on 383 Fifth Avenue, a British-tinged joint specializing in a wild assortment of fish-and-chip varieties and deserts like fried candy bars; S'nice on 315 Fifth Avenue, a tiny, corner-pocket restaurant with an all vegetarian menu (the imitation meatball sub is miraculously realistic); and Pork Slope, a Brooklyn-style roadhouse on 247 Fifth Avenue.

In addition to great grub and watering holes, there are several popular vintage shops, local bookstores and pharmacies, the Park Slope Food Co-op and many other only-in-Park-Slope specialties, not to mention all the under the radar spots on Fifth Avenue.

Not Quite Under the Radar
Mission Delores (249 Fourth Avenue) lives up to its self-imposed title of "the weird bar at 4th and Carroll." Located near the proletarian Park Slope/Gowanus boundary, Mission Delores is a fun anomaly, with a hybrid indoor/outdoor seating plan, pinball machines and inexpensive drinks. The beer menu is extensive and the suitably dilapidated setting will satisfy your dive bar jones. Beware, however: Mission Delores is reputedly a bar for dog lovers, and dogs are welcome inside. So you might not want to venture there if you don’t admire our quadruped friends.

Something You Didn’t Know.
Park Slope has a storied baseball history. Before they were the Dodgers and played their home games at iconic Ebbets Field, Brooklyn’s professional baseball team was known as the Brooklyn Atlantics. They played baseball at Washington Park on Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets. A massive fire destroyed the original stadium in 1889 and the Atlantics moved first to Ridgeway Queens and then to East New York before returning to Park Slope in 1898 to a brand new stadium. Nearby that stadium was a system of trolley tracks, which got the Atlantics a few nicknames, including one that stuck: The Trolley Dodgers.

 

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