Over the course of three months, or so, we saw literally dozens of apartments. Suffice it to say, we set the bar kind of high. We didn’t know this, and in the rest of the country we would not only not be setting the bar high, but paying way too much for what we were looking for. But we don’t live in America, we live in New York, and that’s ultimately what all this is about anyway. Plus, we didn’t even know we were setting the bar high at all until we were deep into our search.
Here was our criterion: Two bedrooms, under $1400 per month, with laundry in the building, and a dishwasher. I was glad we had a clear idea of what we wanted; it would make it easier to pinpoint our dream place. Or at least our dream place until the real dream place shows up.
We also had a few neighborhoods we wanted to live in: Park Slope, Sunset Park, Ditmas Park and Bay Ridge. The obvious connection is that three of them have "park" in their titles. Beyond that they have obvious differences.
Park Slope is widely thought of in New York circles as either a comfortable place to live, work and raise a family or the worst kind of yuppie hell. It depends on your tax bracket, frankly. The schools are good, the streets are full, and there are lots of great restaurants and bars around. The only problem is that it’s extraordinarily expensive for most middle-income people, and it’s being developed like crazy so it’s only going to get more crowded and uncomfortable. We would’ve like to have stayed, but felt sure that finding an apartment in our price range with what we wanted would be impossible.
Sunset Park is one or two subway stops further away from Manhattan than Park Slope, so it’s gentrifying accordingly. (Everything in New York City gentrifies based on how close it is to reliable public transportation and how many stops your train is from Manhattan.) It is a less pretentious area than Park Slope, but, then again, it has less to be pretentious about. It’s got some comfortable brownstones, and, we thought, some affordable apartments in our price range. It’s more mixed ethnically than Park Slope, too, with a heavy Latino population, and much less in the way of supermarkets and other amenities.
Ditmas Park is a sleepy neighborhood that until two years ago was a kind of a well-kept secret. Or at least a well-kept secret to the ravenous yuppies that descend upon affordable areas like a 17-year locust brood. Very quiet, lots of places to get your nails done, it is also fairly heavily Jewish. And by Jewish I don’t mean Woody Allen Jewish, but more, you know, Jewish Jewish. The kind with hats. There is a good brunch place, and that’s about it. Oh yeah, and lovely housing stock, including gorgeous old Victorian era homes, and comfortable apartment buildings. The problem is that it’s been discovered and as such it’s much harder to find those needle-in-the-haystack type deals anymore. Although they do exist.
This leaves Bay Ridge. In the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge, Bay Ridge is what John Travolta tried to escape in Saturday Night Fever 31 years ago. Meaning that it’s pretty Italian, but it has its charms. The views of the water are great, the area has an attitude and identity all its own, and it’s surprisingly pretty for a place that most yuppies think of as one step away from living in Staten Island. (To be fair, distance-wise, it is one step away from Staten Island.) We really like it, though, for its plethora of cheap, but good restaurants, charming little cafes, and the fact that since its several subway stops down the line from Park Slope it hadn’t gentrified, yet. But the clock was ticking.
We decided to concentrate on Bay Ridge, mainly because I was convinced we would get the most for our money there. If our deal was to be found anywhere it would be there, and, lucky for us, we both happen to love Italian food.
After scouring Craigslist.com for listings we decided it wouldn’t kill us to at least see what a broker had to offer, since our own searches were not yielding much. It’s not that there weren’t many things to see. It’s just that when you clicked on the map attachment to the online listing, to see what was really being advertised, four-out-of-five times the actual apartment would end up in some kind of nether-neighborhood that wasn’t quite what we’d had in mind. You know, like Newark.
In a scene that could have only played out in New York, the first group of brokers with whom we wanted to see this Italian neighborhood happened to be a bunch of Orthodox Jews. For the sake of not getting sued I will call them Hamotzi Realty. We arrived in late December, at their buzzing Bay Ridge office. After we signed in the lead broker, I’ll call him Avram, took us to a few different apartments.
The first apartment was gorgeous. It was on a road called Shore Road, in Bay Ridge, and matched all our criteria. Well, it was a little expensive, but that was compensated by the fact that it had stunning views of the Hudson River—and, yes, there are stunning views of the Hudson River from Brooklyn—and, best of all, had a dishwasher. We’ve been hand-washing a long, long time by now, and we were ready for some civilization.
But there was one problem. One new issue that we hadn’t even thought of, because, well, who would? It was about 10 long blocks from the closest subway. Meaning that to walk there would take me about 25 minutes each morning, at the fastest. There was a bus that could take me to the subway, but then all of a sudden I’m at the mercy of two forms of public transportation just to get to work.
There was also an express bus, but it would cost an additional several hundred dollars a month, making our original plan—to save money as we get more space—look less and less likely.
The larger problem though, was that although the building was beautiful—the lobby! I tell you, you could have a nice picnic in there!—it was so isolated from the actual neighborhood that all of a sudden it didn’t feel like city living any more. If you have to walk so far just to get to town, why even live in town at all? It was all too suburban, except smaller.
From there Avram drove us to another place that was altogether less appealing. It had the laughable name of Tuxedo Towers, which conjures images of liveried footmen, and polo, but in reality it had a day-glo aqua lobby, creaky elevator, and the entire place looked shoddy and rundown. The apartment was in our price range, it’s true, and had two bedrooms, technically, but the basement where the laundry was looked musty, dank and somehow it just didn’t exactly emit a safe feeling. It was altogether, despite the fluorescence of the paint, a drab, cheerless affair.
We said thank you to Avram, and debated the merits of life on Shore Road. My mother, an old time Brooklyn-ite, talked about how, when she was a girl way back when, that was the classy, cool place to be. And it was lovely, but we knew we would feel lonely and isolated there. So we passed, but kept Avram’s number, even as we called other brokers.