International, Travel

brooklyn beats manhattan

Mary Holland & Supplied


The first time I visited New York I was captivated by its energy. New York will always impress first-timers: the view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge, the yellow cabs, the bagel stands – it’s everything you expect it to be and more. It’s a city that feels alive with everything: possibility, rats, you name it. So when my husband got offered a job there, it was hard to say no. When we finally moved from Cape Town to my energy-filled nirvana, we got an apartment on the Upper East Side. A 10-minute walk from Central Park, I was going to be living out my own version of Gossip Girl. Or so I thought.

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn View of Manhattan from Brooklyn

After a few months of living in one of New York’s most well-known and affluent neighbourhoods, the novelty began to wear off and the city began to reveal a more real, less pleasant side. Maybe Liz Lemon was onto something when she described it as 'a selfish thug dressed up in a cocktail dress'. My Gossip Girl fantasy wasn’t playing out how I expected. There was only one very crowded train line (always packed with angry commuters) that ran up the East Side of Manhattan; Central Park turned out to be really bare in winter and full of tourists in summer; my neighbours were loud and obnoxious and, most importantly, there were no cool restaurants or bars. I missed Cape Town’s craft culture. Where was my carefully brewed coffee and artisanal bread?

Central Park in winter Central Park in winter

By all standards, I don’t consider myself a hipster. I don’t own a pair of denim cut-offs and I wear a bra at all times. My husband doesn’t have a man bun and neither of us owns a bike. Vintage clothing? No thanks, I’d rather take a shiny new pair of shoes. But while hipsters may annoy me with their ridiculous outfits, silly ideals (some people have bigger concerns than being vegan) and sanctimonious energy, I am a sucker for what they create. Craft beer, artisanal coffee, grain bowls, home-baked bread, hand-churned ice cream – I’ll take it all.

Enjoying artisanal ice cream around my block Enjoying artisanal ice cream around my block

Moving to the Upper East Side made me realise that I was a hipster without being a hipster. I desperately missed Cape Town’s artisanal culture. In Cape Town, The Power and the Glory is my favourite bar (don’t even get me started on my obsession with Hallelujah) and only coffee from Jason’s or Deluxe will do. In my opinion, Bree Street might be the best street in the world, full of craft bars, local design and cool restaurants. I love that in Cape Town, the trade of well-skilled items is more alive than ever. And so, to try and cure my Cape Town blues, I moved to Brooklyn and in so doing, relocated to the birthplace of the hipster movement.

My small apartment block in Brooklyn My small apartment block in Brooklyn

Just like in Cape Town, in Brooklyn, craft counts. I could finally find all the things I missed from my home city within walking distance: an artisanal market, ice-cream shop, wine bars, bakeries, cheese shops, places where products were made with craft and care. Living in the neighbourhood environment in Brooklyn made me feel like I was no longer enveloped by the concrete jungle. It felt more like Cape Town’s cushy city. Brooklyn certainly doesn’t have the same energy as Manhattan, the train lines are less regular and it’s not as convenient but it feels more like a cuddle than a giant hug. And just like Slaapstad, it moves at a slightly slower pace. Brooklyn cool kids annoy me as much as the Cape Town ones did and I still roll my eyes when I hear two baristas having some self-aware conversation about a new brew they’re trying, but I’ll take the man buns and smug banter if I can get a crafted cup of coffee, any day.