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History of Bedford

Named after Lord Bedford, a Dutch noble, the town of Bedford was established in 1635 when the Canarsie Indians sold land to the Dutch. African Americans lived in Bedford as early as 1790, some free, others as slaves. When New York abolished slavery in 1827 many African Americans moved to Bedford to buy land. In 1830, James Weeks escaped from slavery in Virginia and came to live in Bedford. With the help of abolitionists and through his own efforts he bought property from the Lefferts family and gave it to other African American ex–slaves. This area became known as Weeksville, home to suffragist Susan McKinney Smith, the first African American doctor.

History of Stuyvesant

Stuyvesant, originally an avenue in Bedford, was named after Pieter Stuyvesant, a Dutch governor, and became a town in 1677. By the 1890s Stuyvesant had become home of the upper middle class and wealthy. F. W. Woolworth, founder of the Woolworth store chain, lived at 209 Jefferson Street, where his mansion still stands.

Origin of Bedford-Stuyvesant

With the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and the elevated railroad (1885), Bedford and Stuyvesant were more accessible to Manhattan and factories began to develop, drawing more residents. Bedford, primarily working class, and Stuyvesant, primarily affluent, were seperate until the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1931 referred to the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant based on a rumor of an impending race war. Previously home to Dutch, English, Irish, German and Jewish residents, by the 1940s Bedford-Stuyvesant became primarily an African American neighborhood and has remained so to this day.

Community Development

Encompassing several historic sections and an exceptional collection of brownstones, Bedford–Stuyvesant is also the site of the United States' first nonprofit community development corporation. In 1967, through the efforts of U.S. Senators Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits, Restoration Corporation founded Restoration Plaza, a health care facility, Pathmark supermarket, 2,225 residential housing units, the Billie Holiday Theatre, Skylight Gallery and Restoration Dance Theatre. Restoration Corporation has also provided more than $9 million in loans to local businesspeople and found jobs for more than 25,000 residents. The Center for Art and Culture of Bedford-Stuyvesant on Fulton Street where classes vary from Brazilian martial arts to steel percussion, is a busy place. The reopened Fulton Park, Concord Baptist Church for the fabulous gospel choir on Sundays are well worth a visit. The Fulton Art Fair is held each summer and dinner can be delivered from many local restaurants such as Hush Puppies Soul Food over in FortGreene (for seriously tasty and inexpensive soul food), and traditional southern cooking is found at Sugarhill's on DeKalb. See the inside the beautiful century–old homes on the Bedford-Stuyvesant House Tour every October, the elegant Akwaaba Mansion bed & breakfast on MacDonough with its wraparound sun porch and the four small frame houses on Bergen Street that are all that remain of Weeksville, a free black community established around 1830.

Acknowledgements

Some information is taken from the pamplet "The Bedford-Stuyvesant Collection: Preserving Footsteps" produced by the Brooklyn Public Library. The Macon Branch is home to "The Bedford-Stuyvesant Collection: Preserving Footsteps." For more information on Bed-Sty, visit the Macon Branch (361 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, phone: 718-573-5606) or on the web.

Cafes

Bread Stuy - 401 Lewis Ave nue
Tiny Cup - 279 Nostrand Avenue (at Clifton Place)
T-Cup Café - 627 Throop Ave nue
Common Grounds Coffee & Belgian Waffles - 376 Tompkins (at Putnam)
Juice Place - Putnam & Tompkins
TwoFiftyEight Café - 199 Malcolm X Boulevard
Outpost - 1014 Fulton Street

Restaurants

Peaches - 393 Lewis Avenue (at Decatur Street) peachesbrooklyn.com
Brooks Valley - 415 Tompkins & Hancock brooksvalley.com
Food 4 Thought Café - 445 Marcus Garvey Boulevard Food 4 Thought Cafe
Solomon's Porch - 307 Stuyvesant Avenue solomonsporchcafe.com
Saraghina - 453 Halsey St. & Lewis Avenue – Opening Soon!
Imhotep Health & Vegan Restaurant - 734 Nostrand Avenue & Park Place
Saje - 710 Franklin Avenue & Park Place
Sushi Tatsu - 609 Franklin Avenue & Dean Street
King's County BBQ - 168 Quincy Street (in a van!)
Folukie Restaurant - 1168 Bedford Avenue folukie.com
Le Toukouleur - 1116 Bedford Ave. letoukouleur.com
A&A Bakes & Doubles - 481 Nostrand Avenue
Ali's Roti Shop - 1267 Fulton Street
Sugar Hill Supper Club - 609 Dekalb Avenue
Café Colador - Bedford Avenue between Dekalb and Kocsiuszko
B-Boys Cafe - 268 Tompkins & Greene Avenue

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Many of us know Bed-Stuy just a little, either because it’s birthplace of Jay-Z and the setting of Do the Right Thing, or because we’re familiar with its fringes along Franklin Ave. and the outskirts of Bushwick. But Bed-Stuy is one of the largest and densest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. There is so much to explore, especially now.

This weekend marks the start of Bed-Stuy Alive, a week of enticements to check out neighborhood shops, artists and restaurants, and next weekend residents open up their homes as part of the Bed-Stuy House Tour. A bunch of new cafes and shops also open in the next few weeks, supporting the recent Times story about Bed-Stuy’s mini-boom.

If you have a bike, that’s the best way to get around the neighborhood. Shady, tree-lined streets with bike lanes are prevalent around Stuyvesant Heights, the landmarked area and the blocks around it that we focused on. (Meaning a lot of the recommendations we got from Bed-Stuy Bloggers Petra and Joanna, like Foulkie, Tiny Cup and Saratoga Square Park, aren’t in this part of the hood.)

To get there on foot, take the A/C trains to Utica Avenue and walk east toward Lewis Avenue.

First, pop into Bread-Stuy, a neighborhood bakery and coffee shop, at 409 Lewis. Bread-Stuy is well known for more than just its quirky name — the sandwiches are delicious, the coffee strong, and the red velvet cake is the bomb: moist and chocolatey with toothache-sweet icing.

Next door to Bread-Stuy is the neighborhood’s local bookstore, a dying breed these days. Brownstone Books is small, but coziness and books go hand in hand. The shop is a staple in the community: local authors have readings and a story time for kids is held every Wednesday and Saturday from noon to 1 pm.

A few blocks south is Fulton Park, a charming and tree-lined patch of green with well-kept benches, a giant bronze statue of Robert Fulton, and plenty of space to roam around.

The Brooklynite Gallery, on Malcolm X Boulevard, has become synonymous with street art — the “sign” sculpture on its storefront is by pioneering street artist Leon Reid IV — though graphic and pop art really inform owners Rae and Hope McGrath’s curatorial choices. Their openings are blowout affairs, often drawing crowds in the hundreds, and the installations for each of their artists is unique. For the current DAIN show, the gallery was transformed into a 1940s parlor, complete with chandelier and wainscoting. The artist’s mixed media collages of Hollywood starlets like Lana Turner, juxtaposed with Coney Island imagery, are up through Saturday before the street art duo Peru Ana Ana Peru opens their show on Oct. 17.

On October 10, the new American Orchid Cafe opens around the corner on Patchen Ave., and there’s always the Malcolm X Farmer’s Market in nearby Jackie Robinson Park on Saturdays, but for the most part the best eats, and now drinks, are back on Lewis. At the brand-new Therapy Wine Bar, owner Angela Terry has renovated a garden brownstone into a warm, sexy bar with a great backyard. The wine list is short but expanding, and the cheese and charcuterie plates are light on cheese and charcuterie (at least on our visit), but the big, $7 pours make up for it.

Nearby, Peaches is well-known for its soul food with flair. The dressed up sister to The Smoke Joint in Fort Greene serves comforting fare like tender short ribs and a peppery mac and cheese, but also goes greenmarket fresh with rainbow trout and heirloom tomatoes, and a roasted beet salad for brunch.

Right now, the best newcomer is Saraghina, on the corner of Lewis and Halsey. In a borough where pizza counts as a major food group, Saraghina is a total surprise, with its rustic wood decor, Borscht Belt signage and delicious, wood-fired oven pies. Start with an octopus salad, then dig into one of their stellar pizzas, like the prosciutto and funghi. Their homey backyard is a fantastic spot for a birthday party or big group and rumors from the kitchen tell us that they will expand the main dining room later this year, adding a lunch counter/commissary to the joint.

Just last month, a new restaurant and cocktail lounge in opened in North Bed-Stuy that pushes the food options further from Lewis. The Sarah James Speakeasy, on Pulaski and Throop, set up shop in an adorable yellow brick building and has plans to take the neighborhood by storm. The restaurant is charming in its decor (antique furniture, celebrity photographs, wine and beer served in mugs) and serves classics like mussels in white wine and garlic. Sarah James’ full liquor license is pending and the basement, which will be home to a cocktail lounge and live music, is not yet open.

A close second to the central hub of Lewis Avenue is Tompkins Avenue, with its various boutiques. CasaBAN sells a mix of Mid-Century Modern and Victorian furniture and housewares, all original and reasonably priced, with a few pieces from films mixed in (right now owner Ban Leow has some paintings from the set of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It on hand). Next door is Freestyle Kids (401 Tompkins Ave.), a boutique for the little ones that sells toys, clothing and gifts.

Down the street, Common Grounds is a good place to refuel, with its large, beautiful backyard. Beside it, an upscale sneaker and women’s boutique is slated to open in late November, and by Halloween, the French Patisserie La Table Exquise, owned by the former personal chef of Julianne Moore, will open on the corner of Putnam and Tompkins.

For a taste of the neighborhood pre-French pastries, the book Walking Brooklyn is a great guide to its architectural wonders. If there’s one building to see before the end of your tour, it’s the Brooklyn Boys School, one more block east past Tompkins, on Marcy Ave, where Norman Mailer and Aaron Copland graduated. The school is still in operation, and the Romanesque Revival-style building is in remarkable condition. Keep going down Marcy, and you’ll see the Hattie Carthan Garden at Clifton Place, where the late environmentalist secured landmark status for a Southern Magnolia tree planted here in 1885. Every Saturday the garden hosts a farmer’s market, and this Saturday, Oct. 10, you can catch their first annual Oktoberfest.

Text and all photos by Georgia Kral, except Saraghina, by Heather Strelecki via Flickr. Sent by Nicole.

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