Ridgewood Triumphs…and there goes my old neighborhood!

by John Delach

I authored a piece in the spring of 2014 about Ridgewood, Queens, the neighborhood where I came of age. I called it, Ridgewood Redux. I was prompted by an article in The New York Times that Ridgewood may one day evolve into a trendy “left Bank” center where truly starving artists gather to exhibit their creations.

This is what I wrote: Despite the despair and the fires and violence of the 1960s and 70s that consumed swathes of Bed-Sty and Bushwick, Ridgewood hung on remaining true to its blue collar. As the old Germans and Italians died off, their kin stood fast and the neighborhood assimilated a broad spectrum of new residents, a multi-cultural collage of New Yorkers seeking affordable housing. All the while, Ridgewood remained below the radar while Williamsburg, then Bushwick, became desirable neighborhoods.

It seemed the neighborhood was immune to gentrification being too far from Manhattan putting it beyond the range where urban pioneers felt comfortable. A subway runs through it from Manhattan, the old 14th Street-Canarsie Line. A long, local, multi-stop, dingy train line, that meanders through Brooklyn backwaters without joy.

 But, now re-named, the L Line, it was recently voted the cleanest subway in New York. According to its critics, the reinvigorated L has progressed “…from zero to hero.” Ridership has soared as a new army of hipsters wearing their defacto uniforms of “knit caps, skinny jeans and sporting intrepid takes on mustaches” with toddlers in tow with names like August and Apollo are pushing further and further east along the line out of Williamsburg across Bushwick to the very edge of Ridgewood.

True, at this stage, Ridgewood remains the lesser to the now hip and trendier Bushwick where the Times noted: The new gallerists, most with more hope than cash, are transforming a former gritty manufacturing and warehouse neighborhood into an art scene.

But the grabber in a recent article by Jed Lipinski entitled, Next Stop, Bushwick, published in the Style Section read:

And though technically in Ridgewood, Queens, a more upscale neighborhood to the east, new spaces like Valentine are considered part of the Bushwick gallery boom. Fred Valentine, 60, a painter who was priced out of Williamsburg 14 years ago, founded his gallery last summer by cutting his studio in half and installing some track lighting and a bar.

An accompanying map put Fred’s studio on the corner of Seneca Avenue and Harmon Street in the heart of the old neighborhood, one block from where I grew up. How thrilling! I think Fred’s studio was in an old knitting mill and I hope he included the bar as a tribute to the time when it seemed that almost every corner in Ridgewood offered a saloon to ease the thirst of the local population.

Fast forward to this October when the popular magazine, Time-Out New York, published its survey of the trendiest places to live and, believe it or not, Ridgewood finished fourth.

 Dear reader, I’ll admit I’m setting you up because that ranking is not just for New York City. It is not even for America. OMG, Ridgewood, Queens finished fourth out of 100 neighborhoods as the trendiest places to live in the world!

In the whole wide world! WTF! Time-Out New York noted in parts:

“Ridgewood’s identity…is old-school-meets trendy with a mix of landmark staples, like Rudy’s Bakery and Gottscheer Hall, and buzzy new bars and restaurants like The Acre, Evil Twin and Café Plein Air.”

“With its enduring mom-and-pop stores and a commitment to honoring its history, Ridgewood is a sleeper hit of a neighborhood: beloved not despite, but because of, its low-key vibe.”

Shayne Weaver, the editor set out a perfect day in Ridgewood. Of course, every place she recommended is alien to me.

Still, perhaps, one day, I’ll return to my old neighborhood and follow her recommendation to…”do dinner at Porcelain and drinks at Julia’s.” I wonder if they have an early bird special?