Sunday, November 09, 2008

Walking Tour: Brighton Beach (with sidetrips to Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend)

Brighton Beach has a long history, but its status as Little Odessa dates from just the 1970s. The relaxation of emigration laws by the Soviet Union saw around 30,000 Russian-speaking Jews settle here and they in turn attracted more Russian-speakers (though perhaps not so many ethnic Russians) after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the neighborhood is one of the most authentically “foreign” in the city.

Take the Q train to Ocean Parkway, and you're at the start of Brighton Beach Avenue. There are not a lot of cultural activities in the neighborhood for the casual visitor – no museums, for example. But the key draw is definitely the vibrant street life, and the exoticness factor from hearing Russian being spoken all around you. Rather than rush from place to place, your best bet really is to just walk along the avenue and take it all in.

Brighton Beach Avenue is home to a huge number of Russian businesses. The first ones truly interesting for the casual visitor are certainly St. Petersburg Books (230 Brighton Beach Avenue) and M&I International Foods (249 Brighton Beach Avenue), and, a bit further down, Russian DVD (269 Brighton Beach Avenue). All are great spots for souvenirs and unique gifts.

Nearby is the famous supper club
National (273 Brighton Beach Avenue), but for something a bit more casual try Varenichnaya (3086 Brighton 2nd Street), just around the corner.

You will certainly not want for food in Brighton Beach. Highlights further down Brighton Beach Avenue are
Primorski (282 Brighton Beach Avenue), Ocean View Café (290 Brighton Beach Avenue) and Cafe Arbat (306 Brighton Beach Avenue).

At Brighton 4th Street, you can turn right and walk out to the boardwalk where there are a few Russian restaurants with outdoor seating with views of the ocean. Check out Tatiana Grill (Boardwalk at Brighton 4th Street) or Volna Restaurant (3145 Brighton Fourth Street).

Other restaurants celebrate the cuisines of other groups from the former Soviet Union, particularly Georgians, and even Moldovans –
Spoon (615 Brighton Beach Avenue) bills itself as the only Moldovan restaurant in the city.

Fed and with shopping bags in hand, you can now head back to the subway station, or go a bit farther afield:

To take a peek at Manhattan Beach, continue along Brighton Beach Avenue, cross Corbin Place and continue along Oriental Boulevard. At the corner of West End Avenue is a branch of Anyway Cafe (111 Oriental Blvd. (at West End Ave), and between Oriental and Hampton on West End is Ukrainian Entertainment (132 West End Ave. Walk up to Hampton and turn left onto Corbin Place, where nearby you'll find Babi Yar Triangle, a small park with memorials to victims of the Holocaust as well as the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp in Croatia.

And if you're up for something a bit more adventurous try the border area between Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend. The Q will get you to Gravesend Neck Road station, and right there is another branch of
Anyway Cafe (1602 Gravesend Neck Road). Not far, at the intersection of Gravesend Neck Road and Sheepshead Bay Road, is a true cultural experience: the Russian Baths of NY (1200 Gravesend Neck Road), with a Soviet hockey theme and a small restaurant inside.

A little further away, at the intersection of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue X is the supper club
Rasputin (2670 Coney Island Avenue at Avenue X) to cap off your evening with dinner and a show!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these walking tours! They are much appreciated by non-Slavs as well (like me) who simply enjoy learning more about Slavic culture in the States.

Note to others who are intrigued by Moldova: Spoon has closed.

Anonymous said...

Why is the UkrainianEntertainment site all in Japanese? Looks like a blogger -
"38 yr old woman, before thinking about starting a family I used to live in a rental apartment." sore-wa ikenai yo.

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