Story by Richard H. Schulman
Photos curtesy BQE Tours.
In-Depth, Small-Scale Tours
Travelers to the Big Apple and even native New Yorkers can take surprisingly eye-opening tours of Brooklyn and Queens. BQE Tours: The Brooklyn Queens Experience specializes in leading groups of 6-12 in one of several Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods full of “insider” opportunities and the unexpected behind every door.
Guide John Garay, full of charm and information, talked with us outside, before we entered each building, filling us in on its history and current function. A native resident, John is a professional guide who weaves the past into the present, telling stories about the crafts people, store owners, and artists.
What stories? In the case of Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, we learned how some people persisted through neighborhood abandonment to neighborhood gentrification. We heard about and witnessed the changing use of buildings and imaginative adaptation. We met real people, and felt we understood them. Artisans and owners explained how Brooklyn evolves and how small entrepreneurs cope. But some old landmarks persist, and some original railroad tracks poke up from the hardtop.
John’s research and the people’s personal stories gave us an insight into the changing cycles of cities, a broadening view we otherwise would have missed. Lots of intriguing new information, and I am a native Brooklynite!
The time we spent (2.5-3 hours) was punctuated by stops in the street and in local establishments, including food and drink breaks. We visited two art galleries; one has painting and representational sculpture, the other has geometrical design sculpture in the artist’s residence/workshop. Both were imaginative. So was the graffiti on walls outside, the result not of vandalism but of art fairs. This tour broadened my impression of art.
The studios and shops filled former warehouses. Walking through them, we experienced their improvisation, quite different from the smooth regularity inside, say, the Empire State Building.
For example, Mark Jupiter turns pre-used wood into custom-made furniture (markjupiter.com). The ceiling pipes were part of the scene. Showroom and shop had many samples plus already-sold tables, beds, desks, and more, awaiting delivery. Mark explained the different woods and how he designs their alteration. I appreciated for the first time that furniture designers need an eye for space and a sense of practicality.
From a quiet street on a cold day in early spring, we turned in to a coffee factory and shop, Brooklyn Coffee Roasters, to find a hundred people inside. And dozens of flavors of coffees. John narrated the unusual role of coffee in that neighborhood and on the Western frontier, of the machines used, and how they maintain quality. Quality? Our group found this coffee delicious.
We also relished a pizza restaurant’s sample pinwheels. (Again, we were offered choices.) We ate the samples as we walked, giving us more time for touring.
And we sampled nostalgic candies reminiscent of our childhood. Rebounding from the 2008 economic crash, a woman opened this special candy store as a visual experience. She displays old, well known candy brands interestingly. It’s fun to meet people who enjoy what they do for a living, and who enjoy sharing their joy with us.
We want to return to this area we became somewhat familiar with, especially to the Superfine Fine Foods Restaurant, because its food is, well, super fine (superfine.nyc). Their kugel tasted remarkably good, and their ingredients are nutritious and organic. These eating places were buzzing with people in their 20s and 30s.
The proprietors of the Superfine restaurant, art places, furniture factory, and candy store were vibrant and enthusiastic about their successes. We had had no idea how lively this neighborhood was.
Our tour group was mixed in generations, but it didn’t matter, as everybody was good natured. Large enough for all questions to be answered, for making friends, and for gaining neighborhood cooperation, yet small enough for individual attention, for less waiting around, and for the guide to look out for each guest’s safety.
We recommend booking tours because we think that the prices are well below these private tours’ value. We look forward to seeing more of the open-access waterfront development. The dockside carousel was a surprising sight. We’re curious how the neighborhood story will continue. That’s how good the tour was.
*** For more about which tours are offered and about arranging individual and customized tours, see www.BQEtours.com
© August 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.