Fifteen years ago, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was a different place. There was no Shake Shack outpost as you emerged from the belly of the A/C Nostrand Avenue subway stop. As a matter of fact, the Bedford side of the subway station was closed. Picking up my landline phone and calling Myrtle Cab Service to get a black cab was standard. It took a lot of work to hail a yellow cab over the Williamsburg bridge after dinner in lower Manhattan.
All the beauty and signs of a Black working-class neighborhood that birthed Shirley Chisolm and rocked the cradle of artists and creatives like Stephanie Mills, Bethann Hardison, and Lil’ Kim were still present. I moved here because I was determined to let the energy of Bed-Stuy’s tree-lined blocks, where hellos are exchanged under scatterings of fallen cherry blossoms, grow me up. Every now and again, I can hear Southern drawls at the grocery store’s root vegetable aisle and smell the scent of entrepreneurial success at the flower fridge of places like Brooklyn Bloom, or the counter of a concept boutique named Sincerely, Tommy.
I’ve always said central Brooklyn has the palpation of Atlanta’s West End and many other historically Black neighborhoods in big cities, where you can find vegan cafés, coffee shops, sneakerhead shops, and hawkers selling fresh fruits and vegetables — everything you need to survive and thrive. A must-mention is the tucked-away nightlife in iconic and nondescript buildings with more than one life. Many Bedford-Stuyvesant restaurants and bars have a storied history, and were once community gathering spaces that nourished the belly and spirit.
I read somewhere that Colson Whitehead, the Pulitzer prize-winning writer, believes you become a New Yorker when you’ve seen places close, morph, and then come alive again. My first New York apartment was two blocks from one of the most popular retail corridors in the neighborhood — Tompkins Avenue. I spent many nights grabbing grub from Peaches HotHouse and unwinding at BedVyne Brew. Before it was Brew, the building was home to two businesses, a French bakery on one side and a juice bar next door. After the pandemic, I moved out of the neighborhood, I left Brooklyn for a spell and returned to live in an apartment closer to Malcolm X Boulevard.
Many Bedford-Stuyvesant restaurants and bars have a storied history, and were once community gathering spaces that nourished the belly and spirit.
Dick & Jane’s BarRoom sits on the corner of MacDonough Street and Malcolm X Boulevard. If you’ve lived in the neighborhood for a while, you’ll remember the bold and distinctive classic New York city shop sign that read “Casablanca” before it became Dick & Jane’s, and it’s a place that said a lot about itself, and you didn’t even have to step inside.
I became more intimate with the Malcolm X corridor of shops because I hosted a scrappy Bed-Stuy bar and restaurant crawl that inspired Bridge Street Development Corporation’s now-defunct Feast! for a few years; it was an initiative funded by a NYC Avenue Placemaking grant. At the time, fellow Bed-Stuy resident Kenneth Mbonu, now the executive director and president of Flatbush Nostrand Junction Business Improvement District, saw me as a sort of mayor of restaurants in the neighborhood. He thought what I was already doing fit perfectly into Bridge Street’s efforts to show new and old residents all that Bedford, Tompkins, and Malcolm X avenues offered.
In 2015, the Feast! stopped at Casablanca Cocktail Lounge, which is now Dick & Jane’s BarRoom. According to a 2015 article on Gothamist, “Since at least the late 1940s, the building at the corner of what’s now Malcolm X Boulevard and MacDonough Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant has been occupied by a bar bearing the name Casablanca in some form or another. Around 1948 there was ‘The Casablanca,’ followed by the Casablanca Tavern and finally The New Casablanca, which was reopened by a woman named Esther Williams around 1970.” With new owners, Casablanca Bar opened in the 2000s and closed right around the global pandemic. Many memories were made at the “not quite gentrified” version where people flocked to hear local DJs and get in on the unpretentious imbibing.
The people make this neighborhood; their stories fill the gap and longing for the old. The warmth of the storytelling keeps our favorite gathering spots alive, even when they change.
Then, with a real effort to acknowledge the two iterations of the lounge, Treis Hill, Sapphira Molina-Hill, and Shamah Devonish swung the doors open to Dick & Jane’s BarRoom in 2022. The owners operate two other locations in the Fort Greene neighborhood, Dick & Jane’s Bar and Baby Jane’s. The building sign is gone. Renovated brownstones with marble waterfall islands and polished, shiny new commercial storefronts don’t erase what once was because memories are currency in Bed-Stuy. For the most part, every block has a person who remembers “your spot” when it was something else. The people make this neighborhood; their stories fill the gap and longing for the old. The warmth of the storytelling keeps our favorite gathering spots alive, even when they change.
The white and gray brick still remains on the Dick & Jane’s facade. The interior is polished, and the staff doesn’t take themselves too seriously. The menu is designed enough to be both a neighborhood spot and a destination. I feel something when I pull up for a weeknight happy hour. It’s always 5 p.m. on the dot for me; I have a toddler with a 7:30 bedtime. I remind myself that live music happens at the BarRoom often — although I never make it because of the kid — but I get the notes from my friends who roll in to check it out. I carefully drink my two mezcal martinis and order my fries, and I return repeatedly. Partly because my cocktail isn’t $20, and I can walk home afterward. I’m always at the same spot, outside the corner tables facing the entrances, and I always run into someone in the neighborhood. It’s the routine, and my time to chat with the ghosts that have lingered.
Dick & Jane’s BarRoom is open nightly for dinner and bar service.
Nicole A. Taylor is a James Beard Award-nominated food writer, home chef, and producer. She is also the author of Watermelon & Red Birds, the very first cookbook to celebrate Juneteenth. In addition to her other cookbooks, The Up South Cookbook and The Last O.G. Cookbook. Nicole has written for the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Food & Wine, and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, BET, Today, Wall Street Journal, Today, Washington Post, NPR, Apple, and Oxford American. Brooklyn Magazine named Taylor to its list of 100 influential people in Brooklyn culture, and her cookbooks have graced more than two dozen “best” lists. Follow her on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter). Follow Resy, too.
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