Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Battle for Boerum Hill

"...I mean it's a great place, but you have to make sure you're in there before midday."
"How come?"
"Because at lunch time all the mothers descend." He says 'mothers' the way most people say 'traffic wardens' or 'republicans'.
"And they take up space?"
"Yes, with their kids and their talking." This time 'talking' sounds synonymous with 'public defecation' or 'dealing in hedge funds'.
It's clearly a sore point, so I change the subject and he tells me about the Park Slope Co-op instead.

Now, eighteen months on, I finally see what he was getting at. On Brooklyn's quiet, leafy streets, a stealthy war is being fought. The battleground is the neighbourhood's cafes, and there is no more bitterly contested territory than the Park Slope Tea-Lounge.

The Tea-Lounge is largely responsible for me moving to New York in the first place. The National may have sorted out the flights, but it was the Tea-Lounge that was the dangling carrot, drawing us through the interminable dramas with insurance and visas.

Imagine a place full of mismatched sofas and low coffee tables, where the counter is piled high with cookies and whoopie pies, and the clatter of keyboards is soothed over by unobtrusively cool music. By day there's a coffee and tea menu the length of your average nineteenth century Russian novel, and at night there's cocktails, quiz nights and bearded Brooklyn boys strumming acoustic guitars. Basically, it's a little slice of heaven. But like the equally enchanting Kashmir, it's very beauty has meant that it's become the backdrop to a terrible conflict.

Fighting in my friend Rui's corner are an army of no-good students, lay-about freelancers and would-be journos. They set up camp with their files and lap-tops and make a no-fat Chai Latte last all afternoon. For these guys (who am I kidding? - for us guys) WiFi is like cat-nip. We catch a whiff of it and there's no moving us. In London these guys might be hanging out in their local Starbucks, but most would be at home or in the library, keeping their non-traditional working culture safely underground.

The opposing forces wouldn't look out of place lunching in Clapham or shopping in Borough Market. The Tea-Lounge is where Yummy Mummies get to play after their little darlings have worn themselves out at baby yoga. I suspect they are the management's favourite customers because they actually eat and drink, and buy things for their children to pick at and flick around.

So far, so gentrified. White people love independent coffee shops, after all. But the E-commuters hate the Mums for, y'know, wanting to have a conversation, while the Mums hate the e-commuters for sitting in every third seat as if they were determined that no social interaction will disturb the peace (which is in fact the case).

Since I'm a lover, not a fighter, I take my notebook and I go to Victory Coffee on the corner of my block, and pretend to write while keeping a sharp eye out for Michelle Williams. Someone should congratulate her on Heath's Oscar, after all.

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