If I hadn’t been so enamored with writing, I probably would have pursued a Masters in Urban Studies. I’ve long had a fascination with cities, or more specifically, their ghosts—the buildings that no longer exist, the families long gone, the candy stores that have morphed into banks.
This thought occurred to me yet again while reading The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, penned by Robert Anasi.
In 1988, “few places outside of Gracie Mansion were safe,” Anasi writes. As a third grader cocooned in the suburbs I don’t remember much of this bleak New York City. But, riding the crowded subway at Midnight these days, it is hard to believe such a simple ritual was once shunned out of fear during that supposedly dangerous era.
Especially in Williamsburg, arguably New York’s “hottest” neighborhood today, packed with bar after restaurant after boutique. Anasi’s book brings to life the stories you have heard about Williamsburg’s neglected past, the harsh existence before the artists plundered: warehouse squatters, crack deals, blatant prostitution on the corners where overpriced condos stand today.
It is a well-written, gripping read and more importantly, reveals that while the likes of the Wythe Hotel and designer-clad hipsters may now dominate the streets, Williamsburg remains tethered to its grungier past.