From Brooklyn to “Brooklyn” The Cultural Transformations of Leisure, Pleasure, and Taste by Emily Holloway

By Emily Holloway 

Former BWRC Project Coordinator (M.S. Urban Policy and Planning, Hunter College) and current PhD candidate at Clark University. 

To tell the story of Brooklyn’s complex history in hospitality and cuisine is to tell a story about the tensions of high and low culture, of the mobility of capital and residents, and of the tremendous influence yielded by macroeconomic change. A sleepy bedroom community for the eighteenth and much of the early nineteenth centuries, Brooklyn’s waterfront (both historically and today) is deeply tied to its nineteenth and twentieth-century industrial heritage. 

The ad hoc economies that supported factory and dock workers, included boardinghouses, saloons, brothels, food carts, and amusement parks and drew a stark contrast to those of factory and ship owners, who spent lavishly at seaside resorts, fine hotels, and restaurants. The legacy of Brooklyn’s industrial profile, visible now in the capitalized palimpsest of brick-and-paned glass warehouses converted into hotels and retail stores, is representative of a complex convergence of elite power and working-class tastes, one underwritten by dynamic patterns of immigration and cultural intersections and global economic transition. 

To understand the landscape of tourism, cuisine, and entertainment along Brooklyn’s waterfront today, one must look to their earliest iterations: Coney Island and Brighton Beach; Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights; Greenpoint and Sheepshead Bay. The impact of global economic restructuring following World War II translated unevenly on the landscape of Brooklyn’s eateries and hotels, but the underlying mechanics and logics of value, consumption, and capital assimilated these variations into a powerful and global brand: The New Brooklyn.

Commissioned for the 2020 conference “Hospitality Along the Brooklyn Waterfront”