I have only ever seen hipsters drink (coffee, PBR). What do they eat?
I've found that the word hipster has become so wide-ranging that it basically covers people who are doing trendy/fashionable things that you don't do:
- bike commuter? hipster
- tight pants? hipster
- like indie rock? hipster
- go to concerts? hipster
- like going out to drink? hipster
- like cheap drinks? hipster
- second hand clothes? hipster
- leave your house? hipster
- take public transportation? hipster
- the sky is blue? hipster
The only way to absolutely avoid being called a hipster is to basically sit at home and accuse everybody else of being a hipster.
How I Became a Hipster
By HENRY ALFORD
You know you’re in hipster Brooklyn when someone who looks like a 19th-century farmer tells you that his line of work is “affinity marketing.”
I had fallen into conversation with the affinity marketer (beard, plaid flannel shirt, vintage work boots) in the lobby of the Wythe hotel in Williamsburg, a beehive of instrument-bearing musicians, nose-pierced locals and twentysomethings who use the word “ridiculous” in nonpejorative contexts. I guessed aloud, “So, like, if I buy a pair of shoes, then you’ll try to sell me socks?” The affinity marketer smiled and said: “Or maybe something bigger, like flooring. You buy a pair of shoes, I sell you reclaimed hardwood flooring.”
O, bohemia! There are several ways to react to a culture quake. You can meet it with befuddlement, perhaps wondering how flappers handled the thorny intersection between dancing in fountains and limited dry-cleaning.
You can put it on a pedestal by bringing undue optimism to the prospect of meeting Ernest Hemingway or some other expat after his seventh Pernod.
But maybe there’s another way — which is why, in early April, this middle-aged avowed Manhattanite checked into the Wythe and spent a long weekend trying to educate himself, canvassing Kings County’s artisan-loving, kale-devouring epicenter. “Brooklyn” is now a byword for cool from Paris to Sweden to the Middle East. It’s been strange to live across the river from a place that suddenly becomes a cultural reference point — not unlike having your dachshund become an overnight celebrity. Part of you wonders, Why him and not Aunt Barbara?
So I decided to embed myself among the rooftop gardeners and the sustainability consultants and the chickeneers. I wanted to see what the demographic behind nanobatched chervil and the continually cited show “Girls” could teach me about life and craft cocktails. I wanted to see what sullen 25-year-old men had to tell me beyond “Leave me alone during this awkward period of beard growth.”
First I needed to outfit myself. H. W. Carter and Sons in Williamsburg is full of flannel and cardigans and work boots for the younger set. When a scruffy, ponytailed salesman in his 20s approached, I told him: “I’m going for a Mumford & Sons look. I want to look like I play the banjo.”
The sweet-tempered salesman helped me try on several field jackets, including an olive green London Fog, while a second equally sweet and solicitous young salesman (this one in a wool cap) helped me try on selvage denim jeans and a big, lumpy wool cardigan that looked like a lamb had died on me. He also showed me a $225 short-sleeve, plaid, navy jacquard shirt, which I decided to buy. While waiting at the cash register, I picked up a pair of argyle wool socks from a nearby wicker basket and asked, “Are your socks local?” The salesman self-consciously said no. I returned the socks like an organic farmer who has learned that a friend has named her child Monsanto.
Hitting the street and other stores, I fleshed out my purchase with a snug-fitting corduroy vest and a wide-lapel vintage shirt (both $8) from Vice Versa, a thrift shop on Bedford Avenue, and a $10 vintage burgundy blazer (label: Hob Nob, by Irwin) from the Mobile Vintage Shop, a trailer I found parked in Bushwick. When I layered the corduroy shirt over the H. W. Carter shirt, the effect was homespun and slightly raffish: a country-store clerk who has lost his spectacles in the barley.
I walked down Bedford Avenue, a veritable ocean of beard. Realizing that I’ve never been shaved with a straight razor before, I showed up at Barber and Supply, a cavernous salon in a former garage in Williamsburg. I told my barber, Rich, a hirsute Mediterranean-looking man with studs in each ear, that I was anxious about the “Sweeney Todd aspect” of a straight razor. My anxiety was for naught.
Four eucalyptus-scented towels and many delicate razor strokes later, Rich had proved himself a master of the blade. He correctly diagnosed that I shave my neck down instead of up, which causes irritation.
Next I told Rich: “I could also use some mustache counseling. My boyfriend has been growing a ’stache and I want to be supportive.” Rich looked confused. I said, “Well, it is sort of like having a small, hairy new pet in the home.” Rich counseled: Enjoy the ’stache. Honor the ’stache.
To get the true Brooklyn experience, it became clear I needed to do some of my visits while riding young Brooklynites’ vehicle of choice, a fixed-gear bicycle. A grizzled older gentleman rented one to me at Zukkies bike shop in Bushwick, but not before asking me four times if I’d ever ridden one, and telling me “I couldn’t do it.” On a “fixie,” you see, you can’t coast or backpedal, you’re always moving forward: the shark of the bike world.
I was fine until I rode down steep hills, at which point, not wanting to shred my brakes, I tried to slow my terrifying descent via knee power; after two hours of this, I imagined that my increasingly hydrocephalic knees would burst through my pants legs. It was, as the kids say, totally ridic. Additionally: whatever affinity marketer is responsible for the high incidence of tippy, thin-wheeled racing bikes on the city’s most hole-filled roads should be shot at dawn. I later happily switched to a nonfixie or, as I think of it, a swingy.
Physical exertion made me hungry. I didn’t feel secure enough in my biking skills to ride all the way to the all-Brooklyn foodstuffs purveyor By Brooklyn in Carroll Gardens, where you can find espresso soda, not to mention hibiscus soda syrup, and Granola Lab granola nor could I make it to the all-artisanal-mayonnaise store in Prospect Heights. But I knew I could manage Bushwick’s wonderful pizzeria, Roberta’s. Roberta’s has the ugliest entrance of any restaurant I’ve ever seen, barbed wire leading to heavily graffitied concrete cinder blocks: gulag in da hood. I waited almost an hour for a table.
A sweet, languorous British lass showed me to my table, hard by a wood stove and a corrugated-steel wall. I said, “I was sort of hoping you’d be naked,” referencing a Roberta’s waitress who had recently worked her last shift without clothes on (so boho and Lena Dunham-accustomed is the Roberta’s clientele that no patron batted an eyelash). I asked my server, “What would a server have to do to attract attention in here?” She said: “Shut down the pizza oven? Or set yourself on fire?”
Great food wants a great dessert, so I hied myself to the showroom of Mast Brothers Chocolate, a lodestar of the artisanal foods movement. This company makes it a point to wind-sail its cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic to Brooklyn, then to hand-sort these beans, then to let its chocolate “rest” 30 days before sale. Only Leona Helmsley’s dogs have ever been so cosseted.
The store smells like heaven; I would happily die there. For $10 you can buy a burlap sack used to haul the beans in, perhaps for use as a satchel. I told a freckled young employee in a peasant blouse: “I bet those sacks are very popular with single men. If all your stuff smelled like chocolate? Bingo.” The girl nodded and enthused: “I got one for my birthday. Most of the people who work here have them.”
An adjunct of the artisanal food movement is an increased interest in butchering. I signed up for a three-hour, $69 class called Knife Skills, taught at 3rd Ward, a continuing-education center in Bushwick that is heavy on classes like chicken raising and rooftop gardening and cardboard furniture-making.
In a tiny, ramshackle classroom, seven of us students listened to our affable, heavily tattooed instructor, Charlie Mirisola, explain the differences between various types of knives, and the proper way to hold and sharpen them. We cut up onions, celery, potatoes, parsley. When the clam chowder we were meant to be making went south (the clams didn’t open, and the stove’s burner was recalcitrant), Mr. Mirisola handed us each a measuring cup and then poured us each a generous slug of white wine. Skol.
After class, another 3rd Ward student asked me how the class went, so I told her “Well” and then added, “I’m thinking about turning my spare guest room into an abattoir.” She looked impressed.
My last stop in Brooklyn was Molasses Books in Bushwick, a used bookstore where you can barter books for wine or beer or tea. To test the limits of the barter system, I presented the calm, bespectacled Molasses employee on duty with three books whose resale value could accurately be described as limited; a collection of Ronald Reagan’s speeches, a 1993 book about the health care crisis and “Hitler Laughing: Comedy in the Third Reich.”
Her eyes widening, the employee called the store’s owner on her cellphone and recited the titles to him. “We can offer you two dollars for the ‘Third Reich’ one,” she soon told me. “But these other two are ...” So I helped her out with, “Their resale potential is more muted.” I slowly put the books back in my bag, upturning my nose in the classic pose of the noble martyr. I asked for a cup of chamomile tea in lieu of cash; while waiting, I found a perfect spot on the Molasses shelves for my book: in between a pictorial history of Nazi Germany and the comedian Fred Allen’s correspondence. Upon exiting, I told the employee: “Thank God you took at least one of my books. That would’ve been awk.”
It’s been a month since my Brooklyn sojourn. It would be naïve to think that a mere long weekend spent in a certain environment would wreak lifelong changes. Yet it’s not far-fetched to catalog the things I’ve learned as a way of locating a potential seedbed. I now know to shave my neck up instead of down, and to admire other men’s foliage.
I now know how to sharpen a knife, hold a knife, and crosshatch an onion. I know now that if the economy sours further, I can trade in all my books for herbal diuretics. I know that I’m not an enthusiast of fixed-gear bikes, but that having my midsection squeezed by a tight-fitting vest energizes and propels me in the manner of a watermelon seed pinched by two fingers.
Additionally, I’ve realized that since so many of the components of the Brooklyn movement were being done to less fanfare in Portland a decade earlier, it’s important to sympathize with that Oregonian precursor. Portland is the Lorna Luft to Brooklyn’s Liza. We’re thinking of you, Lorna.
I like this generation of young folk. Their food is terrific, and they find even the most insignificant things “awesome.” I admire their adventuresome quality vis-à-vis fixed-gear bike-riding and their non-prudishness in the face of nudity. Yes, their attention to detail on the fronts of locavorism and beard care can verge on the precious, but I’d much rather have a young Abe Lincoln serve me his roof-grown mâche than I would have an F. Scott Fitzgerald vomit all over my straw boater. Today’s twentysomethings are self-respecting, obvi.
If every youth movement says as much about the status quo as it does about itself, then this new eco-conscious, agrarian-seeming, hair-celebrating nexus of locavorism is maybe telling us that the rest of us need to plunge our fingers into the rich loam of the earth, literally and metaphorically.
So perhaps it comes as little surprise that the greatest change wrought by my Brooklyn sojourn is that I’m now growing rosemary and thyme in my kitchen. Also, the next time you come over for dinner, I’ll probably be naked.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 2, 2013
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the products sold at By Brooklyn. The store does not sell dandelion and burdock soda, lovage soda syrup, and Early Bird granola “gathered in Brooklyn.”
An earlier version also referred incorrectly to the thoroughfare that contains the thrift shop Vice Versa. It is Bedford Avenue, not Bedford Street, or Bedfoprd Avenue, as stated in an earlier correction.