Connecting Brooklyn and Hudson
Sipping on a hot toddy in a string light strewn back bar, chatting about the show you saw last
night, the smell of fresh curry dumpling on the air and overheard snippets of conversation
about art exhibits and broken L line service. Step outside for fresh air, and find yourself not
outside one of Brooklyn’s many atmospheric dives along the likes of Birdy’s or Carmelo’s in
Bushwick, but rather on a bustling little street in Hudson itself. The bar in question is one of
Hudson’s newest and hippest: Backbar on Warren Street.
You may have heard the comparisons before if your nose has been glued to the real estate
pages of the various tri-state periodicals, or if your friend alerts you to up and coming music
events or art gallery openings via her network of social media connections: Brooklyn has
To the average Brooklynite, the idea of colonizing anything may be anathema, a revulsion for
the effect that colonization has had on oppressed peoples throughout the world, but the truth
is, the upper crust and the dream-seekers cast out of Brooklyn’s new high rent reality have
ventured north to try their luck amongst compatriots.
What is Brooklyn though? Better to ask what was Brooklyn, and in the forge of history, what
has it become? At first, the pastoral hinterland to a growing colonial town on the tip of the
island of York (now Manhattan) and slowly coming into its own as a waterfront city servicing
the grandest port in the Americas, swelling with a polyglot crowd of immigrants filling its
storied neighborhoods in waves. Gravesend and Green Point, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick
Flatbush and Canarsie, Farragut, Fort Greene and Marcie finally expanding to be the most
populous borough of the city and known the world over for its hyper-diverse, rough and tumble
street life, and the industrial infrastructure it grew up around.
Slowly but surely, as industry drifted to other parts of the world and the flood of new blood
slowed, and highways ripped across the skies and darkened streets, the great factories, the
warehouses, the great loft spaces of Brooklyn began a long slide into a legendary state of
decay. Those who recall the days of Brooklyn’s infamy may shudder at the thought of what
many people do today, that is, walk arm in arm without a care in Bushwick, Flatbush, or
Williamsburg. The slums of Sunset Park cast a pall over that part of the borough that is still
being lifted today. Great districts of burned out tenements, boarded up buildings, the all too
real fear of needing to defend oneself, and a deep and spiraling lawlessness and poverty that
seemed to be ushering in the ultimate doom of New York as a city.
The story of Hudson has some parallels to the story of Brooklyn of the 20 th century. Long known
as a vibrant gambling and commercial center, the city became known for its brothels, and was,
for the first half of the century, a rough and tumble city of its own, featuring vice and all
manner of entertainment. Diamond Street (now Columbia Street), off Warren, was home to
many of the famous brothels. It was a city that had its roots in American visionary citizens like
its neighbor to the south, in the flowering of the Hudson River School during the 19th century.
Artists like Frederic Edwin Church residing in the beautiful Olana Estate, and Thomas Cole in his
picturesque lands just across the river. Sanford Robinson Gifford is buried in the main cemetery
in Hudson, home to the graves of revolutionary war veterans native to the city. Decades of
decadence were followed by a swift and sudden decline. In 1950 the state police put an end to
the bordello era and Hudson was left without an industry. Factory after factory closed and the
city shrank dramatically. Increasing crime levels and a near cessation of street life followed.
It was in a similar context, in the same time-period, that both Brooklyn and Hudson started
upon the path we find them on today. For Hudson, it was the blossoming of antique collector
storefronts attracting shoppers and homebuyers, for Brooklyn, it was the romance of artist
neighborhoods built into the fabric of the borough, turning fresh eyes to the possibilities arising
in neighborhoods once deemed completely lost. Those warehouses and lofts, those relics of a
Victorian architectural past were caught by the hand of renovators before the complete
collapse, and a gradual building up of what was left, filling it with what is new, began.
So Hudson was struck with a similar brilliance for renewal. Amidst the bucolic majesty which
had always been there, the new cultural life of Brooklyn, of the artists, the LGBT community,
the peace-seekers, began to fill the wonderful mix of architectural styles lying around with
everything fresh, and an edge of modern filled in the cracks left by the decay of the American
Century. The Opera House has been renovated and renamed Hudson Hall, Basilica Hudson
hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year, art galleries like Carrie Haddad and the
auction house Stair Galleries, and the artisanship of Geoffrey Good are all but few examples of
what Hudson has evolved into. Then there are the various world-class restaurants like The
Crimson Sparrow and Swoon Kitchenbar.
Steadily increasing foot-traffic and media heraldry for a nightlife unique in the Hudson Valley
has turned Warren, the main street in Hudson, into a veritable off shoot of the Heights, of
Williamsburg, of the working-class bars turned youthful and dynamic that makes the borough
so fresh and exciting for so many. In Hudson, the musical nights at Helsinki and Half Moon are
the equivalents. The similarities of course do not cease at the fact that the same people who
live in Hudson tend to also come from Brooklyn. A place that was a transformative little town,
by way of overwhelming influence from Kings County, has indeed become a colony of the great
city of Brooklyn.
But enough describing what you can find there, it’s up to you to see it for yourself, to drink in
the seductive warmth of the country spilling into the wine-soaked streets, the starlight of the
rural landscape filling a sky sparkling with the conversations in swinging bar doors and the
laughter of passing crowds. Eat ice cream at Lick where the line stretches out the door or sit
down for a gourmet burger at Hudson’s Red Dot where barbecue sizzles and the rush of the
kitchen staff and the creak of the barn door meet. It is in the charm of Brooklyn that we also
find the charm of Hudson. What was, what now is, and all of a sudden, the awesome thrill of
what could be.