BARNES New York invites you in its series of articles untitled “New York City Neighborhoods”, where you can regularly discover the different districts of the city, in the eyes of French speakers who have settled there. They tell us all about their neighborhood, in their words, their tastes, their habits. Today we explore Carroll Gardens, a Brooklyn neighborhood, with Laurène Hamilton. Yesterday an auditor in finance, the young mother is now a tourist guide and founder of her own company. She shows us around her neighborhood – where she lives with her husband, a computer specialist, and their two young children – with a lot of passion and enthusiasm.
Lepetitjournal.com New York : You live in Carroll Gardens. What attracted you to this neighborhood?
Laurène Hamilton : I was looking for a safe and family-friendly neighborhood which also offers nightlife, within reasonable distance of Manhattan. I liked that balance better, because I remain a very urban person. I prefer to live in a small space and be able to have access to an outdoor environment that inspires me.
Can you tell us about life in this neighborhood, the atmosphere? What makes it live, what drives it?
The atmosphere is very intimate, like a small village, with lots of local and independent shops. It is a charming, green area – hence the name – quiet but lively at the same time. You may come across families, singles, couples, and even actors like Neve Campbell. People are laid back but not neglected. Once inhabited mostly by Americans of Italian descent, some establishments still offer Italian products to die for. For example, the Monteleone pastry shop on Court Street sells all kinds of biscuits made with powdered almonds. Try the Rainbow cookies, they are to die for. Another example of a neighborhood institution: Caputo. People buy their bread there daily, and you will be called “Honey”. For history fans, check out the Mary of the Stars Church where the famous Al Capone married in 1918 at just 19 years old! From Carroll Gardens, you are close to Red Hook for a walk, in the middle of industrial warehouses with incredible views of Staten Island or even lower Manhattan.
In the evening, listed establishments like Barely disfigured, where you can have a drink on the four-poster bed, or Ugly Baby, an incredible Thai restaurant, also attract young people to feed their stomachs and their Instagram posts. Who knows, if you are really motivated, you too will line up at Lucali to eat one of the best pizzas in New York?
You are a young mom. How is life with children at Carroll Gardens which obviously appeals to families a lot?
We love it! The neighborhood is full of places for children. Life is pleasant there and our family traditions take root here. Sometimes we sit on stoops – brownstone steps – to eat a pain au chocolat while watching the passers-by. Children love it. When I come home from the nursery, my son says hello to the Caputo’s baker. We often meet acquaintances and we walk side by side chatting. In rainy weather, the Planted café is ideal for getting out of your home and keeping the children busy with a dedicated playing space. Next door, they also have a zero waste shop. In summer, the fountains in the parks attract all the neighborhood toddlers. Seasons pass and lovely memories remain. Carroll Gardens is an inclusive and tolerant neighborhood on a human scale. You will come across elderly people, young people, families, LGBT community, etc. You can feel the openness in the interactions people have with each other or even in the neighborhood’s social network groups. Help is palpable when a neighborhood family is in difficulty.
You are a tourist guide. Can you tell us about the best route to take to discover this district?
I love my neighborhood so much that I’m working on planning a special Halloween tour. Last year with my clients, we even celebrated Halloween together. All the inhabitants were out. Neighbors shared a bottle of wine on the stoops while handing out sweets during the traditional “trick or treat”. It really is a friendly neighborhood. Here is an idea of a route to soak up its atmosphere.
As a Frenchwoman, do you find a little French side to this district through the inhabitants, the shops, the schools?
Yes ! We hear a lot of French speaking. There are several schools that offer courses in French. The best known, being the public school PS 58, which has a bilingual program (beware the zones are changing) or the International School of Brooklyn (ISB), a private school which offers a program with French. During the French presidential elections, it is in those premises of the ISB that we will vote. You quickly find your way around French people at the best of times even if we don’t know each other personally. It is not for nothing that this district is nicknamed Petite France (Little France). Thus a mini French supermarket, Le French Tart Deli, recently opened: there are calissons, traditional French bakery, jams and all these products that remind me of my childhood in France. The La Cigogne restaurant offers Alsatian specialties in a warm atmosphere around a wood fire in winter. Perfect for enjoying a Flammekueche or spaetzle.
Your favorite places in Carroll Gardens?
My favorite coffee shop: Planted, for the Zen and natural atmosphere of the café: pretty wooden tables surrounded by plants, no loud music, a zero waste commitment and in support of the LGBTQ community.
For an exotic coffee: Le Petit Café, built around trees in a Zen setting.
To consume smart: Books are magic, a small independent bookstore that organizes book presentations with writers.
To work on your computer in peace while sipping a soda: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Gersi : For an Italian dinner with a neo-American twist or a brunch, I recommend this restaurant. Take a seat in their backyard, just divine! Many establishments in the area have landscaped gardens in the back, so in the summer everyone eats out.
Kittery : For a good lobster roll with a glass of white wine on the terrace.
Is this a neighborhood that you recommend for those who want to buy or rent?
It all depends on the person’s perspective. If the goal is to make short-term capital gains, I don’t think this is the best neighborhood, because its reputation is already established. Carroll Gardens continues to attract for sure. If on the other hand you are planning on the longer term side, buying may be a good option. Renting is often a good first step. People usually end up liking my neighborhood and tend to stick around for the long haul.
Thank you Laurène !
Interview by Rachel Brunet, director and editor-in-chief of Petit Journal New York