Wall Street Journal » By KAVITA MOKHA
Seven years after moving to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, from his boyhood home in nearby Gravesend, John Avelluto thought Bay Ridge was ready for a wine bar.
The Ho' Brah taco joint that opened last year in Bay Ridge.
"I used to travel to other parts of Brooklyn for a different environment, for something different than a sports bar, and I knew others here who did" the same, said Mr. Avelluto. In December, the 33-year-old opened the Owl's Head wine bar on Fifth Avenue.
"We've had such a range of people come in and support us—city workers, college students, firemen and every point and occupation in between," said Mr. Avelluto, who is also a co-founder of the local Storefront Art Walk that showcases works by Brooklyn artists in stores along Bay Ridge's Fifth Avenue.
Bits and pieces are changing in Bay Ridge, a historically Italian, Irish and Scandinavian stronghold that sits along the last few stops of the R subway line in south Brooklyn. The neighborhood has seen a sizable increase in its Middle Eastern community in the last decade and has attracted an increasing number of newcomers who have been priced out of neighborhoods in other parts of Brooklyn.
Brokers say that while the waterfront community is home to families who have lived there for generations, it is increasingly showing up on the radar of potential new buyers because of its varied housing stock.
"The biggest draw for newcomers is the tremendous amount of quality housing stock that runs the gamut—detailed prewar limestones, expansive fully detached gabled Victorians on large lots, charming brick-front row houses, traditional Art Deco co-ops and a handful of modern condos," said Clare Saliba, a senior associate broker with Corcoran Group, who was born and raised in Bay Ridge.
Local officials say overcrowding issues faced by area public schools reflect the increased number of young families making the neighborhood home.
"We have built several additions to existing schools, some completely new schools in the past few years and three new elementary and middle schools are on the way within the next two years," said Vincent Gentile, the City Council member for the area.
New businesses catering to the growing number of young families have also popped up.
Among them is the Art Room on Third Avenue and 87th Street, a fine-art school and gallery for kids launched by area native Justin Brannan and his fiancée, Leigh Holliday.
The Kettle Black is popular with sports fans.
"Years ago this sort of thing would have never existed in Bay Ridge but it's all part of Bay Ridge's changing and progressing face," said Mr. Brannan, who also works as an aide to Mr. Gentile. "We opened the Art Room specifically because we started seeing so many new, young families moving into the neighborhood."
Nearby, another unlikely establishment opened in 2011: the Ho' Brah taco joint.
"I wouldn't have opened this here even 10 years ago," said Tom Casatelli, owner of the California-style, surfer-inspired taco shop, who has also owned the Kettle Black bar and restaurant nearby for a number of years.
"When I put fish tacos on the menu at the Kettle Black, people looked at me like I had 14 heads. I don't think I sold one of them," added Mr. Casatelli. "But with this, the response has been tremendous—we have people coming from other parts of Brooklyn."
Long-timers say they have seen the neighborhood emerge as a desirable place for some who were once skeptical given its location deep in Brooklyn.
"My friends used to complain and make fun of me," said Georgine Benvenuto, a local photographer and owner of Gallery 364, one of Bay Ridge's first art galleries which she opened in 2007. "Now they are moving here."
Still, as new places join the old guard of Italian, Irish and, more recently, Middle Eastern restaurants and shops, locals say the area is a long way from being swept up in the sea change that has taken place in other parts of Brooklyn.
The area retains its old Brooklyn feel, celebrated in the 1970s classic "Saturday Night Fever," which is set in Bay Ridge.
The Italian and Irish influence in the area remains undeniable and local restaurants and watering holes like Vesuvio Restaurant and Pizzeria and O'Sullivan's Pub & Restaurant continue to draw loyal patrons. A new Italian specialty market, A.L. Coluccio Italian grocery and salumeria, is also slated to open on Third Avenue this fall.
The bridge seen from the corner of 87th Street and Third Avenue.
Greek and Middle Eastern eateries such as Tanoreen Restaurant have also carved a niche in the last decade.
Hearkening back to a time when the neighborhood was home to a significant Norwegian population, Nordic Delicacies has been serving Scandinavian food products in Bay Ridge for 25 years.
The neighborhood also holds the city's only Norwegian Independence Day Parade, which is in its 61st year in 2012, according to Arlene Bakke Rutuelo, the owner of Nordic Delicacies.
Mr. Gentile says the mix of cultures remains alive and well in Bay Ridge despite changes with time.
"Growing up in an Irish, Italian, Scandinavian nabe, you are used to seeing certain things that you won't see anymore because an old business closes and a new ethnic shop opens in its place," said Mr. Gentile. "But I think Bay Ridge's small-town atmosphere in a big city is still there."
For better or worse, the change on Nostrand is going to make the change on Franklin look minor.