By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A gritty Downtown Brooklyn back alley, until now unloved and largely unknown, became the borough’s coolest place to be on Friday night.
Grove Place is now officially somewhere you should know about if you know Brooklyn. A Downtown Brooklyn Partnership-sponsored evening of free music, $5 bottles of Brooklyn Brewery beer and nifty open-air shopping drew 1,103 people – even though it rained for part of the time.
“I’d seen this alley with cars parked in it and I thought, ‘Boy, this looks dangerous. But you could do something with it,’ ” said Timothy McDaniel, 38, a bill collector at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, who took in the scene from a café table at the June 28 Grove Alley Nite Market.
Staffers at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership felt the same way about the less-than-a-block-long alley with metal fire stairs that look like sets from “Rent,” as Katie Lyon of the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn Business Improvement District noticed.
She mustered her colleagues and launched a campaign to clean up the alley – but leave its glowing-white-paint graffiti intact – and make it a hospitable place for gatherings. Long-term, she expects landlords of the 12 Livingston Street, Nevins Street and Fulton Mall buildings that back onto the alley will create tiny storefronts for coffee shops and galleries to make Grove Place a funky commercial corridor, with the upper floors of the buildings as offbeat office space.
For future reference for guests of upcoming events, Grove Place is accessed via Hanover Place – another little-known street that is parallel to Bond and Nevins Streets.
The Partnership’s cleanup of the alley – plus strings of tiny white lights to add a glow and security guards to improve the comfort level – turned it into an apt venue for a Friday night get-together.
“This is very creative,” said Mitzi Benjamin, 50, who works with cancer patients at Brooklyn Hospital. “It looks like a Chinatown-style, old-vintage walkway. This is a nice way to bring out the community, and a nice after-work spot.”
The evening was sultry as the first revelers arrived. But they felt the charm of discovering someplace new.
“I’ve walked by on Livingston but I never knew this was here,” said Emily Morenike Carpenter, 18, of Bedford-Stuyvesant. “If they had stores here, that would be awesome.”
A DJ pumped out tunes from 5 to 7 p.m. while attendees browsed the wares of hopeful young entrepreneurs and soaked up the Brooklyn-meets- enchanting-New-Orleans-alley atmosphere.
“It’s great to have events like this in our neighborhood,” said Karen Perreault, 41, who brought daughter Marina, 2, in a stroller. “I did not know the alley was here. It would be great if they built shops; we miss DeKalb Market.”
Several participating merchants said they would love to open shops in the alley once they have sufficient capital.
“I love it – it has a very Brooklyn vibe,” said Sam Light, 22, who makes candles and soaps for her business Thanatos in her kitchen in Bushwick.
“It would be super-cute to have stores here; this is a hidden gem in the chaos of New York,” said Light, whose business partner Carrisa Cocuzza, 24, is in a neurosciences graduate program at New York University.
Another merchant from Bushwick, clothing designer Jessica White, 32, also gave a thumbs-up to the idea of building stores in the alley.
Friday night’s open-air sales seemed like a good first step in that direction: “This market is bringing Brooklyn neighborhoods together,” said Bed-Stuy resident Samantha Keller, 23, whose line of jewelry is called Ozma Autonomy.
Vasumathi Soundararajan, 29, who was selling her brand of brightly patterned man’s underwear, also applauded the push to get little shops built in Grove Place.
“That would be super-funky; it would have so much character,” said the Spanish Harlem resident and former evening-wear designer, who launched guys’ undergarment line Ken Wroy because “I hated my husband’s underwear.
“I wanted sexy; my husband wanted comfortable. These are a marriage of the two,” she said.
Kimberly Wetherell’s Lick’r Lollies, made of gin, margaritas and other drinks, helped put alley visitors in a festive mood.
“I can turn any cocktail into a lollipop,” said Wetherell, who lives in Park Slope and had never heard of Grove Place until she was invited to sell her boozy snacks there.
For more sober types, West Village resident Rakan Ammouri, 27, sold his Lazy Looz cake on a stick – chunks of tasty chocolate cake made out of cookies.
The musicians who came to play also were enthusiastic about the alley, which belongs jointly to the landlords of the surrounding buildings.
“It has a really good vibe,” Todd Juknevic, the lead singer and drummer of the Trouble City All-Stars, said before his reggae band’s performance.
Around 7:25 p.m., light rain began. Partyers popped open their umbrellas and stayed put. The Toothaches, a punk-dance band performing on a little stage set up where Grove Place dead-ends, covered their amps and keyboard with plastic and played on.
Outside the alley on Hanover Place, a brigade of food trucks did brisk business. The line stayed busiest throughout the night for the Morris Truck from Crown Heights, which served grilled Gouda-bacon-and-ramps sandwiches and homemade strawberry-tarragon soda.
The Coolhaus truck, whose home base is Greenpoint, had the second longest lines. Revelers devoured its ice cream sandwiches made of scoops of ice cream layered between large cookies.
Around 8 p.m., the rain tapered off. The crowd in the alley grew bigger. Trouble City’s saxophone wailed as darkness fell.
“I love Brooklyn!” the lead singer called out to the audience when the band’s set was over. “You gotta do more stuff like this!”
Breezes breathed cooler air into the narrow alley, but the crowd really warmed up to the final performer of the night, Heems. The Indian rapper from Queens spun out rhymes about Horatio Alger and Bernie Madoff and gave a shout-out to writer Junot Diaz.
When he was done, fans lined up to shake his hand and pose for photos with him.
The alley’s debut night got high marks from one of its organizers, Vivian Liao.
“I think the biggest sign of success was the diversity of the crowd,” said the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s director of marketing and strategic partnerships.
“There were parents pushing strollers, older couples – and hipsters who would otherwise be in Williamsburg,” she said. “It speaks to what we’re trying to do – foster a real community in Downtown Brooklyn.”