A few musings from the band Chairlift about magical Greenpoint, where $3 can get you a beer and where bank tellers greet you in Polish.
Patrick Wimberly wants to write a book one day about Brooklyn's notorious G train. He'd call it My Life on the G Train. He'd write about the commute from his Greenpoint apartment to the studio, where he and Caroline Polachek have been recording their band Chairlift's third album. The book might have a whole chapter devoted to donuts or pizza. If Caroline had a chapter to herself, she'd probably tell you how the G earned its way to being a "good friend." Until that day comes, here are a few musings about magical Greenpoint, where $3 can get you a beer and where bank tellers greet you in Polish.
VICE: What was your first impression of Greenpoint?
Patrick Wimberly: It was like, "Man, this is so far out. There's no train that goes here. How do people even get over here?" That was about eight or nine years ago. It just felt quiet and calm.
Caroline Polachek: It really feels like a quiet neighborhood, which is probably a boring thing to hear a musician say. It feels like a village, which is really a rare thing in a big city like New York.
What are your feelings about the G train?
Oh, man. I have a love/hate relationship with the G train. For better, for worse, that's the main line I take. It's much more reliable. But I don't recommend taking it at night. That's for sure; [go] before 11 PM I feel like it's a good friend at this point.
Wimberly: I have a deep fondness for the G train. It's also been cool, since I've lived here for 10 years, to see it change so much. It used to be the dreadful G train that you would have to wait for, 30, 40 minutes. Now, it comes every 10 minutes and it's not a scary train if you live on the G train and you work on the G train.
Who's your favorite neighborhood character?
My old favorite was this guy we used to call the Fence Humper. He was this old man that spent his days out on the corner, at like Guernsey and Meserole, he just had his fist clinched around the fence and he would just sway back and forth. He would do it every day, all day. But he's not there anymore. I'm not sure what happened to him.
Polachek: I actually used to live across the street from Patrick so I can verify that Fence Humper was real. I actually haven't seen him in a long time.
[Also] there's an old man who sits outside the hardware store [Cheap Charlie's] on Manhattan Avenue and smokes a pipe. The first time I ever met him was inside the store. I thought he was working there but I guess he has a relationship with whoever owns the store. If you get talking to him he'll start telling you long stories. He doesn't actually remember me but it's fine. The Pipe-Smoking Storyteller of Cheap Charlie's. I see him all the time.
What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you?
All the bank branches in Greenpoint are required to have tellers that also speak Polish. I was at a bank and the lady gave me a funny look and said, "Are you Polish?" I said "No." And she said, "Do you know what your last name means?" And I thought it had something to do with a little field but I wasn't actually sure. She goes, "Well it's also an insult in Polish" and she informed me while there was a huge queue behind me. She took the time to inform me, and also bring over another bank teller just to back her up that my name actually is an insult for like a dumb Polish person. She even wrote out the spelling and said, "This is our pronunciation of your last name." I got a little bit more than I asked for.
Have you since verified this translation?
I haven't. This happened fairly recently so I have yet to get a second opinion, or rather, I have yet to get a third opinion. They had a good laugh about it.
Where do you guys like to eat?
Greenpoint is a Polish neighborhood. I have Polish roots. There's one restaurant called Krolewskie Jadlo that I really like. It has two suits in armor at the entrance to greet you. I'm a vegetarian. There's so much Polish food I can eat so I'm pretty destined to have an all-fried meal when I go there. Sometimes when it gets really cold in the winter, it's exactly what I want: perogies, potato pancakes, applesauce. And a beer. It's all the same color. Same gold color.
Wimberly: I've never learned how to say this name... I like to get the white borscht and the bread bowl.
Polachek: My favorite restaurant in Greenpoint is a little hole in the wall Mexican place that doesn't exactly make by the book Mexican food. I'm addicted to their enchiladas. I get them about once a week. The restaurant is called La Norteña. I know all the guys who work there. When I got back to my apartment after getting married a few months ago the first thing my husband and I did was go to La Norteña.
Wimberly: That's the jam. It does $3 beers and pretty good Mexican food. Great vibes.
There's Peter Pan. It's an old Polish bakery. It's been in Greenpoint for a while. They make the most amazing donut you've ever had. If you're not in the mood for something sweet, get a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a croissant. It is insanely delicious. You'll have the most amazing meal for like, three and a half dollars.
Paulie Gee's makes amazing pizza. One time I saw him on the street, I thought that I was seeing Martin Scorsese. You know, Martin Scorsese has done a bunch of film projects in Greenpoint. But I realized many weeks later that I didn't see Martin Scorsese. It was just Paulie Gee.
Where do you go for coffee?
Cup on Norman Avenue. They have a good cup of coffee but I mostly like them because they function as my therapist. Every morning I go in there and I talk to them for about 15 minutes. Sometimes when I'm in studio land and I spend all my time in a room with one other person or two other people or by myself, I get all my feelings out at my coffee shop in the morning. They're very sweet. My barista is my therapist.
What's a good bar?
One of my favorite bars is commonly known as Capri Social Club. At some point, somebody filmed a movie there and they changed the sign. So that's what people call it. Although I think it might be officially called Irene's.
What's the number one activity you'd recommend to a first-time visitor?
Polachek: Take the [East River] ferry over and walk down Manhattan Avenue from there until you get to McCarren Park and then get an ice cream at Van Leeuwen and people watch in the park.
Wimberly: You have to go to Peter Pan Bakery because it is arguably the best bakery in the city that does breakfast goods. They don't do cupcakes. Peter Pan is up there with the best of New York City. Or you could come to McGolrick Park on Sundays and play football with my friends and me.
What's the best place for peace and quiet?
Polachek: There's a bar that opened up on Manhattan Avenue a couple years ago called Troost. There's a back patio there that's almost always really quiet with overhanging trees. That place is a nice escape.
Wimberly: Transmitter Park. They've built this really nice dock that goes out on the water. I like to go out there at night, when it's maybe raining a little bit and nobody's around. And then you can walk out on the water and it's very peaceful. You can see the beautiful New York skyline and it feels like you're the only one in the city.
Boil down Greenpoint to one single thing.
Polachek: The window paintings outside the Triple Decker Diner. They always do Disney characters and they don't change them very often so you sort of get used to them being there. Everyone knows those guys.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
CHAIRLIFT'S QUICK PICKS
Favorite Slice: Franklin Pizza
Favorite Block: My block. If you Google Image search Guernsey Street, you'll see why.
Most underrated neighborhood destination: La Norteña
Favorite Block: Transmitter Park.
Overrated spot: No Name Bar