My Spot: The Steps of the Brooklyn Museum

My Spot: The Steps of the Brooklyn Museum

Complex staffers take urban exploration very seriously. My Spot takes you inside some of our favorite destinations, both in the 'hood and around the globe. 

The Brooklyn Museum
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
200 Eastern Pkwy
brooklynmuseum.org
(718) 638-5000
@brooklynmuseum

This week, Complex Executive Editor Jack Erwin takes us to the Brooklyn Museum.

THE RUNDOWN:

The Brooklyn Museum was founded in 1895; for its first 39 years it featured a monumental two story stone staircaseleading up to its front doors (contrary to what my younger co-workers think, I wasn’t present for the demolition). In 1934, in an effort to make the museum entrance more “democratic” (i.e. equally ugly and unwelcoming to everybody), the Municipal Art Commission had the staircase removed. For the next 70 years, the Museum entrance remained the same: five brutal doorways, about as inviting as a Soviet probe-atorium.

In 2004, the museum opened its new, 21st Century entrance. The architectural reviews were mixed, and admittedly, it’s a design hodge-podge. On the east side, there’s a set of fountains faced by a bank of concrete steps that look like the bleachers from a stadium minus the actual seats. Directly in front of the museum are two sets of grass strips laid out in concentric circles. There’s a sort of poop deck walkway that connects the top of the stadium stairs to a more conventional staircase on the west side of the pavilion. Appropriately, it winds underneath three plexiglass discs and three wire-strung posts that make the top of the pavilion look like it's setting sail for Eastern Parkway, a whopping 50 yards away. So that’s one part poor man’s Bellagio Fountain, one part unfinished multiplex, one part world’s smallest outdoor grass amphitheater, one part futuristic big ship. Told you it was a hodge podge. But it’s our hodge podge.

PERFECT FOR: 

Any number of urban public activities. I’ve seen skateboarders, rollerbladers, in-line skaters, freestyle BMX bikers, hired-by-the-hour portrait painters, yoga enthusiasts, rank yoga novices, couples in damn-near coitus, and couples on what looked like the brink of interruptus. There’s lots of little kiddies running around and lots of twentysomethings lying on the grass mulling their sorry, exalted fates. I’ve also witnessed a couple rap video shoots, a few Dungeons and Dragons reenactments (replete with elaborately carved swords), and a group of two dozen young ladies in spandex doing standing jumps, en masse, onto the retaining wall around the grassy belts, like some sort of synchronized parkour warm-up. It was really cool, and drew a crowd. The pavilion was also once invaded by tanks.

Point is, the museum’s porch is home to all sorts of fun times, and the diversity isn’t confined to the sporting activities it hosts. It borders one of the fastest-gentrifying ‘hoods in the U.S., and unlike the neighboring barber shops (almost exclusively black) and the shaved ice cocktail bars (very not black, or at least a lot paler than the rest of the block), that fact is actually evident on the steps of the museum. Burkas next to shtreimels next to dreads next to immaculately manicured facial hair adorning hipster faces of all hues. It’s a place where buppies and whuppies and Asuppies and Latinuppies can take their youngsters and see kids who apparently left the house wearing only their underwear and think, “Sweet holy fuck Christ—I hope my kids don’t turn out like that.”

The place also has its share of BK fuckery: it’s on a windswept corner and trash tends to accumulate and make the steps look like a particularly clean corner of a city landfill. People let their dogs shit in the grass sometimes (these people should be forced to face a firing squad). But even that’s part of the appeal: It ain’t perfect Brooklyn, it’s just Brooklyn.

WHAT TO BRING: 

Something to eat. The Islands features the best Jamaican food in New York; you can see its hole in the wall front door from the steps of the museum. Lincoln Station is a newbie in the neighborhood around the corner on Lincoln Place, and serves prepared foods from the chefs at Bar Corvo (whose chefs learned their trade at Park Slope Italian mainstay Al Di La).

ONLY REGULARS KNOW: 

Nobody’s gonna kick you out for jumping the metal barriers and frolicking in the fountains. When the new entrance first opened, there was no fence around the over two dozen computer-programmed water spouts. Then some actuarial at the museum’s insurance company (full disclosure: I have no confirmation that this actually happened, but I’m pretty sure this is how it went down) realized that an unsuspecting waddling toddler might be launched twenty feet in the air if they stepped over one of the fountains as it shot off, and had the museum install a guard rail. But, like I said, everybody ignores that shit, so jump right in (although it could indeed send an 18-month-old into orbit, so be careful).

THE UNSPOKEN RULES: 

This isn’t unspoken, it’s actually elucidated very clearly on the museum signage: There are no drugs or alcohol on the site. Which is to say, not only is it forbidden by law, I’ve actually never seen or smelt illicit booze or weed (which is saying something for that hood, and the greater Tri-State Area in general). Far be it for me to frown on that sort of thing (really, really far, in fact), but it’s best to keep the pre-partying elsewhere. There’s beer and wine sold in the museum, and the other stuff can get handled nearby (I know where, you have to promise to share though).

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Tags: my-spot, brooklyn-museum, museums, nyc, brooklyn
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