Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer

Mini Vaca- Exploring the Brooklyn Navy Yard

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Ever have one of those days when a simple errand leads to the most amazing adventure?  That’s what happened to us yesterday when a trip to drop off boots for repair led to the most amazing journey to The Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Years ago, Bill gave me the amazing gift of a pair of custom made riding boots from E. Vogel & Sons, back in the day when we lived on Spring Street and they were located not too far away on Howard Street, in Soho, NYC.  Well, now that I am “of a certain age,” though the boots still fit, removing them with a boot jack triggers an agonizing hamstring cramp.  It’s time to have rear zippers installed.

Two weeks ago, I trooped to Howard Street to discover they were no longer there, did a Google search and discovered they had relocated to (gasp) Brooklyn, which I consider far out of my orbit.  But Brooklyn is a very cool place and to us, very unexplored so off we went.  Bill discovered that it would be a short train ride from Union Square, then very short Citibike ride there.  At least it looked that way on the subway and Citibike apps.  We got to York St by the F train swiftly and low an behold, a Citibike station right on the corner!  Little did we know that short trip involved a steep uphill on very pot holed cobble stones, then a cross over through lanes of traffic across the entrance to the BQE.  Bill negotiated it fine but though I signaled I was almost completely flattened by a car that, seeing me signal, sped up from behind me, passed me on the left and with horn blaring crossed in front of me at a high rate of speed causing me to slam on the brakes and jump up on the curb in fright.  The worst part of that experience was that it was a commercial vehicle with the cutest picture of a BEAGLE on it.  The nerve!

So we get to the entrance to The Navy Yard which has an impressive front gate and walls all around.  Instead of going in the gates we followed the Citibike map to a station a block away, then proceeded to troop about a mile looking for another entrance to the Yard (Bill is always loathe to 1) follow my advice to change course and 2) ask for directions.)  After what seemed like an eternity we found another gate, got directions (asked by me) from the guard and found Vogels, on the 8th floor of a manufacturing building with the flavor of the old style manufacturing buildings in Soho pre 1985, (with a Citibike station out front!)

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We were greeted by Jack Lynch, who runs the place.

Jack Lynch

Jack Lynch

What a nice guy, no surprise because he lives in Spring Lake, NJ.  Can you imagine his commute?  How he remains such a cheerful fellow is astounding, but he said he has a folding bike and he rides it after taking the high speed ferry from Sandy Hook on clement days.  That would make for 2 daily adventures per day in my book!  Not only did he take very good care and attention to my boots, he gave us a tour of the operation.

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It was fascinating!  He also let us take as many pictures we wanted.  We also picked up 2 bottles of Vogel boot conditioner.  It is their brand new formula and we were the first customers for it.  For anyone looking for boots of a lifetime, you must have a pair made by Vogel’s!

After departing from that amazing place we decided to wander around the yard then wander around Vinegar Hill and Dumbo.  There were all sorts of wonderful light manufacturing businesses in the Yard tucked in among all these amazing imposing structures like towers and conduits and conveyors.

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I got a kick out of a dry cleaning establishment that had beautiful plantings including a very nicely tended little rear yard with bird houses and climbing vines and flowers, all the while next to 2 gasoline pumps.  I don’t know if you can see from the picture but there’s a wedding dress hanging in the van.

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Throughout the complex we kept seeing these metal sculptures that looked like the skeletons of boats.  Eventually we discovered their real use- as bike racks!!!

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Then we happened upon a large new looking building housing Duggal (a company Bill interfaced with for many years when they were both based in Soho, pre-digital photography)  It had wind turbines on the roof!

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Across the street we spied a small charming brick building with corn (!!!) growing next to it.

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We peeked inside and saw all these barrels.  It looked like some sort of distillery so we popped in.  Bill immediately whipped out his camera and marched right in, a practice that always makes me very nervous, I’m always afraid he’ll get punched in the nose.  Usually, I play decoy where I pose somewhere and he takes a picture of whatever is behind me, or I find someone to talk to in a cheerful manner.  This kept him from getting his face ripped off by a woman with very big hair and long lacquered nails when we were in LBI one summer and he was taking pictures of her garden ornaments (I think a Bambi statue and a couple of gnomes, can’t remember.)  I said, “oh I hope you don’t mind, but I love your garden so much I asked my husband to take a picture of it!”  Bomb defused.

Anyway, there was no signage except for a sandwich board listing 3 taxi companies and their phone #’s (hmmm) and a sign that said “Tours” pointing to the second floor, so I headed there.  It turns out the place is The Kings County Distillery, a bourbon distillery!!!  I was greeted by a very nice lady who took us to a counter and proceeded to pour out samples of various types of very fine (and strong!) bourbons, a moonshine and an infused moonshine.  After the tastings I suddenly realized how handy those taxi phone numbers could be!  We bought several bottles of different types and lurched our way down the stairs, out the door, through the gates and off to Vinegar Hill  which was very charming.

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Next we wandered around Dumbo until peckish and thirsty so we stopped and have some wine and charcuterie at Olympia Wine Bar, before heading back to Greenwich Village with our spoils and my empty boot bag.  What a wonderful summer adventure it was!

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Author: Lisa G Westheimer

I am a ceramic and glass artist living and working in West Orange, NJ, USA. I have a masters degree in ceramics from Montclair State University and teach at the Montclair Art Museum, both in Montclair, NJ. Prior to this I was co-owner of "The Manhattan Expedition Inc" and was a NYC Building Code and Zoning Specialist in Manhattan, my main claim to fame as a Loft Conversion Specialist in Soho and Tribeca in the 1980's and 1990's, and a specialist in Landmarks Preservation and Special Places of Assembly, particularly the Fashion Shows in Bryant Park and any weird sort of thing happening in Manhattan worthy of getting thrown out of the Commissioner's office. But mostly I'm a Jersey Girl, born in Rutherford, schooled in a private school in Montclair, did a stint living in Greenwich Village then Soho before fleeing to Llewellyn Park in West Orange, NJ where I learned how to clean and restore stuffed bald eagles!!!! I can mostly be found in my studio or on the campus of The Montclair Art Museum (where I teach) or on the back of my horse Buddy, either in my backyard or at a farm in Sussex County.

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