You may recognize her as Maria Ruiz, the thick-skinned inmate who leads a prison riot on Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black. But in real life, Jessica Pimentel spends her weekends rocking out in her heavy metal band, Alekhine’s Gun, recording violin tracks for a Swedish goth band called Valhall or enjoying time in her hometown, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
“I think it’s the great place in New York,” Pimentel says of her Brooklyn roots. “Growing up, Cobble Hill was super diverse. You had millionaires and people on assisted living on the same block. My friends were a melting pot of Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Irish, Polish and plain old American–we had it all.” Pimentel reminisces about how the diversity in the neighborhood kids stretched beyond their heritage. “You had metalheads, skater kids, preps and nerds all getting together. It was all good as long as you knew where the corner store was,” she explains.
Pimentel’s childhood was not only full of diversity within her social circle, she had a range of interests herself. “I’ve always been on stage in one form or another. I played violin for many years at an elite level, until I reached high school where I attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts,” she says. After suffering from hand injury from playing violin so heavily, Pimentel had to make the decision to either leave LaGuardia or join another program. She was accepted into the drama program and continued on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “I was devastated to have to stop playing violin,” she says of the pivotal moment in her life. “But, there’s something to be said about doors opening–one door closes and a window opens. Or something!”
Another window that has opened for Pimentel is her gig as the frontman for her heavy death-metal group Alekhine’s Gun. “There is something very honest and raw about metal music. The intense energy and musicianship behind the genre is was attracted me to it,” she says of her love of metal. “Growing up, I’d go to a show at CBGB in New York City and you could meet your idol and shake their hand. The metal community has always been intimate and personal.”
Fast forward a few years, and Pimentel has become a breakout star on the hit series Orange Is the New Black as Maria Ruiz. The show returns to Netflix on June 9 and is sure to keep viewers binge-watching for several hours. “You could be best friends with someone in episode one and try to stab them in episode two,” Pimentel says of the twists. “You’re like, ‘How did that happen?’ and it’s just because, ‘That’s life.’”
Below, find some of Pimentel’s favorite spots in her beloved hometown of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Cup of Joe: Cobble Hill Coffee Shop. When I really need to take a load off and have a cup o’ joe, I find myself there. It’s not fancy. It’s about as old school as it gets. A great diner where you can get all the neighborhood happenings and run into the local characters. Great traditional comfort food and cozy atmosphere. No frills, No problem. Fuggedaboudit.
Power Lunch: Hometown BBQ. This place is ridiculously good at what they do—quite possibly the best in all of NYC. You may find a line wrapping outside and around the block if you go on a weekend, but if you get there around lunch time on a weekday, you may be lucky enough have a table to yourself and the first pick of that day’s bounty. Words cannot do the food justice. It’s something you need to experience first hand. And fret not if you do not eat meat. Their mac and cheese, coleslaw, potato salad, whiskey sour pickles, cornbread, sauces and dessert are all vegetarian and are good enough to make you cry.
Cocktail Hour: Brooklyn Social. Classic old school New York vibes, it reflects a time in the area where people only went out to their local social clubs of which you had to be a member. It’s where I go to unwind and, ironically, be anti social. No fear, most people who go there go to do the same, whether it’s to read a book, decompress, listen to some opera, classic salsa, old ska or mellow Americana, work on a new mathematical theory or chat with friend, this place always hits the spot. Although they only have a few beers on tap they have quite a list of concoctions that will wet your whistle. The most popular go-to is the Matt’s Ginger Old Fashioned. A great drink with a little spicy twist.
Retail Therapy: Mandala Tibetan Store (the main store is in Manhattan but there are several locations in Brooklyn). They specialize in Tibetan Buddhist supplies and artwork. But they also carry a wide array of beautiful handmade clothing, bags, accessories, incense, jewelry, prayer beads,statues, books and music. I try to stop in there regularly to pick up my supply of Tara healing incense for friends and family, but end up leaving with much more than I planned on. This is my go-to shop for small and meaningful gifts. And I highly suggest you check out one of the three New York shops for unusual, exotic, beautiful objects in every price range. Don’t forget to say Tashi Delek (hello)!
Field Trip: Green-Wood Cemetery. Sounds morbid, I know, but Green-Wood is one of the most important National Historic Landmarks in the country. Going back to 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn was fought on land that is now a part of Green-Wood. It was the first battle of the American Revolution to be waged after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the 1800s it was not just a cemetery, but a destination for families to enjoy “a day in country.” A beautifully designed lush playground with amazing landscaping and architecture, it was a tourist attraction second to Niagara Falls. It was so popular it inspired a competition to design a park in that other city, Manhattan (Brooklyn was its own city until 1898), and thus Central Park was born. 478 acres to get lost in. Great spots to relax, take photos and take trolley tours!
Date Night: Bar Tabac. A quaint french bistro and one of our favorite go-to spots. They offer a great menu of French and American classics and always have amazing specials. This place is great for lunch and brunch and full of families in the day, but at night you’ll get some live music from a small band and a possibly move the tables over for a home style dance party on the right night. Give Les Moules Frites in white wine sauce a try and be prepared to dunk that fresh bread.
Also, The Good Fork. If you’re up for an adventure to far and mysterious Red Hook, this would be the place for a romantic rendezvous. It’s like stepping back in time a little. There is a cozy and romantic vibe with a cute kitschy yard. This place has some of the best food in town. A Korean and American fusion, there is always something new popping up on the menu. The staples that have not changed are always made to perfection—and I have tried every one. Give the dumplings a try, or basically just point to anything on the entree side and know it will be good.
Don’t Miss: The Brooklyn Promenade / Brooklyn Bridge Park. Some of my greatest childhood memories were sitting here at this iconic destination in Brooklyn. Not only is the view incredible but you’ll get to walk through the beautiful historic district of Brooklyn Heights to get there. If you want a closer view and a little more action Brooklyn Bridge park has a lot… A WHOLE lot of activities and fun.
Also, Coney Island/Luna Park. If you want to travel off the beaten path and get some real New York flavor and culture. One of the most famous amusement parks ever made on one of the most fun-loving party beaches on earth. There are new and old rides and games as well as great piers and food. It’s also right near the aquarium if things get too hot, and there is a huge concert venue, the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball stadium and fireworks every Friday night. You must get a Nathan’s hot dog, a Piragua (shaved ice) and try to shoot the freak after a spin on the Wonder Wheel.
Hidden Gem: Lift / Next Level Floats. This is the place to hit if you want to reach total relaxation and get away from the hubbub of the city that never sleeps. It is a sanctuary of sensory deprivation tanks made for major alone time. Tanks filled with 1,000 pounds of epsom salt make you, in a sense, weightless as you float in tranquility. you can choose a closed pod or a flotation “room” tank. Lights and music optional. Peace and quiet mandatory.