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15 Years Of Williamsburg

Musician Howard Fishman talks about New Orleans jazz and reveals his favorite neighborhood spots.

Once upon a time, Williamsburg was just another Brooklyn neighborhood filled with bodegas, Polish diners and the occasional performer on the subway platform.

And if you were at the Bedford L stop in 1997, there’s a chance you would have encountered Howard Fishman, a singer and guitarist known for New Orleans jazz-inspired music, performing in that very station. “I’ve been in Williamsburg for 15 years now, and the neighborhood has changed so much since I’ve been here,” he explained. “I started playing in the streets of New Orleans; in the mid ’90s, I went down there and was playing in the street. I feel like my music is a combination of the two cities. It has the warmth, hopefully the soul and the heart of New Orleans, and the looseness and improvisation, but I’d like to think it also has some of the grittier, faster, dirtier elements that come from living in New York and living in the fast lane.” Now, Fishman has 10 albums under his belt, counts Lincoln Center amongst the venues he has played and will bring his brass band to Europe this summer.

So, some change can be a good thing. As Fishman explains of his neighborhood: “The food has gotten better, they’re better restaurants to go to, and it’s safer. I’m not one of those guys that’s like, ‘Oh, it ain’t like it used to be.’ It’s not, but it’s different.” In fact, there’s almost too many restaurants, stores and coffee shops these days. Here, Fishman shares his favorite places to hang out.

Music venue:
Radegast Hall. They treat their musicians better than anyone around, and never charge a cover.

Late-night spot:
My bed, with a cup of peppermint tea, a good book and some Chopin or Brahms piano music.

Pete’s Candy Store. Watch out for Dave the bartender, though; he’s kind of a jerk.

Coffee shop:
Since there are at least eight coffee shops on every block here, I feel that I need to transcend the surfeit of choice by making my coffee at home. Mexican espresso roast, very strong, one and a half cups every morning.

Fancy restaurant:
Baci & Abbracci (not really fancy, but they do have white tablecloths)

Casual restaurant:
Bliss (Fighting the bacon fetishists since way back)

Tie: BookThug and Spoonbill & Sugartown

Miscellaneous store:
Mast Brothers

Hair salon:
I’ve gotten a $12 haircut in Greenpoint for most of the 15 years I’ve lived here. Works for me.

Outdoor space:
McCarren Tennis Courts!

Movie theater:

Theater Group:
Banana Bag and Bodice. I’ve been a groupie for years. Check ’em out!

Bedford subway platform musician:
I got my start playing down there—it can be a great place to hear music, especially if you’re not in a rush. I love the guitarist and singers Juan Bautista (in the morning) and Zooga Malaga (usually late at night). Someday I’d love to curate an evening of my favorite subway musicians somewhere, so everyone can hear how amazing these guys are.