Little Poland in Brooklyn

"Little Poland"

in Brooklyn is

the second largest

Polish community

in the USA 

Located in the Northern part of Brooklyn, Greenpoint is a neighbourhood that concentrates the second largest Polish and Polish-American community after Chicago. The heart of “Little Poland” is  between the Metro stations Nassau Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, on the G Line. Immigrants from Poland established homes in the area during the 1890's. At this time, many of them were working in the Havermayer sugar plant and in the American Hemp Rope manufacturing company. In 1896, the first Polish church Saint Stanislaw Kostka was built, followed by St. Cyril and Methodius in 1918.

Today, “Little Poland” boasts more than 30,000 Polish migrants and people of Polish descent. Migrants came in several waves: 1890’s, 1930’s, 1950’s and early 1980’s.  In the early 60’s the Polish-speaking community reached a peak with 80% of the local population. But since 2010, this community has reportedly lost half its population. Families have moved to affordable neighbourhoods. However, they come back to Greenpoint for shopping, services and cultural activities. Since 2010,  many young adults have gone back to Poland where job opportunities are reflecting a strong growth. Elderly people are also moving back to Poland to enjoy pensions with advantageous exchange rates. According to the statistics provided by the US Census Bureau, the population of Polish-born immigrants living in New York has declined from 61,546 in 2000 to 55,581 in 2010.

My walks across the streets of Greenpoint were a pure delight. “Little Poland” is an amazing miniature of what would be a small Polish town in  a New England environment. In almost every shops andcafés, people were speaking Polish. I visited this area in December 2016 and the bliss of Christmas added a fairy touch . Christmas time is celebrated everywhere with a palpable excitement. Along Manhattan Avenue, the main street connecting the   metro stations Nassau and Greenpoint, all the shops are  lavishly decorated. In   lateral streets, family houses are competing with festive lights and holiday wreaths. Far from the gloomy environment of New York suburbs, "Little Poland" is a miracle.

1.        Polski Smak

"Little Poland" is known for the quality of the sausages produced in the local "meat market" shops. Is this a legacy from the Polish experience of the meat industry in Chicago? The impressive number of butcher shops and delis confirms that customers come here from all over the Big Apple area. There is not one single  Polish product that cannot be found here. This small town is dotted with bakeries, groceries (including Biedronka), gardening markets, dairy stores, you name it. Everything is Polish: pharmacies, hair salons, travel agencies,  newsstands, medical offices, funeral services.

2.     Polish Fooding

 During my 3-day stay in “Little Poland”, it was not possible to test and taste all the fooding opportunities nearby. Here is the list of the places I visited, either for a meal (Karczma, Krolewskie Jadlo, Christina’s) or for a tea (Café Riviera, Polka Dot, Old Poland Bakery). I will visit the Polish & Slavic Center Cafeteria next time with  much interest: this place proposes  food with a bar mleczny inspiration. In all these restaurants, a very welcoming staff serves traditional Polish food that tastes as in Poland. I insist on this point because “Polski smak” is quite hard to reproduce in Paris, London or Brussels that are my usual destinations.   Considering  the local profile of  clients, the    "polskość" of these restauraurants cannot be questioned.

I have a special interest for Kolewskie Jadlo. This restaurant deserves its name (Royal Food) in all aspects: remarkable decoration, kindness of the staff, quality of the food, portions size.   The menu proposes all the best of Polish gastronomy. For a very affordable price, Krolewskie Jadlo serves huge main plates that always come with a side. The Polish Plate is a good deal ($14.00) with stuffed cabbage, pierogies, potato pancakes, sausage, veggies and a side of salad. In this amazing restaurant, I discovered the Koryto Polski, a giant meal served in some kind of mini wooden boat. 4 people together would not finish this mountain of sausages of all sorts, pierogies, baked hocks, bacon, stuffed cabbage, grilled pork shoulder and grilled chicken. Suggestion to the managing team: more lighting in the evening would make the atmosphere even better.

Another recommended restaurant is Karczma (The Inn). The decoration suggests the bar of a Western movie but the menu is definitely Polish. Karczma has a wide variety of Polish dishes, maybe the largest in “Little Poland”.      The żurek (white borsch) is served in a bread cup with a side of mash potatoes and bacon. Peasant style lard, the local version of smalec śląski, is presented on a wooden cutting board with brown bread and pickles, as it would be in Opole. Karczma proposes big plates of mixed dishes for 2 or 3 gourmets. This is the opportunity to discover the best of cuisine tradition: several kind of kiełbasa (sausages), pierogis (dumplings), flaki (tripe stew), gołąbki (stuffed cabbage) and placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes). Every big plate is served with chrzan (horseradish). The żurek soup is so thick and  creamy that I couldn’t order anything else (all right, I also ate the bread cup). Suggestion to the managing team: make the wooden benches more comfortable with cushions.

3.      Community Churches

In 1896, the first Polish church Saint Stanislaus Kostka (Św. Stanisława Kostki) was built, completed by a beautiful and impressive new building in 1903. Inspired by the Gothic style, this church is located at the corner of Driggs av. and Humboldt st. Just around the corner in the little garden of the rectory, the statues of Pope Johan Paul II and Our Lady of Fatima are always flowered. The interior of the church is impressively magnificent but welcoming.                             I have never seen this Church empty.

The church St. Cyril and Methodius is more recent (1918) by Brooklyn standards. The small proportions and the peaceful ambience of this church are an invitation to prayer or meditation. At Sunset, the light from the stained glass windows is a magical moment.

The Polish National Catholic Church of the Resurection was consecrated in 1922. The founders chose the word "Resurrection" in reference to the liberation of Poland after 123 years of partition and loss of sovereignty. From the very beginning, this parish has been very active. The memory of the early years reports "the Women Adoration Society, the “White Eagle” Choir, the Defenders of the National Church Society, the “Free Poland” Theatre, The Józef Piłsudski Branch of the Polish National Union (Branch 153), the Young Men’s Resurrection Society, and the G. Narutowicz School which provided evening classes for children". The building looks like a New England village Church with white shingle walls.

In "Little Poland", there are several other Polish-speaking places of worship, including the First Polish Baptist Church and the United  Methodist Church of The Redeemer.

4.       Cultural Polonia

In "Little Poland", people from the Polonia (Poles and American-Polish residents)  like to get together and they have many opportunities to do so.

Warsaw, the "Polish National Home" is one of the most impressive cultural club I have ever seen. Located at the corner of Driggs av. and Eckford st., the building is an architectural fantasy inspired by Polish Renaissance. Inside, several rooms can host concerts and special events. A very welcoming team is working there. The Bistro proposes classic Polish dishes. I recommend the "Warsaw Special" that combines pierogies, kielbasa, bigos, and ogórki kiszone.   While you confront your (huge) plate, take a little time to admire the wall painting. This is a wonderful journey though the historical cities of Poland. 

One of my favourite place in Little Poland is the Polonia bookstore. This shop is some kind of unofficial cultural center where you can also find  large selection of beautiful handcraft and folk art from Poland. The History section is finely stocked. There, I found the 4 volumes of "Polskie Dekady" (Podsieldlik-Ranowski i Spolka). The shopkeeper suggested the reading of  "Jak to naprawdę było?"  and she was right. I really enjoyed this very interesting (and easy to read) autobiography about living in Poland during the 80's. 

A visit of “Little Poland” is also the opportunity to discover street art. Two murals are worth a little of your time. The most impressive is the tribute to the Warsaw Uprising on Driggs Avenue, next to the Warsaw “National Polish Home”. This work was painted in 2014 by Rafał Pisarczyk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Polish heroism and sacrifice in 1944. This initiative was funded by the Pangea Network and the Polish Army Veterans Association of America.

On Manhattan Avenue (at 1043) three mysterious faces are watching you. They are a silent invitation to stop and meditate. The combination of 3-D drawing with soft colours make them very peaceful and friendly. These paintings are a creation of Alex Cook. On Greenpoint av. (betwwen Franklyn and Manhattan av.), a mural is dedicated to the Polish-American friendship. This patriotic mural was created by Paula Kaczmarczyk with the support of polish-speaking Radio Rampa.

Last but not least, I suggest a visit to Psychic Wróżka. In her  candy box salon, Maria examines your hands ($5 each) and tells about you. Her analyse is quite accurate. Her advises are  valuable. An  amazing self-introspecting experience.

5.                 Bargain Hunt

"Little Poland" is a great area for antics and second-hand shops. I love Bagatelle Art, a gallery with a Mittleuropa atmosphere. In addition to beautiful and affordable fantasy jewellery, the shop sells all kind of nice decorative trinkets. The collection of Polish sabres (real szabla and fake swords) is impressive. Charming silvers pill boxes and toilet items are very tempting. So are the unusual crystal glasses displayed on the massive console.

A visit to The Thing is worth your time. Words are missing to describe this place: flea-market, thrift-store, junk shop. There is basically nothing you cannot find there. In  the basement, lovers of vinyl records will find a collection that ranges from 30's to the late 80's. Books are everywhere. Vintage clothes come from decades. Kitchenware items were used before the war. The Thing invites to walk along the lost paths of our memories. Here, I found “The Avenger” insider guide: all the 161 original TV episodes with stories and pictures. Everything I need to know about the Cybernauts (1965) and Thingumajig (1969). Digging hard to find stuff is a pleasure but considering the layer of dust that covers everything, gloves are highly recommended.

Can you imagine a shop that would sell angling equipment and antics? The Dream Fishing Tackle makes this unlikely junction possible. The motto is “always a fish ahead” and the outcome is quite successful. In this welcoming shop mówimy polski which isn’t a surprise. Curios are everywhere: Stuffed fox, knight's helmet, fake Tiffany lamps, real giant German nutcrackers, and Bohemian crystals to name a few. Of course, I did not come back with  empty hands. From this fairy shop, I got a vintage Christmas jewellery from the 50’s. 

You can also find bargain hunt opportunities in restaurants with a   shopping area. During the weekend, Brooklyn Bazaar is one of them. This  "First Annual Oddities Flea Market" as organized there. Last but not least, every Sunday from 10am to 2.30pm,  the parish of Saint Stanislaus Kostka welcomes visitors to the "Pchli Targ" (flea market). This is a fundraising initiative supported by all the community. New stuffs are proposed every week. Home-made cakes are delicious and the sernik tastes like ciasto Babci (Grandma cooking).

FR - Situé dans la partie nord de Brooklyn, Greenpoint est un quartier qui concentre la deuxième plus grande communauté polonaise et polonaise-américaine après Chicago. Le cœur "Little Poland" est situé entre les stations de métro "Nassau Avenue et Greenpoint Avenue, sur la Ligne G. Les immigrés se sont établis dans ce quartier au cours des années 1890. A cette époque, beaucoup d'entre eux travaillaient dans l’usine de sucre Havermayer et la fabrique American Hemp Rope.  En 1896, la première église polonaise Saint Stanislaw Kostka a ét construite, suivie par l’église Saint Cyrille et Méthode en 1918.

Aujourd'hui, "Little Poland" compte plus de 30 000 immigrants polonais et Americains d'ascendance polonaise. Les migrants sont venus en plusieurs vagues: 1890, 1930, 1950 et début des années 1980. Dans les années 60, la communauté polonaise a atteint un sommet en représentant plus de 80% de la population locale. Mais depuis 2010, cette communauté aurait perdu la moitié de sa population. De nombreux jeunes adultes sont retournés en Pologne où les possibilités d'emploi reflètent une forte croissance. Les personnes âgées partent aussi pour profiter d'une vie meilleure en Pologne avec le bénéfice du taux de change. Chaque année, des familles déménagent dans des quartiers abordables. Toutefois, elles reviennent volontiers à Greenpoint pour leurs achats, leurs services et leurs activités culturelles. Selon les statistiques de l’US Census Bureau, la population des immigrants polonais vivant à New York est passée de 61 546 en 2000 à 55 581 en 2010.

Mes promenades à travers les rues de Greenpoint ont été un véritable plaisir. "Little Poland" est une miniature étonnante de ce que serait une petite ville polonaise dans un décor de la Nouvelle-Angleterre. Dans presque tous les magasins et dans tous les cafés, les gens parlent polonais. J'ai visité ce quartier en décembre 2016 alors que l’ambiance des préparatifs de Noël ajoutait une touche féerique à toutes les rues.

©Ksiazyk 2015