“It still smells the same, oh my God — like sausage and cigarettes,” said Dagmara Dominczyk. After two years away from her neighborhood of nearly a decade, the actress had returned to Greenpoint to read from her new novel, “The Lullaby of Polish Girls.”
“It’s gotten a lot more American,” she told Bedford + Bowery before her reading earlier this month at Word on Franklin Street, where her husband, actor Patrick Wilson, and other family members sat in the front row. “There are more stores on Manhattan Avenue. There are a lot more hipsters, but that’s bound to happen. I don’t judge that. But it still feels the same.” Ms. Dominczyk most recently starred in “The Immigrant” alongside Jeremy Renner and Joaquin Phoenix and also appeared in the film “Higher Ground.”
Greenpoint plays a role in her book, based on many of her own experiences emigrating from Poland. In 1983, when Dominczyk was seven years old, she and her family moved from her birthplace of Kielce to New York as political refugees. Her father, Mirosław, had been jailed for his role in Poland’s Solidarity movement, led by Lech Wałęsa. They moved to the Glenwood Houses in East Flatbush when she was eight, and she lived there for 11 or 12 years.
Summers were spent in Poland, like the character that’s loosely based on her. “She doesn’t quite feel American enough in America, or Polish enough in Poland,” Dominczyk said of Anna. “But as an adolescent I think she loved it because she felt special in both places – similarly to myself.”
Dominczyk attended LaGuardia Arts high school and Carnegie Mellon University. When she got her first break in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” she and her sister Marika (who starred in “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin” and is married to actor Scott Foley) moved into a little brick building on Lorimer Street.
“As soon as I got financially emancipated, I decided the only place I wanted to go was Greenpoint, to eat the food, go to the księgarnia, the dyskoteki. It wasn’t even that hip back then,” she said. Among their favorite spots was Club Europa. “At age 21, 22, 23, every Saturday, we were in Club Europa, dancing and meeting guys.”
Their second apartment was also on Lorimer, above Pete’s Candy Store, just past McCarren Park. She later lived in an apartment on Leonard Street, and another on the corner of Engert and Manhattan Avenues, where she bought a pad with her husband. “He moved from L.A. to Greenpoint for me,” she laughed.
“I loved being amongst my people, even though Polish people from Warsaw are different from Polish people from Kielce, and Polish people from Greenpoint,” she said.
The local bookstores have been among her favorite hangouts. Word became a ritual stop, and she became close with the store’s owner, Christine Onorati. There were also the Polish bookstores, or księgarnie, she came to cherish. “There’s the księgarnia next to Lomzynianka restaurant. There’s one past McGuinness Boulevard on the corner that I go to get books for my mom and my sons, the elementarz and kolorowanki,” she said.For dishes like kotlet schabowy (a breaded, pork cutlet) and żurek (a sour rye soup with sausage, ham, or bacon), she went to restaurants like Relax, Polonia – “it’s like a cafeteria but I love it” – and Karczma, “a fancy one.” And a Pole is never without a good butcher. “I would go to Steve’s Meat Market on Nassau Avenue. They would give my kid a little piece of kabanos,” she said.
Two years ago, Dominczyk and her husband left Greenpoint for Montclair, N.J. Though initially reluctant to leave the neighborhood, she soon came around. “The first house I saw, I started crying. I wanted to live there and give that to my boys,” she said. “I sent the real estate profile to my babcia and she was like, To jest jak dom z ‘Dynasty.’ ‘It’s like a house from ‘Dynasty.’ It’s totally not, but to my family, it was the American dream.”
Dominczyk is now working on her second novel.