“You have to see this,” my friend texted me a couple weeks back. “This girl I met on Tinder, she has her own reality show.”
When I got around to watching The Bedford Stop, I found myself glued to my laptop screen unable to tear my eyes away from this group of young women who simply had to be joking. Not only did they fallaciously declare that they moved to Williamsburg “to pursue their dreams” and to “avoid reality,” but the YouTube show seems to perfectly capture post-gentrification New Williamsburg: the overwhelming whiteness of it all, omnipresent Ikea furniture, blasé consumerism, vocal fry, and above all, brunch.
Yesterday, after Free Williamsburg noticed The Bedford Stop and called it the epitome of “all your Williamsburg nightmares,” it swept across the internet, instantly becoming the new Catey Shaw. Clearly, there was truth in something that one of the show’s exceedingly blonde centerpieces told me during my exclusive interview with co-stars Olena Yatsyuk and Alex Sosner: “People are dying to see what we live and what we do,” Alex said.
Obviously they’re going to brunch. “Do you wanna do, uh, Cafe Colette?” Sarah’s voice echoes from the other side.
“Yeah, I was gonna stay Teddy’s but I feel like we always go there,” Alex grumbles. “Yeah, that sounds good– let’s definitely, let’s do Cafe Colette. I can just work out later or something.” The Bedford Stop nails the holy trifecta of everything we’ve come to hate about Williamsburg: conspicuous consumption, lack of taste and, above all, excessive dullness.
It should be pointed out that nothing actually happens on this show.
When I first reached out to The Bedford Stop via its website, Mikey Ortiz identified himself as the guy who “produces/shoots/edits the show” and agreed to meet with me last week. There were only two possibilities I could foresee: the show is either impressive satire or it’s 100 percent earnest. I imagined some puffy 30-something Thrillist type, maybe a finance bro with too much money. Or more likely, I figured these girls had paid a producer and camera crew a butt-ton of money to bite down on a chunk of wood while filming them do their worst.
Oh, boy, was I wrong. Here was this 25-year-old kid, sneaking out of his job to come meet me at a coffee shop. “I do other projects on the weekend just for fun, Bedford Stop is just one of them,” he said. “I met these girls, we were at brunch one day and I was like, ‘You guys talk like a reality show, you remind me of one.'”
“I was a fan of Laguna Beach and The Hills or whatever,” Olena told me later on. “I don’t even know, I’m just a ridiculous person, so it’s very hard for me to find people to get along with. When I was growing up I was like, ‘Oh my god, I should be on a reality show,’ like, as a joke, and then when I met Mikey I was like, ‘You should film us.’”
But what about the camera crew? Nope. Mikey shoots, edits, and conceived of the whole thing by himself. Any other investors? Nah. Mikey’s it. Seriously.
“I’ve always been shooting unscripted,” he explained. The format came naturally to Mikey. After dropping out of film school in Orlando, he spent years going on tour with a variety of radio rock bands. While touring with 30 Seconds to Mars, he recalled meeting Jared Leto who, according to Mikey, told him: “Just keep shooting, Mikey.”
He took Leto’s advice. Once he convinced the girls, Mikey said it came easy. “I told them, ‘Just be yourselves,'” he recalled. “And they were really good at it, especially Alex and Olena.”
But why Williamsburg? Mikey lives in Bushwick, after all. “I’ve only lived [in the city for] three years, but I’m already jaded by how many things there are to do here and how lucky we are to live here– everyone around America has this, ‘Oh, I wish I lived there,’ type thing,” he explained. “So I kind of wanted to showcase that.”
The biggest question of all, though, is: why these girls? It all started at Union Pool, because where else? Mikey recalled being introduced to Alex, Olena, Melissa Apter, and Sarah (there are a couple more characters on the show, give or take) at what’s the Williamsburg bar that’s been a joke about herpes for time immemorial. “I remember seeing them walk in– this group of girls, all dressed in back, kind of sultry,” he remembered. “To me, I was like, ‘This is a group of characters.’ And we’d do the whole go out, get brunch thing. And then one day at brunch, around Halloween last year, I was like ‘I’m going to start filming you guys.'”
The girls and Mikey had picked the spot, after I requested that it be somewhere they frequented. “I think brunch is kind of, like, a lifestyle for me,” Olena explained. “I like day drinking and going home, taking a nap, and going out again. Eggs Benedict are, like, my life.” (Olena also enjoys taking photos of her brunch meals, applying hazy filters, and uploading them to Instagram.)
“There’s something about it, talking about the night before…” Mikey trailed off. They asked me if I’d ever been to Freehold, a co-working space slash brunch slash bar complete with astroturf, live-action grilling, and the ultimate bro-traction: cornhole. “Don’t go there at night, it’s douchey,” Olena warned me.
For some reason, there was a general disagreement about how they’d all met. The past seemed amorphous, borderless even, as if shifting from one weekend to the next, one pile of herbed potatoes and chili-glazed tofu scrambles to another, lacked definitiveness– having been glazed over by so many bloody marys and sameness. “You just showed up in my life one day,” Alex shot at Mikey, with feigned horror.
“No, I met you at Union Pool the day before!” Mike countered. “It was at brunch.”
“Because in the winter, what else do you do but sit at people’s apartments or have brunch and have too many drinks?” Alex looked at me, laughing as if I’d nod in agreeance.
At one point or another about a year ago, “We were at Berry Park,” Mikey recalled, referring to the notorious Berry Hill rooftop enclave just a few blocks north from where we sat at Cafe Colette. Both girls agreed the show wouldn’t have happened without Mikey. “We were just there,” Alex said. “We thought about the things we needed to do in an episode, but in reality we were just hanging out. Everybody does the things that we do, we’re just a little more loud about it. We are friends with a ridiculous group of people– but I’m sure everyone has that, and that’s why people like this, because it’s relatable. “
Relatable wasn’t the word I was looking for, exactly, but as is often the case in these situations, the girls were instantly sweet and apparently so smitten that by the end of the night they offered: “You could be our friend.” The girls’ banter (and Mikey’s refereeing) at times bordered on charming, if not totally inane. But their little jabs at one another and digressions into stories about hangovers, the Meatball Shop, and dating escapades made it clear they knew each other well.
I wondered if the girls were camera shy– either physically, or when it came to talking about super private stuff– when things first got going. “I’m still camera shy,” Alex admitted. “It’s hard for me, I have to completely not think about it— I’m just having a normal conversation because I’m really, really awkward.” Olena, on the other hand, has experience in front of the camera: in fact, she modeled for Seventeen back when she was a teenager. “I’m an experienced model,” she laughed.
“In my head, I know what I think the majority of Millennials would like to watch these days. Williamsburg is extremely relevant, the things we do are extremely relevant, and why not broadcast that if we have someone who’s willing and has the connections to do it?” Alex said.
I wondered what exactly they meant by Williamsburg being “relevant.” They listed the obvious: Brooklyn in travel guides, Smorgasburg, Roberta’s. Wait… Roberta’s? “And granted, Roberta’s is just the tip of what Williamsburg has to offer,” Alex said. “I mean, you can go buy their pizzas at Whole Foods now, but…”
“We have a J.Crew,” Olena interrupted her.
“Relevant in the fact that we have J.Crew now, Urban Outfitters,” Alex agreed. “It’s relevant in the world now because it’s turned into an extension of Manhattan, which has been the greatest city in the world for years, so now you have an area that’s become so condensed of music, art, culture.”
Mikey stuck with the old Williamsburg-is-artsy explanation. “It’s a very creative neighborhood, and even though it’s becoming more commercial– it’s also cool to see how people outside of it perceive it,” he said.
To be fair, Williamsburg was officially gentrified long before the arrival of The Bedford Stop crew. But I had to ask how they felt about independent shops in the neighborhood turning into chains and prices generally going up everywhere. “I hate it,” Olena said. “Every shop I go to is closing because they can’t afford the rent. Like, Seamless is bad now.”
“I have a different opinion on that,” Alex interrupted. “I love it.”
“Whhhyyyy?” Olena whined.
“Well, I definitely don’t think they should open up a J.Crew or an Apple store here. That’s taking it too far. I’ll be honest, I’m in those stores– and they’re dead,” Alex explained. “But the reason I like it, is that some of those things are actually making business more profitable here, and they’re bringing in tourism, they’re bringing in things to grow where we’re living.”
She clarified that she loves the “mom-and-pop stores” but was convinced, “the local spots” will “keep doing well.” But, she said, variety is something she craves. “I go grocery shopping every week, and I’ll be honest– I would love one high-end specialty store. The fact they’re opening up Whole Foods– I love to cook, and I want an amazing piece of fish. I know that sounds silly, but I think it’s a give and a take. I’m very afraid what’s going to happen in 10 years. If Zara moved here, I would get scared. But the reason why it’s popular, is because of this. People wouldn’t have wanted to be here if it was just run-down old shops.”
Mikey agreed, and compared gentrification to “camping in the woods.” Sometimes, he reasoned, you just want the comforts of home, even if you’re camping. “I think that’s kind of what living in Williamsburg is for a lot of people— when people moved here and there was nothing brand name and everything was mom and pop,” he explained. “But once in a while you like going home and having your mom’s cooking, it’s nice to have something safe. People these days, we just want options for everything.”
Really, though, The Bedford Stop takes place in Williamsburg for very practical reasons– when the show started, at least, all the girls lived here. (Now, Alex said, their friends have spread out– to Greenpoint, Bushwick, and even Bed-Stuy.) Alex had moved from Florida. “I didn’t know a single person when I was moving here,” she recalled. Originally, she lived on the Upper West Side, while Olena lived in Midtown. “And then Melissa found an apartment in Brooklyn– and I was like ‘Ew, I hate it. I will never live there!'”
Clearly, Olena’s conception of Williamsburg has changed. Alex, on the other hand, said she was familiar with Williamsburg from visits to the city before she moved here. “We both moved here when it started getting so popular–” about four or five years ago, she remembered. “I love my apartment, it’s the best apartment. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t live there– except for the price.” She giggled. I asked if the price of her apartment was “doable.” She admitted: “No, not doable.”
Alex, who said her father “works in art,” claimed she’s personally not wealthy. “You’d think we’d make a lot of money, but we don’t,” she said. “But I like the lifestyle that I live, and I’m not going to give that up, so I figure it out.”
Olena seemed a little more adamant that neither she nor her family members are wealthy. “I’m personally not well off, I come from nothing and I’m really not making great money. I’m struggling,” she said. Olena, who works in “fashion bedding,” grew up in New Jersey; she moved to the United States from her hometown of Odessa, Ukraine when she was six. “My dad still lives there, the majority of my family does.” She wouldn’t go into detail about what her father does, but did confirm it’s “shady shit.”
Mikey, who said he dropped out of college in Orlando mostly because he couldn’t afford to pay tuition, was adamant the girls were not trust fund babies with bank accounts to burn. In response to some of yesterday’s posts implying the girls were wealthy (something I was certain of at first) Mikey told me on the phone that night: “The whole ‘white girl privilege’ thing, I mean they all work jobs. I know that’s something that wasn’t as obvious when you watch the show, because I didn’t go film them at their jobs. I had a scene in the pilot where they talk about their jobs and their careers, but we cut it out because we thought that conversation was dragging on too long and the whole theme of the episode was about Tinder dating.”
Then again, the term “broke” is kind of relative in a city as expensive as this one. “No, I’m broke– but that’s OK, I’m chic-broke,” Olena said. “I ate leftovers today from the Meatball Shop [two days ago]– I just eat brunch and then I don’t eat dinner,” Olena advised. “Just get drunk again and pass out.”
Mikey laughed. “Hashtag credit card debt!”
“Hashtag fuck it, hashtag YOLO,” Olena echoed.
Alex chimed in: “I’m not gonna lie, we do somewhat extravagant things, but we’re all extremely— I would never say any of us are spoiled, but we really take advantage of what we’re offered here. There are so many things that the world is interested to see, so someone needs to show them. We can do it.”