With the opening of Gotham Market in Fort Greene this weekend, Brooklyn gained yet another fancy food market, adding to our city’s ever-growing assortment of what are essentially upscale mall food courts catering toward fresh-obsessed gastrodorks, stoner-bro cooks, hipster foodies with mad money to blow on artisanal popsicles, and vulnerable hangover zombies. Gotham Market, for example, swaps out Sbarro for Apizza Regionale, serving brick oven pizza, “locally-sourced Italian fare,” and charcuterie. For once, this isn’t just another outpost for the Smorgasburg empire– actually, as the ground-floor tenant at The Ashland, one of the new luxury high-rise buildings sprouting all over the “Brooklyn Cultural District,” it is something else entirely.
The food isn’t that out of the ordinary– it’s fairly diverse, but lacking in brighter, lighter foods and with a greater emphasis on heavier, meat-n’-potatoes fare. Grab a $17 brisket sandwich at Mason Jar, serving Southern food and local beers and spirits. Go far-flung with Boqueria, which specializes in Barcelonian eats, or stay comfortably close to home with a New York City classic, the bacon egg n’ cheese from Egg @ the Bird. If you’re more drawn to the bird part of that equation, venture over to Flip Bird, where Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s John Stage aims to perfect the rotisserie clucker.
Food stuffs aside, the space is similar to sister spot Gotham West Market, in Hell’s Kitchen, and differs from Brooklyn’s other fancy food markets. Spots like Smorgasburg and its spin-off Berg’n, the newish Prospect Heights beer hall and switch-up cast of pop-ups, are undeniably classy, and require a pretty hefty wad of cash if you need more than finger-pickins to feel sated. But Gotham Market is on a whole new level. Whereas most Brooklyn markets at least try to look like a place where the everywoman (and everyman, also everybabe) could hang out comfortably, Gotham Market borders on the ostentatious– with glossy wood paneling and enormous mobile-style chandeliers throughout that illuminate the place in a soft, golden glow.
That calming light is necessary amidst an otherwise confusing interplay of midcentury modern, Renaissance accents, exposed brick, and communal seating that feels more like a slicked-down, over-indulgent Vegas-style buffet than anything Brooklyn has ever done. One might expect the place to be dominated by the played-out beardo, woodworking, pocket-watch-carrying, suspenders-and-polished-custom-leather-oxfords quimbo thing that can be summed up as Brooklyn Inc™. It’s an understanding of the borough that is defined by extremely simplistic terms, as a monolithic, hipster wonderland, and a way to explain why the French say, “C’est Brooklyn.” But, aside from an enormous mural under the words “MASON JAR” and an old-timey drawing of a pig and his designated delicious parts, there are few examples of this here.
Instead, Gotham Market does the whole cultural nullification in a totally different, most watered-down way: oversized everything makes the place feel like a super-sized, Mall of America-style food court, only the fancy once that’s cordoned off for VIP shoppers. And even though the vendors have real restaurant versions of themselves, they manage to materialize here in joyless airport form. These aesthetic choices wouldn’t really matter except for the inescapable fact that this is Fort Greene. There are few, if any, nods to neighborhood’s rich culture, and more specifically, its vibrant black community (that was there long before gentrification) which continues to attract leading black intellectuals, as well as artists, musicians, and comics of all backgrounds.
On one level, the blandification of Gotham Market is not surprising, since developers and corporations are fully aware of what they can do to rake in the cash (again, they’ve done it before at Gotham West Market). And unless I’m totally off, The Ashland is definitely here to make money, what with 304 market-rate units, with studios starting at $2,600 and three-bedrooms running upwards of $7,500 (plus 282 affordable units).
True, luxury housing can feel quite vacuous, but Gotham Market does not exist in a vacuum. Actually, the city has invested $100 million into the Brooklyn Cultural District, which covers an area that is already very much the opposite of a gaping hole, and has some heavy-hitting institutions like Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Brooklyn Public Library, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. The Bloomberg administration spearheaded the program, and supporters say that mainlining money into this vibrant “cultural hub” both facilitates the arts and protects existing culture. I mean, the plan includes affordable housing. But critics worry that cultural districts in general can bring about gentrification or push existing culture into easily digestible, cookie-cutter shaped sweets.
It’s also kind of strange that only one Brooklyn-born establishment is included in the lineup, and what’s more the restaurant is only there on a temporary basis as the four-month occupant of the market’s rotating pop-up slot. We spoke with the two owners of The Crabby Shack who said they were excited about the “neighborhood incubation program,” and hoped it would bring them greater visibility and access to an audience that probably hasn’t even heard of Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights’ bustling (and rapidly gentrifying) corridor branching off Eastern Parkway. Undeniably, there’ll be a different sort of crowd down at Gotham Market.
Check out the full vendor list with menus here.