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Ridgewood, Queens, Is North America’s Coolest Neighborhood. Please Don’t Ruin It.

Ridgewood, Queens, has been ranked the fourth-coolest neighborhood in the world. It’s lovely seeing all the things that make it special rewarded—as long as hipness doesn’t kill it.

It’s been two days, and thus far my beloved neighborhood—recently named the fourth coolest on the planet, and the coolest neighborhood in North America, by Time Out—seems relatively unsullied by having its fashionability made official. In Ridgewood, Queens, the artfully attired intellectuals lounging in patio chairs outside Topos Bookstore Cafe look genuinely cool, not affectedly cool. I have a favorite car parked on my block: its license plate says FEMBOY. Even on baleful rainy days, the atmosphere is cheery.

Nevertheless, my neighbors seem surprised. Sure, we knew this place was beautiful and low-key, but everyone else was supposed to be too obsessed with Park Slope to figure it out.

But Brooklyn really dropped the ball this year: Ridgewood, an enclave of historic districts, longstanding local businesses and buzzy new eateries bordering Bushwick and Maspeth, was the only New York City neighborhood to make the list.

A resident since 2020, naturally I feel smug, albeit protective. I live on a quiet, tree-lined street. Walking to the subway takes minutes, while getting to Manhattan takes 30, at most. Time Out’s suggested itinerary for the perfect day in Ridgewood is pretty much what I do every single Sunday: hit Julia’s for brunch arepas, wander to Other People’s Clothes to browse the racks and cap things off at Evil Twin Brewery, where I linger over a book for hours with a craft beer.

As soon as the word gets out about something cool, you might as well start the countdown clock until a place as special as Ridgewood gets as overrun and bastardized as, say, Williamsburg. And more urgently, the “cool neighborhood” label is just another indicator of creeping gentrification, wherein out-of-state transplants (hi) colonize the area, drive up rents and open natural-wine stores. How to square this?

Some of my neighbors feel that the ranking reveals subtler factors at play.

Toni Binanti owns Rudy’s Bakery and Cafe, an iconic Ridgewood institution that’s been in business since 1934 and offers favorites like Black Forest Cake, jelly doughnuts and delicious coffee. Binanti, who also serves on the board of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, was already chatting to regulars about the ranking when I asked her about it on Wednesday morning. “I always thought Ridgewood was beautiful,” Binanti said. “That’s why I’ve been here for 42 years.” Is she worried about an influx of new people potentially hopping on the Ridgewood bandwagon?

“I don’t know how I feel about that, because in this neighborhood we’ve seen so many changes but we always stood our ground,” Binanti said.

How did Ridgewood emerge as so resoundingly triumphant in the Time Out survey?

“New York City has so many wonderful neighborhoods that it’s always hard to choose, but in this case, Ridgewood was a standout,” Shaye Weaver, Editor of Time Out New York, told The Daily Beast. “It might not be as “trendy” as somewhere like Williamsburg (which has had its time in the sun), but it has a fantastic array of great restaurants like The Acre, Julia’s, Porcelain, Café Plein Air and Rolo’s, stellar nightlife and drinking options from Nowadays and Trans Pecos to Ridgewood Ale House, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery and Gottscheer Hall.

“It may not be the most obvious choice—even a controversial one—but we believe it demands recognition for its cool, laid-back charm.”

— Shaye Weaver

“The shopping is good, too—OPC Buy Sell Trade, Forever Vintage, Topos Bookstore and Tiny Arts Supply are must-visits. Even cooler, as it changes with the times, it still protects its history with 10 historic districts, one of which includes the oldest surviving stone-built Dutch colonial house and it’s close to the Ridgewood Reservoir, which has great walking and biking paths. Simply put, it has everything. It may not be the most obvious choice—even a controversial one—but we believe it demands recognition for its cool, laid-back charm.”

What we now know as Ridgewood originally began to take shape when it settled by Dutch farmers in the 18th century, but the origins of its name are disputed—some say English arrivals named the area Ridgewood in reference to the land’s rolling hills, while others point to its proximity to the Ridge Road (now Wyckoff Avenue) as evidence of its namesake.

As roads and train routes began to take shape in the 19th century, so too did housing for German immigrants working in the knitting factories that sprung up around the same time. Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants soon followed after World War I.

Throughout its history, Ridgewood has logged several past lives. After the blackout of July 1977 led to looting in Bushwick, “Ridgewood has only five years left to go” became a common refrain.

By 1994, Ridgewood had become known as the “country’s knitting capital,” and by the end of the 1990s the Brooklyn-Queens border was home to 500 factories manufacturing yarn, sweaters, needles, and dyes.

But globalization and outsourcing eventually killed 200,000 jobs and dealt a huge blow to the working-class community that included, and still includes, immigrants from Germany, El Salvador, Nepal and Italy. As of 2019, 35.6 percent of Ridgewood/Maspeth’s 165,895 residents identified as Hispanic.

As working-class residents struggled to stay afloat, certain powerful stakeholders have cultivated upwardly mobile visions of Ridgewood for decades: Paul Kerzner, a lifelong Ridgewood resident and President of Kerzner Realty, “predicted Ridgewood would be Queens’s answer to fashionable Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights,” in a 1983 New York Times article.

Today, Valkyrie Realty co-founder Kermit Westergaard owns seven buildings in Ridgewood that house newer arrivals like Foret Wines, Porcelain and Rolo’s, the upscale-cozy restaurant launched by Gramercy Tavern veterans that recently earned a rave review from Pete Wells.

To no one’s shock, my rent went up this year by over 15 percent (and the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the area reportedly went up 42 percent in the last year!) but the perks are too worth it to consider moving: what would I do without Norma’s Corner Shoppe and their gourmet breakfast sandwiches? “I think it’s an amazing neighborhood,”

Austria, a Norma’s employee, shouted over the din of the morning rush. “We have some crazy drivers, and we could use more programming for kids, but the restaurants are great.”

Aside from chess moves by powerful developers, what really put an accelerant in Ridgewood’s journey to cool status may have been the pandemic.

“I think that Ridgewood attracted us because we could take the risk. Here, things were blossoming.”

— Jackie, owner of Plein Air

“Before the pandemic, if you were looking to open up a business, you didn’t have any options, especially for small business owners,” Jackie, the owner of the Southern France-inspired Plein Air neighborhood bar in Ridgewood, told The Daily Beast (she requested that her last name not be used). “I think that Ridgewood attracted us because we could take the risk. Here, things were blossoming.”

Generally, it feels as if the neighborhood is taking its new mantle in its stride—proud, for sure, but—as anyone who lives here would hope—not swept up in the hype.

“My mom was born three blocks from here in 1953, and that always has been something interesting about the Rolo’s project for me,” Tony Milici, bar manager at Rolo’s, told The Daily Beast. “I spent a lot of time in Charleston, which went through a similar thing: it was globally ranked as one of the best and coolest neighborhoods for three or four years running. All it really did was create more conversation.”

If anything, Milici said, Ridgewood’s new ranking “will push folks’ buttons who have lived here for a while.”

Source: The Daily Beast