The Urban Dictionary defines hipsters: “a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”
Wynwood (Miami) and Brooklyn (New York) are courting the same demographic. While the scope is vastly larger in our northern cousin, the vibe is similar and often peppered with like-minded denizens traveling and sharing back and forth between the two points. Brooklyn has exploded; it has been in all the papers, area after area has emerged following young artists trying to stay one step ahead of progress; read higher rents and a dearth of apartments and studio space. Taking over from newly condo and CVS infused Williamsburg, the newest Brooklyn enclave of Bushwick is so very exciting, but landlords have already seen the writing (graffiti?) on the wall and are taking a “why-wait” attitude in contemplating raising studio rates by 40% in some cases with very little notice. Artists fill cheaply acquired factory and warehouse space and when the flash mobs arrive...poof...they are priced out of Dodge. With on spot communication of the modern world, this process from embryo to toddler is moving at an eye-popping rate. Artists might as well live in the moving van. It would save time.
This fast pace has kept the heat on to rise to greater and greater heights of creative vertigo. Brooklyn has upped the ante to such a degree gastronomically, musically, craftily and artistically that it takes my breath away to figure out what sumptuous little handcrafted, hand-raised and hand-marketed bauble, artwork or food item to taste, purchase, watch or experience. I feel like a little kid on too much (organic) sugar at Disney World.
Wynwood is a seriously smaller venue but the hipster meme works under a palm tree as well as the Brooklyn Bridge. It took quite a while to start up the area due to the nasty glitch of hitting an economy ditch just as Tony Goldman bought up all that warehouse property east of I-95 in hopes of jump-starting Miami’s renaissance as he did with SoHo all those years ago. Goldman eventually did a stellar job of renting to galleries; he tossed in an art warehouse and organized a few quality eateries that we all rushed to experience. Goldman’s graffiti-attacked Wynwood Walls concept for Art Basel three years ago was a moment of pure genius. Their latest addition of Nestor Torres Presents Weekly Music Series at the Wynwood Kitchen and Bar is cranking up the volume, adding a much needed sound track to Miami’s chronic chink in our cool vibe armor: the lack of good intimate music venues.
Wandering around Bushwick (Brooklyn), artfully graffitied walls and fences are looking remarkably Wynwood-ish of late.
After the art, you must caffeinate this group with a clean and mean bean.
Panther Coffee hit a nerve and woke up daytime Wynwood in late 2010. Post-Portlandia inhabitants Joel and Leticia Pollock with baby daughter Luciana are the hard working co-owners of this outpost of laptops and high tops. (Note: The couple “met cute” at a coffee convention. Awww.) Both these food and bev people come with impeccable coffee backgrounds (Ristretto and Stumptown). Like most transplants, the Pollocks saw potential for coming to Miami when visiting on another mission while living in Portland. “We saw a lack of third wave coffee bars in the area”, noted Joel. “They started here by supplying other venues with our beans. It feels like a really nice transition” (to Miami from Portland).
Miami has not been on the coffee trending radar, as I suppose we have been happily vibrating on slugs of cafe con leche for decades. The Pollock’s are creating an art form. They once “calculated that it takes approximately 35 people doing each job well, to produce one good batch of coffee” mused Pollock. They spend most of their time with like-minded professional coffee friends and it shows. Panther coffee is no yawn; a friend who was completely ready to declare it all a “meh”, fell off his chair when he deigned to sip my selection and swooned when owner and 20 year roaster veteran, Joel Pollock let him sniff the beans toasting away in his 1927 vintage roaster. The roasting is done in small batches just before the coffee is ground, for maximum freshness, then cone-dripped. Joel roasts the beans til the smell satisfies his well-trained sniffer, which allows for a slightly different nuance to each batch. Panther Coffee is an important touchstone in the making of Wynwood as neighborhood. Bushwick counters with the interestingly named expresso bar called Swallow.
The Pollocks keep an eye out for their NY neighbors also, sending their impeccably roasted Brazilian coffee to the O Cafe on 6th Avenue (NYC) as well as sharing Panther people to train the crew on how to brew a deep and satisfying cuppa, and how to serve gorgeously poured latte art on the top of your drink.
Brooklyn has an art magazine called the Brooklyn Rail. Miami has kicked in with its own version called (wait for it) Miami Rail. Nina Johnson-Milewski is Publisher and Founder, while still maintaining ownership of the terrific five year old Wynwood Gallery Diet.
Husband, artist Daniel Milewski is the man behind Wynwood’s Lester’s Cafe, where you can linger over good coffee, a nosh, glass of wine, local newspapers and more importantly, where thoughts and ideas percolate, salon style.
Miami Rail first entered into Nina Johnson’s consciousness at Lester’s when Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui did a reading, creating a “focused and energetic” discussion. The idea of franchising lead to the birth of the Miami version. The “Rail” name came about because you could read it all in the time it took the “L” train to go from Brooklyn to Manhattan. “The Miami Rail was born out of necessity and support,” explained Johnson, “a critical combination. I'm aiming to create a paper that can fill the void for critical in depth writing about culture in Miami and doing so under the generous auspices of Phong Bui and the Brooklyn Rail, as well as Dennis Scholl and the Knight Foundation.”
Nina believes the biggest difference between Brooklyn and Miami is that “it is possible to live and be an artist in Miami. We don’t have the situation as in NY where they have to have 4-5 jobs. You can have the artwork be a main focus. You feel like there are possibilities here - if you don’t do something - no one else will - and it is possible to do a Lester’s or Rail paper for example.
I asked “Why paper?” Aren’t we fully engrossed in techno-communication?
Johnson thinks, “There is the validity that paper gives to an article. Reading something in print becomes more of a collaboration - Rail is a group effort.”
“The Miami Rail’s Visiting Writer’s Series is unique to their talents. One writer may give a lecture, another a workshop. Paterson Simms was the first lecturer; next month will be Sarah Trigg. Johnson shares the fact that “Phong’s (Bui of Brooklyn Rail) generosity is incredible; sharing his information and time. The Brooklyn Rail has been his life’s work.”
I also spoke with Miami Rail editor Hunter Braithwaite about the June 1st first issue of the new quarterly which “is to keep in touch,” explains Braithwaite. “Wynwood is good for showing art and selling art, but not for living,” referring to the fact that there is little existing housing in the area. “Brooklyn has always had a level of culture and supported artists living and working there such as Henry Miller, Walt Whitman.”
Most of Wynwood’s artists live outside the neighborhood as opposed to Brooklyn, whose areas are self contained communities. It puts Wynwood at a disadvantage in its organic growth cycle, but it is happening none-the-less. Miami Rail will seek to coalesce the community to keep Miami “striving for a form of discursive literature,” says Braithwaite. The paper will be a “result of the arts being interested in science, literature, profiles, reviews,” etc. “We will track inspiration...will it change, or fail to change the world around it? “Response to the first Miami Rail has been strong; we’ve distributed in NY and Europe as well as in the community, showing Miami to the world and the world to Miami. Miami Rail will bring a visiting writer here every quarter, one who will be required to give a lecture (to be held at Lester’s). “ Hunter Braithwaite returned from living in China last Fall and settled in Miami because he liked what was going on, freelancing for several publications en route to the Rail.”
Now that we’re wide awake and communicating let’s see where all this will ultimately bring Wynwood as it etches itself onto the map of creative life on earth.
It is comforting to know that the visionary soul still lurks in the minds of youth and beast during this unsettling dystopia in which we currently exist.
2390 NW 2nd Ave
2519 NW 2nd Ave
Wynwood Kitchen and Bar
2550 NW 2nd Ave
174 NW 23rd St
All photos by Irene Sperber