From Chelsea to Bushwick to Bay Ridge: Being able to live alone doesn’t beat the thrill of Manhattan
After his roommate moved out, Nashville native Alex Sandoval left Chelsea for Bushwick to save on money and gain space. But disappointed with the area and intent on living without roommates, he headed deeper into Brooklyn to Bay Ridge—only to realize he misses the excitement of Manhattan. Brooklyn simply isn’t for him, but he’s stuck, at least for now. Here’s his story.
In the winter of 2013, I moved from Nashville into my first apartment on 17th Street and Ninth Avenue in Chelsea. I lived with my best friend in a tiny, two bedroom on the fifth floor of a walk-up. To us, the location was everything.
My best friend and I would frequent Tao, and we loved getting takeout from Papa Kebab (recently closed), and the Turkish restaurant around the corner or grabbing a quick slice from Stella's Pizza right below us. It was a neighborhood where I could really eat well—lots of different cuisines at every price range—and also easily work off those calories by walking everywhere. On nice days we'd even just walk around Eighth Avenue or down to the West Village with no set plans. In retrospect, we were spoiled.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
I could walk to most places, like my gym, Trader Joe’s, and my favorite neighborhood bar, Intermezzo (now closed). Anything further away was a super short commute on the A, C, E, and L lines, which were only about two blocks away. During the warmer months, I loved running along West Side Highway down to the World Trade Center and then back.
Add to all that exercise: Our stairs. Those weren’t as fun as taking a scenic route to a new bar or eatery. It was a challenge for us—and for friends we asked over. But soon everyone got used to them. And living on the top floor did have its benefits: We never had an issue with hearing anyone above us. However, the back of our building was only about four feet from the back of another building and our windows faced each other, so we could see into the living rooms of our neighbors next door. They could see in ours too. Still, we chalked it up to being very “New York.”
My best friend and I lived happily in Chelsea for over four years until he moved to Chicago. I knew I couldn’t afford that place alone. We split the $2,995 rent unevenly—I paid $300 less a month ($1,375) because he had the larger bedroom with an actual closet in the room and his income was higher (I work on commission, and my income fluctuates). I could not imagine sharing such a tiny space, less than 600 square feet, with anyone else. I also knew that with my income, even if I moved somewhere nearby in Manhattan, I wouldn’t be able to afford an adequate space.
I had heard the buzz about Brooklyn, so off to Bushwick I went. I was able to get a room in a two-bedroom there pretty easily—my share of the rent was just $1,100. This apartment was almost twice the size and was completely renovated. It had a very modern feel as opposed to our old building in Chelsea. It was a walk-up, but on the third floor.
So I was in a totally new neighborhood, and living with a complete stranger. I didn’t have my friend to explore a new nabe and new borough. It was definitely an adjustment. I missed being able to walk to all of my usual spots and I missed being in the center of it all. Bushwick was roughly 35 minutes away from Chelsea and all the places I knew. Commuting was a bit of a pain, especially on weekends because of construction on the L line and constant delays on the M line—I had to pay attention to things like weekend track work, something I never had to think about before.
One of the few pluses of living in Bushwick was my laundromat was only a short block away versus a full avenue up and one block over like in Chelsea. But I was no longer within walking distance to Trader Joe's and had to settle for Key Food, which I found depressing. I would often make special trips to Trader Joe's on my way home from the city and buy what I could carry.
When I ordered out, it was either from a Thai restaurant called Klom Klorm or a Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Cocoyoc. In the summer, I went to Brooklyn Beer Garden, which was cool because it had live music and local art, but I only went a couple of times when friends actually came to see me, otherwise it was still a bit too hipster for me to go on my own. Aside from that, my usual hangout spots were the ones I frequented when I lived in Chelsea.
In my Chelsea neighborhood, there were lots of young professionals or students. In my part of Bushwick, there were a few apartment shares but most of my neighbors were families, so there was little socializing.
After a year, I wasn’t really sold on Bushwick, but because of my budget, I decide to try to make Brooklyn work. I decided this fall it was time to get my own apartment and knew that Bay Ridge was a place I could make that happen. I found a one bedroom there, where I still live.
Moving to Bay Ridge was yet another adjustment. It’s the furthest from Manhattan that I’ve lived in and the commute usually irritates me. The R train is the closet one to my apartment but I usually have to wait more than 10 minutes for a train. When that happens I walk from Bay Ridge Avenue to the 59th Street N. My total commute to Midtown is now 45 minutes or more (to Time Square).
Similarly I live in another three-story walkup building, but this time I’m on the ground floor. No more stairs to deal with! Still, the neighborhood is made up of mostly families and not that many young professionals like me.
Living all the way out in Bay Ridge comes with other costs as well: My rent is now up to $1,500 a month, although I do have a true one bedroom with nice finishes that I do not have to share. The rent is actually a great deal, but still the most I’ve paid to date for an apartment.
While there are a couple of grocery stores nearby, but the selection is not great. There’s a better store that’s further away and much pricier, Super Fresh Market, but if I am going to pay more and travel further I prefer to shop in Manhattan. I still make a special trip to Trader Joe’s on Sixth Avenue or stop by Whole Foods near Atlantic Terminal on my way home. I wish getting affordable, healthy food was easier—like it was when I lived in Chelsea.
I haven’t found many restaurants I like in Bay Ridge either. But living on my own, I have now gotten into the habit of cooking almost all my meals.
I still have to travel into Manhattan for nightlife and haven’t really found any places I’m dying to try in Bay Ridge yet. However, once spring comes I’ll explore the area more and find some local places to try because traveling into the city for everything is tiring. Sometimes I’m not really motivated to stay out late on the weekend because the trains are slow and it can take over an hour for me to get home. Uber is usually way too expensive.
I’ve heard Bay Ridge is fun in the summer, but living here makes me realize that Bushwick wasn’t so bad. It makes me realize that Chelsea was near-perfect. I have given this all much thought and have come to the conclusion that I’d rather give up some space for location—and would even consider having a roommate again if it meant I could live in Manhattan. While I enjoy living on my own—no fighting for the bathroom and my apartment stays neat—I end up always having to be the one to travel to meet up with friends. No one wants to come out this far into Brooklyn.
I definitely won't be staying in Bay Ridge for the past one year. But hey, live and learn. Manhattan or bust!