From Bensonhurst to Woodhaven: My old nabe will always be home, but I was uneasy if I was out late

By Kelly Kreth | April 1, 2022 - 9:30AM

"Woodhaven is gorgeous. Forest Park is perfect for a picnic, or you can go up to the Ridgewood Reservoir for a walk. It’s magical—you can see the whole city spill out beneath your feet," says the artist known as Dark Reconstruction.

The artist known as Dark Reconstruction, who uses they/them pronouns, considers Bensonhurst home. It was where they were raised and lived as an adult, until the area started to feel seedy to them. They decide to move in with their boyfriend (now husband) and find an affordable place in Woodhaven. Here is their story.

I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and raised in Bensonhurst. I've lived in a lot of places in Bensonhurst—mostly prewar buildings. When I was a kid, I lived right down the block from Seth Low, which in my time was considered one of the worst middle schools in the area. My elderly neighbors, who lived in the building forever, said it was always a crappy school. I wonder if it has gotten any better since.

The last place I lived in Bensonhurst was my friend’s couch, where I crashed for a few years while I figured out what I was doing with my life. I had spent a few years in Queens, never feeling like I was quite at home. Coming back to Bensonhurst, where the air smells more like the sea, was like coming home—giving me stability and certainty.

Each of the apartments I've lived in was spacious with really high ceilings. They keep the hot air in well, which works well in the winter but not so much in the summer. I remember when we first moved to Bensonhurst in 2002, the rent for my parent’s one-bedroom apartment was like $800 or $900 a month. Good times!

My friends were kind enough to not charge me rent while I got my life sorted out. Otherwise I would not have been able to return to Bensonhurst. At that point, even renting a single room was expensive, over $1,500 in some cases. It felt surreal: In 2011 I rented a bedroom for $500 a month. Apartments shot up so much in only a few years.

The difficult part was doing laundry—most prewar buildings don't have laundry machines and it's a struggle to do laundry, especially if you're someone like me who procrastinates and then can barely lift the bags.

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The nice thing about Bensonhurst is that there is so much public transportation, so I could get to my marketing job easily. The N, D, and F are all within very close range, and the buses usually weren't too terrible. Unfortunately, there are lots of subway repairs being done all the time, so the weekends would get awkward, but it was sorely needed. Back when I was in high school, the N train stations were disgusting. There were stalagmite-like things growing on the ceilings and all the paint was peeling. Now they are nice and clean.

Bensonhurst is always going to be home. I'll always have every single good and bad memory from every corner and every street. I went to elementary, middle, and high school there. I cut class to go to the library—I had a circuit of libraries worked out because back then you got a maximum of one hour of computer time per library card, per library. I know all the shortcuts and all the side streets. I have my favorite comfort foods: the Chinese bakeries, the bubble tea shops, the Russian supermarkets with their rows of salads and pickles. It's the people I know, the streets I know, the shops I know.

There’s some amazing food on 18th Avenue, like Steam Box Rice Roll. There are several good bubble tea shops but my go to is ViVi, which has branches on Bay Parkway and on 18th Ave. Of course, you can't miss Lenny's pizza or L&B Spumoni Gardens. My favorite Chinese bakery is probably the one down the block from Lenny's. I also definitely recommend going to Ria's Hallmark next to Lenny's, and not just because I've worked there on and off for six years! They've got something for nearly everything.

There are several NetCost markets, which sell delicious Russian pickles and snacks. I really recommend getting some Olivier salad; it’s like egg salad but more heavenly.

There’s a lot of cheap restaurants to go to, and a lot of supermarkets, but not much in terms of nightlife, unless you really like sketchy massage parlors.

The area is not perfect. Bensonhurst feels like a small town, and the walls do close in on you. Some of the older people can be very closed-minded. Over the years I've noticed an uptick in things that made me uneasy: if I was out too late, walking on my own, sometimes cars would follow me. Other girls I know mentioned it too. I started noticing more missing people posters. And some blocks seem to have as many as four or five massage parlors. Who needs that many massages? I don't know if it's something I became aware of as I grew older or just my own paranoia, but at the end of my time living in Bensonhurst I would feel a little bit uneasy if I was out too late.

I finally decided I wanted to move in with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). So we started looking at places. I had gotten my life together, and it was time to go forth and conquer the universe. My now-husband’s job was in Cypress Hills and he needed to be close to it because he started work very early. We were looking along the J line, mainly in Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Woodhaven, and Jamaica. 

We must have looked at a million apartments—or at least it felt like it. Some I saw by myself, some my boyfriend saw by himself, and some we saw together. It was a bit of a struggle because we would often arrive just to hear that the place had already been taken.

My boyfriend was the one who found the winner in Woodhaven, Queens. It was a steal, a studio at around $950 a month. We’ve moved to a larger apartment in the building since then, and of course the prices have gone up in the past few years but at the time (2016) that was a ridiculously good price.

It’s a prewar building with no elevators. The lobby is pretty; the ceilings are high. There are some plumbing issues, which is to be expected with an older building. The super is pretty attentive to the repairs so it’s been all right. The laundromat is close, which is great because we live on the top floor.

Now that we have a car and public transportation isn’t as much of a concern. I really like the convenience of the J train and the Q56 bus. The J train is really convenient if you are going to the city. The area is also really close to the nightlife in Bushwick and Williamsburg.

Woodhaven is a great place to be if you drive. It’s easy to get anywhere: you can take the LIE, the Jackie, or the Belt to go places, and it’s all pretty quick.

Nearly anything you need is in the area, the people are friendly, and the community is strong. There is even a historical society and the beginnings of an art circle!

I'm a painter (my art Instagram page is @darkreconstruction) and I have a background in e-commerce and content creation, so art is very important to me. The Woodhaven BID organizes open streets events along Jamaica Avenue in the nice weather, which are absolutely magical. I showcased my art at two of these events last year and it was so much fun. And last September I painted a mural along Jamaica Avenue as part of the City Artist Corps grant program.

There is a lot of really good food, though it’s different from what I would usually get in Bensonhurst. In Brooklyn I primarily had Russian or Chinese food, sometimes Italian. Here, we eat Dominican, Colombian, or Indian. It’s really nice to be so close to the park, and there are a lot of places to go shopping.

I am completely and utterly feral without a regular bubble tea supply. I have to go back to Bensonhurst or up to Flushing to get my regular fix or I’ll perish. I also have to go out of the area to get my preferred ingredients at the Asian or Russian markets, as a lot of things I like aren’t easily available here.

Neir’s Tavern is our go-to place for food and drinks. It’s just got this amazing vibe, you walk in and you feel like you’ve come home every time. There’s a chocolate shop on Jamaica Avenue, Schmidt’s, that has been owned by the same family since the 1800s and make the most amazing chocolates.

I have to add that Woodhaven is gorgeous. Forest Park is perfect for a picnic, or you can go up to the Ridgewood Reservoir for a walk. It’s magical—you can see the whole city spill out beneath your feet. Taking the Q56 up to Metropolitan Avenue is also a great outing. Or you can take a hike and cut through the bridle path in Forest Park to get between Woodhaven and Metropolitan Avenue quickly.

I’m glad we moved here. The people are really friendly and the community is very strong. We already have a lot of friends who live nearby so we are staying put.


Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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