Having seen the onslaught of tourist photos crowding some of the Facebook pages of some of this year’s summer J-1 Irish students, I knew there would be many tales to tell. Copious snaps at Coney Island, Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge, the High Line – the works. They admitted to having an extensive checklist and they were taking it very seriously.
Getting off the subway at Myrtle Broadway in Brooklyn, I scanned the chaotic intersection for the right street last week. It was 10 p.m. on a Tuesday and already way past my bedtime, but seemed like a perfectly respectable time to meet for these J-1ers who were just getting off work or freshening up after a day on the beach.
I moved briskly through this seemingly rough area towards their address. Having heard different versions of their abode, ranging from “hippy commune” to “artist’s paradise” I was skeptical to say the least.
Huge wrought iron gates held entrance to a large courtyard and a towering seven-story building resembling an old storehouse/asylum. As the gate creaked open, a family of rats happily scampered across my path before darting towards a dark corner where one lone bearded man sat slowly smoking a cigarette – ominous. Surely this couldn’t be where they lived...
Breaking the darkness, I heard their bubbly voices calling down to me from the fire escape which I quickly began to climb.
Awash with freckles and slightly pink from the sun, they bustled me into the corridor with that uniquely Irish homely enthusiasm.
Olwyn, who has just finished her four year undergrad in drama, and Cara who is going into her final year of social studies, sat me down at the giant oak table in the living room and began hurriedly preparing iced drinks. A beautiful, exposed brick loft with mezzanine bedrooms and artwork splashed across the walls, this truly was a creative haven.
Owned by a choreographer who is currently touring Europe, the J-1ers lucked out on this place through Airbnb. With communal game rooms, gym, sauna, recording studios and even a yoga studio, they’re experiencing a very particular vibe that is inherent to the up and coming Brooklyn Bed-Stuy scene.
When I asked about their neighbors, Olwyn gave me a very serious look before sitting cross-legged on the chair beside me and telling the tale of Mario from #119.
Hailing from Cork and having acted in, produced and directed several plays in Trinity College, her theatrical side with that lyrical accent make for the most entertaining and engaging story telling. She met “Mario” on the rooftop (with the most incredible view of Manhattan) on one of her first nights here and initially found him to be a perfectly normal human being before he invited her back to his apartment to listen to “the divas” of the 1990s for three consecutive hours.
After finally managing to escape, she then saw him the following morning in a paddling pool outside the front door, fully clothed with a bagel in one hand and a beer in the other. “Now I’m avoiding him like the plague,” she announced while shuddering away the thought.
She was also subjected to a rather challenging introduction to the city. Fresh off the plane, she bundled into a taxi and went straight to a Cuban restaurant in Manhattan where she had secured a trial shift before she left home.
With suitcase in tow, she began the shift from hell as this family run business came down on her like a South American hailstorm. The sons were all “pretty sound” and gave her a rough guide to the menu – none of which she had ever seen before – but were too busy to give any actual training.
The “mama” of the business was truly terrifying, yelling in her face in Spanish, her blood boiling as hot as the sweltering kitchen.
Completely unprepared for the vicious back of house environments to be found over here, she was eventually driven to jump ship never to return again. Full recovery made, she has a job at a quaint local café with no crazy mama’s in sight.
Cara has joined the vast expanse of Irish bars downtown at Stone Street, initially picking up 60 hours a week. Quickly realizing the un-sustainability of this particular lifestyle, she began to cut down.
Having worked in a few bars in Dublin throughout college, she admitted that the scene here was entirely different and has a much stronger culture of skill, community and career. Bartending is a serious job here, unlike at home (although that is beginning to change), and bartenders tend to hang out with other bartenders. However, when just here for the summer, there are other things to prioritize.
Olwyn and Cara and their friends have been making their way through some of the city’s best shows. I managed to steal two of them away for a night at Sleep No More in Chelsea --
Daniel, a recent drama graduate, and Beth, who is about to begin her final year and was just visiting the city for a few weeks before returning to Dublin to continue acting.
I had heard a few tips and hints about the production, and knew I would want some more dramatically inclined people with me who would fully immerse themselves and run freely around the hotel like crazy people – which is exactly what I wanted to do.
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