A Brooklyn historian’s love for his hometown was laid bare Tuesday evening at a launch party for his latest book, “How Bay Ridge Became Bay Ridge.”
In celebration of the publication’s premiere, author Henry Stewart unpacked a bit of the neighborhood’s history in a live Q&A with Radio Free Bay Ridge co-host Dan Hetteix at a venue emblematic to some of the book’s own themes.
“At the Owl’s Head, we feel a sense of urgency surrounding the existing and growing culture of southern Brooklyn, where we grew up,” said John Avelluto, owner of the Owl’s Head Wine Bar, where the standing-room-only celebration spilled out onto the sidewalk.
The bar-owner, a Gravesend native who attended Xaverian High School, used his introduction to reflect on a time when Stewart came to the defense of the Owl’s Head, a first-of-its kind in the neighborhood when it opened in 2011.
“I was extremely nervous about our reception, as we didn’t fit the mold for a bar in the neighborhood, “ Avelluto said, adding that, when the press began calling him a “hipster invader” and a “gentrifier,” Stewart wrote a rebuttal for L Magazine, titled, “Can a Native Brooklynite Still Be an Invading Hipster?”
In it, Avelluto said, “Henry illustrates a wider, more inclusive vision of Bay Ridge through analysis of its past — a practice that he obviously has continued to partake in and expand. And I’m glad that he has. He has played more than an integral part in the shaping of Bay Ridge over the past 10 years, by not only evoking its history but also by loving it enough to not eliminate it to its past.”
Stewart, vice president of the Bay Ridge Historical Society, has spent his entire life in the neighborhood. He fondly remembers the New York Coffee Exchange and the now-painted over murals on Food City, and he still has his McKinley gym shirt. His parents — of Scandinavian and Scottish descent — took their wedding photos at Owl’s Head Park and held their reception at the Danish Athletic Club.
All of this, coupled with his passion for history, made penning “How Bay Ridge Became Bay Ridge” a labor of love.