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May 20 / Restaurant,Shop
“Sometimes I wish I had a little more space to just be”

Brooklyn: Court Street Grocers

Words by Leigh Patterson Photographs by Michael A. Muller

A New Yorker finds solace in the chilled-out interior of Brooklyn’s Court Street Grocers.

I read an interesting statistic a few days ago: If the state of Texas was as densely populated as New York City, it could accommodate the entire world’s population.

As a recent transplant from the former to the latter, I often feel torn about which extreme I prefer. On the one hand, it’s hard not to feel moved by urban energy. I often describe living in New York City as simply “intense,” which can be a good thing. On the other hand, sometimes I wish I had a little more space to just be—away from the continual, palpable awareness of my presence in a crowd.

City life necessitates many small interactions with strangers. I walk with them on the street; I sit next to them on the subway; I stand behind them in line to buy a morning coffee. But despite nearly living on top of them, I rarely interact with people I don’t know. What’s more, I feel as though I barely register them at all. This isn’t for lack of curiosity—I wonder about their jobs, whether they order sparkling or tap, if they have any recommendations for places to develop film. However, I keep to myself as a survival tactic, as a way of maintaining my emotional armor. I subconsciously block out the millions of foreign lives around me so I don’t have to feel their weight. Instead, I seek solace in my book, or from my headphones. As Melissa Febos recently wrote in a New York Times Opinionator blog post, “In a place where we are so rarely alone, we find privacy in public.”

At the onset of autumn, I gathered with six others for a dinner that began as a way to celebrate the emerging fall produce and ended as a lesson in the value of unfamiliarity.

The setting was the dining room of Court Street Grocers, a perfect little market-cum-café in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Aside from my boyfriend, Michael, and one of his friends who happened to live down the street, we were a group of strangers essentially bound by our relative proximity and the weird power of the Internet. We sat together in the cozy restaurant with no pretense beyond sharing a table, sharing a meal. And what stays in my memory about the night is not the specific conversations, or the types of cheese we were served—to be honest, many details escape me. What remains is the surprising power that came from spending a few hours in the company of unfamiliar faces, the reminder that what is to be gained out of gathering is not just feeling comfortable. Rather, it is something more simple and quite humbling: New York is big, but my own personal New York is so small. Sometimes I need a little perspective.

485 Court Street
Brooklyn, New York 11231

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