This summer, New Yorkers have rediscovered a sense of comfort and community on their stoops, the city’s de facto gathering place. The densest city in the United States, with backyards few and far between, New York has, through the ages, relied on its stoops as living room, playground and water cooler. While bars and restaurants have reopened, relocating their operations to patios and sidewalks, the boroughs’ stoops remain populated as neighbors and families gather together for a spontaneous happy hour or an organized socially distant dinner party.
Over the span of a week in Brooklyn, I walked its streets to see how people have spent their summers, what they’ve been drinking and what they’ll do once our hemisphere begins to lean away from the sun. On one block in Fort Greene, I found local musicians setting up an impromptu stage on the sidewalk; locals had opened their doors and a bottle of wine, taking a front-row seat. In Brooklyn Heights, a small group gathered on the stoop to meet a friend’s newborn while sending off another friend who was moving to the West Coast. In Bed-Stuy, a birthday and life were celebrated and remembered by a group of Solo cup–toting women. And in Carroll Gardens, a lifelong borough resident relaxed with a book and a pint of his favorite beer.
The stoop, which has always been a symbol of Brooklyn life, seems to have been rediscovered during these last fraught months, reanimated with New Yorkers seeking respite in a common place.
Michelle Sprott (right) and Janet Hollis (left) stop by a friend’s stoop for spiked lemonade and Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial Champagne.
Drinking: Lemonade and Bulleit bourbon, Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial
How has your summer been?
Michelle: Actually, I’m not mad at it. I’m not mad at the summer. I’ve had a great summer. Despite everything, I’ve still managed to have a really good time. Especially reconnecting with people more intimately, I like that better. And I needed a break. I needed a serious break. You’re finding you’re having more intimate gatherings than larger parties. You know, prior to COVID, we were relying on digital and becoming disconnected with each other. COVID has kind of checked us again and let us know that we really do need our friendships and to see each other in person and how vital it is to our mental health. Before, I saw friends on social media; that was enough. Everyone’s communicating but not connecting. This reminded us, “Oh my goodness, I need to have brunch with my girls.” It’s social self-care. That’s social self-care to go out and drink, what we’re doing right now, interacting—you get a social high from it.
What are your go-to quarantine drinks?
Michelle: Tequila, anything brown. Gin or Bulleit.
What brings you all together today?
Michelle: We’re celebrating a birthday. A neighbor’s birthday. We all know each other. It’s like an interconnectedness, a web, one degree of separation for all of us.
Janet: I’d like to say RIP Chadwick. We’re celebrating his life as well today. He’s reminded us that we have to live every moment and enjoy every moment, because life gets taken away from you just like that. 43 years old, and all the stuff he’s accomplished while battling cancer. Whatever is going on in your life, it’s probably not the end, you can persevere, you can come out on the other end.
What will you do come fall?
Michelle: That’s what we were just talking about. Friends actually went to a very intimate dinner party setting, where you can get a membership and have dinner parties there. So I guess we’ll be doing that. Intimate dinner parties.
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Drinking: A bottle of Familie Bauer Barig Alte Reben, Brooklyn Cider House’s Bone Dry Cider, a bottle of Old Westminster Piquette.
What have you been drinking?
Sebastian: A lot of white wine and spiked seltzers. My new favorite, the Montauk Spiked Seltzer.
Emily: We’ve been drinking impressive amounts of spiked seltzers, to stay hydrated.
What’s summer been like for you?
Sebastian: It’s definitely slower than usual. I was able to recharge and got in a lot of runs and workouts.
Emily: Summer felt like how summers once were, no school, no job, no curfew, plus a fixed weekly allowance.
Where have you been drinking, and who do you drink with?
Sebastian: We’ve been either drinking on our balcony or our stoop. Mainly the two of us, sometimes our neighbors, or tonight, friends join.
What will you do when fall comes?
Sebastian: Hopefully we’ll be able to travel and see our family on the West Coast and Europe.
George Sawaya drinks a weissbier on his Carroll Gardens stoop.
Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens
Drinking: Franziskaner Weissbier
What’s been your go-to drink this summer?
George: What has it always been? This. Weissbier. I prefer Bavarian style, but a Belgium style is okay too. I love beer. Did you watch the hearings about Kavanaugh? There’s one thing I share with Brett Kavanaugh. I like beer. That’s the only thing I could share with him. It’s very refreshing. And seriously, I love beer. I never met a beer I didn’t like.
Who have you been drinking with?
George: Mainly my family. A couple friends come by or I’ll go there, a couple blocks away. Really that’s why I hate [quarantine] so much, I have hardly been out at all. Time takes on a whole different quality. I find the days have no markers. I have to think hard about what day of the week it is.
How long have you lived in the neighborhood?
George: 42 years. I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole life.
What’s your summer been like?
George: Well, horrible. You’re under house arrest. I hate this. But what are you going to do. I’m lucky because I have this space to come out to. I have a deck in the backyard, so I have plenty of outdoor space. And you know, my granddaughter only lives a couple blocks away and was living in the house up until a couple months ago. She’s 3, so I’m lucky for that.
Neighborhood: Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Drinking: Beck’s, Wölffer No. 139 LoRo Cider, pastis
What have you been drinking during quarantine?
Lindsay: Dry rosé cider. After many, many months of overdrinking during quarantine, I’ve transitioned into this low-alcohol content cider. It’s my later-stage quarantine beverage. My early-stage quarantine beverage was a lot of Burgundy.
Cole: What haven’t I been drinking? My go-to, we’ve been ordering cases of wine from Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and we’re drinking a lot of Sicilian wines, some Burgundies; we try to mix it up with a bit of natural, funky, sparkling stuff. And I recently discovered the joy of pastis. That’s my new thing. It’s a summer drink in the south of France and it’s very good.
What’s your summer been like?
Lindsay: We’ve been here; we have nowhere to be.
Cole: I sit on the stoop all the time and talk to everyone.
Lindsay: Especially in Fort Greene. We know the neighbors here and here, and up and down. I think with COVID, Fort Greene is perfect for community. Your neighbors become your pod.
Does this band play often here?
Kayvan: No, this is actually their first time. They play around. They played on Vanderbilt once. Andy (musician pictured on the far left) lives on this block, he’s a neighbor.
What do you think you’ll do in the fall?
Cole: I will still hang out on the stoop, I don’t care if it’s cold. I just moved from California, so the winter doesn’t exist in my head.