Think you know everything there is to know about Park Slope? Think again, smart ass. Richard Kadlub, AKA "Big Rick," will gladly prove you wrong on his fantastic walking tour of our hood, adorably dubbed "A Tour Grows in Brooklyn." The three-hour journey begins on the gritty, industrial 4th avenue, where I can only imagine the visiting Scottish woman in our group was thinking, did I really just travel 3,000 miles to see a car wash and collision shop?
Rick first points out the Williamsburgh Savings Bank at One Hanson Place (or “The Big Clock,” as I refer to it). Any tour guide can regurgitate the facts, like how it’s among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world, and how much the big hand weighs, but Big Rick has a deeper connection with that clock. During his childhood years, it was his beacon home after many nights of getting in trouble on the ‘wrong side of the tracks.' His childhood bedroom on Carroll Street had a perfect view of the clock, and once, at the age of 14, and after a late night out drinking scotch (as ya do at that age), he woke up hungover with his head stuck to the pillow. Peering up at the giant clock he realized that it was late in the day and that he had just failed summer school.
The tour is peppered with lots of these often hilarious personal anecdotes of a 50-year Brooklyn native who seems to know everything about everything. From architecture to urban folklore, his passion and pride is positively infectious. He also seems like the kind of guy who could get you out of a jam, much like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. We could barely walk a block without a Frankie or Tony rolling by in a car with the window down and yelling some endearing obscenity like, "How are ya, you old prick?" These colorful characters seem to be weaved throughout the tour, which makes it feel like you've stepped onto the set of some Scorsese film.
Rick paints a seedy picture of Park Slope back in the day before the great mommy/hipster invasion; when heroin junkies and 250 abandoned buildings littered our now perfectly-groomed streets. A time when Sammy Davis Jr. would play the Copacabana and then hit up Monty’s with his fellow Rat Packers. Monty’s is the oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn and was a former speak-easy, complete with cubby holes hidden under the tables to hide your hooch. And if you can't get enough of this kind of history, Big Rick will soon be offering a South Brooklyn Bar Crawl.
And who knew that Al Capone once lived in the Slope? You’ll see where the gangster lived at age 14 when he was part of local gang The Brooklyn Rippers. Big Rick explained that while shacking up on Garfield Street, Capone once grabbed the ass of a fellow gang member's sister, who slashed his face, thus earning him the moniker "Scar Face." Shortly after this altercation, Capone up and fled to Chicago. In short, our neighborhood was once pretty bad-ass, bitches. Al Capone couldn't handle Park Slope. Let that sink in, people.
If Hoity-Toity is more your thing, Big Rick will also lead you on a stroll down "Surgeon's Row," where you can peep at a slew of celebrity real estate: Soak up the digs where President Obama lived after graduating from Columbia University. Gawk at the corner mansion on PPW that Jennifer Connolly recently sold to a Google executive, and feel only slightly awkward when you witness this Google executive leaving his house looking perturbed as you stand outside with a group of people drooling over it.
If none of this has grabbed you so far, the tour includes a bottle of water and a yummy slice of pizza en route.
Lastly, here are the 5 coolest facts I learned (though there are plenty more for you to feast your eyes/ears/brain on should you wish to take the tour!):
- The Gowanus Canal has the world's oldest retractable bridge; only 1 of 4 left in the US.
- The Brooklyn Public Library is built in the shape of an open book.
- Prospect Park has over 270 species of birds, which is more than Yosemite National Park.
- If you look through Grand Army Plaza's arch after the leaves have fallen from the nearby trees, it perfectly frames the Empire State Building in the distance.
- Moutarde used to be a funeral home where bodies were embalmed in the kitchen. Eat up!