Bushwick has certainly come a long way from its time as a colony named Boswijck (Old Dutch for “little town in the woods”). Now a string of refurbished warehouses, this neighborhood bustles with bars and excellent eats.
On top of being known as the epicenter of New York nightlife, Bushwick is also home to the largest Hispanic population in Brooklyn. The community has brought countless incredible eateries to the neighborhood, specializing in dishes from arepas (a Venezuelan sandwich) to mofongo (Puerto Rican plantain mash). What better way to experience Bushwick than sampling a combination of its two greatest culinary offerings?
Step 1: Chow Down at Arepa Guacuco
This family-run Venezuelan areperia serves some of the tastiest bites in the neighborhood. Its cornmeal sandwiches are filled to the brim with traditional fillings such as beef, chicken, and plantains and other vegetarian options. The unpretentiously cheerful space is somewhere you’ll want to hang out in for as long as possible—preferably with a pitcher of sangria. Exposed brick and beams paired with the bright, splatter-painted turquoise, yellow, and periwinkle walls encapsulate its position at the intersection between industrial Bushwick and vibrant Venezuela.
If you were to order one dish, though, Guacuco’s standout is the arepa a pabellón. The salty pairing of succulent shredded beef and crumbled Cotija cheese is balanced by the just-sweet-enough fried plantains inside the crunchy-yet-soft Venezuelan sandwich. We suggest everyone you are hanging with order their own.
In close second comes the arepa a pollo. This bite of heaven includes flavorful shredded chicken soaked in a tomato-based sauce. Although much simpler than the pabellon, each bite is extraordinarily comforting. Ditch the chicken noodle soup next time you’re under the weather and chow down on this instead.
I’m normally not the biggest sangria fan since sweet drinks inevitably lead to next-day headaches. But I’ll make an exception here, because Guacuco’s sangria seems to solely take its sweetness from the natural sugars in the peaches, apples, and pears. Order a pitcher to share.
Step 2: Get Naughty (Not Nice) at Nutcracker Rouge
The powerful aroma of incense puts you right in the mood the moment you walk into Theater XIV. Like at a high-class cocktail party, you’ll find your seating assignment displayed on a silver stick in a red velvet altarlike cabinet.
My friend and I were lucky enough to snag a prime cozy deep-red love seat, which comes accompanied by a complimentary Rouge Royale, a bubbly-based libation with champagne brut, brandy, a boozy cherry, and a sugar rim. (After Guacuco’s sangria, this cocktail will certainly push you a little past tipsy.) Settle into your plush seat and let Company XIV take you into Clara’s wet dream.
Some art snobs may consider burlesque a “lower” art form—one that takes place in offbeat performance clubs for an offbeat clientele. But much like Duchamp’s Fountain, Company XIV places this dance form in the league of the highest performance art: ballet. To many people across the world, The Nutcracker is sacred—something that definitely should not be “tainted” with bedazzled junk, whips, and interludes of Ariana Grande. Nutcracker Rouge will change your attitude fast.
Recruited from top dance academies like Alvin Ailey, all of the dancers could likely take a spot in Lincoln Center’s annual production. Instead, they chose to showcase their immense talent in a more expressive outlet. Revered choreographer Austin McCormic’s Nutcracker Rouge is a ballet performance at its heart, heightened by sexy burlesque, acrobatic circus, and dark Baroque. Each dancer easily maneuvers between these disparate dance forms. Become swept up in the Kingdom of Sweets, where tutus are traded for corsets, candy canes for poles, and Tchaikovsky for the Chordettes.
Step 3: Stay a While at Theater XIV
With all the great nightlife in Bushwick, it’s impossible to pick just one “perfect” destination after a night like this. So don’t. Instead, linger at Theater XIV, where you can have one of the dancers make you an expertly crafted cocktail. Tips in compliments and cash, please.
Keep it going with Rouge Royales or take it to the limit with Absinthe Rouge, an intensely boozy drink cut with hibiscus and lemon. You never know where after hours at Theater XIV will take you—a beer at Kings County next door? A dance party at House of Yes? I somehow ended up at Greenwich Village’s Cafe Wha? singing my heart out. Whatever it is, enjoy the remarkable ride.