Hanging out around a toxic canal that’s home to a three-eyed catfish may not be many people’s idea of a perfect night. But trust us, the gems scattered near the Gowanus Canal make up for any light levels of arsenic poisoning.
Besides the fragrant canal, the Gowanus neighborhood might be most well known for the Bell House, a performance/edutainment/comedy venue that attracts nightly crowds for an incredible curation of events that range from Super Secret Science Club to A Night With Phoebe Robinson. This week, my friend and I grabbed tickets to the Moth, a widely acclaimed story slam hosted by Peter Aguero. The theme for the slammers was knowledge—in all its forms. Read on for your Gowanus education.
Step 1: Spice Up Your Life at Ugly Baby
Ugly Baby is anything but a homely experience. The sun streams through floor-to-ceiling windows onto the bright multicolored abstract wall murals. Food is plated on floral designs and bold neons, next to those bright paper napkins you typically only see at middle school birthday parties. The popping color scheme is meant to reflect the vibrancy of the food. Don’t be scared if you walk past a few tables in full tears—they are mostly tears of joy. Mostly.
The key to conquering Ugly Baby is carefully balancing the spice levels—or just ordering the whole Thai-inspired menu if you have the monetary and caloric capacity. Start with the Laab Ped Udon, its duck salad that might be the spiciest thing you’ll ever eat. The Thai chili pepper creeps up on you, so be wary of diving in too quickly. Underneath that fiery heat is an outrageously juicy duck that pairs perfectly with crunchy white cabbage and cucumbers. Take a break from the full body sweat with the Tom Som Pia Kra Pong, a red snapper swimming in ginger and tamarind broth. The white fish melts in your mouth.
The standout dish, though, is the Khao Soi Nuer, a northern egg noodle curry soup with beef shank. Even on a steaming-hot September day, this soup’s decadent flavors precisely hit the spot. The broth is more reminiscent of a traditional coconut curry sauce, and the spice is much more immediate than the Laab’s. (Definitely have some white rice on hand for damage control.) The al dente egg noodles, meanwhile, hold up the butterlike beef shank and creamy sauce. Don’t forget to get a rice puff in each bite.
Step 2: Drink Locally at Other Half Brewing
Head south down the canal and west up Centre Street to Other Half Brewing, one of the major players in the new-wave brewery movement. When you walk into the space, you’ll immediately get the impression of a neighborhood hang. The industrial attitude of the design—exposed steel beams and unfinished wood floors—mimics Gowanus’s history and vibe. (Fun fact: The Gowanus Canal used to be a major industrial and manufacturing hub until the Internet rendered the area’s manufacturing close to obsolete.)
We gravitated toward its drafts instead of the bottled selection, which you can also take to go. My friend was interested in the sour beers and ordered two taster glasses: the boysenberry Berliner Weisse–style sour and the Frame of Mind sour IPA, both of which were refreshing and fruity without being too sweet. I ordered the extremely hops-y DDH Double Mosaic Dream, which was balanced with undertones of berries, citrus, and spice. After a few sips, the lingering tingle from Ugly Baby finally subsided.
Step 3: Listen Up at the Moth
Note: Get there early. Your tickets do not come with assigned seating, and they have no problem seating you on the floor. Continue your Other Half buzz with some house wine once you are comfortably inside.
Our host for the evening, Peter Aguero, took the stage and explained the rules. Each of the 10 contestants prepares a five-minute story in line with the theme, which will be judged by three panelists. One doesn’t have to hold any clout in the storytelling world to slam, and a diverse representation of age, nationality, and gender graces the stage. None of the content is curated or prescreened, which leads to some occasionally terrible snafus. At the end, whoever wins goes forward to the Moth’s Grand Slam, a final competition between all the trophy holders across the 29 Moth cities. This may sound like a spelling bee, but the Moth is more like an improv comedy night—and Aguero knows exactly what lengths to go for a laugh.
Once the slam is over, well, the rest of your Gowanus story is up to you.