A Changing Brooklyn: Prospect Heights

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The Way Station - Photo Credit: FourSquare.com
The Way Station – Photo Credit: FourSquare.com


Prospect Heights is getting a dose of The Doctor – Doctor Who, that is. Just off the corner of Washington Avenue and Prospect Place sits The Way Station, a popular Doctor Who-themed nerd bar and music venue dedicated to giving fans, locals, and music-lovers a judgment-free space to enjoy a drink.

The bar opened shop in 2011 after owner and founder Andy Heidel noticed a demand for a neighborhood music venue. Some of Brooklyn’s smaller venues had closed, and Brooklyn business giant The Atlantic Yards Project was threatening to uproot even more.

“I wanted to fill that hole,” Heidel explains. And he has. The Way Station melds drinks, fandom, and music in a comfortable two-room space. The narrow bar area in front opens into a larger performance space furnished with tables, booths, and chairs for guests to lounge and enjoy the live bands. The exposed brick wall behind the bar and rugged-looking wood furniture give the space an unpretentious feel, while the red leather-upholstered booths and deep red walls are reminiscent of the bar’s earlier, more steampunk and cabaret-styled days.

The Way Station’s overall laid back vibe allows its flamboyant Doctor Who décor to take center focus (note: the bathroom is a Tardis), but the bar refuses to be categorized. It is as much a high-functioning music venue as it is a place to open up a book, and it’s as quirky as it is casual. Walk down Washington Avenue after 6 p.m. on almost any night and you’re sure to hear the live music coming from the bar. But step inside and you’ll wonder how this small, dimly-lit watering hole manages to attract so many different personalities.

“I feel like at The Way Station, you have a weird cast of characters because of the bands, and you also have a constant changing group of people,” Prospect Heights local and Way Station regular Ellie Raab, 37, explains. On any given night, you can find people dressed in everything from band T-shirts, to business casual attire, to Hawaiian button downs, to full-fledged Doctor Who ensembles.

Bartender Jim Green, 46, agrees, adding, “we have people who are huge [Doctor Who] fans and people who aren’t at all.”

The bar’s fluid identity and diverse customer base reflects Prospect Heights’s ever evolving community. It’s no secret that the area, like many others in Brooklyn, is rapidly gentrifying. According to real estate website Trulia.com, home prices in Prospect Heights have more than doubled over the past two years, attracting young, wealthy professionals and their families. Beyond The Way Station, the surrounding area on Washington Avenue and nearby Vanderbilt Avenue are both home to a number of trendy bars and restaurants.

But according to unofficial Prospect Heights’s “mayor” and bar frequenter Pat Atwell, 65, the neighborhood isn’t gentrifying in the way most people would believe.

“Prospect Heights has changed a lot without driving people away,” he explains. “The people on my block, they’re all still here.” Atwell, like many of his neighbors, has lived in the area for decades. And for him, the success of The Way Station speaks to this different kind of change.

Jim Keller's Band performs at The Way Station
Jim Keller’s Band performs at The Way Station – Photo credit: nowiveheardeverything.com

“[The Way Station] is not just a neighborhood bar; the bar is a part of the neighborhood,” he explains. “It appeals to a bunch of us, not just the [new] people.”

One frequent customer, Will Simmons, 35, agrees.

“One of the great things about this bar is it was designed to be a safe space for everyone… if you are LGBT or just one of those quiet people,” he said. “It’s a judgment free zone.”

The Way Station proved its widespread appeal earlier this month when it co-hosted Prospect Heights’s first-ever music festival, a four-day long celebration in which local establishments featured talented, up-and-coming bands. It’s arguably this kind of community involvement that has arguably kept The Way Station afloat while other bars, like Freddy’s Bar and Hawker Bar, have not been so lucky.

Freddy’s Bar in Park Slope failed to expand into Prospect Heights when Community Board 8, which oversees parts of Prospect Heights, would not permit the bar to serve alcohol past midnight. Hawker Bar was similarly forced to close its doors on Vanderbilt Avenue after struggling to win the Board’s approval for its liquor license.

While Heidel admits The Way Station did have to wait many months to receive its liquor license, the bar has proved itself worthy of the board’s approval. In addition to hosting the the Prospect Heights Music Festival, but it also contributes to various neighborhood efforts, like local school supply drives, and adheres to a midnight live music curfew.

“This neighborhood is a melting pot,” Heidel says. “And our clientele reflects [that]. I wanted to create something where everyone felt comfortable.”

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