Time was an enterprising hipster could set forth with optimism for the frontier land in the east, bundling his family onto a rickety subterranean train and emerging on the other side of a mighty river to find that strange and unfamiliar landscape called Williamsburgh. The natives in the north were mostly Polish descendants, while those in the south were largely of Puerto Rican ancestry, and many of them still call it home. But back then—this was during the foul and bloody reign of Rudolph William Louis Giuliani—there seemed to be enough room for anybody who wanted to start over and make a new life for themselves.
Of course, this was long before folks stared into flickering computer box screens to find a new homestead; most of those who sought shelter huddled in Astor place on Tuesday nights awaiting the first copies of the Village Voice, which had classified advertisements for all sorts of things (but mostly apartment listings). But outside the Bedford Avenue "L" stop in Williamsburg, a giant bulletin board was packed with paper notices for available apartments—if one had the means to pay a landlord, say, $700 a month for a spacious one bedroom.
Compared to Manhattan, there weren't a whole lot of fancy dining options. Eventually a sprawling public house serving food from Thailand opened up (it's now an expensive Italian place), but over by the train station you could get a bite at Read, a book-strewn cafe that finally succumbed in 2008 and was replaced by fastidious coffeshop El Beit. (Read's doughty owner packed up and moved south to open the still-thriving Rabbithole.) Those who abstained from eating meat could find sustenance at Bliss, and down past North 5th Street there was strong coffee, bagels and pastries to be had at Verb, which opened in 1999. TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone used to work there—during that time he was in Rocket Science & the Nigger Loving Faggots. Back then, we made our own fun.
Anyway, Verb is closing at the end of the month. "The landlord wants us to pay 70% more rent than what we're paying," a heavily tattooed Verb employee told us with a weary air of resignation. No one seems to know what's going to replace it, but the employee said a designer jean boutique was opening in the mini-mall next door, and speculated that the landlord simply intended to "gouge some naive entrepreneurs for their life savings, and they'll close in a year and a half." A call placed to Verb's landlord has not been returned.
We reached out to one of the Verb's owners, Jason Jeffries—he also co-owns the Bedford Cheese Shop across the street—for more details about his old timey coffeeshop's demise. We'll update if we find out more, but there's not much else to say. This is all part of a larger trend of Williamsburg's sickening turbo-gentrification, and not at all surprising. And to be honest, Verb's coffee was never even that great (they didn't even try to compete with the wildly successful Blue Bottle around the corner), but it did the trick, and the cafe was a friendly place to hang out long before there were great places to hang out that weren't bars. And its grungy, no-frills atmosphere is unlikely to be replicated in the slick new Williamsburg, where only the most upscale boutiques or chain stores can survive.
There have been too many Ends of an Era in Williamsburg to count, but Verb may very well be the last of the old OG hipster haunts. RIP Verb, and best of luck to the exotic imported feather boutique that tries to replace it.