Brooklyn Saturday: Madcap Café, Blue Tatter, Bergen Spa

A practice I’ve developed from 25+ years of freelance writing is to “put pins in the saggy baggy week.” Work ebbs and flows, and during slack times it’s good to have “things to do,” i.e., “pins,” to put in the week, when time hangs saggy baggy, loose, around your ankles: swimming, writing or art sessions, a museum visit, or a social outing to defray the loneliness of the long distance freelancer. When my sister lost her job and entered the freelance life, this was my frequent advice to her, and it’s one as apropos for the weekend as the workweek.

Another weekend comes, so promising, but threatens to slip away without putting down some “pins” in the luxurious two days. Last Saturday, I knew the day would have to swirl around the pin placed squarely at the Cobble Hill Nursing Home, the dutiful visit to mom, so I needed some extra pins to keep the visit, often so saddening, from swamping my entire day: I went from breakfast at Madcap Café, to a Trunk Show at Blue: The Tatter Textile Library , to “Kabul,” as we sibs call it, and then to Bergen Spa. Here’s a recap of my Brooklyn Saturday which zig-zagged from Carroll Gardens to Gowanus to Cobble Hill, with pros and cons of each venue:

Madcap Café: My sister told me about this well-reviewed, airy cafe full of Brooklyn families with precocious children and outsized demands, “This biscuit is not really shaped like a biscuit,” the man behind me complained bitterly to the waiter as his children stood up and bumped incessantly against my chair back. From my solo seat I faced a young couple sitting at the bar. His back was to me and she had the look of a 30s starlet, with blond ringlets framing her face, a face so full of rapture, I thought she would swallow him whole. Words spilled out of her and they rubbed each others thighs as she talked, and I felt a small pang, remembering that state of Saturday morning after-sex thrall. By the time I left I saw a waiter remove a tray of dishes and cups, but never once did I see them eat or drink anything but only lap up each other’s faces and words. Meanwhile, I lapped up a flatbread egg and cheese sandwich ($5.00).

Pros: The generous amount of eggs cooked to fluffy perfection and laced with melted white cheddar spilling out of Madcap-made puffy flatbread. It comes wrapped in foil that you need to hold it all together before it reaches your mouth. A squirt of Sriracha enlivens. Look at Yelp and other reviews to find other favorites.

Cons: No decaf! My harassed waiter (All two were harassed) said Madcap was too small to offer decaf, which is ridiculous. So, consider that con along with brusque service and the fact that they had already run out of BACON by 11:40 on a weekend brunch day (Madcap’s ill-timed shortages are a frequent Yelper gripe). Best to come back here on a slow saggy baggy weekday morning.

BLUE: Tatter Library: This magical textile library is open by appointment only or for special events like the State of the Label trunk show I went to after Madcap, meeting sis-in-law Sue. Tatter is in the same Gowanus building as the Brooklyn arm of The Textile Arts Center and The Brooklyn Zen Center. Sue was running late, so I popped into the Zen center and asked a waif with a pixie hairdo, “Any sessions going on now?” She told me, with no irony in her voice, that I could join the “Undoing Whiteness” session, which would be followed by a “People of Color Sangha.” Hmm. I wondered if having separate meditation sessions was really a way to create harmony in diversity

Then I went down the hall to meditate on fabric in the calming blue surroundings of Tatter, complete with blue shelves and tableau of blue cloths decorated with sashiko embroidery, blue Shibori-dyed kimonos, cerulean and ultramarine objets d’ art. Not drawn to the sack-like offerings of the trunk show happening in the spacious studio, I spent an hour swooning over the library that, according to founder Jordana Munk Martin contains, “more than 5000 books, periodicals and exhibition catalogs on the subject of textiles, textile-related crafts, textile history, techniques etc. It is also home to thousands of textile objects: things you can touch.”

Pros: All of the above, namely the artful blue aesthetic that reminds me of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and her confession, “And so I fell in love with a color—in this case, the color blue—as if falling under a spell.” In addition to library books and swatches there are dozens of books on sales for $5 - $10 as well as spools of Japanese Habu yarn in, you guessed it, varying shades of blue. Classes on arcane topics like Hungarian Written Embroidery I and II and The Language of Palestinian Tatreez embroidery are also more wide-ranging and reasonably priced than those at the Textile Arts Center.

Cons: Open only by appointment. Jordana Munk Martin confessed she was a little nervous about what would ensue once Tatter is featured in Martha Stewart Living in January 2019. Will makers pound the blue doors down?

Bergen Spa: I come here often to reach nirvana through my soles after a soul-depleting visit to my mother, who becomes more faint and unresponsive with each week. While cheap Chinese Qigong massage parlors are ubiquitous all over NYC, most are kind of sketchy: bored women clustered in tatty waiting areas, dim hallways with “rooms” divided by sheets. That’s why I love the clean, open vibe of Bergen. I like the blonde wood-paneled minimalist room where six giant, brown, comfy loungers face each other. $38 for a one hour foot massage, which begins as you recline in the chair and an attendant covers you with a heavy towel, giving a sense of immediate childlike satisfaction as if you have been tucked into bed. I prefer the strong strokes of the male masseurs who sit on tiny pre-schooler-sized stools at our feet; it’s so lovely to have such attention lavished on the body’s most hardworking members, especially the finale, a brisk rub with hot stones. Key to the experience is the rhythmic trance music.

Pros: Clean and “standardized” setting, trance music and uniformly good massages for a great price (and you can get ½ hour foot and ½ hour back for $45).

Cons: Not really any except that you need to book a spot in advance, because it has become so popular.