Ye Nautical Garage
Brooklyn, New York
Located across the street from a giant Fairway supermarket, nestled between a wire supplier and an empty lot, there stands one man's architectural tribute to patriotism, brotherhood and aquatic gewgaw-ship. This is Ralph Balzano's Marvelous Memorabilia Garage and Informal Mature Men's Social Club (our overwrought name for it).
Ralph is a retired Parks Department employee and lifelong neighborhood resident with deep family roots in this until-recently-neglected corner of Brooklyn (His older brother, Sunny, owns the quirky Sunny's Bar around the corner at 253 Conover Street; that building is said to have been first operated as a tavern by a Balzano way back in the 1890's).
Ralph's tar-paper-clad building was once a rather ordinary garage, owned by his uncle. But it has gradually been transformed, and is now adorned with a mostly maritime jumble of objects: life preservers, buoys, ships' wheels, an anchor, a plastic owl, a tricycle, a spray-painted fiberglass swordfish and a handmade replica of the World Trade Center Towers.
An American flag proudly flaps in the waterfront wind and a red bench is kindly provided to rest up tied tootsies.
The eye-catching structure serves as a hangout for Ralph's buddies and as a place to store vintage cars, including a 1959 El Camino convertible. If you are lucky, the metal gate will be up when you walk by, and you can get a peek of the interior. Antiques, collectibles, and just plain personal possessions are crammed into every nook and cranny: faux-Tiffany lamps, street signs, hubcaps, puppets, bumper stickers...it all contributes to the creation of a manly-yet-sensitive decorating vibe.
(And if 26 Reed Street puts you in a seafaring mood, pop across to Fairway and try the $9.99 lobster roll at the café. Then sit out back and watch the Ikea water taxi go by.) [ADB]