leisure 12.9.03

Brooklyn Lights

One of the more engaging ways to spend an evening over the holidays is to visit one of the pockets of lights in New York's boroughs. You'll find homeowners who can't put up a few dozen bulbs on their house when 10,000 will do. Why bother with wooden soldiers, they ask themselves, if they're not 27 feet tall? The lights flash, the figures move, carols play, people mill, and donations for good causes are solicited. Holiday lights, candles, and characters are featured on the lawn, the walkway, the driveway, in the windows. and on the roof. The owners cast a gimlet eye on their neighbor's display and come up with ways to up the ante for next year, with more Dickens, more Nutcracker, or all of Rudolph's extended family.

The action gets started at about this point in the month and lasts through the first of the year. One of the more popular rendezvous spots for these Christmas decoration showcases is around 84th Street between 11th and 12th in Brooklyn. You can get there by taking the R train to 86th in Brooklyn. When you get out of the station, walk along 86th Street (you want to walk from 4th Ave. to 11th Ave. — it's a good 15-20 minutes). One you get close, follow the crowds around 84th Street to the half dozen or so over-the-top decorated house and other more modest efforts. The houses that stand out are the ones that have nothing on them — there aren't many of those.

There's a pleasant, small-town feel to the competitions and an interesting mix of locals, Manhattanites, and international visitors. Early in the season, there are camera crews, but after that it's just people enjoying the holidays, listening to the music that sometimes comes blaring from the houses into the street, and enjoying this charming celebration of the season.
After a visit to the borough of lights, we'd stop in for dinner at Tommaso's, 1464 86th [14th/15th] 718.236.9883. This informal, popular Italian restaurant features the occasional live aria and a terrific wine list. Warm up with a bottle of red wine from owner Tommaso Verdillo's cellar. He's such a passionate oenophile, he can hardly bring himself to add much of a markup to the wines. Tommaso's is a great place to toast the holidays.

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