Johnny Cirillo of @watchingnewyork's Day Off in Greenpoint, Brooklyn Includes Sorbet with Gummy Bears and 'Ms. Pac-Man'
“Every person that I talk to is another person to be inspired by.”
By Sadie Bell and Johnny Cirillo
Published on 11/10/2022 at 3:06 PM
Johnny Cirillo | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Johnny Cirillo is a New York-native artist and photographer, who has gained a following of over 800K on Instagram with his popular street style page @watchingnewyork, which he has been running since 2016. Capturing candid photos of well-dressed New Yorkers with a wide range of taste in fashion, he's gained a reputation as the "people's paparazzi" and also gone on to shoot New York Fashion Week and various campaigns.
I was born in New York in 1980, so I've been here for a million years. We have a house out on Long Island, but we have an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I moved there in 2003, so I'm going on 20 years there. Greenpoint is awesome. I often shoot @watchingnewyork in Williamsburg, and I've often thought that the neighborhoods bleed into one another. I think Williamsburg gets more chaotic, though, and it's more of where the people come to party. It's more laid back in Greenpoint. It's a family-friendly, fun, little neighborhood that's quiet at times and loud at times, but it's a good mom-and-pop neighborhood. That's what I love about it.
When I start a day on my own in Greenpoint, I always start my day at Bakeri. I get the fruit and granola cup. It's a woman-owned business and everybody working there wears the same cool jumpsuit. It's very Wes Anderson-esque, with really tasty food. My day often starts with breakfast from there, and then in the mornings, I edit and I organize my thoughts with what I'm going to post on Instagram for the day. I'll talk to my wife about what the caption's going to be, and the order of the pictures to me is a really big deal—it can take me 30 minutes to move pieces around. Then after I post around 11 o'clock, I'll hit the streets and wander around. I never have a plan—I just wander. Sometimes I'm on streets I've never seen before and I'm looking around and exploring new things, and I'll snap photos as I go. Usually, I'll walk from Greenpoint into Williamsburg and hit up some of my favorite spots along the way as I'm walking.
Bakeri Interior | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
“The guy that owns it is this guy Herman, who I've known for 20 years. He's awesome and cares so much about the community. They have everything that you can imagine.”
I always stop into Starhawk Design Studio, a wellness store on Manhattan Avenue. It's a very safe, spiritual place with a very creative guy at the helm. I go in and hang out with the guy who owns it, Tom. We'll chat and he brings everything down a couple degrees because he's so mellow and wants to talk about crystals and stuff like that. If you tell him, "I've been really stressed out," he'll give you three scents to mix together and make you feel better, or he'll give you some crystals to pour water over and drink. It's a good, happy place to stop in.
I also like to visit Greenpoint Toys. The toy store has a lot to do with my kid, but I'll go in there at any time. The guy that owns it is this guy Herman, who I've known for 20 years. He's awesome and cares so much about the community. They have everything that you can imagine. It's like a full-on three-level Manhattan toy store within this little shop. I can never pass the toy store without going in and getting a toy for my kid. So, it's a bonus that Herman's always in there hanging out. He'll always tell you what the new, cool things are that are out, "Check this out. Show this to your kid." So, I often end up having a stuffed dinosaur in my back pocket for the day walking around.
There's a handful of places in the area I love to go to for a bite to eat, too. Mongers Palate is a cheese shop on Driggs and it's a really small shop, but the owner Carol has the best cheese in the neighborhood. She makes the best sandwiches in the neighborhood, as far as I'm concerned. She makes incredibly delicate and beautiful-looking cheese plates that have florals in them. They're very aesthetically pleasing, plus super tasty. I go to eat cheese, but then when someone loves something so much and they start telling me about it—like Carol is super knowledgeable and she'll start telling me about cheese—I'm like, "Wow, cheese is cool! You made cheese cool!"
McGolrick Park | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
“McGolrick Park… It’s a beautiful park with a great playground for kids. There’s great skateboarding that goes on there, it’s a great place to meet other friends, or parents, or host birthday parties. It’s been a staple for a long time.”
The Screen Door is a great place to get ice cream. Their banana split is completely bonkers—like a legit banana split with the whole banana and hot fudge. I love to get what I call the Oscar, though. A friend of mine, Oscar, who's nine and one of my best friends' sons, turned me onto this and it's sorbet with gummy bears on top. Every time I go to The Screen Door now, that's what I get: purple sorbet with gummy bears. The owners are such amazing, good, caring people, too. What's cool about that shop, though, is that years before they opened, I had a photo show and I had taken an aerial shot of McGolrick Park, and I left to go get lunch and when I came back, somebody had bought that picture. I was upset because it was the only time that I didn't get to talk to the person who bought one of my prints, so I never knew who got it. Then when The Screen Door opened, it was hanging on the wall. They bought it. They were right down the street from me, so that was really cool. I have so much love for them.
It's right near McGolrick Park, which is so super special and awesome. It's a beautiful park with a great playground for kids. There's great skateboarding that goes on there, it's a great place to meet other friends, or parents, or host birthday parties. It's been a staple for a long time.
At some point in the day, I also like to visit Magic Land, which is actually not a public place. Back in the day in Greenpoint, there were a lot of artist spaces or DIY spots where you can go and hang out, bring some beers, hear music, or see art. Magic Land is a place that my brother owns. He lives upstairs on the third floor, and Magic Land is on the ground floor. He's an artist and he makes really beautiful paintings. But it's one of those spaces where you go in and there's a lot going on. There's a wall that everybody who comes in signs, he's got this gigantic disco ball, beautiful plants, a Christmas tree that's already decorated, and a neighborhood cat comes in every day. It's a place to be creative and unwind, and there's usually other people in there hanging around. It really is my favorite place to go. Eventually, he's going to have his own art show, open it up, and let people come in and hang out. Right now, it's just one of those special places for me to be in and get creative. It's always where I go before I go out to shoot, and it's always the first place I go when I come home.
For dinner, there's nothing that compares to Lilia. I think that it's the best restaurant that I've ever eaten in. For an appetizer, I have to get the artichoke, which is my all-time favorite food, hands down, and any way that they prepare it is terrific. Then for the main course, the agnolotti is my favorite thing that they make. It's a really creamy, filled pasta with saffron on it. Every time I go anywhere else, I'll get the agnolotti, and it never compares. For dessert, The Italian Job. It's a vanilla gelato with olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt on it, and it's incredible. There's lots of great restaurants in New York, but that's my favorite. We also decided my son's name while we were sitting there eating the day before he was born, so it's an all-time favorite place.
Barcade | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
“It's complete joy, utter entertainment, and an escape. That place can be completely empty, with Ms. Pac-Man in the middle of it, and I would still say it's my favorite place to be.”
In the evenings, the bowling alley The Gutter is somewhere I love to go. It has a very special place in my heart. A few of my friends have been working there for a hundred years, and my little brother had his high game there, which was really fun many years ago. It's one of those wacky-ass places that is just perfect: The bowling alley itself is really old and cool, and there's great decor on the wall from bowling league championships from the '60s and '70s. One of my greatest memories that I have was at The Gutter. I was making a vlog at the time and, for shits and giggles, I wanted to have a wrap party for the 10th episode and we went to the back of The Gutter. I had 75 friends and family come, and my wife Kristin was pregnant and nobody knew yet, so at the end of the vlog we announced that she was pregnant. Everybody that I loved was there, so it was a really great celebration.
Barcade in Williamsburg is another favorite spot of mine. It's a place where all your dreams come true. It's like an adult playground—a way to tap into nostalgia and focus on something so simple like a quarter video game. It's also a blast to go with friends and play different games or two-player ones. It's funny because the games are simple for the most part, since they're from the '80s and '90s, but they're more about strategy and skill and I think people really enjoy that. There's something for everybody in that spot.
I've played Ms. Pac-Man more than any video game I've ever played in my life, and have a really high score of 330,000. I'm obsessed with playing that when I go. I'll go for two, three hours, not even drinking, and play Ms. Pac-Man. It's complete joy, utter entertainment, and an escape. That place can be completely empty, with Ms. Pac-Man in the middle of it, and I would still say it's my favorite place to be.
There are so many great places in my neighborhood, but it's always the people behind the businesses that are so special. Something that I never in a million years would've thought would interest me, all of a sudden I have an interest in it because somebody I meet is so passionate about it. It's like my photography, too. Every person that I talk to is another person to be inspired by. I love when I meet people—it's constantly fueling the fire a little bit. Every day is something different.
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