Y ou can tell you’re getting close to Brighton Beach -- or Little Odessa, named for its ex-Soviet inhabitants -- when the signs outside of shops begin to form the unfamiliar shapes of Cyrillic. Whether you’re a native New Yorker or just visiting, Brighton Beach is a living reminder that simply crossing a city block can send you straight into another world.
The waterfront neighborhood is always changing, making room for immigrants, refugees, NYC transplants, and day-trippers, but it stays deeply rooted in its past of condensed milk cans and hand-pulled noodles. "Little Odessa," in fact, is a bit diminutive; this is Brighton Beach, and it’s a place entirely of its own making.
On a sunny summer afternoon, entering the neighborhood feels like you’ve stepped out of the city and into a European coastal town. English fades, and Russian conversation rises. Big, tan, hairy men in neon Speedos sit shirtless, with their legs spread wide. And unlike nearby Coney Island, which jangles with competing boomboxes and fruity Juul plumes, the seaside here is calm enough to hear the seagulls call, or to take a nap while your beer warms in a cup in the sand.