Jackson threw a “Where the Wild Things Are”-themed bash celebrating his birthday last weekend at Willy Bee’s in Williamsburg. Cocktail Angst, a local “psychedelic” jazz quintet took care of the music. Beer and wine flowed and there was plenty of free pizza and cake. All the cool kids were there. The party started at 11 a.m. and Jackson turned two.
The bash was as much in honor of Willy Bee’s as of the celebrated toddler. “I opened two and half years ago—six months pregnant,” blurts out Serena Siegfried, owner and creator of both Jackson and Willy Bee’s Family Lounge, as she simultaneously scarfs down a soy hot dog and comforts a tot who has just taken a tumble onto the floor behind her. “Did you just break the floor?”
Willy Bee’s Family Lounge, just a block from the rumbling BQE, is a beacon on a section of Metropolitan Avenue that otherwise contains warehouse fronts and auto repair shops. A step inside greets you with a dizzying bouquet of hot dogs roasting and cookies baking, a delightful yellow world of organic applesauce, toddling darlings and oversized Legos. Serena’s comfort-food menu spans brunch to dinner—and generations, sating snack-attack sufferers of all ages in need of bagged Cheerios and tofu cubes. “A group of musicians practice across the street and come in for afternoon Fluffernutters. They just want to eat something their mom might have made them.” Adults may feel young again by ordering alphabet soup with Goldfish crackers but here it is the beautiful babies, sporting “Made In Brooklyn” onesies, who reign supreme.
When Serena found this unlikely spot to make manifest her dream of “working somewhere I could bring my kids,” it was nothing more than a live/work space for artists. “It didn’t even have plumbing. The first time my husband and I came it was raining and I just could not picture anything. But we came back a second time because ‘it had a backyard,’ something I was looking for. It was a sunny day and it seemed right.” Judging by the vibrantly social clientele who blissfully buzz around the café after a Drama Rama class for three- to five-year-olds (one of the many children’s classes held at the lounge daily), Serena was definitely onto something.
With its coffee menu featuring seasonal specialties (like eggnog lattes and mulled wine) and health-conscious comfort food offering Tots and Dogs (soy or beef ) to the kiddos and Nutella croissants to their chaperones, Willy Bee’s could have been just another über-cool café in this now-cutesy colony née Williamsburg. But Serena sought something more civically and socially conscious. “I wanted to make sure I was welcoming and including the people who already were living here. I lived in Williamsburg through the ’90s and saw lots of hipsters move in and act like they owned everything.” Offering community classes such CPR Training and Tips for Breastfeeding, and hosting a mural project for PS 84’s students, Serena has created a haven hive for all of Williamsburg’s bees, and it’s worth the buzz.
Editor’s note: Willy Bee’s Family Lounge has closed.