While there are so many things to love about the neighborhood we call home, there are fewer joys than getting to know the characters that make Coney Island one of the most vibrant and unique nooks in Brooklyn. Since we’re lucky enough to hang out with these characters in at the brewery every day, we thought that it’s time we start sharing them with you!
Our first Character of Coney is near and dear to us, if you’ve ever visited Coney you’re probably familiar with some of her work around the neighborhood – most recently at longtime boardwalk staple Ruby’s Bar & Grill – meet local muralist Danielle Mastrion!
Where are you from originally?
I am born and raised in Brooklyn, in the Sheepshead Bay / Coney Island area.
What is your connection to Coney Island?
My mother, after immigrating here as a child, was raised in Coney Island right on Ocean Parkway. My whole family grew up there. I’ve grown up coming to Coney Island since as early as I can remember, even when it was a little more desolate in the 80s. Her best friend lived in Sea Gate, so I spent all my summers on the beach there.
I’ve always loved the sea and water and the wild nature of the place, and as an artist – loved the colors of the rides and old signage.
What does Coney Island mean/represent to you?
Coney Island represents home. I feel at home and relaxed when I smell the ocean air there, even in the chaos of the summertime crowds. The smells and sounds relax me. On a larger scale, Coney Island represents the last of an artistic, creative community left in New York City. For over a century, people with “crazy” ideas and dreams have flocked to these shores— from the original amusement park operators, to the designers of rides like the Wonder Wheel, (which at the time were insane ideas), to the artists and painters who decorated these rides and banners and gave Coney the color and look and feel we all love. And of course the performers—from musicians to burlesque to American side show, to the characters and costumes you see at the Mermaid Parade, or just walking down the Boardwalk on any given day— Coney Island has and always will have some form of artistic, creative spirit that attracts all walks of life to thrive there.
Favorite memory in Coney?
There are too many. Here are several special moments that stick out: riding the Wonder Wheel with my friends right after my High School graduation, taking my little cousins on the Cyclone for the first time, grabbing the rings as a child on the original B&B Carousel when it was on Surf Avenue, becoming an official Coney Island Polar Bear, the opportunities I’ve had from painting murals there—it’s impossible to choose just one.
Other highlights include getting locked into the Cyclone overnight for two nights in a row to paint a mural on the tracks for the 90th anniversary, and climbing the ‘hill’ of the Cyclone at Sunrise. Painting inside of the historic Spook-A-Rama Dark Ride which is over 50 years old at Deno’s Wonder Wheel, sitting on the scaffolding during the Friday night dance parties and watching the Friday night fireworks while I was painting the Aquarium mural. One of my favorites is the time spent working on the Brewery’s mural during the expansion. Being in that space that has so much history and being able to just sit and bring another piece of Coney alive, on a summer night, was an incredible memory. Also, my first snow swim as a Polar Bear was pretty epic!
Favorite ride/amusement/game/location/feature in Coney?
Favorite ride is hands down the Cyclone. There is literally no other ride like it in the world. Next is the Wonder Wheel, for the views of the beach and thrill of the swinging cars. Favorite location is the beer garden at the Brewery, or the boardwalk seating of Rubys, or the warmth of the Freak Bar after a swim!
What is your go to snack/food in Coney?
Now it is 100% the vegetarian options at the Brewery. I am so, so happy that a business has so many options, and healthy options for us non-meat eaters! That’s something really hard to find in boardwalk-food culture. The veggie burger, or the quesadillas, or the flatbreads, or the soup! All top picks.
If you could have any dream job/role in Coney what would it be?
I already have it and I am grateful for it—being a local mural painter and being able to work with major institutions that work together to make Coney Island what it is. My dream is to just keep painting, keep helping out, and keep the neighborhood colorful and vibrant.
What do you wish you could have experienced in the old ‘nostalgic’ Coney Island?
I would have loved to ride the original Thunderbolt, and rode the Parachute Jump, and had an opportunity to walk through the original Steeplechase Park Pavillion. I would have also loved to stay at the Elephant Hotel, or experienced what it was like inside of Stauch or Ravenhall Baths, or a day under the boardwalk like my parents and grandparents got to do. Also—it would have been amazing to have been at the very first Mermaid Parade in the 80s!
What do you miss about pre-Covid Coney/what are you most looking forward to returning?
I miss indoor hang outs especially in the winter after the Polar Bear Swims at the Brewery or the Freak Bar; it was such a ‘family’ tradition; I also miss the rides being open and the thriving energy of the Summertime crowds. I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to returning – a good, crowded, crazy, fun summer night, with the fireworks, getting food and drinks with friends.
Other fun facts? Scariest/funniest memories?
Scariest/funniest memories would probably have to do with the Polar Bear Club—the antics and costumes on the beach that get us through going in that water. Another would be getting locked inside the Cyclone overnight, and being inside of Spook-A-Rama alone—I could feel the history, memories, spirits, I never felt like I was alone if that makes sense. Funniest is just a day-in-the-life of painting on the boardwalk and all the “characters” that show up. You could write a book about them.