Brooklyn has been on the radar for awhile now. “Williamsburg hipsters” are a punchline to many a joke, gentrification struggles have reached far corners of the city's self-proclaimed hippest borough, and it seems that these days, one can't swing an organic, gluten-free loaf of bread without hitting a community garden, clandestine warehouse venue, or bar specializing in local brews and treats.
But while a lot of today's biggest Brooklyn draws happen to be Portland-like qualities (quirky entertainment, organic vegetables, local production, an affinity for bacon), it's also worth noting that the exciting and interesting New York that people expect has shifted somewhat to Brooklyn. For superb underground music, Bushwick and Williamsburg, not to mention Greenpoint, are where it's at. For after hours parties that go later or for fun dance nights, it's also more and more frequently becoming Brooklyn that people flock to. And the flight of creative types from overpriced Manhattan boxes to spacious and airy Brooklyn lofts means that for some Manhattan dwellers, more time is spent heading into Brooklyn for fun than ever before, since that's where events and friends alike can be found.
At the same time, classic elements of Brooklyn, from beautiful public gardens to an exciting art museum, are all well worth some time on one's visit, too. This exciting mix of space, culture, and being on the cutting edge can be summed up in former Brooklyn Heights resident Truman Capote's famous quote: “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” Paradoxically, for anyone interested in a less Bridge and Tunnel experience, Brooklyn is most definitely the place to be.
- Before embarking upon any outing that might require use of the G train, actually check to see if it's running. And even then, expect to be waiting a long time. The only full-time service that runs just in Brooklyn, the G is known for being the most unreliable of subway lines. This is doubly true at night and on weekends, so consider cabbing it to save time and energy.
- Brooklyn is a great place to eat and drink locally. With Cafe Grumpy roasting its beans in Greenpoint, plenty of artisanal beer brewers working out of various neighborhoods, and all sorts of food and treats production, it's a happening place for crunchy hippies, coffee addicts, and legit foodies. Be sure to sample their wares whenever possible.
- Hitting a greenmarket is also a quintessentially Brooklyn experience as of late, and there are plenty to choose from, no matter the day of the week. Boerum Hill has its Foodshed Market (388 Atlantic Avenue) year-round on Sundays, while the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket (Carroll Street and Smith Street) offers cooking demonstrations along with its wares on Sundays. Saturdays, the Williamsburg Waterfront Greenmarket combines forces Brooklyn Flea for an array of seasonal offerings, family-friendly activities, and plenty of cooking demos.
- Not everyone visiting New York has the budget to match what is definitely one of the most expensive cities in the world. Get around the costs of fun in Brooklyn by consulting Brokelyn, a blog that complies all that is free, cheap, and a definite bargain throughout Brooklyn. It's a truly invaluable resource, and one that helps out a whole lot. It's also essential reading for anyone new to New York, especially if the goal is to not be completely burnt out (or destitute) after six months!
- Don't forget the big sites: it's always worthwhile to visit McCarren Park, especially during summer, when the free open-air movies take place. Likewise, don't forget to save time for a trip to The Brooklyn Museum, which houses an impressive permanent collection and is known for well-curated visiting exhibits, too.
Where to Stay
To really experience the broke artist living to its fullest, head to Bushwick's New York Loft Hostel and enjoy a super-cheap loft-style hostel, where the communal rooms sleep 10-15 people. For a little bit more cash, it's possible to secure an equally industrial-chic private room, which might be worthwhile for those who don't really want to live as some of the locals do. The building dates back to 1912, though the contemporary decor and exposed brick feel very now. There's even a back yard, which is a bit tougher to find in hotels over in Manhattan.
For a more centralized Brooklyn location and a bit more of an upscale place to rest, 3B in downtown Brooklyn is a good choice. Minimal but comfortable rooms come in single and double varieties with private bathrooms, or those who are working on an artist's budget might want to go for the shared bathrooms and bunk bed lodging. This bed and breakfast was dreamed up by a crew of artist friends, and it shows in the small touches, from the lack of television to the great collection of books. An excellent spot for those who like to get to know people, as chatting with other guests and the owners is definitely encouraged (but not required).
What to Eat
As one of Williamsburg's hotter restaurants, Traif is a delicious, potentially sacrilegious foray into delicious and affordable comfort food, done up by a boyfriend-girlfriend team where one person's Jewish and one person's not. Bacon lovers and the adventurous might want to make the trip just to order the bacon-rimmed cocktail, though the less daring mains and beverages are equally delightful. If the weather's pleasant enough, sitting outside will really make the experience that much sweeter.
For a chance to feel like it's not Brooklyn, head to Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights, where the leafy surroundings and quaint decor could be somewhere else in New England, decades ago. An excellent kitchen elevates this drinking hole to legitimate gastro-pub, with everything from tasty oysters to succulent steaks. It's cozy, it's sophisticated (jazz in the background, Art Deco flourishes), and the cocktails are also superb. And one's chances of spotting someone with knuckle tattoos here are slim to none.
Over in Greenpoint, Five Leaves is always worth a visit. This cafe/bar offers up tasty American staples done just fancy enough for Brooklyn's second-newest cool neighborhood. Don't skip the Earl Grey ice cream for dessert, and be sure to order a cocktail, as their house drinks also work that understated creativity apparent in the dishes. It's a really delightful, cheerful spot (and one that Heath Ledger was the main investor in).
One cannot eat in Brooklyn without going to Pies ‘n' Thighs, a down-home Southern restaurant by way of Williamsburg. It's affordable enough that local artists and musicians pack in time after time, tasty enough that bridge and tunnel foodies check it out, and famous enough that Martha Stewart had the proprietresses on her show to share the secret of their addictive fried chicken. But chances are, you'll still be able to grab a spot and enjoy a catfish sandwich, bucket of fried chicken, or slice of gooey, delicious pecan pie. Great year-round, and they now deliver their pies, so keep that in mind next Thanksgiving.
What to See
International indie superstars, influential local acts, and world-famous DJs all have one thing in common: they get booked to play at Public Assembly in Williamsburg. This former factory is seeing a flourishing second life as an integral venue for various different scenes, thanks to the tastemaking skills of Ben, the guy in charge of handling schedules for three separate spaces. Downstairs, a smaller back room hosts everyone from Josh Wink to local noise residencies, while the larger main space sees everything from Japanese indie royalty to raucous dance nights like The Bunker. Upstairs, a great-looking loft room packs people for dance parties from time to time, including the stunningly campy and always-fun Xanadude and the 90s-influenced Pony.
Nearby, Cameo does double duty as an art gallery and a music venue that manages to showcase some of the best up-and-coming talent alongside Brooklyn legends. From bands like VHS or Beta to Jessica 6, it's pretty much where to go for those who are interested in what might sound great next. And fortunately, the came can be said about the gallery portion of the venue.
Over in Greenpoint, the desire for rustic living continues to be a major selling point in cuisine and bar decor themes, so it's no wonder that Kill Devil Hill is a popular stop for window shoppers and those with an appetite for penny candy. This cute mom and pop has legit antiques, many of which date back before the 1940s, and an excellent collection of objects with a true Americana feel. Perhaps Greenpoint's finest general store, and one that's worth checking out for truly original presents or apartment decor.
For those interested in edgy electro music (or those who find it interesting), the recently-opened Fool's Gold store/label headquarters is definitely worth checking out. Located in Williamsburg, it's a great place to pick up the label's latest releases, which include an all-star roster of talent, as well as to check out art, see live performances on occasion, and maybe try to get A-Trak to sign whatever your own electronic music pet project may be.
If visiting during the summer months, then a trip to Tiki Disco at Roberta's in Bushwick is pretty much mandatory. For more normal hipsters, going here to hear big-name DJs like Eli Escobar play disco in the afternoon hours is pretty much necessary, right up there with the parties in Queens at PS1 on Saturdays. It's a small outdoor affair, and one worth showing up early for, since that free admission tempts even the most hungover waiters-slash-guitarists from Brooklyn and beyond. It's also worth going to grab a bite at Roberta's if Tiki Disco isn't happening, since the restaurant serves up incredible pizzas.
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Photo Credits: confusedbee, fogindex, Danny., Mikey V, feministjulie, Nicholas Wittaker, wfuv, Adam Kuban, Todd W Shafer, Curious Expeditions, Wally G