Places to Love: Brooklyn
When you think New York City, you probably envision Manhattan. To me, the city’s heart and soul resides in Brooklyn (and no I’m not just saying that because I live there). As one of the five boroughs in the US’s largest city, Brooklyn is actually quite huge. In fact, if it wasn’t under the umbrella of New York City, it would be the 4th largest American city all on its own! Don’t let the size alarm you—this borough has a low-key, neighborhood vibe that’s devoid of that Manhattan hustle. Add in diverse neighborhoods, great food and unexpected businesses, and Brooklyn is a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Eat your way around the globe in Prospect Park
This 600-acre urban retreat often receives comparison to Central Park—and for good reason. It was designed by the same creator. Finished in the late 1800s, this beautiful greenspace draws in locals for jogging, biking, dog walking and, my favorite, eating.
Every Sunday from April through October, thousands flock to Smorgasburg, the largest weekly open-air food market in America. Over 100 vendors serve food from all over the globe. You’ll find all sorts of offerings, from staples like fresh juices and Chinese dumplings, to more out-there items like spaghetti doughnuts and raindrop cakes. I tried the latter on my last trip, and while the thought of eating a vegan, gelatinous blob that looks exactly like a raindrop was a bit of a headscratcher, I am now a convert! The jelly cake itself doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but it’s beautiful and delicate, and pairs perfectly with syrups and fruit toppings.
Other vendors I adore include Wowfulls, a modern take on authentic 1950’s-style Hong Kong egg waffles. These crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside confections are rolled into cones and filled with ice cream and whatever toppings your heart desires. Vanpackistan, owned and operated by Culinary Institute of America grad and Top Chef contestant Fatima Ali, is another favorite. She puts her own spin on the dishes and flavors of her homeland, in a way that’s approachable and fun. Try her chaat and biryani dishes; they’re incredible.
IF YOU GO
If you can’t make it to the Sunday Smorgasburg, keep in mind there’s others offered in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Visit their website as some are hosted seasonally.
241 37th St.
Brooklyn, New York 11232
Explore America’s History at Brooklyn Navy Yard
Founded in 1801, this part of the city saw the creation of the country’s premier naval ships. From steam powered ships to iconic battleships like the USS Arizona, this naval hub plays a huge significance in American history. Until recently, it was off limits to the public. Today, that’s all changing. The Brooklyn Naval Yard is undergoing a complete renovation, which includes an incredible historical center at Building 92 and many studios and workspaces for over 330 local artisans and entrepreneurs.
One of the most notable has to be Kings County Distillery. This is New York City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, and the first since prohibition. Here’s what’s crazy: it was founded in 2010! That’s directly attributed to urban land economics, essentially meaning that after prohibition, it really didn’t make a lot of sense to devote precious urban space to distilling. Kings brought distilling back to NYC, focusing on handmade moonshine, bourbon, and other whiskeys. Even though they’re less than a decade old, their space in the navy yard’s 118-year-old Paymaster Building gives it a heritage brand vibe. Tours and tastings offered Tuesday through Sunday afternoons. Their Gatehouse tasting room in the 1896 ceremonial entrance to the Navy Yard is open every day.
IF YOU GO
Book a Navy Yard tour with Turnstile Tours. Theme-based tours include history, architecture, industry, and more, so there are many ways to discover what’s behind the walls of the Brooklyn Navy Yard by bicycle, bus, and on foot.
Kings County Distillery
299 Sands Street, Bldg 121
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Court Street: A Portal to the Past
Cobble Hill and Carrol Gardens remain two of the most coveted addresses in Brooklyn. They’re home to incredible historic brownstones and leafy streets. At their heart is Court Street, one my favorites. You’ll find shops and restaurants along this charming street. From brand new, trendy eateries to fifth generation bakeries, comic bookstores and board game shops, it boasts a little bit of everything.
For a timeless taste of the borough, head to Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain. Housed in a 1920s apothecary store, what was once a thriving neighborhood pharmacy remained closed for years. That is, until siblings Gia Giasullo and Peter Freeman decided to bring the soda fountain back to the block. Though open just since 2010, this place truly feels like it’s been here forever. Mosaic tile floors, vintage swivel counter stools, and its rich, wooden nail that nostalgic vibe. It’s the Brooklyn egg cream that takes it to a new level. This classic soda fountain drink pairs milk and seltzer with Brooklyn’s own Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate syrup. You’ll also find goodies like sandwiches, sundaes, malts and more. It’s the kind of place where someone from 2 to 82 will instantly feel welcome.
IF YOU GO
Visit The Brooklyn Strategist, a unique, community-based, interactive board and card game center, café and social club. It’s so, so fun!
513 Henry St,
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Next Big Thing?
When I travel, I love visiting places like Gowanus. This neighborhood is gritty—in fact, it’s home to one of the country’s most polluted waterways, the Gowanus Canal. However, there is something about gritty that New Yorkers take pride in, and if you’re willing to acknowledge, accept and then look past it, you’ll find treasures.
That polluted canal? It’s where the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn took place. During the Industrial Revolution, it acted as a global hub for trade and transportation. So what if it’s filled with raw sewage today? New Yorkers see potential where others might see grime. Mark my words: it’ll be one of the hottest neighborhoods in ten years.
The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club has become the darling of Gowanus. At first blush, it seems a little out there: A shuffleboard club? In Brooklyn? However, it’s become a beloved business in the neighborhood, with people both young and old rallying around this Kickstarter-funded business. The game is addictive, and I love it because you can do pretty well without being that good (but trust me, the pros are on a whole different level). It has a bowling alley vibe, and you’re not going to find anything like it anywhere else.
IF YOU GO
Know that Royal Palms doesn’t officially offer food, but they do host a food truck nightly. You won’t go hungry!
514 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215
To learn more about the history of the Gowanus and its canal, check out Joseph Alexiou’s book, Gowanus: a Curious Canal.
Bedford Stuyvesant: An Architectural Treasure
Leafy, quiet streets. Beautiful brownstones. Neighbors chatting on the stoop. A walk through Bed-Stuy doesn’t exactly match the crime-riddled reputation neighborhood that’s often depicted. For history buffs and architecture lovers, a trip here is a must.
I toured the neighborhood with author and historian Suzanne Spellen. She explains the historical significance of Bed-Stuy, specifically from an architectural standpoint. Here, you’ll find a huge collection of quintessential Brooklyn brownstones. The neighborhood still has many left intact largely because, as Spellen says, “no one wanted them… poverty protects.” Here, every block a treasure. Sign up for one of Spellen’s tours of Bed-Stuy with the Municipal Art Society.
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IF YOU GO
Visit Sankofa Aban, a Bed-Stuy B&B that hosts live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. From neighborhood musicians to international names, it’s one of the city’s most unique live music experiences.
Bed Stuy is an ethnically diverse neighborhood with great food options. One of my favorites for a quick lunch in a warm atmosphere is Doctor’s Cave Café. Get the special, usually a Jamaican inspired dish.