Across the east river and away from the herds of selfie stick-wielding tourists lies a quieter borough. Brooklyn may not have the day-glo sheen of Times Square or the ritzy glamour of Madison Avenue. But that’s a great thing, we think. If you’re anything like us, you come here to escape all that noise, sip a craft cocktail, and view the Manhattan skyline from a more serene setting.
Brooklyn’s vibe may be artsy and nonchalant, but don’t be deceived—it’s a veritable destination in its own right, with world-class food, shopping and entertainment. Below is just a sampling of life in the borough beyond the bridge…
The Brooklyn hotel scene is experiencing a boom this year. If you don’t want to be the first guest at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (1hotels.com), or any of the other promising lodgings opening in 2017, you can play it safe and book at The Wythe Hotel (wythehotel.com). Established in 2012, which counts as old guard for Brooklyn, the Wythe is a repurposed warehouse now boasting sleek, minimalist rooms facing either Manhattan or Williamsburg’s own buildings (upon which the Wythe has commissioned custom graffiti). The skyline views from the rooftop bar are unobstructed, making it a great place to grab a drink even if you’re not staying the night. Onsite there’s dining at Reynard, an American Noveau brasserie. And Wythe Cinema hosts film festival screenings, comedy shows and record releases.
The William Vale Hotel (thewilliamvale.com) is one of the aforementioned brand-new lodgings that are cropping up along the Williamsburg skyline like daisies. It’s also one of the most luxurious of the newcomers, boasting the city’s longest pool (60 feet), a 24-hour gym, a huge ballroom, a buzzy Southern Italian restaurant (Leuca) and a rooftop bar with 360-degree views (as if the views from the glass balconies in every guest room weren’t enough). Th e property also includes upscale shopping and access to a public park.
The apartment self-rental website AirBnB (airbnb.com) is your best bet for access to the many wonderful Brooklyn neighborhoods that aren’t Williamsburg or DUMBO—think Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill … we could go on—Brooklyn is huge! Who needs a concierge when you can come home to your own (make-believe) pied-a-terre? It’s worth a bit of browsing to hunt down a beautifully furnished park-side brownstone with a back patio for the whole family, or an industrial one-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the Statue of Liberty.
That Lilia (lilianewyork.com) made every best-of list for New York City restaurants in 2016 is no fluke. Th e airily decorated former auto body shop may feel laid-back, but this playful-yet-reverent take on Italian food is fine dining-worthy. Missy Robbins is reportedly Barack Obama’s favorite chef, and she may soon be yours after you taste her grilled clams and cacio e peppe fritelli.
At Olmstead (olmsteadnyc.com), a pair of quails roost in a bucolic backyard amongst miniature apple trees, rows of microgreens and a bathtub colony of crayfish. Th e setting may read like a caricature of Brooklyn farm-to-table restaurant culture, but there’s nothing cliched about the inventive menu here; the unanimous star appetizer is a silky carrot crepe topped with littleneck clams and sunflower seeds. A meal here is a great way to round off an afternoon of lounging in nearby Prospect Park, and an appropriate one, too, as it’s named for one of the park’s architects, Frederick Law Olmstead.
Peter Luger Steak House (peterluger.com) is a delicious trip back in time. Long before Williamsburg was a foodie destination, it was a land of warehouses with just one remarkable lunch spot—this 1887 German beer hall. In 1950, the then-failing business was sold to Sol Forman, a metal-ware salesman who sometimes ate twice a day at Luger’s and couldn’t just stand by and watch his favorite restaurant go under. Two generations later, his family still runs the establishment—they personally inspect every porterhouse steak that passes through the doors for quality. While the Formans revived Peter Luger’s and even earned it a Michelin star, they’ve always maintained the character of the original, from the turn-of-the-century German decor to the menu—which features huge steaks for parties of two to four (!) along with other meat entrees and simple sides.
Schlep out to Roberta’s (robertaspizza.com) and dine like the celebrities (Beyonce and Jay Z have eaten there)—and every hipster in Bushwick. You’ll find stellar and affordable blisterycrusted wood-fired pizza, fresh artisanal side plates, and a backyard tiki bar. If the line is too long and you’re starving, just stroll the neighborhood; it’s where many young, creative chefs who can’t afford other real estate set up shop.
Come hungry to Smorgasburg (smorgasburg.com) or with a pack of friends who’ll share because you’ll want to try everything at this open-air foodie market run by the Brooklyn Flea. There are several locations, all prime for outdoor feasting. One’s right on the river at Brooklyn Bridge Park (hop on the East River Ferry afterward for the easiest, breeziest trip to Williamsburg or Greenpoint). Another’s in the heart of Prospect Park.
Drinks All Around
Maison Premiere (maisonpremiere.com) is the place to go for $1 happy hour oysters and absolutely impeccable cocktails. This Williamsburg establishment is French-influenced in the broadest sense, incorporating Parisian, Louisianian and French Caribbean elements everywhere from the decor (horseshoe-shaped bar, wrought-iron everything, flickering candles, string-light-spangled backyard) to the absinthe-heavy drink menu. Order a La Louisiane—a 1930s Southern variation on the Manhattan.
After seeing a show at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) (or dinner at Olmstead), stroll over to Weather Up (weatherupnyc.com)—a speakeasy (no markings on the doors), serving quality craft cocktails in a setting that’s hip, cozy, and dimly-lit.
Brooklyn Brewery (brooklynbrewery.com), which hosts factory tours and also opens up into a bar on the weekends, is a classic you’ve probably heard of. But there’s plenty of less-widely-distributed yet equally exciting local beer to be celebrated. Take Threes Brewing (threesbrewing.com)—an easy walk from Barclay’s Center (barclayscenter.com), the big arena for catching Nets games and major concerts. This bar and brewery space offers a fine rotating selection of cheekily-named house beers and cocktails, plus a nicely edited menu of non-house drafts. Also rotating is the kitchen staff— various pop-up restaurants of reputable origin (including Roberta’s) are known to take up temporary residence here. There’s a back room for intimate concerts, too, so check out the schedule.
Stroll down 5th Avenue and pop into the boutiques. No, not that 5th Ave— Brooklyn’s homonymous drag is distinctly more down-to-earth, with loads of sweet little independent shops for clothing, books and coffee tucked among the beautiful Park Slope brownstones.
You also can’t miss the Brooklyn Flea (brooklynflea.com). In the winter, the craft and vintage market is consolidated, along with its over-100 vendors, into a single location that changes each year. In spring the flea emerges into the sunlight, with several locations hosting weekly outdoor markets. Look online to find the most convenient one for your itinerary. And don’t let the shopping drain you; pause for a snack at one of the many adjacent Smorgasburg stalls.
The trendiest shopping district is concentrated in North Williamsburg, much of it on North 6th St and the surrounding area. A few hot spots in that neighborhood include:
Bird (shopbird.com), which sells clothes and accessories by a mix of trendy designers you’ve heard of (Acne, A.P.C., Proenza Schouler), plus a few fresh labels. A mini-chain, there are several Bird locations in Brooklyn.
Mociun (mociun.com), the artsy home goods-and-decor storefront of Caitlin Mociun, a world traveler with a trendy approach to fine jewelry. Buy an original bauble, or work with Caitlin and her staff to create a custom piece.
Whisk (whisknyc.com)—foodie culture isn’t just about restaurants. Don’t forget that Brooklyn is all about DIY, too. Oh, and style—this is the place to find chic cooking, baking and cocktail-slinging supplies.
Where to Spend Your Days…
Prospect Park, Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are situated alongside each other on Eastern Parkway, accessible by walking from Prospect Heights and Park Slope. It’s a no-brainer to dedicate a Brooklyn day to this area— especially in spring, when the cherry blossoms are blooming in the Gardens.
If you’ve taken our advice and walked down 5th Avenue in Park Slope, you’ll eventually hit a farther-afield landmark: Greenwood Cemetery. There are informative trolley tours and lovely summer concerts, but it’s also a surreal spot for a good old-fashioned ramble; make your way among the tombs while facing out over the Statue of Liberty, as the smell of bread wafts your way from a factory at 25th Street—along with the chatter of a coven of small, green parrots that roost in the eaves of the entranceway. (They’re said to have escaped from a shipment to a pet store in the ’70s).
BAM (bam.org) stands for Brooklyn Academy of Music, but this downtown cultural center is actually a hub for all the performing arts, and cinema, too. On any given week, BAM runs dozens of programs, and events too numerous to list. Check the calendar for options like physical theater shows (read: circus feats), films screenings with scores played by live orchestras, and the latest international theatrical offerings.
St. Ann’s Warehouse (stannswarehouse.org) is another high-performing performing arts and theater space, a bit edgier than BAM, with an eye toward drawing new or overlooked artists into the spotlight. It’s also unique in its focus on rock and roll musicians (David Byrne, Lou Reed and David Bowie have all performed there) and its affinity for puppetry.
Nitehawk Cinema (nitehawkcinema.com) is dinner and a movie, all in one. This theater actually succeeded in overturning a prohibition-era city law banning liquor in movie theaters; that’s how important it was for them to serve cocktails alongside their delicious, specially developed menus—which are inspired by the indie and cult films they show.