BROOKLYN Neighborhoods: A-M Bath Beach to Kensington
Named after Bath, the English spa town, Bath Beach flourished in the 1800s as a tony resort community. More recently it's become known as a quiet, largely residential home to generations of Irish- and Italian-Americans. A promenade still faces the water, and the view here of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as it spans the narrows over to Staten Island is just about postcard-perfect.
Transportation: R train to 86th Street. From there, take the B64 bus one stop to 86th Street and Bath Avenue.
Located on Brooklyn's southwest corner, and for generations an Italian-American stronghold, Bay Ridge in more recent times has become a haven for Greeks, Arab-Americans, and arrivals from the former Soviet Union, all preserving the neighborhood's family-oriented character. The mighty Verrazano Narrows Bridge (left), completed in 1964, connects Bay Ridge to Staten Island, and provides the scenic backdrop to a lot of walking here.
Bay Ridge's stretch of 3rd Avenue (in the 70s and 80s) has long been known as the neighborhood's restaurant row—but if you're expecting all-Italian, guess again! Les Babouches is up-to-date French-Moroccan—think fluffy couscous and succulent lamb shank. Lamb is also the mainstay at Tanoreen, but there's also a wide range of tasty vegetarian choices at this Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean hybrid (lemon-garlic sauces and olive oil make it all taste good!).
Nightlife in Bay Ridge has a long and storied history. Saturday Night Fever fans will of course recall that Tony Manero strutted his stuff in Bay Ridge—and in fact, Tony's favorite disco, on Eighth Avenue and 64th Street, is still in business. Today it's the Spectrum, a gay and lesbian dance club where a bona fide disco ball helps to make sure that '70s spirit is stayin' alive!
Pazzo, meanwhile, turns from a full-scale restaurant into a state-of-the-art lounge with DJ and dancefloor around 11 pm every night. Couples looking to snuggle over a cocktail are urged to try Delia's, where the eclectic decor includes everything from leopard-skin seats to Chinese lanterns.
Transportation: N to 8th Avenue (62nd St.), R to Bay Ridge Ave., 77th St., and 86th St. stops.
Bedford-Stuyvesant, universally known as Bed-Stuy, became a major destination for African-Americans migrating north in search of jobs during and after WWII. Social unrest and a collapsing job base took their toll on the area in the decades that followed, but by the mid-'90s a major rebirth was underway, aided in no small part by the wealth of classic brownstone row houses in the area that were originally built in the late 1800s.
Bed-Stuy occupies a privileged spot in black culture, not only because Spike Lee set his movies Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn here but because a number of popular hip-hop stars, among them Jay-Z, Lil Kim, and Mos Def, all hail from these streets.
This neighborhood's African-American roots run deep—as is demonstrated by one of the premier historic sites in all of New York City. The Weeksville Houses (left) stand as the last remnants of a community of free blacks founded after New York State abolished slavery in 1827. For much of the 19th century, Weeksville had its own churches and schools, an orphanage, and an old age home, and it provided a crucial refuge during the horrific draft riots of 1863. Eventually the settlement was absorbed and overtaken by the larger community of Bed-Stuy; it wasn't until 1968 that researchers spotted the remaining four structures from the air!
Landmark status followed for Weeksville two years later, and restoration work has continued ever since. Much of this history, once considered lost, comes to life through house tours, which are available to the public (school groups especially) during Tuesday through Friday, and by appointment only on weekends.
No trip to Bed-Stuy is complete without at least sampling the wide range of culinary treats on offer. Choose from African, Caribbean—or good old-fashioned soul food! In the latter category, Carolina Creek specializes in fried fish, paired with what connoisseurs regard as some of the best fries in Brooklyn, but the pork ribs in BBQ sauce also hits the spot. (Be aware, though, that in spite of the lengthy menu and the gracious Southern-style service, Carolina Creek is basically takeout: there's only one table.) For something a little healthier, Imhotep, a mixture of African/Moroccan, is said to be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Brooklyn.
Transportation: C train to Franklin Ave.; G to Bedford-Nostrand Aves.
BENSONHURST With the heritage still so much in evidence, it's no surprise that Bensonhurst is considered a must-visit for anyone hungry for authentic Italian fare. Pizza experts consistently rate L & B Spumoni Gardens as one of the best bets in the city, in particular for its Sicilian slice. Don't just take our word for it—several Sopranos cast members have publicly given L & B the thumbs-up (and those guys should know!). And for desserts, the Villabate Pasticceria is unrivaled for its cannoli, as well as a delightful variant on the ice-cream sandwich: gelato served on a fresh brioche roll! (The gelato melts right into the soft, spongy bun, thus neatly avoiding the old drip-drip problem you get with a cone.) Fun facts: TV fans will of course remember Bensonhurst as the setting of The Honeymooners, and legendary Three Stooges Moe, Shemp, and Curly all hailed from these streets. Transportation: N train to 86th Street. BERGEN BEACH In spite of that, this low-profile community is actually home to the oldest existing structure in New York City. The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House was originally built circa 1652 by a Dutch immigrant who came to the New World in 1637 as an indentured servant; his descendants farmed the property until 1901. The house was saved from destruction and designated as New York City's first official historic landmark in 1965. In 1982, after extensive restoration, it was opened to the public as the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum, dedicated to commemorating New York's early Dutch and agrarian history. Museum hours are 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, from April through October (Tuesday through Saturday, November through March). Transportation: subways don't run this far out, alas, but two bus options are the B3 from Bensonhurst and the B41 from downtown Brooklyn.
"Brooklyn's Little Italy," Bensonhurst became home to waves of Italian immigrants in the middle of the last century, and today more than a third of the locals are still of Italian descent (although new arrivals from Russia, China, and the Middle East are beginning to make their mark here as well). The colorful Santa Rosalia Festival, held in late August or early September of every year on several blocks of 18th Avenue, pays homage to the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily, and the main drag, 86th Street, is still home to many family-owned pork stores and ravioli makers that have been in business for generations.
Tucked in Brooklyn's southeastern corner, opposite the salt marshes and open waters of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Bergen Beach was an island that became part of the mainland after a landfill project in 1918. Real estate speculators began acquiring land here in the 1920s, but it wasn't until well after WWII that Bergen Beach became the quiet residential neighborhood it is today.
With the heritage still so much in evidence, it's no surprise that Bensonhurst is considered a must-visit for anyone hungry for authentic Italian fare. Pizza experts consistently rate L & B Spumoni Gardens as one of the best bets in the city, in particular for its Sicilian slice. Don't just take our word for it—several Sopranos cast members have publicly given L & B the thumbs-up (and those guys should know!).
And for desserts, the Villabate Pasticceria is unrivaled for its cannoli, as well as a delightful variant on the ice-cream sandwich: gelato served on a fresh brioche roll! (The gelato melts right into the soft, spongy bun, thus neatly avoiding the old drip-drip problem you get with a cone.)
Fun facts: TV fans will of course remember Bensonhurst as the setting of The Honeymooners, and legendary Three Stooges Moe, Shemp, and Curly all hailed from these streets.
Transportation: N train to 86th Street.
In spite of that, this low-profile community is actually home to the oldest existing structure in New York City. The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House was originally built circa 1652 by a Dutch immigrant who came to the New World in 1637 as an indentured servant; his descendants farmed the property until 1901. The house was saved from destruction and designated as New York City's first official historic landmark in 1965. In 1982, after extensive restoration, it was opened to the public as the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum, dedicated to commemorating New York's early Dutch and agrarian history. Museum hours are 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, from April through October (Tuesday through Saturday, November through March).
Transportation: subways don't run this far out, alas, but two bus options are the B3 from Bensonhurst and the B41 from downtown Brooklyn.
BOERUM HILL / COBBLE HILL Atlantic Avenue is also home to a legendary strip of antique shops at least half a mile long. Both The Incurable Collector and Circa Antiques Ltd. are known for their stock of 19th-century American furnishings and accessories; many a piece from either store has ended up inside a renovated row house in the side streets near here, but there's no reason why you can't cart off your own treasure, either. This strip of Atlantic is also the site of the Atlantic Antic (above left), a two-day street festival that brings out local storeowners and restaurants every September. It's several steps up from the usual generic New York street fair, and a lot of the food (barbeque, Middle Eastern, Caribbean) will have you contemplating seconds. Just off of Atlantic Avenue, the combination of a two-story Barnes & Noble Books and the UA Court Street Stadium 12 (a 12-screen multiplex with stadium seating) have made the strip of Court Street near the corner of State Street a serious social destination. And for an enjoyable non-multiplex experience, don't forget that just down Court Street there's the Cobble Hill Cinemas, a neighborhood mainstay that screens a mix of mainstream and indie fare in a friendly mom-and-pop environment. Transportation: B, Q, 2/3 to Atlantic Avenue. D, N, or R to Pacific St.
Boundaries between these two smaller neighborhoods are fuzzy: both are sandwiched between the more genteel districts of Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens, and both include a stretch of Atlantic Avenue extending from the waterfront to 4th and Flatbush Avenues. Atlantic is known for its Arab community, who have set up their own mosques, specialty shops, bookstores, and restaurants specializing in Middle Eastern food. Among the last, Bedouin Tent draws consistent good press for its take on staples like baba ghanoush, tabouleh, and pita bread.
BOERUM HILL / COBBLE HILL
Atlantic Avenue is also home to a legendary strip of antique shops at least half a mile long. Both The Incurable Collector and Circa Antiques Ltd. are known for their stock of 19th-century American furnishings and accessories; many a piece from either store has ended up inside a renovated row house in the side streets near here, but there's no reason why you can't cart off your own treasure, either.
This strip of Atlantic is also the site of the Atlantic Antic (above left), a two-day street festival that brings out local storeowners and restaurants every September. It's several steps up from the usual generic New York street fair, and a lot of the food (barbeque, Middle Eastern, Caribbean) will have you contemplating seconds.
Just off of Atlantic Avenue, the combination of a two-story Barnes & Noble Books and the UA Court Street Stadium 12 (a 12-screen multiplex with stadium seating) have made the strip of Court Street near the corner of State Street a serious social destination. And for an enjoyable non-multiplex experience, don't forget that just down Court Street there's the Cobble Hill Cinemas, a neighborhood mainstay that screens a mix of mainstream and indie fare in a friendly mom-and-pop environment.
Transportation: B, Q, 2/3 to Atlantic Avenue. D, N, or R to Pacific St.
Estimated near 250,000 people, the Orthodox Jewish community of Borough Park is one of the largest anywhere in the world, outside of Israel, and as such it maintains a strong traditional character.
The neighborhood's mile-long commercial strip, 13th Avenue from 39th Street to 55th Street, is lined with dozens of kosher markets and discount clothing shops selling everything from designer coats and hats to wigs and women's underwear at sharply reduced prices. With even ATMs along 13th Avenue dispensing cash in Yiddish, Hasidic Jews from all over the Western hemisphere are comfortable coming here to meet their household needs (although non-observers are welcome to bargain-shop too).
Transportation: F train to Church, Ditmas, and 18th Avenue stops; M to 50th, 55th, and 62nd Streets; N to New Utrecht Avenue.
No trip to Brooklyn is complete without time to explore at least one fun and funky ethnic enclave. Brighton Beach is certainly that, with the added advantages of a relatively uncrowded beach and salt air straight from the Atlantic Ocean.
Beginning in the later 1970s, the arrival of tens of thousands of Russian-speaking immigrants began to revitalize this formerly down-at-heels neighborhood, and today the shopping strip centered on Brighton Beach Avenue is home to more than 30 cafes and restaurants, as well as bakeries, markets, and every kind of salon and clothing store. In fact, the neighborhood's success has more recently begun to attract newcomers from South Asia and Latin America, and their presence only adds to the sense you get, while walking down the main drag, of a thriving, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual bazaar.
Brighton Beach is joined to Coney Island in the west by their common boardwalk, and one of the best ways to come at it is from the ocean side. Several colorful restaurant awnings beckon to passerby here; one of your best bets is Tatiana, where a civilized Old World dining experience awaits. Sit at one of the outdoor tables facing the boardwalk, sample the traditional Russian dishes like pickled herring, caviar, and oysters, and pretend that you're gazing out at the Black Sea. A shot of vodka on the side is recommended but not required. (Inside, Tatiana offers all-out nightclub-style glitz, so if you're going for dinner, be sure to dress sharp.)
Just a couple of blocks inland, meanwhile, Cafe Glechik offers an excellent introduction to Russian-Ukrainian food in more homey surroundings. The star item on the menu here is the wide variety of varenniki, boiled or fried dumplings that you can order stuffed with cabbage, potato, salted cheese, or sour cherries, among other options, all of them delicious. Pickled vegetables make a piquant complement to the varenniki, and you can wash it all down with the refreshing fruit drink known as compote. (If you want to imbibe something stronger, be advised that Glechik is BYOB, or rather, BYOV.)
Note: it's not necessary to speak Russian to dine in Brighton Beach, but a well-timed "Bolshoy spasiba" (Russian for "muchas gracias") at the end of your meal will pleasantly surprise your server.
Transportation: take the B or Q train to the Brighton Beach stop.
Almost impossibly picturesque, Brooklyn Heights rises directly opposite the southern tip of Manhattan at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the first neighborhood to be covered by New York City's 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law, which is one reason why it has so few high-rise buildings; the relative absence of high-rises, in turn, helps to account for the neighborhood's small-town feel. Walk along any of the streets closest to the Promenade (above) and you'll be amazed by how much of the 19th-century character has been retained—the row houses and mansions here are a field day for architecture buffs.
Brooklyn Heights' heavyweight attraction, of course, is the romantic Promenade extending along its western edge: the awe-inspiring views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River, and both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges that can be had here just might be enough to persuade an out-of-towner to move to New York on the spot. The low-rise Montague Street, extending from the Promenade past shops and restaurants and into the bustle of downtown Brooklyn, keeps the charm going that much longer.
It's only fitting that the Brooklyn Historical Society should be headquartered in Brooklyn Heights, in a handsome terra cotta building from 1881 that is itself an official national landmark. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays (and open 12 to 5 pm every other day), the Historical Society houses a staggering collection of archives and artifacts documenting the borough's history. Even lifelong residents can always learn something new here. Regularly changing exhibits cover relevant topics like the Dodgers or Walt Whitman, and the Society's "Walks & Talks" series covers everything from architectural tours to pub crawls.
Not far away, the New York City Transit Museum keeps the historical theme going. The ingeniously conceived Transit Museum is housed in an actual converted 1930s subway station: the reception desk is a former token booth, for example, and visitors leave through a turnstile from that era. Justice is done to trolleys and buses, but it's the displays devoted to the subway system that really make the Museum special. You'll come away with a new appreciation for what a monumental achievement the subway's creation was, back in 1904 (in particular, the amount of physical labor that was needed), and you might even start pining for the old Elevated trains. The Museum's Gift Shop also deserves special mention for its witty souvenirs inspired by actual subway signs (we love the shower curtain imprinted with the iconic subway map).
Finally, The Doll and Toy Museum of NYC, founded in 1999, bids fair to become a leading attraction in Brooklyn Heights. Still in the process of establishing its permanent site, the Museum sponsors satellite exhibits in nearby locations like the Transit Museum (see above paragraph) and the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Public Library. Dedicated to dolls and toys from around the world, the exhibits are a welcome reminder that kids' toys tradtionally have been much more than mere electronic gadgets.
Transportation: N or R to Court Street; 2 or 3 to Clark Street.
From roughly the 1880s to the 1950s, Bronxville was one of the most densely-populated Jewish neighborhoods in New York. Though largely middle- and working-class, it achieved a certain infamy as the spawning ground of the organized crime outfit Murder Inc. in the 1930s. Demographic shifts and a decline in the job base meant that by the '60s and '70s Brownsville was a largely struggling African-American community.
Fortunately the picture has improved since then, with an influx of Caribbean immigrants helping to spur the revival of businesses along Pitkin Avenue, the main strip, and both new housing and several community gardens replacing much of the old blight.
Brownsville has contributed more than its share of notable figures. Aaron Copland and Danny Kaye both hailed from the old neighborhood, while more recent native sons have included the heavyweight sluggers Riddick Bowe and, of course, Mike Tyson.
Transportation: 3 train to Junius Avenue; C to Liberty and Van Siclen Avenues.
The site of some of Brooklyn's very first settlements, Bushwick was founded in 1661 by Peter Stuyvesant himself as Boswijck—Dutch for "little town in the woods!" Bushwick officially became a part of Brooklyn in 1854. In the early 20th century, several small breweries (Rheingold and Schlitz among them) thrived here, providing steady jobs for successive waves of European immigrants.
Hit hard by the urban blight of the '60s and '70s, Bushwick achieved widespread notoriety as the center of the looting that followed New York's legendary 1977 blackout. Recent years have seen a dramatic turnaround in its fortunes, however, largely as a result of the ongoing gentrification in Williamsburg, the neighborhood immediately west of here. The artsy younger set is now colonizing Bushwick in full force—so much so that a few crafty real estate types are even trying to popularize the name "East Williamsburg" for this area!
The influx of hipsters has led to a new concentration of gallery spaces, music clubs, vintage stores and coffee shops near the L train stations, especially along McKibbin Street. More high-end shopping can be done on Knickerbocker Avenue.
A small but tenacious Mexican population in Bushwick supports a handful of excellent, inexpensive taquerias. Tacos la Hacienda has exceptional tacos along with more ambitious plates like chicken with mole poblano. A superb mole poblano sauce is also a mainstay of Taqueria la Asuncion.
For a glimpse of the neighborhood's newer character, Northeast Kingdom (above left) offers satisfying traditional American fare like chicken pot pie, mac and cheese, and a hearty lamb stew. Northeast Kingdom's name is a testament to the founders' Vermont roots, as are the deer heads (complete with antlers) gracing the walls. These and other rustic touches are especially inviting on an otherwise industrial block.
Transportation: L train to Jefferson Street, DeKalb Avenue, and Myrtle/Wyckoff Avenues; M to Central Avenue; J to Koscuisko Street.
A onetime fishing village on Brooklyn's eastern shore, the neighborhood of Canarsie is bordered by water on three sides. Today it's a residential area consisting mainly of one- and two-family houses. The Canarsie Pier, once the home of a storied Italian restaurant (since closed, alas), juts directly into the waters of Jamaica Bay.
Fun fact: the Native Americans who traded the island of Manhattan for 24 guilders back in the 1620s are widely believed to have been from Canarsie.
Transportation: L train to East 105th Street/Turnbull Avenue, Canarsie - Rockaway Parkway (final stop).
One of the big stories in Brooklyn's resurgence over the past decade has been the transformation of Smith Street, in Carroll Gardens, into a seriously fashionable dining destination. Older restaurants regularly make way for new ones (turnover is rapid), but a few stalwarts are consistently popular.
Patois (left) was the first French bistro here, and is still regarded by many as the champ. Staples like the steak frites, duck confit, and mussels in white wine regularly get good reviews, and Patois' midweek three-course prix fixe menu is one of the best dinner deals in Brooklyn. The Grocery, while not cheap, gets consistently high marks from Zagat's and its customers for fresh New American cuisine; in summer, the back garden adds to an already charming atmosphere. For a change of pace, try Robin des Bois, which serves up rustic (and tres satisfying) French fare in an environment that's part bar/cafe and part antiques shop.
If Smith Street's upscale ambiance starts to wane on you, the Gowanus Yacht Club and Beer Garden serves up hot dogs and cheap draft beer in Styrofoam cups. Or, if you're feeling intrepid, you can hike west across the BQE to Carroll Gardens' new frontier, the Columbia Street waterfront district, which is enjoying a rapid revival thanks to restaurants like Alma, which offers superlative upscale Mexican with breathtaking views of Manhattan as a backdrop. (If you're especially lucky, you'll get to sit on the roof deck, which is enclosed and heated in colder weather.)
Want to support a homegrown business while you're in the 'hood? Visit the flagship store of Brooklyn Industries and you're likely to find a stylish printed tee or hoodie that catches your fancy—we especially like the selection of hand and messenger bags, all featuring the nifty BI logo.
Transportation: F or G train to Bergen Street. The B61 bus also passes through the heart of the Columbia Street waterfront district.
A smaller neighborhood tucked at the point where Fort Greene intersects with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Clinton Hill became home to Brooklyn's well-to-do by the mid-19th century, and quite a few mansions built here in the later 1800s still stand today.
Several walking tours are offered in Clinton Hill, but you can also stroll the blocks of Clinton Avenue on either side of DeKalb and be treated to some of the most impressive architectural specimens, such as the 1898 Caroline Ladd Pratt House, for which interior tours are also available.
The house was built by Charles Pratt, founder of the nearby Pratt Institute, who made his pile as John D. Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil, and was one of four mansions Pratt had built in this area (he also liked to give them to his sons as wedding gifts).
Pratt founded the Institute bearing his name here in 1887, recognizing the need for skilled artisans and industrial workers, and to this day the school maintains its reputation as one of the leading art and design schools in the country. (Famous names here have included Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Rob Zombie.) The Pratt Institute's campus (left), a 25-acre urban oasis, is worth a tour—among other things, you'll learn that the school library was one of the first public libraries to open in the United States (in 1888), and features original decorations by the Tiffany Glass Company. Several on-campus galleries, meanwhile, feature rotating exhibits of student, faculty, and independently-curated artwork, and help to keep the Pratt Institute a dependable draw.
A spillover effect from nearby Fort Greene's gentrification means that culinary choices in Clinton Hill only continue to get better. Much loved by Pratt students and other locals, Maggie Brown's (455 Myrtle Ave., between Washington and Waverly) serves up slow-cooked comfort food with a Southern tinge. A gorgonzola sauce accompanying the fettucine is a real eye-opener; the ribs, cooked in wine and served on top of buttery mashed potatoes, won't let you down either, and neither will the puffy, fresh-baked biscuits.
The Tuscan restaurant Locanda Vini & Olii is housed in a nicely restored pharmacy dating back to the late 1800s—dine here and see if you can't picture Charles Pratt himself strolling in the front door! Unusually good antipasti could be a meal all by themselves, but you'll be glad to have room for the seafood charcuterie. Locanda's wine list gets constant good "press" as well.
Transportation: A train to Clinton and Washington Avenues, G to Clinton and Washington Avenues (note: these are not the same stop).
The fabled Coney Island is actually a peninsula (though it was an island at one time) located at Brooklyn's southern edge, with a beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. In the late 1800s the area was both a major resort and the site of several legendary amusement parks that led to its heyday in the early 20th century. Decline set in for decades after World War II, but in recent years, thankfully, the area has undergone a major revival brought about by several factors—chief among them waves of new immigrants, many from the former Soviet Union. With several amusement parks still going strong, a new minor league baseball stadium, and an annual Mermaid Parade and summer rock festival, Coney Island has recaptured much of its former gaudy glory.
Getting here takes a little time, but it's not complicated at all—simply ride the F, Q, or W trains to the last stop, the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue Terminal. When you exit the train you'll find yourself in a magnificently renovated station that looks like something out of a European capital—a fitting entrance to Brooklyn's landmark attraction.
As soon as you step out of the station, you'll begin salivating at the scent wafting from Nathan's Hot Dogs, conveniently located on the opposite corner. Don't even try to resist temptation, and have a couple of dogs—they're the best in the city, and will put you in the proper Coney Island spirit.
You're now only steps away from what's arguably the greatest democratic experience New York City has to offer—the Riegelmann Boardwalk! Originally built in 1923 and now extending 3 miles from east to west (which allegedly makes it the longest boardwalk in the world), the boardwalk offers a spectacle like no other. On a given summer day you'll see human beings of every age, race, and shape out here having a good time, eating, drinking, dancing, and not least of all, swimming and catching rays. (Swimming in the Atlantic here is free and, despite what you may have heard, perfectly safe, so bring a bathing suit!)
Looking for a little nerve-shredding terror to complete your day in the sun? Then you absolutely must ride the Cyclone roller coaster (above left), star attraction of the Astroland amusement park. Sure, anybody can brag about the roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure—but the Cyclone, in operation since 1927 and one of the finest (not to mention one of the last) wooden roller coasters still functioning, is in a class all by itself. Survive that first drop of 85 feet at a 60-degree angle and you'll really have something to tell your grandkids about! (And if you decide the Cyclone hasn't quite spiked your adrenaline flow enough, the nearby Deno's Wonder Wheel is ready to spin you right round—150 feet in the air!)
The formerly quieter west end of the boardwalk now belongs in a league of its own—a Class A minor league, that is. Keyspan Park is home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, an affiliate of the New York Mets, and since opening day in 2001, both the stadium and the team have been a huge success—with good reason. Games cost a fraction of what it costs to see a major league outing, and the beautifully designed Keyspan is an aesthetic experience in its own right. Watching seagulls wheel over the outfield, as the sun sets behind them and you sip your beer, makes for a sublime summer evening. (Be warned that tickets go fast, though, so it's best to plan well in advance if you want to catch a game.)
If you decide you need a break from the human fauna on the boardwalk, the New York Aquarium, at 8th Street, makes an excellent refuge. New York City's only aquarium is a world-class scientific institution with indoor and outdoor exhibits on some 8,000 different animals, including walruses, penguins, the always-irrepressible California sea lions, and virtually everything else that flops, swims, or crawls through the water. The Aquarium is open from 10 am 365 days a year (closing times vary), and is most crowded on major holidays and in July and August.
Finally, it's important to mention three annual events that are crucial to Coney Island's character. The first is the Polar Bear Swim that takes place on January 1st of every year, when dozens if not hundreds of hardy souls plunge into the ocean here—and live to tell about it! Meanwhile a different set of inhibitions is shed around the third Saturday of every June, when the annual Mermaid Parade (left) rolls down Surf Avenue from the Boardwalk. Last but not least, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July 4th, may not be pretty, but there's something about watching a grown man consume 49 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes that we know we can't resist.
Transportation: D, F, N, or Q trains to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue stop; for the New York Aquarium, F or Q to the West 8th Street stop.
A vast stretch of central Brooklyn, divided into two halves by Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights is home to both Hassidic Jews and West Indians in large numbers.
The world headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch Hassidic movement is located in Crown Heights at 770 Eastern Parkway. And right down the street, the Jewish Children's Museum is meant to entertain kids of all faiths and backgrounds as they learn about Jewish heritage, often with the help of interactive multimedia. Up on the roof, for instance, the "Six Holes of Life" miniature golf course lets kids work on their shots while learning about major stages in the Jewish life cycle! (The Museum is open Sunday through Thursday.)
Further opportunities to experience this fascinating culture up-close await at the Hassidic Discovery Welcome Center, which offers a variety of walking tours through the community. Highlights include visits to a Hassidic synagogue and library, along with the chance to watch a scribe writing an actual Torah scroll with quill and feather. (Inquire ahead about food, as some of the Discovery Center's tours include a Kosher deli lunch.)
The Caribbean population of Crown Heights, meanwhile, throws itself a party—a big party—every Labor Day. The West Indian Day Parade begins right here and rolls down Eastern Parkway (where it's seen by some 2 million people) before ending up in Prospect Heights.
Transportation: 3 train to Kingston Avenue.
Located at the northeast corner of Brooklyn, Cypress Hills has become home to a classic New York melting pot: it's estimated that since the '70s, Guyanans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, and a small Chinese population have all settled in and around the neighborhood. The Fulton Street commercial strip serves the needs of this varied community.
Cypress Hills actually takes its name from a graveyard established here in 1848, when the area was still almost entirely rural. Located right on the border with Queens, the Cypress Hills Cemetery is the final resting place for a whole host of luminaries—first and foremost, Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, but also James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, the painter Piet Mondrian, music titan Eubie Blake, and a local gal by the name of Mae West. In 1862, the growing number of Civil War dead led Abraham Lincoln to designate a subsection of the Cypress Hills Cemetery as the Cypress Hills National Cemetery, the only such burial ground in New York City. Visitation hours are from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm daily.
Transportation: J train to Cypress Hills stop.
Need to orient yourself? Just look up and you should see downtown's most familiar landmark—the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, which dates from 1929. Located opposite the Long Island Railroad station, where Atlantic, Pacific, Flatbush, and 4th Avenues meet, this is the tallest structure in Brooklyn, 512 feet high, and topped by a slender gold-domed clock tower. All four faces of the tower clock are illuminated at night, and because each one measures 27 feet in diameter, the Savings Bank becomes an even more prominent icon by night than it is by day.
Right up Flatbush, near the east end of Fulton Mall, another bank building may grab your attention—the Dime Savings Bank (left), which has occupied this spot since 1907. The marble exterior features reliefs of the Brooklyn Bridge and Roman god Mercury along with numerous Ionic columns; inside you'll want to crane your neck and stare up at the intricate detail work of the gilded rotunda under the dome. (The Dime is still a bank today—Washington Mutual.)
Right outside the Dime building, Fulton Mall beckons. This pedestrian mall stretching for several blocks is one of the borough's great democratic experiences, regardless of whether you feel like browsing among its many eateries and clothing and electronics stores. (Insider tip: savvy Brooklynites know that shopping at the Fulton Mall Macy's is infinitely more pleasurable than going to the store's better-known counterpart up on 34th Street.)
At the west end of Fulton Mall pedestrians emerge onto Brooklyn's "civic center," a cluster of city and state government buildings. The most imposing of these is Brooklyn Borough Hall (left), Brooklyn's oldest public building (it served as the borough's City Hall from 1848 until 1898) and now a designated NYC landmark. Today the Brooklyn Borough President's offices are located here, and so is the Brooklyn Tourism and Visitors Center, where you can pick up indispensable information regarding transportation, restaurants, attractions, and places to stay.
Junior's Cheesecake, another downtown landmark, lies just up Flatbush Avenue from the Savings Bank. If there's one thing everyone needs to do at least once in Brooklyn, it's to have a slice of this legendary creation, still indisputably the best cheesecake in New York. On any given day several generations can be seen eating together here (Junior's is a rite of passage for locals), and the ambiance is pleasantly retro in several respects. Be warned that portions are generous, to say the least; you may want to consider trekking across the Brooklyn Bridge (the entrance to which is nearby) just to burn off some calories.
Transportation: B, Q, R to DeKalb Avenue.
Banish those Walt Disney associations from your mind—DUMBO (which stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass") is a small but captivating neighborhood between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, at the edge of the East River. For decades this was a fairly desolate expanse of coffee and tobacco warehouses, but when artists began converting those spaces into lofts, real estate values shot through the roof, with the result that condos started replacing the artists' studios.
For a visitor, the superb views of lower Manhattan and the two bridges are the real attraction here; combined with the "Belgian block" streets (which are commonly mistaken for cobblestones) and the old warehouse facades, they lend the whole area a seriously cinematic feel, which is probably why it's so common to round a corner here and stumble onto a photo, film, or TV shoot in progress. (DUMBO has been the backdrop for any number of movies, especially of the noir/gangster variety.)
The nine-acre Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park (above left) is one of the best places to admire the views in DUMBO, and watching tugboats and the Circle Line ply the East River from here can be positively hypnotic. Each summer a sculpture show turns the park into a free sculpture garden, and classic old movies (also free) are screened one night a week, too.
A few valiant institutions are working to preserve DUMBO's artsy character. The d.u.m.b.o. Arts Center (DAC) Gallery foregrounds local artists' work with regular group shows, and every October sponsors an arts festival that includes studio visits. St. Ann's Warehouse hosts excellent theater and music; Manhattan's celebrated Wooster Group, for instance, has lately been making a second home for itself here. Right at the East River, meanwhile, BargeMusic is an actual floating music hall. A former coffee barge, it's now a bona-fide, wood-paneled performance space that presents chamber music several nights a week.
For chocoholics or just about anyone with a discriminating palate, Jacques Torres Chocolate, on Water Street, is an essential DUMBO stop. You can come away with all sorts of handmade treats (which you'll see being made on-site), but just a cup of the master's hot chocolate, which is offered in regular or spicy varieties, is a soul-satisfying experience all by itself. (In warmer weather, a frozen version provides the same frisson.)
Zagat's has awarded Grimaldi's Pizzeria the title "#1 pizzeria in NYC" for five years running, and after digging into one of their brick-oven masterworks you'll likely agree. Your fellow diners will likely be a mixture of local families and tourists from halfway around the world, all here to render homage at the shrine of pizza. Ol' Blue Eyes on the jukebox provides the perfect accompaniment to your meal.
Finally, no account of DUMBO would be complete without a nod to the restaurant right on the water that consistently delivers exceptional food in a sophisticated setting. The River Cafe serves impeccable seafood and American traditional with low-key professionalism against a backdrop that will have you feeling as though you're in a movie; for an extra-memorable occasion, make your reservation for the early evening, when you can enjoy the spectacle of the lights coming on over in Manhattan.
Transportation: F train to York Street, A or C to High Street (walk down the hill once you ascend to street level), or 2/3 to Clark Street.
This largely Italian-American enclave, tucked between Bay Ridge in the west and Bensonhurst to the east, is all but legendary for the annual display of Christmas lights all over the neighborhood, and especially in the blocks surrounding 12th Avenue and 84th Street. From Thanksgiving until after New Year's, it's worth a trek out here to see these spectacular displays for yourself. (Just try not to think about the Con Edison bills!)
Transportation: D train to 71st St, 79th St., and 18th Avenue.
Located right at the center of Brooklyn, East Flatbush is a thriving African-American and West Indian neighborhood. In honor of the longstanding Jamaican presence here, the city renamed an eight-block stretch of Church Avenue (between East 98th St. and Remsen) as Bob Marley Boulevard in summer 2006. So if you want to pay homage to the reggae icon yourself, get up (from your computer), stand up, and come check out the street bearing his name!
Jamaican me hungry: for a little taste of the islands, try Ricky's Eat-Well (841 Utica Avenue) for some easy-on-the-wallet takeout. The specialties here are jerk chicken and goat curry, but nearly all of the bold barbecue dishes will satisfy. For the truly adventurous, there's also an array of, um, "virility tonics" for sale; try one yourself and see if you can't reach some of those low notes dancehall singers are always hitting.
Transportation: downtown 2 or 5 train to Newkirk Avenue.
EAST NEW YORK
A mostly low- to middle-income African-American and Latino neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn, East New York has lately seen its fortunes start to improve with new construction and a corresponding rise in real estate values.
One attraction here is the historic Cemetery of the Evergreens, situated along the Brooklyn-Queens border (at 1629 Bushwick Avenue). Incorporated in 1849, and at one point the busiest graveyard in the city, Evergreens was the work of several notable 19th-century landscape designers, our old friend Calvert Vaux prominent among them. The Cemetery is an oasis of tranquility with striking views of not only Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, but also, in the opposite direction, Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The grave of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is one reason to visit, as are those of comics legends Windsor McKay and Walt Kelly; the moving Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial, meanwhile, honors the victims of the worst fire in New York's history. The gates here are open to visitors seven days a week from 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Transportation: A train to the East New York station.
Settled by the Dutch in 1651, and turned over to the English in 1664, the neighborhood of Flatbush derives its name from the Dutch Vladbos (roughly, "wooded land"). Flatbush endured as a Dutch-influenced commercial and farming center until the 1890s, when it merged first with "Brooklyn City" (as it was then known), and then with the city of New York. Today it's home to a mix of African- and Caribbean-Americans, although vestiges of earlier generations of Jews, Irish, and Italians are still plainly visible.
Flatbush counts two educational institutions among its landmarks. Erasmus Hall High School is the alma mater of Neil Diamond, Bobby Fischer, Bernard Malamud, and Mickey Spillane, among other famous folk. Among those who earned diplomas at nearby Brooklyn College are actor Jimmy Smits, writers Irwin Shaw and Gloria Naylor, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
(Sadly, Flatbush's most famous spot, the legendary baseball park Ebbets Field, was demolished back in the 1960s and replaced by apartment buildings.)
Transportation: Q train to Avenue H; 2 or 5 to Flatbush Avenue/Nostrand Avenue.
A residential neighborhood in southeast Brooklyn, Flatlands is perennially popular with families attracted by its relatively large numbers of detached, semidetached and attached two-story houses. One of the original Dutch villages in Brooklyn, Flatlands was primarily Jewish for much of the 20th century; more recently African-Americans and Caribbean immigrants starting arriving in large numbers, and lately a new wave of Orthodox Jews has been added to the mix.
Transportation: Flatlands is not served by the subway system: the nearest stops are the L at Rockaway Plaza, in Canarsie, and the 2 and 5 trains to Flatbush Avenue (East Flatbush). Locals rely on a mixture of city and private bus lines.
The epitome of "brownstone Brooklyn," and a city-designated historic district, Fort Greene is celebrated for its tree-lined streets and outstanding examples of 19th-century architecture, as well preserved as anything you'll see in nearby Park Slope. A longtime African-American stronghold, Fort Greene began to take on a more mixed character when gentrification started bringing new businesses and new faces to the neighborhood.
What never changes, luckily, is Fort Greene's status as the cultural epicenter of Brooklyn, due largely to the great Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which might be considered Brooklyn's equivalent of Lincoln Center, only with more adventurous programming and better architecture. Known around the world as a forward-thinking urban cultural mecca, BAM presents a mixture of cutting-edge and classic theater, music, and dance in both the Howard Gilman Opera House (app. 2100 seats) and the smaller Harvey Lichtenstein Theater (app. 870 seats), and its BAM Cinematek shows new movies and old in four theaters that are more comfortable than most Manhattan art houses. Up on the third floor, meanwhile, the BAMcafe (left) is a solid dining experience where you'll also catch live music and spoken word (with a gratifying emphasis on local artists).
Complementing BAM right across the street is the Mark Morris Dance Center, headquarters of the master dancer-director-choreographer and his beloved troupe. Even if you don't see a dance or music performance, the Center's state-of-the-art performance and rehearsal spaces are worth a look, and its translucent exterior walls will catch your eye from outside or in. (The Center also offers outreach programs for local kids and dance classes for students of all ages in ballet, modern, Afro-Caribbean, and West African dance, as well as Pilates and yoga.)
Last but not least, Fort Greene offers another opportunity to appreciate the work of landscape designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the same duo responsible for Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park (see under Park Slope, below). Completed in 1865, Olmstead and Vaux's Fort Greene Park is a 30-acre hilltop gem with stunning views of Wallabout Bay, in the East River, and landmarks like the Manhattan Bridge and the Empire State Building. (The view of the Bay is significant because Fort Greene Park houses the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial, honoring the 11,500 Americans who died while being held in British warships moored in the Bay during the Revolution.) Visitors to the park follow winding paths up to broad grassy swaths where, in summertime, they might stumble upon free concerts and films or even the occasional outdoor dance party. Playgrounds, chess tables, and tennis and basketball courts keep things lively until closing time, and a greenmarket sets up shop here every Saturday.
Shopping hereabouts covers the spectrum from the convenient big-box stores (Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Circuit City) housed in and around the Atlantic Center to the funky independent businesses lining Fulton Street and South Elliott Place. Among the latter options, My Little India specializes in imported furnishings that range from heavy wooden tables and settees to colorful smaller accessories, while Mashood features a line of chic African-inspired clothing (with a logo you'll start noticing all over Brooklyn after you've stopped in here once).
Restaurant and nightlife options also abound in Fort Greene, particularly on Fulton Street and DeKalb Avenue. Ici is a perennial favorite for its French-American cuisine, back garden, and, for dessert lovers, the chocolate pot de creme. The pan-Mediterranean menu at Olea draws consistent raves; the lamb trio entree and pomegranate mimosas (a brunch specialty) are just two of the standout attractions.
Speaking of drinks, if you need a stiff one to help you understand the enigmatic cutting-edge show you just caught at BAM, Moe's has earned a devoted following for its constantly changing cocktail menu (look for it on the chalkboard) and diverse crowd, which tends to be hip but not too hip. Meanwhile old school is still the rule at the mellow Frank's Cocktail Lounge, where you'll find friendly people and a fine jukebox that puts patrons in touch with their inner soul man (and woman).
Transportation: B, M, Q, or R trains to DeKalb Avenue; walk east about 3 blocks on DeKalb to reach the park. The G to Fulton Street and the A or C to Lafayette Ave. will also put you squarely inside Fort Greene.
The old-fashioned waterfront community of Gerritsen Beach sits on a peninsula in Brooklyn's southeastern corner. The Gotham Avenue Canal, running from east to west, all but divides Gerritsen Beach in two: the northern half is lined with stores and sidewalks, while the southern half still feels remarkably like an old Long Island or New England fishing village. A picturesque salt marsh is only a short walk away from the neighborhood's main drag.
Transportation: B or Q train to Kings Highway, then transfer to the B31 bus.
It's important to remember that there's more to Brooklyn's renaissance than restaurants and real estate. The natural environment, for one thing, has rebounded considerably over the years, and there's no better proof of this than the once-infamous Gowanus Canal. This industrial waterway has come back to such an extent that seagulls now flap overhead and, if you look closely from any of the five bridges that span the canal, you may be able to detect blue crabs and fish just under the water's murky surface.
Perhaps for this reason, against all odds the Gowanus is actually becoming a bit of a recreational destination. The all-volunteer Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club logs hundreds of trips here every year; from April to November, you can rent one of their canoes or have a Dredger take you out in one. Other civic groups offer informative boat tours that educate the public on issues of waterfront access and the environment. But whether you see it close-up or are content to remain at the water's edge, this homely yet endearing channel makes for fascinating urban exploring. (The Carroll Street Bridge is one good lookout point, but you can also easily cross the canal on the Union Street and 3rd Street bridges.)
Transportation: From the Canal's east side, take the N and R trains to Union Street; walk west from Fourth Avenue and you'll be at the Union Street Bridge within minutes. From the west side, F train to Carroll St., and walk east to the Canal.
Gravesend was founded in 1643 by a small band of renegade English settlers (led by a woman, no less) who came to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in search of religious freedoms denied them in England and Massachussetts. In the late 1800s Gravesend's shorefront started to develop in sync with nearby Coney Island's, and the village merged with the rest of Brooklyn in 1894. Today it's quiet and largely residential.
Early-technology buffs and a certain type of Italian patriot will want to know that Gravesend houses Meucci Square, a small triangle of land dedicated to the 19th-century inventor and Staten Island resident Antonio Meucci (1808-1889), who came up with the first working-model telephone years before Alexander Graham Bell's efforts. (A string of misfortunes meant that Meucci was unable to secure a patent for his device, hence he was never properly acknowledged.) A granite marker inside the park, as well as a cunning sculpture inside the surrounding fence, both honor the unlucky paisano.
Transportation: F train to Avenue U, Avenue X.
Witajcie! That's Polish for "welcome"—to the center of New York's Polish-American community since approximately 1900. "Little Poland," as Greenpoint is affectionately known, has traditionally been a working-class, immigrant community, although today this waterfront neighborhood (the northernmost in Brooklyn) is home to a wider demographic mix than perhaps ever before.
Greenpoint flourished as a shipbuilding center in the 1800s; among other achievements the Union Navy's ironclad U.S.S. Monitor was built and launched right here. Vestiges of the old manufacturing centers and maritime trades are still visible in the industrial hulks lining the waterfront, although today rezoning is intended to bring new housing and a promenade to the river's edge. (Not without controversy, of course—after all, this is New York!)
You won't have to walk far on Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint's central artery, to find markets displaying Polish pickles, jams, dried soups, sauerkraut, and strings of kielbasa, while bakeries fill the air with the scent of fresh Polish bread and babkas.
McCarren Park, Greenpoint's biggest stretch of open space, was the site of an enormous public swimming pool built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. The pool closed in 1984, but the good news is that the city finally finished renovating the space and reopened it as an outdoor concert venue in summer 2006.
If you're curious to try some of that cuisine you see in all the shops, virtually all of the Polish restaurants and cafes in the area can be relied on for good eating. One of the best places to start is Raymond's Place, on Bedford Ave., where blue-eyed charmers serve up a fantastic repertoire of pierogis, kielbasa, and bigos, the hearty "hunter's stew" made with sauerkraut and meat (the latter being a great choice in wet weather).
Two neighborhood hot spots sit just a couple of blocks away from each other on Manhattan Avenue, too. Club Europa plays host to an eclectic mix of live music and DJs: while some nights are geared specifically towards Slavic scenesters, anyone is welcome to show up. The Saturday night dance party at nearby Club Exit draws big crowds, while Friday nights see a mix of rock bands taking the stage there. And speaking of rock, down on Driggs Avenue the redoubtable Warsaw ("where pierogis meet punk") is one of the city's leading indie clubs—although, just in case you forget where you are, quite reasonably priced Polish dishes can be had just off the main space.
(Exciting Greenpoint trivia: Mae West was born here in 1893, as was the great Pat Benatar in 1953—as "Patricia Mae Andrzejewski!")
Ride the Coney Island-bound F train past Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, and you'll find yourself in a working-class residential neighborhood that's diverse even by New York standards. Kensington is home to large Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, as well as Chinese, Orthodox Jews, Russians, Mexicans, and Jamaicans.
So much human variety can only be good news for visitors with food on their minds—and Kensington abounds in good, inexpensive ethnic restaurants. Spicy Pakistani fare can be had at Jhinuk, in an atmosphere so authentic you might easily think you've teleported directly to Karachi or Lahore. Lamb kebabs are the standout at the Turkish restaurant Sahara. For an Afghan take on kebabs, as well as lots of vegetarian options (eggplant with yogurt sauce is recommended), try Bahar on Kensington's main drag, Coney Island Ave.
But if all of the above sounds more daunting than what your stomach can handle, there's always the top-notch Sicilian slice at Joe & Joe's Pizzeria Restaurant.
Transportation: F train to Church Avenue; B or Q to Newkirk Ave.