Hugh Stewart and David Nicolas The Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan as seen from Dumbo.
Hugh Stewart and David Nicolas

You can take Manhattan—Peter Jon Lindberg finds attitude, energy, and a refreshing counterpoint to that other borough right in his own backyard.

Peter Jon Lindberg
February 21, 2011

When I first moved to New York—that is, to Manhattan—in my early twenties, I had only the vaguest conception of Brooklyn. There was Welcome Back, Kotter, I guess. Alvy Singer, growing up under the Cyclone in Annie Hall. Moonstruck and The Warriors. Tony Manero—Travolta again—strutting through Bay Ridge in Saturday Night Fever. Egg creams, Ralph Kramden. And the Dodgers, the Dodgers, always with the Dodgers.

Beyond that, not much. I knew friends who’d grown up there, but hardly anyone who’d stayed. Brooklyn was a place people left (Woody Allen, Mr. Kotter, the Dodgers). Manhattan was where people hoped to arrive. In the received wisdom of NYC, Brooklyn was the Old Country, and the East River a vast, roiling Atlantic.

It’s said that one in seven Americans can trace roots back through Brooklyn. I can’t, but I live here now. I came seven years ago, for the quiet, a bigger apartment, and the novelty of open sky. I also came with the resignation of someone forced into the motel down the highway when every hotel in town is sold out. It wasn’t an entirely happy move. Those early days in Carroll Gardens felt like exile... and Manhattan was right over there, taunting me, taunting all 2.5 million of us.

I spent a lot of time plotting how to get back. Manhattan... it takes a while to get over a girl like that. I compared every new experience to what it was like "in the city." If Manhattan was the Sun, Carroll Gardens seemed a far-flung, semi-inhabitable planet. Taxi drivers agreed. Utter the B-word, and they’d practically hiss. "Hey, I’m not happy about it, either," I’d snap.

You can guess where this is going. At some point during that first spring, something clicked—and I began falling for Brooklyn. Maybe it was the sudden blooming of a rosebush beside my stoop one morning. It might have been the amazing banh mi served at a Vietnamese café in Sunset Park. But I’d wager it was the old Polish greengrocer who, when I asked about fresh mint, plucked me three sprigs from his window box. "Anytime you need, just take," he said. "Is for everybody."

Finally, I was seeing Brooklyn for what it was, not just what it wasn’t. I still went to Manhattan—for work, Knicks games, dental appointments. But weekends I spent east of the river, uncovering the mysteries of Williamsburg, Fort Greene, and Brighton Beach.

It wasn’t all spearmint and roses. If I was slow to embrace Brooklyn, Brooklyn was also slow to embrace me. Every morning I repaired to the corner café for a macchiato. The owner was a gruff Calabrian named Tony. (Everyone in Brooklyn is named Tony, unless he’s Tov or Tung or Tolya or Tariq.) I only knew his name because regulars always walked in shouting "To-NAY!" Backs would be slapped, greetings exchanged.

Me, Tony scarcely acknowledged. Eventually he’d fix me with a look you might give a bug in your salad and say "Whattayavin." No matter that my order was always the same. Each day I hoped against hope for a "Hey, guy! The usual?" But always the same ignominy: Whattayavin.

Finally, manna from heaven. I walked in. Tony tilted his chin. Managed a little smile. Said, "Howyadoin." I blurted out, "Fine, fine, excellent in fact!"—then savored my macchiato as never before.

In Manhattan, you become a New Yorker within four hours of picking up your keys. No matter where you’re from, the city takes you in. Across the river, membership comes harder. Through movies and postcards and songs, Manhattan has always belonged to the world. Brooklyn always belonged to Brooklynites.

Well, surprise. In case you haven’t heard, Brooklyn has become a byword for cool, the epitomic local-boy-makes-good—and suddenly, Brooklyn belongs to everyone.

It’s easy to say when a thing ends, harder to know when it begins. Most locals date the fall of the old Brooklyn to 1957, when you-know-who decamped for Los Angeles. (We can refer to the years since as "A.D.": After Dodgers.) But other pillars were vanishing, too—manufacturing, shipping, the white middle class—and the borough struggled through the second half of the century.

When did the "new" Brooklyn emerge? Was it in the 1990’s, when artists transformed Williamsburg into the city’s creative hub? Was it in 2003, when Zagat named the Grocery—a tiny room in Carroll Gardens—the seventh-best restaurant in NYC? Or a year earlier, when Time Out New York ran a cover headlined "Manhattan: The New Brooklyn"?

Whenever and however it happened, the Borough of Kings is back. (Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.)

 

It never really went away, of course. Manhattanites always made pilgrimages to Grimaldi’s and Peter Luger, to Coney Island and the Botanic Garden (see "Guide to Brooklyn"). But they came seeking humble, Brooklyn-y things: pizza, steak, roller coasters, trees. They didn’t expect a salad of braised squid and pea shoots, or a stylish cocktail bar, or a killer music scene. Today, they’ll find all these in spades, as well as those curious trees. Now friends from London, San Francisco, and even TriBeCa are eager to discover this "Brooklyn" everyone’s talking about. They want in like Tony Manero wanted out. Brooklyn’s renaissance is far enough along that the novelty angle is finally, blessedly moot, so restaurant critics and fashion editors no longer add "And it’s in Brooklyn!" as a parent might say "And she’s only a toddler!"

 

I admit the borough’s new cachet comes as some vindication. (Taste it, 212!) And, sure, I love braised squid and fancy cocktails as much as the next yuppie arriviste. Happy they showed up. But I wonder if curious visitors aren’t coming with misplaced expectations. If someone told you Brooklyn is "the next Manhattan," they got it dead wrong. Brooklyn is nothing like Manhattan. Brooklyn looks and feels and is like no place else.

The first thing you need to know about Brooklyn is that it is huge: New York’s most populous borough, home to nearly a third of its citizens. An independent Brooklyn would be the nation’s fourth-largest city. Brooklyn is a vast metropolis blessed and cursed to lie 500 yards from Manhattan.

The second thing you need to know about Brooklyn is that it is small. Big in breadth and attitude, but intimate in the height of its buildings, the modesty of its storefronts, the compactness of its communities. Defined by the stoop, the bodega, the bocce or basketball court, Brooklyn has an enduring neighborhood-ness. Come to my block next month and they’ll be decking the stoops for Christmas; come in June, and the kids next door will be manning a lemonade stand.

Brooklyn has a singular ecology, sustaining a great variety of quirky or exotic things (and people) that have little or no place in Manhattan, nor in many other American cities. Things like bocce courts and lemonade stands and pick-your-own herb planters. Stickball games and ice cream trucks. Taquerias with screened porches, bistros with dogwood-shrouded patios, Russian beer gardens, Georgian supper clubs. The city’s only South African restaurant, its only aquarium, its only carnival-style freak show. Rock concerts staged in an empty swimming pool, rock concerts staged in a Polish community center where old ladies sell stoned kids pierogi. An industrial canal that now attracts intrepid kayakers. And, throughout the borough, an incredible range of architecture, from Park Slope’s Italianate brownstones to the 19th-century carriage houses of Clinton Hill.

With relatively ample space and some creative ways of using it, Brooklyn offers plenty of room for exception. Consider the five following examples, each of which could only exist here.

Case Study #1: The World in 73 Square Miles

I write about travel for a living, so really, there’s no other place for me to live. Close to 100 ethnic groups are represented in Brooklyn, among them 935,000 immigrants. Some years ago, my wife and I got a car—a car! in New York City!—and began exploring Brooklyn as we would Miami or Los Angeles: on wheels. Now we spend weekends traversing what might as well be other hemispheres. You want Saigon? Sunset Park will do. Dakar? Fort Greene. Damascus? Atlantic Avenue. Krakow? Bedford Avenue. Kingston? East Flatbush.

Then there are the French, who have been flocking to Boerum Hill and Fort Greene, lured by cheaper rents and an unrushed, Continental pace. Smith Street is now lined with francophone hangouts such as Robin des Bois, Provence en Boîte, and Bar Tabac. Every July the latter hosts an epic Bastille Day bacchanal, when the surrounding streets are filled with sand for an all-day pétanque tournament. Gratuitous cultural stereotypes? We’ve got them too.

Case Study #2: Di Fara Pizza and Brooklyn Cuisine

Brooklyn is especially renowned for its restaurants. Media darlings like Applewood, the Good Fork, and Al Di Là share a distinct 718 sensibility. All are disarmingly personal, defined by the whims of the chef, who usually owns the place. A DIY aesthetic prevails, from the handwritten menus to the house-cured salumi. Creativity reigns, but pretense is banished.

Di Fara, a 44-year-old pizzeria in workaday Midwood, may not appear to have much in common with the above, but in a way it was a template for all that followed. It’s chef-run (when owner Domenico DeMarco is sick, Di Fara shuts down), homespun (no LCD screens, just an ancient brass cash register), and reliant on, er, local produce (oregano and basil plants spilling over the windowsill). The kitchen is a model of inefficiency: DeMarco, 70, makes every pizza himself. Instead of prepping ingredients in advance, he’ll grate just enough mozzarella and Grana Padana for a single pie, shreds only a few leaves of basil at a time. Making one pizza takes, oh, about seven hours. Watching DeMarco work, you think, This guy would be eaten alive in Manhattan. Which is why no one there makes pizza half as good.

 

Case Study #3: Brooklyn Social

 

With its pressed-tin ceiling and faded Deco mirrors, this Carroll Gardens bar is an uncanny simulacrum of an Italian-American men’s club. That’s because for 70-odd years it was one: the Società Riposto, whose tuxedo-clad members gaze out ghostlike from framed photos on the wall. They’ve been supplanted by the neighborhood’s new guard—guys in publishing, dolls in ad sales. Clientele aside, the joint seems unchanged. Dino’s singing "Buona Sera" on the juke. Ceiling fans stir the air while the bartender—that’s Ivan, in his apron and tie—stirs an old-fashioned. Ironic appropriation? Affectionate homage? Whatever it is, Brooklyn Social works. Of course it wouldn’t mean jack if the drinks weren’t so good. Note the planter of fresh rosemary, which will go nicely with your vodka-and-limoncello, and the bottle of Michter’s rye, the proper base for a Manhattan. Except here they call it a Brooklyn.

Case Study #4: The Future Perfect & Williamsburg’s Design Scene

Just one L-train stop from the East Village, Williamsburg has long been siphoning hipsters out of Lower Manhattan, sucking them up through subway tubes into a relative vacuum of unexploited space. That was the original premise, anyway. By now Williamsburg is so coveted that struggling artists are fleeing for Red Hook, Bushwick, or (gasp) Queens. In their stead has come a new monied class, funky enough to dig the edgy vibe while throwing down $750K for a condo.

Still, the myth endures, and some of the reality. Williamsburg remains a creative bastion, and if fewer artists actually keep their studios here, there is an array of galleries and shops dedicated to exhibiting and selling their work. One store, the Future Perfect, has emerged as the de facto HQ for the borough’s thriving furniture and design scene. Nearly all of its stock comes from Brooklyn-based firms. The unifying thread, if one exists, is a sense of humor: take Jason Miller’s ceramic-antler chandeliers and his seemingly "dusty" coffee table, clever riffs on suburban motifs; Elodie Blanchard’s graceful vases composed of rubber bands; or Tobias Wong’s "I F*ck for G*cci" wallpaper.

Case Study #5: The Red Hook Waterfront

There’s a spot on the edge of New York Harbor that encapsulates everything that once defined the city and no longer does. From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century, Red Hook—a one-square-mile promontory jutting off Brooklyn’s western shore—was among the nation’s busiest ports. After the 1950’s, much of its maritime trade and population disappeared. Yet the peculiar light, ambience, and iconography remain. It’s still one of the most atmospheric corners of New York.

Clamber onto the mossy rocks where the city meets the surf and take it all in: the briny air, the squawking of gulls, the tugboats under an epic sky. To the left is the Verrazano Narrows bridge; to the right, the Statue of Liberty. Standing along Red Hook’s piers, you’re suddenly reminded that New York was built here for a reason. How easily one can forget this in the inland parts of the city.

Step back from the water and look around: Here are three antique trolleys rusting on a patch of grass. (Trolleys once ran everywhere in Brooklyn, whose residents were known as trolley dodgers—hence the baseball team.) Here are the Beard Street Warehouses, built in 1869 of sandstone and schist. The storerooms were once piled high with hemp and tobacco, cocoa and coffee—you can still find beans wedged between the floorboards. Today the tenants include a glassblowing studio, a parachute-design firm, and the costume shop for Blue Man Group.

Here are two ship’s masts protruding from the murky channel, marking the grave of Lightship 84, a 135-foot waterborne lighthouse launched in 1907. It was moored here a decade ago and eventually sank under the twin forces of rainwater and neglect. And here is the abandoned Revere Sugar Plant, a jumble of chutes and conveyor belts recalling a Rube Goldberg contraption. Soon it, too, will be gone, replaced by the world’s largest IKEA.

Such is the way of things now, as Red Hook is (re)discovered by pioneering home- and business-owners, plucky tourists, and, especially, developers. Across from the Beard Street Warehouses is the new Fairway supermarket, a 52,000-square-foot epicurean temple, drawing shoppers from as far away as...Manhattan. Ten blocks north is the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, opened last April as the new port of call for Princess, Carnival, and Cunard ships, including the Queen Mary 2. Amid the gritty longshoremen’s haunts that once defined Red Hook are now several acclaimed restaurants, a chic wine bar, live-music clubs, art galleries, and a guitar shop–cum–coffeehouse.

And so with Brooklyn’s newfound trendiness has come the inevitable: a shocking rise in housing costs, a development boom, and battles over how (and how much) the borough should evolve. There’s hardly an acre of Brooklyn that isn’t at stake in one turf war or another. Even here in Red Hook, preservationists are objecting to IKEA’s proposal to pave over a historic ship-repair dock and put up—cue Joni Mitchell—a parking lot.

 

The fiercest battle, however, centers on Atlantic Yards, a $4.2 billion development that would bring 16 residential and commercial towers and a Frank Gehry–designed basketball arena to the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, already one of the most congested intersections in the city. The 22-acre complex would replace a derelict rail yard—as well as seven residential blocks of not-at-all-derelict Prospect Heights. Most tenants and homeowners in the project’s footprint have already vacated their apartments, but a handful still remain, refusing buyout offers and possibly forcing an eminent domain action.

 

The pros and cons are both outsized. According to an environmental-impact study, Atlantic Yards would cast a literal shadow over surrounding low-rise neighborhoods, place a significant strain on mass transit, and knot up some 60 intersections in gridlock. It would also supply 2,250 subsidized apartments for low- and middle-income residents (an increasingly threatened population in New York), create thousands of jobs, add up to $1.5 billion in tax revenue, and relocate the New Jersey Nets to a legendarily jilted sports town that’s gone five decades without a big-league team.

Brooklyn desperately needs affordable housing. And an NBA franchise would be a potent symbol and point of pride for still bereft trolley dodgers. Yet Atlantic Yards seems grotesquely proportioned, the proverbial bazooka-on-a-quail-hunt. If approved, it will be the biggest and costliest development in Brooklyn’s history: a Manhattan-scale megaplex in a borough defined by its small neighborhood charms.

Will it happen anyway? Right now it seems inevitable. If so, I’ll certainly be rooting for the Brooklyn Nets—especially when they play the (Manhattan) Knicks. Might even attend a game, if I can actually get to the arena. But in the back of my mind, I’ll be counting the days until summer, when I can sit on my stoop, sipping 25-cent lemonade, watching the kids play stickball.

 

Where to Eat & Drink

 

Al Di Là
Unimpeachably authentic Northern Italian (braised rabbit, stewed tripe), served in your Nonna’s homey parlor. You’ll wait an hour for a table, then be grateful you did.
248 Fifth Ave., Park Slope; 718/ 783-4565; www.aldilatrattoria.com; dinner for two $60.

Alma
Casual, ever popular spot serving nouvelle Mexican with a side of wow: the view of Manhattan from the covered rooftop is breathtaking.
187 Columbia St., Columbia Waterfront District; 718/643-5400; www.almarestaurant.com; dinner for two $65.

Applewood
A folksy, hearth-warmed room sets the scene for farm-fresh cooking at this creative mom-and-pop op (literally—the owners’ toddler is usually in the house).
501 11th St., Park Slope; 718/768-2044; www.applewoodny.com; dinner for two $75.

Beast
Brooklyn’s most inventive tapas bar, where the wild things are on the walls (an odd mythological-monsters theme) and the plates (short ribs braised in Guinness, a pickled fennel–and-feta salad).
638 Bergen St., Prospect Heights; 718/399-6855; dinner for two $40.

Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
Roomier, friendlier, and better than the acclaimed SoHo original, with a superb raw bar and a comically diverse menu of American comfort food (fried chicken, Caesar salad, a pupu platter). A branch of the great Blue Ribbon Sushi (718/840-0408) is next door at No. 278.
280 Fifth Ave., Park Slope; 718/840-0404; www.blueribbonrestaurants.com; dinner for two $60.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
The obsessives at BICF make only eight basic flavors (hey, remember plain old "chocolate" and "vanilla"?)—but take the time to get each exactly right. Bonus: Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (718/858-4300) with its coal-oven pies is waiting just steps away.
Fulton Ferry Landing Pier, Dumbo; 718/246-3963.

Di Fara Pizza
It’s everything I promise it is…I promise. Don’t come expecting silverware. Or speed.
1424 Ave. J, Midwood; 718/258-1367; whole pizzas from $15.

Dressler
The latest from the owner of Williamsburg’s beloved Dumont, this gorgeous bistro goes one better, with bold flavors (striped bass with chorizo, broccoli rabe, and cockles) and equally forceful design (Baroque-style chandeliers, ornately filigreed dark-wood paneling).
149 Broadway, Williamsburg; 718/384-6343; www.dresslernyc.com; dinner for two $60.

Frankies 457 Spuntino
Brick walls, plain wood tables, sultry lighting, and the occasional Hollywood star (Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler, Leo DiCaprio) set the rustic-yet-urbane vibe at CG’s hippest restaurant. It helps to have great food, from delectable greens to knockout salumi to a perfect cavatelli with sausage and sage butter.
457 Court St., Carroll Gardens; 718/403-0033; www.frankiesspuntino.com; dinner for two $65.

Franny’s
Yes, the brick oven–fired pizza is fabulous (try the clams, chile, and parsley combo). But the secret weapon is the carefully sourced produce, like the delicate pea shoots served with braised squid, and an unassuming salad laced with powerful herbs.
295 Flatbush Ave., Prospect Heights; 718/230-0221; www.frannysbrooklyn.com; dinner for two $50.

The Good Fork
It’s Korean-meets-French-bistro food (crispy sweetbreads; steak with kimchi, rice, and a fried egg) at this tiny, low-key room on Red Hook’s burgeoning foodie strip.
391 Van Brunt St., Red Hook; 718/643-6636; www.goodfork.com; dinner for two $60.

The Grocery
There’s no flash or attitude at this 30-seat, husband-and-wife-owned jewel in Smith Street’s crown—just assured, inspired, greenmarket-based cooking that would fetch twice these prices in Manhattan.
288 Smith St., Carroll Gardens; 718/596-3335; dinner for two $90.

Jacques Torres Chocolate
French expat Torres is New York’s best and most imaginative chocolate maker; this tiny shop attached to his waterfront factory sells—or, rather, exhibits?—his artful creations.
66 Water St., Dumbo; 718/875-9772; www.mrchocolate.com.

Marlow & Sons
Bracing Malpeques, hearty fish stew, and ethereal Spanish tortillas are highlights at this funky oyster bar/tapas joint/épicerie (there’s a shop in front selling featured ingredients).
81 Broadway, Williamsburg; 718/384-1441; www.marlowandsons.com; dinner for two $55.

The Orchard
The city’s finest fruit selection, bar none (it’s certainly the most expensive). Stop in before the obligatory visit to Di Fara, around the corner.
1367 Coney Island Ave., Midwood; 718/377-1799; www.orchardfruit.com.

Peter Luger
Everyone knows Luger’s has the best straight-ahead porterhouse in NYC, but did you know about the fantastic burger served only at lunch? Now you do.
178 Broadway, Williamsburg; 718/387-7400; www.peterluger.com; dinner for two $110.

St. Helen Café
Impeccable lattes are the lure at this handsome, intimate café. Sip one next to the carp pond in the backyard garden.
150 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg; 718/302-1197.

Sette Enoteca E Cucina
An alluring, vine-fringed patio, a reasonably priced wine list, and earthy Italian cooking (like a great pappardelle with oxtail) make this a local favorite in the Slope—Steve Buscemi’s here every week.
207 Seventh Ave., Park Slope; 718/499-7767; dinner for two $80.

Sixpoint Craft Ales
The best beer in the city is made by two twentysomethings who met at the University of Wisconsin, won a bunch of home-brewing prizes, then relocated to Brooklyn and took over a small, disused brewery in Red Hook. Two years on, Shane and Andrew are local heroes, and their seriously quirky, unfiltered, uncategorizable beers (is that a pale ale or a hefeweizen?) are on tap at New York’s top restaurants. Drop by at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the extremely casual tour and tasting.
Behind Liberty Heights Tap Room, 34 Van Dyke St., Red Hook; 646/ 924-9365; www.sixpointcraftales.com.

Tanoreen
Dinner way out in Bay Ridge? Sign us up, if we’re having Rawia Bishara’s revelatory Middle Eastern food (tender braised lamb, garlicky stewed eggplant, luscious zahtar-topped flatbread), which puts her competition in Manhattan to shame.
7704 Third Ave., Bay Ridge; 718/748-5600; www.tanoreen.com; dinner for two $55.

Thanh Da II
A closet-size shop where local Vietnamese kids indulge their cravings for banh mi: barbecued pork, ham, pâté, cilantro, and pickled vegetables, served on a warm and crusty baguette. Follow it with a savory bowl of phô (beef noodle soup) at nearby Phô Cho Lon (5604 Eighth Ave., 718/492-1592).
5624 Eighth Ave., Sunset Park; 718/492-3760; banh mi from $3.

Where to Go Out

Barbès
Speaking of the French: This unerringly hip, Gallic-owned live-music club runs the gamut from washboard swing and Reinhardt-style guitar jazz to quwwali and klezmer.
376 Ninth St., Park Slope; 718/965-9177; www.barbesbrooklyn.com.

Bar Tabac
The liveliest of several bistro-cum-watering holes jostling for lead position in Brooklyn’s burgeoning Little Paris (actually, the funky feel is more like Little Marseilles).
128 Smith St., Cobble Hill; 718/923-0918.

Brooklyn Social
Packed to the pressed-tin ceiling on weekend nights, agreeably lively most others.
335 Smith St., Carroll Gardens; 718/858-7758.

D.O.C.
Sardinian-style enoteca offering 40-odd Italian wines, tasty antipasti and crostini (as well as some larger plates), and the opportunity to feel like a totally clued-in local.
83 N. Seventh St., Williamsburg; 718/963-1925.

Larry Lawrence
Prettiest bar in the borough? Could be. The atmosphere recalls an outsized Finnish sauna, with acres of glowing pine and a glass-enclosed deck (except that isn’t steam, it’s cigarette smoke: the deck is one of NYC’s few remaining smoking areas). The crowd, most nights, is just as attractive.
295 Grand St., Williamsburg; 718/218-7866; www.larrylawrencebar.com.

Primorski
Funniest club in the borough? Definitely. This glitzy, schmaltzy, Russian-Georgian supper club hosts a nightly bacchanal replete with dinner, disco balls, drinking (a lot of drinking), and supremely cheesy live music that’s hardly changed since the place opened in 1981.
282 Brighton Beach Ave., Brighton Beach; 718/891-3111; www.primorski.net.

Zebulon
Some of the city’s hottest jazz and Afrobeat is performed every night—free—in this sultry, low-lit lounge, tucked in beside a motorcycle-repair shop. Look out for the explosive funk of Amayo’s Fu-Arkest-Ra (featuring the lead singer of the great Antibalas) and Malian talking-drum master Baye Kouyate, who tends bar here on his off nights.
258 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg; 718/218-6934; www.zebuloncafeconcert.com.

Where to Shop

Bark
Owner Linda Downey’s interior-design and clothing boutique is tactile heaven: Mongolian-lamb rugs, silk coverlets, hand-loomed striped blankets, and mohair throws.
495 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill; 718/625-8997; www.barkshop.com.

Bird
Impeccably curated women’s clothing boutique offering one-stop shopping for 718 hipsters. Stock ranges from denim by Australian cult label Sass & Bide to fancy frocks by NYC’s Philip Lim.
430 Seventh Ave., Park Slope; 718/768-4940; also at 220 Smith St., Cobble Hill; www.shopbird.com.

Brooklyn Flat
An outpost for whimsical, funky design. Ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of chicken feet share space with silk-screened pillows by a local graphic artist.
150 Ainslie St., Williamsburg; 718/302-2138; www.brooklynflat.com.

Butter
An airy showcase for top fashion names such as Dries van Noten and Rick Owens. The shoe selection alone (Henry Beguelin, Ann Demeulemeester) inspires many a pilgrimage from Manhattan. New this summer: the Butter Outlet (103 Bond St., Boerum Hill; 718/260-9033).
389 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill; 718/260-9033.

Darr
A stuffed grizzly bear? Buddhist devotional statuary? Vintage card-catalog drawers? Antique maps? All are under one roof at this defiantly eclectic emporium.
369 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill; 718/797-9733; www.shopdarr.com.

Environment 337
Young parents from the playground across the street come to ogle Czech glassware and mod ceramic vases like kids at a candy store.
337 Smith St., Carroll Gardens; 718/522-1767; www.environment337.com.

The Future Perfect
If you hit only one design shop, make this the one.
115 N. Sixth St., Williamsburg; 718/599-6278; www.thefutureperfect.com.

Golden Calf
The Chinese and American antiques are unexpectedly high-quality for such a low-fi setting: the gritty margins of Williamsburg.
86 N. Sixth St., Williamsburg, 718/302-8800; www.goldencalf.net.

Matter
The housewares here range from kitschy items like Piet Houtenbos’s infamous grenade lamp to diminutive, high-concept products from other esteemed designers.
227 Fifth Ave., Park Slope; 718/ 230-1150; www.mattermatters.com.

Moon River Chattel
In a borough littered with beautiful old buildings, these architectural-salvage specialists sell an impressive range of hard-to-find fixtures and hardware.
62 Grand St., Williamsburg; 718/388-1121; www.moonriverchattel.com.

Otte
Once you get past the staff’s haughty (decidedly non-Brooklyn) attitude, you’ll find racks upon racks of flirty Vanessa Bruno, Ulla Johnson, and See by Chloe designs.
132 N. Fifth St., Williamsburg; 718/302-3007.

Sleep
A sumptuous bed in the store’s window is strewn with high-end lingerie (Cosabella, Eberjey, Leigh Bantivoglio)—perhaps the place should be called Stay Up All Night?
110 N. Sixth St., Williamsburg; 718/384-3211; www.sleepbrooklyn.com.

 

1. The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (1000 Washington Ave.; 718/623-7200; www.bbg.org), followed by a walk through adjacent Prospect Park, the, well, second-greatest greensward in New York.

 

2. The ancient Egyptian collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights; 718/638-5000; www.brooklynmuseum.org)

3. A tour of Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods—especially Crown Heights. Go to www.jewishtours.com or call 718/953-5244 for details and bookings.

4. A walking or driving tour of the borough's famous residential architecture, from Brooklyn Heights (elegant brownstones) through Clinton Hill (stately 19th-century mansions) to Ditmas Park (sprawling Tudors and Queen Annes). The Brooklyn Historical Society has informative neighborhood guides (718/222-4111; www.brooklynhistory.org).

5. Gallery-hopping in Williamsburg (see www.williamsburggalleryassociation.com for a map and gallery info).

6. Walking across, or in the shadow of, Brooklyn's incomparable bridges: the Williamsburg, the Manhattan, the Brooklyn, and the Verrazano-Narrows. (The latter is closed to pedestrians for now, but Mayor Bloomberg has endorsed a proposal for a foot and bike path.)

7. Seeing a Brooklyn Cyclones game at intimate, seaside Keyspan Park (1904 Surf Ave., Coney Island; 718/449-8497; www.brooklyncyclones.com; June to Sept.). After a stroll on the boardwalk and a requisite spin on the Wonder Wheel? Fuggedaboudit.

8. A progressive Latin lunch at the Red Hook Soccer Fields (Clinton and Bay Sts., Red Hook; open all day Sat. and Sun., mid-April to mid-October), where 13 vendors sell Honduran tacos, Mexican huaraches, Ecuadoran ceviche, and other delicious treats to spectators and players alike (a semi-pro league holds matches here every weekend)

9. Shopping on Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. Among the dozens of top-grade antiques dealers, you'll also find edgy new shops devoted to fashion and design.

10. The magnficient views from the Brooklyn Heights Esplanade (a.k.a. the Promenade), taking in the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the vast expanse of New York Harbor. Oh, and that other borough across the water.

MCU Park

Built in 2001 as part of the revitalization effort of Coney Island, this 7,500-seat stadium next to the ocean serves many purposes beyond hosting the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, including concerts, parades, festivals, boxing and wrestling matches, even weddings. The ballpark also has a museum dedicated to Brooklyn’s storied baseball past. At night, the neon fluorescent stadium lights intensify the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island's famed boardwalk, offering views of the lit-up Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and 262-foot-high, steel parachute jump beyond the outfield walls.

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Sleep

A sumptuous bed in the store's window is strewn with high-end lingerie (Cosabella, Eberjey, Leigh Bantivoglio) - perhaps the place should be called Stay Up All Night?

Otte

Once you get past the staff⤙s haughty (decidedly non-Brooklyn) attitude, you'll find racks upon racks of flirty Vanessa Bruno, Ulla Johnson, and See by Chloe designs.

Moon River Chattel

In a borough littered with beautiful old buildings, these architectural-salvage specialists sell an impressive range of hard-to-find fixtures and hardware.

Matter

The housewares here range from kitschy items like Piet Houtenbos's infamous grenade lamp to diminutive, high-concept products from other esteemed designers.

Golden Calf

The Chinese and American antiques are unexpectedly high-quality for such a low-fi setting: the gritty margins of Williamsburg. Owner Natalie Vichnevsky has an eye for color and form and an obvious sense of humor. You're sure to find a gift among her collection of furniture and accessories.

Environment 337

Young parents from the playground across the street come to ogle Czech glassware and mod ceramic vases like kids at a candy store.

Darr

Taxidermied heads of South African Cape buffalo and other animals hang on the walls, before an intriguing array of antiques and found objects (Victorian birdcages and clock bodies; hand-knotted Persian mats). Owners Hicham Benmira and Brian Cousins collect everything for sale here during their travels. Buddhist devotional statuary?Vintage card-catalog drawers?Antique maps?All are under one roof at this defiantly eclectic emporium.

Butter, Brooklyn

An airy showcase for top fashion names such as Dries van Noten and Rick Owens. The shoe selection alone (Henry Beguelin, Ann Demeulemeester) inspires many a pilgrimage from Manhattan.

Brooklyn Flat

An outpost for whimsical, funky design. Ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of chicken feet share space with silk-screened pillows by a local graphic artist.

Bird

The women's clothing destination in Brooklyn, this is the store that defines Brooklyn style: individualistic, artsy, and slightly slouchier than the buttoned-up women of Manhattan. It caters to—and shapes—the tastes of the TV writers and book editors, producers and indie actresses who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. Bird is the pet project of owner Jennifer Mankins, a former assistant buyer for Barneys New York, who handpicks the edgy, original dresses, jewelry, and shoes that stock the boutiques. You're not likely to see anyone else wearing your Tsumori Chisato Heaven Print dress because Mankins buys in limited quantity, and carries only small brands like Acne, Mociun, and Vena Cava.

Bark

Owner Linda Downey’s interior-design and clothing boutique is tactile heaven: Mongolian-lamb rugs, silk coverlets, hand-loomed striped blankets, and mohair throws.

Zebulon

Just west of Williamsburg’s main hipster drag of Bedford Avenue, this L-shaped bar and music venue blends left-bank Parisian and New York Bohemian sensibilities in a dark-yet-glittery interior that sports globe-shaped lamps suspended from an antique, tin ceiling; album-cover mosaics; multiple mirrors; and projected video art. Live concerts take place each night with particular attention to jazz and world music, while in between sets and shows, DJs spin classic vinyl. The café area serves French-style sandwiches, croissants, and tarts, and free trail mix is available at the bar.

Primorski

Funniest club in the borough?Definitely. This glitzy, schmaltzy, Russian-Georgian supper club hosts a nightly bacchanal replete with dinner, disco balls, drinking (a lot of drinking), and supremely cheesy live music that’s hardly changed since the place opened in 1981.

Larry Lawrence

The atmosphere recalls an outsized Finnish sauna, with acres of glowing pine and a glass-enclosed deck. The crowd, most nights, is just as attractive.

D.O.C., Brooklyn

The atmosphere of this Sardinian enoteca in downtown Williamsburg breathes cozy, old-world rusticity with aged hardwood floors, woodblock tables, brass finishings, tapered candles, a tin-paneled ceiling, and cushioned banquettes. The tapas-style menu, bound together with wooden spoons, follows suit with an array of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and pressed paninis. The wine list draws heavily from Sardinia with selections like Perdera Monica di Sardegna and Sella e Mosca. As the name of the establishment suggests (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), quality and provenance is a high priority.

Brooklyn Social

Bar Tabac

Although this bar in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood does not actually sell tobacco, its spirit draws from the iconic shops, kiosks, and annexes that populate the streets of France, making it a meeting point for the city’s French expatriate community. The menu follows suit with bistro-style dishes like baked Burgundy snails, duck confit, and calamari brochette alongside a wine list of Bourdeaux, Beaujolais, and Sauvignon Blancs. The atmosphere is colorfully festive with tangerine and yellow walls, red tables, blue-flower floor tiles offset by aged wood paneling. After 8 p.m. on most nights, live music adds to the fun.

Barbès

This unerringly hip, Gallic-owned live-music club runs the gamut from washboard swing and Reinhardt-style guitar jazz to quwwali and klezmer.

Phô Cho Lon

Thanh Da II

This tiny Vietnamese sandwich shop in Sunset Park may appear somewhat disheveled and ramshackled, but its cheap, delicious sandwiches account for the intense crowding at lunch times. The clear favorite is the traditional banh mi stuffed with thick slices of pork belly, pickled vegetables, and chopped jalopeno peppers and encased in a crusty, baguette-type bread, which is given a final toasting before serving. Also popular is the bun rieu, a beef noodle soup flavored with tomato and crab paste. Vegetarian offerings are few but include curried catfish and sardine sandwiches, jackfruit chips, and tamari nd balls.  

Tanoreen

Forced to move to a larger space in Bay Ridge to accommodate its growing popularity, this Mediterranean-style Middle Eastern restaurant run by Rawia Bishara serves home-style dishes based on her mother’s old-world recipes like ground lamb meatballs, stuffed grape leaves, and fatoush — a salad spiced with parsley, mint, and sumac. Diners can round out the meal with one of Bishara’s unique cocktails like the Nazareth Sunrise, a blend of pear vodka, orange juice, and rose water. With her daughter Jumana now manager, a warm, familial atmosphere pervades and is further enhanced by the sunny color scheme.

Sixpoint Craft Ales

The best beer in the city is made by two twentysomethings who met at the University of Wisconsin, won a bunch of home-brewing prizes, then relocated to Brooklyn and took over a small, disused brewery in Red Hook. Two years on, Shane and Andrew are local heroes, and their seriously quirky, unfiltered, uncategorizable beers (is that a pale ale or a hefeweizen?) are on tap at New York’s top restaurants. Drop by at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the extremely casual tour and tasting.

Sette Enoteca E Cucina

St. Helen Café

Peter Luger Steakhouse

Peter Luger lets the steaks speak for themselves, and it works: the chain, including this tavern-like Williamsburg location, is consistently voted the best steakhouse in NYC and earned one Michelin star in 2012. Starting in 1887, Peter Luger’s trademark has been prime cuts, particularly the porterhouse. There are daily lunch specials like pot roast and filet of sole, but the steak reigns supreme. The servers aren’t always the most suave, but the juice-draped porterhouse makes up for it. And if one meal isn’t enough, prime cuts and the Old-Fashioned steak sauce can be ordered online.

The Orchard

This Coney Island fruit shop carries the gamut of fruit-based creations, from platters and baskets to chocolate-dipped fruits. Daniel Spitz started the shop in 1957, and his son Mitchell now runs the place (although Daniel continues to keep a close eye on operations). Fruit designers work to shape the aesthetic appeal of the colorful arrangements, which have graced the tables for United States presidential inauguration celebrations. Fresh produce is flown in from across the globe daily, such as pineapples from Hawaii and Haitian mangoes, and next-day Manhattan delivery can be arranged.

Marlow & Sons

This intimate and super-casual restaurant near the Williamsburg Bridge serves only one or two varieties a night, but the oysters are exceptionally fresh, always well-chosen (usually East Coast), and impeccably shucked. And if you happen to be there when the elusive Dodge Coves (from Maine's Damariscotta River) are on the menu, well, lucky you.

Jacques Torres Chocolate, Brooklyn

Established in 2000 in Brooklyn, Jacques Torres Chocolate makes bonbons, chocolate chip cookies, and hot chocolate. This real-life chocolate factory, located in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, has marble café tables, an eat-at bar, and brightly colored walls lined with treats. Confections include a coffee-infused chocolate bar, the Dangerously Dark bar with 72 percent cocoa content, and chocolate-covered cereal. The Wicked Pecan Brittle is a pecan-toffee brittle spiced up with ancho and chipotle chiles before being drizzled with dark chocolate. The success of the original DUMBO location paved the way for Torres and his partner to open several more locations around New York.

The Good Fork

Run by Korean-born chef Sohui Kim, The Good Fork serves up Asian-inspired dishes for dinner and a weekend brunch. This Red Hook restaurant's interior mirrors the neighborhood: the dining tables and dining room were built by chef Kim's carpenter-actor husband, Ben Schneider, creating an overall wood-crafted, shipyard appearance. The dinner menu includes Korean-style steak and eggs with kimchi rice alongside decidedly not-Asian items, such as Berkshire pork chop. Brunch continues this mixed-up theme by including dishes like crab eggs Benedict and homemade pork and chive dumplings. Chef Kim also hosts special events each year, including the annual New Year’s Eve party.

Dressler

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

Blue Ribbon Sushi

Blue Ribbon Brooklyn

Beginning in a small corner restaurant in SoHo, this brainchild of brother-chefs Bruce and Eric Bromberg has expanded throughout the city including Brooklyn’s Park Slope, where signature fish and seafood dishes like smoked trout and paella mix with house specialties Maine lobster sashimi and chopped tuna belly. Equally popular are the large oyster and sushi bars and the extensive kids’ menu, which at a set $10 per dish, makes this branch particularly family friendly. However, the dim lighting, exposed brick, and dark wood furniture keep the ambiance very French bistro.

Beast, Brooklyn

Graduating at the top of her class from the Culinary Institute of America, chef Deborah Bicknese opened this unique Spanish tapas place in Prospect Heights to the delight of many. A New York magazine Critics’ Pick, the restaurant impresses as much with its iron chandeliers, blood-red walls, and gargoyle statues as with the meat, fish, and vegetable tapas dishes like creamy blue cheese polenta, pan-roasted pork tenderloin, and Moroccan-spiced salmon salad. Loud music and a socially progressive clientele give the place an additional edge. Outdoor seating is also available.

Applewood

Alma

Located across the East River from Manhattan, this Mexican restaurant is known for its rooftop terrace with views of the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, and the Manhattan skyline. Built in 2002, Alma's three-floored space includes brick walls, brightly colored mosaics, and stained glass artwork. In addition to a large selection of rotating tequilas, the restaurant also serves brunch favorites such as chilaquiles (tortillas with salsa and cheese) and steak and eggs. Dinner entrees include classics with a twist, such as fish tacos with chipotle aioli, and stuffed peppers with short ribs and Gouda, finished in a yellow mole sauce.

The Future Perfect

Opened in 2003, this furniture/home goods/design store/gallery serves mostly loft-dwelling New Yorkers and curious visitors. At any time, the store mixes up its more practical items, including rugs and sofas, with an eclectic, rotating selection of products such as a resin and marble banana bowl cast in gold, a PVC and silver glitter snow globe, and a handmade ceramic pink elephant trophy head, decorated and shipped from Mexico. The store also stocks a small collection of chic but pricey jewelry from up-and-coming designers, such as Lara Knutson.

Franny's

This husband-and-wife-owned, Brooklyn-based pizzeria and restaurant is as much a lesson in simplistic food preparations as it is in environmental responsibility. Distressed wood floors, brick walls, and wooden tabletops decorate the restaurant, and great measures are taken to ensure eco-consciousness—even the kitchen grease is converted into useable biodiesel fuel for machines in the tri-state area. The menu ranges from small plates including crostini of wood-roasted pancetta with cicerchie beans to pastas to a number of artisan pizzas, such as the clam, chili, and parsley, as well as a barebones version with just extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.

Grocery, Brooklyn

Originally intended as a simple neighborhood eatery, owners Sharon Pachter and Charles Kiely have gained recognition for executing a small menu of seasonally focused dishes drawn from locally sourced produce. A heavy curtain shields the front exterior’s windows, separating the outside street view from the minimally decorated interior of olive-green and gray walls, and wood floors. Indoor tables are packed closely together and only fit about 30 people, though a rear outdoor patio has more spacious seating. The slow-cooked duck breast and roasted halibut with ginger are signature dishes. An extensive wine list consists of primarily California labels, as well as a selection of international beers. 

Grimaldi's

Di Fara

Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Since 1964, Domenico DeMarco has been making one pizza at a time at his shop in the melting pot of Midwood, Brooklyn. (Glatt kosher meets masala meets veal marsala.) Cognoscenti—ravenous single males—know to arrive prior to noon for lunch or again in the evening before six o’clock. Hover until you hear DeMarco’s daughter Margaret, who takes orders at the counter, yell at the old man: “Pop! Make a square one next.” The square Margherita is a chewy slice of heaven.

Best Toppings: Freshly cut basil and grated Grana Padano cheese.

Al Di Là

Founded by the husband and wife team of Emiliano Coppa and Anna Klinger (the two actually met while she was traveling abroad in Italy), this small trattoria was one of the original restaurants that helped Brooklyn emerge as a dining destination. The corner building, installed along one of the Park Slope neighborhood’s primary arteries, still possesses its original exposed pressed-tin ceilings, and its mustard awnings can be spotted from a block away. A glass candle chandelier casts a warm glow over the rustic wood tables below, and exposed sections of weathered brick give the walls a bit of character. Chef Klinger’s Venetian menu emphasizes simple, time-tested execution and a heavy reliance on fresh organic ingredients, with signatures including red beet and ricotta ravioli as well as braised rabbit with black olives and polenta.

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