Ah Brooklyn! This chilled out borough is probably my favourite thing about New York. As much as I love the drama of Manhattan, hopping across the East River is where things feel a lot more ‘normal’ and like the areas I’m used to in London. I remember when each ‘L’ train journey felt a bit like an adventure (until I started using it for my commute – the sardine situation is real) and the sense of achievement when I finally figured out how to get around.
This post focuses on the places you’ve probably heard about in those oh-so-hip guides, Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bushwick. There’s obviously a lot more to Brookers (as we used to call it affectionately) since it’s split up into different neighbourhoods, each with their own fascinating demographics and history. Although it’s a lot more residential, it can be cheaper to base yourself here if you’re using AirBnb plus it’s often less than 30 minutes if you need to head into Manhattan.
As per usual I’ve collated some of the places we went to, which should lead you to your own discoveries. No doubt there’ll probably be even more homeware stores selling fancy candles and terrariums the next time I visit. Please tell me where they all are.
Pretend to be a local in Greenpoint
When I lived in NYC (I’ll never get tired of saying that), I didn’t exactly live in the most exciting area, so I was determined to stay a little closer to the action and see what all the fuss was about in Greenpoint. It’s definitely deserved, it’s a little quieter than Williamsburg and where families tend to reside. There’s plenty of leafy streets with mini-brownstones and every kind of cuisine you could ever want. Jen kindly gave me an amazing list with so many recommendations, but I prioritised noodles, burgers and brunch to keep things simple.
Xian Famous Foods – A no-frills setting for your fix of hand-pulled noodles
648 Manhattan Ave
Barley – I was determined to grab a burger here before my flight and it didn’t disappoint
1025 Manhattan Ave
One Bedford – A decent brunch fix in a prime people-watching spot
1 Bedford Ave
Maman – Cute cafe chain with the prettiest take-away cups
80 Kent St
If you fancy staying somewhere with Midcentury furnishings and a fridge for all your leftovers, then you’ll love the Franklin Guesthouse. It’s part of a small boutique hotel chain (we also stayed at the nearby Box House Hotel) that works if you want the feel of an apartment but the usual cleaning services. They also run a free shuttle service and will pick you up from anywhere within a 1 mile radius, which is handy if you don’t fancy walking back from the subway.
We were guests of The Box Hotel Hotel and Franklin Guesthouse
Wander On Down To Williamsburg
After getting over the shock of seeing an Apple Store and Whole Foods, I quickly remembered why I loved Williamsburg so much. There’s so many independent boutiques and it’s probably where my love for unusual jewellery and random home accessories started. I was pleased to see Catbird still standing after I first visited seven years ago (I finally bought one of their fig candles) and wished that I could have snuck some of the succulents home from Sprout.
Bulletin is another cool concept to note. Each brand pays a small fee to rent space in the store and this branch focuses on female empowerment (10% of all sales go towards Planned Parenthood). It’s a great place to discover illustrators and products you may not find anywhere else (you must check out Jane Beaird’s work).
Most of our dining choices were a little less fancy when we were staying at our Airbnb for a few nights. Example one, Joe’s Pizza. I went in thinking that I only wanted one slice, until the tasty tomato base convinced me that I had to have another within minutes of finishing. Example two, Vanessa’s Dumplings. It’s the only place I’ve ever visited twice within 24 hours, but when there’s $2 dumplings involved, I am quite willing to reassess my priorities. You can have a decent amount of food for less than ten dollars and I’m going to find it tough sharing my dim sum again (I ate about 12 dumplings in one meal). There’s also locations in Manhattan, if you start craving the potstickers all of a sudden.
Go On A Street Art Adventure in Bushwick
Fun fact, I actually used to live in Bushwick but at the time I didn’t really appreciate it for what it was. I went for the cheapest apartment I could find, tolerated the cat that would follow me around and rarely ventured anywhere in the vicinity. Now the area’s definitely surpassed the ‘up-and-coming’ label and it was a little surreal to go back and realise that I’d actually found a gem (there’s now a doughnut shop near the subway, which I probably would have gone to daily).
The thing to see here is all of the street art, which has transformed the neighbourhood into a bit of an outdoor gallery. There’s a really heartwarming story behind the Bushwick Collective, which organises the curation of some of these masterpieces (there’s a mixture of local and international artists). You can take a pay-what-you-wish tour or check Time Out’s list of the key streets, just head to the Morgan stop on the L (and make sure you take a detour via Roberta’s pizza).
Find Culture Downtown
Now for some art in a more traditional setting. I didn’t get to spend as much time in Downtown Brooklyn as I would have liked but made a special effort to see two exhibitions that I’d heard a lot about. After missing out on a few museums in the Deep South, I wanted to see what New York had to offer by way of African American history and educate myself. Weeksville Heritage Centre is the perfect place to do that.
What I didn’t know about Brooklyn is that it used to be mainly farmland in the early 19th century and only became a part of New York in 1898. It’s always been a destination where immigrants have lived and the centre’s aim is to preserve the history of the rare 19th century African American community around Eastern Parkway. Back then the area was called Weeksville and it’s where over 500 freed and escaped slaves settled for safety, they owned land, founded schools and started businesses. I managed to catch one of the tours (after tripping down some Subway steps, natch) and bombarded our guide with questions about what life was like back then. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to unearth, there’s only four surviving houses and you’re able to have a nosey around the rooms filled with curated artefacts. Tours are $8 and are offered from Tuesdays to Fridays at 3pm.
Another must see if you’re around for the next couple of months, is ‘We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women’ at the Brooklyn Museum. It showcases the works and struggles of the black female artists, who were part of the second wave feminist movement from 1965 to 1985. Seeing it all actually made me feel quite emotional. There were names that I wasn’t previously aware of and these excluded women fought against sexism, racism, homophobia and classism within the art world. The conversations of the 60s are still present today, but instead of social media, political ideas used to be spread via inexpensive screenprinted posters.
Make sure you leave a decent amount of time for your visit and double check the opening times. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to read every article, pore over descriptions and watch all the films (I also ended up buying the accompanying book). There’s a Black Power exhibition now open at the Tate Modern in London, which I’m sure I’ll go to, but it was so powerful to witness something dedicated solely to black women. It’s rather apt that I was informed about it via Sharmadean Reid’s Instagram Story.
I’m so pleased that I managed to see a different side to Brooklyn and I’d definitely recommend staying across the river for a couple of nights (or even your entire trip), if you want more of a well-rounded perspective. Let me know if you’re heading to NYC soon and I will live vicariously through you!