I Love Brooklyn
Posted by Dan Webster on April 27, 2018, 6 a.m.
I have every reason to hate New York City. New York is where my daughter Rachel fled to 20 years ago after growing up in Spokane. It’s where she went to college, obtained her first few jobs, found a career, a husband and delivered her two children.
It’s also where she still lives, nearly 3,000 miles away from the city that groomed her for adult life, not to mention from the two sets of parents who did their best to guide her along the way.
But I don’t hate New York. I can’t. It’s the greatest city in the world, and Brooklyn – where my daughter has lived for the past 16 years – is one of its more interesting boroughs.
I’ve spent some time walking the streets of Brooklyn, both the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area where my daughter lives now and her former neighborhood in Williamsburg. And while I’m far from an expert, I have a few favorite places I always like to visit.
I’m a big movie guy, actually, as is my daughter. And so we’ve attended both the Tribeca and New York film festivals, as well as taken in the occasional screening at Film Forum in Manhattan.
In Brooklyn, we like the BAM Rose Cinemas, where we saw both 2013’s “Blue Jasmine” and 2015’s “The Revenant.” (BAM, by the way, stands for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a multiuse arts facility that plays host to a range of events, from film to dance, theater to visual arts and more.)
But BAM is hardly the only place to see movies in Brooklyn. Most recently, we saw “The Florida Project” at the Alamo Drafthouse, a national chain with a Brooklyn location that augments its screenings by offering both drinks and a menu featuring unique snacks (Edamame Hummus with Wonton Chips) and full entrees (Ropa Vieja Beef Tacos).
Every traveler knows that one of the great joys of visiting new places is food, and Brooklyn has a number of eateries that cater to every taste. My regular meals always include lunch at Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery (love the egg salad sandwiches) and the grilled calamari I order for dinner at Graziella’s Pizza.
More recently, I enjoyed a wood-fired pizza dinner with my family at Speedy Romeo. Then, craving a more gourmet setting, a group of us enjoyed an intimate dinner at the Vinegar Hill House. If that wasn’t good enough, we had a couple of lunches at the Dekalb Market Hall, open only since last summer, which is a basement food court of some 40 vendors representing the whole of international cuisine (love the chopped brisket sandwiches at Fletcher’s).
For drinks, you might try Frank’s Cocktail Lounge, which my daughter describes as “a Fort Greene institution that has maintained its simplicity and charm over the years with great ‘over-30’ dance parties.” Or for a more boisterously contemporary setting, check out the beer hall Black Forest Brooklyn.
I can remember a time when the only coffee you could find in New York was diner coffee. Those days are long gone, thanks in large part to coffee freaks from the Pacific Northwest who demand drinkable espresso wherever we go. Among my favorite Brooklyn coffee shops are BitterSweet, a tiny coffee bar near Fort Greene Park, and the Hungry Ghost, which sits on Fulton Street.
In terms of bookstores, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time cruising Greenlight Bookstore, an independent bookseller that offers a range both of new and classic/obscure material (such as a paperback copy of James Salter’s 1956 war novel “The Hunters”).
But why listen just to me? Let me share the recommendations of someone who has spent more than a decade and a half in Brooklyn: my daughter Rachel. These are just some of what she considers must-sees for the first-time Brooklyn visitor:
In a city of acronyms, DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Grimaldi’s serves good pizza, though the lines are often impossibly long, and you can feed your sweet tooth at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Or just take a walk along the East River.
This northernmost part of Brooklyn, says my daughter, “now outshines its hip neighbor Williamsburg with better restaurants, fewer tourists and more of the quiet, small businesses you want to visit when traveling.” For eating, try the restaurants Glasserie, which specializes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and Achilles Heel, which its owner describes as “a bar with a consciousness for food.”
Fort Greene Farmer’s Market
Operating year-round on the southeastern edge of Fort Greene Park, this Saturday market offers a range of treats. Don’t miss the bread baked by She Wolf Bakery.
Flatbush (love that name), another old Brooklyn neighborhood, is the home of Kings Theatre, a former Loews movie-house and now a newly renovated, live-performance hall that reopened in 2015.
Not just an amusement park featuring the Cyclone rollercoaster, Coney Island is known for its beach access. And you’ll find the original Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, where the annual hot-dog eating contest is held. Located at the opposite end of Brooklyn, Coney Island is, according to my daughter, “a place that’s stayed perfectly weird despite its family-friendly Luna Park renovation. Don’t miss the Mermaid Parade if you’re in town in June.”
In terms of Brooklyn lodging, my wife and I usually stay either in Airbnbs or at the Aloft New York Brooklyn, which is only a 20-minute walk from my daughter’s apartment. Meanwhile, Rachel points to what she calls the “newly built, unofficial hotel zone in North Williamsburg, which caters to the in-the-know business traveler and hip Europeans.”
Her recommendations include the boutique Williamsburg Hotel, the Wythe Hotel (built in 2012 from a century-old factory building), the William Vale and the McCarren Hotel – “all centrally located in Williamsburg and close to nightlife and the L Train” (which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan).
And note this: You don’t have to spend money to get around Brooklyn – or much anyway (subway/bus rides are $2.75; a seven-day Unlimited Pass runs $32).
In any event, traversing Downtown Brooklyn is easy on foot. Our walk from the Aloft to my daughter’s house, for example, takes us through or past Fort Greene Park. And that walk,
especially during the summer months, is a perfect opportunity to do what I most like to do in New York: people watch. And at any given moment, our walk could expose us to manbunned hipsters, dog-walkers accompanying every type of breed imaginable, soccer players engaging in impromptu matches, young lovers on blankets soaking up the hot summer sun, skaters and skateboarders and endless varieties of other wide-eyed pedestrians just like you.
Truth is, pretty much wherever you walk in Brooklyn, you’re likely to hear people speaking different languages, or in some other way manifesting both in word and deed just as many cultural and/or ethnic varieties. The city may not have been the inspiration for the term melting pot, but it certainly has come to exemplify it.
So, yes, I have every right to hate New York. But I don’t. What’s more, I absolutely (imagine a heart icon here) Brooklyn.