All I knew about Brooklyn when I moved to New York from Brazil six years ago was that Brooklyn was, according to “Law & Order”, a dangerous part of town with shootings and bodies dumped in the river. I also knew that Miranda (yes, from Sex and the City) once had to make the painful decision to move there in order to afford a better lifestyle for her child. Apparently, real estate was booming, she could buy an entire house for the price of a Manhattan shoe box and the neighborhood was really blossoming. That was what I knew, the little information that television had fed me.
That was certainly not what I found when I actually crossed the river for the first time. Let’s face it, Brooklyn could be a scary place if you don’t know your way around. “Could” being the operative word. What many people fail to realize is that Brooklyn is not a neighborhood, it’s a borough, and it’s an enormous one. Williamsburg alone is the most densely populated neighborhood in New York city, with over 135 thousand people. And that is only a small part of Brooklyn. This borough didn’t used to be a part of New York City, Brooklyn was its own entity up until a century or so ago. If Brooklyn was still an independent city, it would most likely be one of the largest in the United States.
The most gentrified portions of this borough look like Anywhere-Else, Manhattan; if you ask me, except with a very, very young and artsy crowd. This is not to set anyone apart, it’s just a fact. After SoHo and the East Village kicked out their young artists due to rising real estate prices (lofts turned into luxurious apartments, among other things), this is where they came to rest. So yes, Brooklyn, or at least parts of it, became a refuge for New York newcomers, young families and artists of all different cultural walks of life.
And so it is, Williamsburg, being the closest neighborhood, right off the first stop of the L train, becomes expensive and gentrified and people once again flee further. Dumbo, Bed-Stuy, Park Slope, Greenpoint, Carroll Gardens are all other names that have become as regular as SoHo and Chelsea in day to day conversations. It’s the nature of the beast, the never ending evolution of the city that never sleeps. All along Bedford Avenue, Havemeyer, Metropolitan and Roebling you see the signs of change. From one month to the next, the store front that was empty gives place to a 16 Handles, a Walgreens or a bespoke tailor shop. The thing about Brooklyn though, is that somehow years later, it still retains some of it’s original character. Whether it’s the old cobble stone streets in which Truman Capote used to take walks on, in Brooklyn Heights or the ever changing skyline of Manhattan, once depicted so brilliantly in “Moonstruck”; it’s all still there.
The place in which Barbra Streisand was born now may be the home for Winona Ryder, Mary Louise Parker or Maggie Gylenhall. The same streets in which Woody Allen have walked on have evolved and are now home to fancy restaurants which attract Manhattanites who would normally never be caught in another borough unless it was to go to the airport. The latest in a string of many, is the Italian nuveau cousine Antica Pesa, which has been known to attract Madonna and Harvey Weinstein. Roebling Tea Room is however, still one of the gems of the area; great food, proper portions, fair price and all of it in a very chilled out setting. But don’t be fooled, there are many other restaurants to explore.
If your taste is for farm to table, organic, gluten free (very specific) pizza, then Wild is your spot, and it does not disappoint. If all you need is a sandwich to kick starvation, then run to the newly opened The Sandwich Shop; there, the Tokyo Breakfast Sandwich or The Mexican are quite popular. At Reynard, the fabulous food is hosted in a great room that includes an indoor/outdoor garden with an option for a communal table. If you thought this proposition could not be cooler, think again. Reynard is a part of the super hip Whythe Hotel, with rooms that have some of the most beautiful views of New York City and a rooftop bar that really lights up at dusk.
The lively local scene is not only on swanky hotel rooftops. Not too far from the edge of the neighborhood is Brooklyn Brewery; Brooklyn’s own beer brand, and a very popular too. Easy to find in almost any tap all across New York. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take a tour of their facilities and drink a pint with your friends at the end? From there, a great way to continue the night exploration is to head to one of the local music venues. Williamsburg Music Hall, Union Hall and The Rock Shop are some of the main venues in Brooklyn that have launched many bands into stardom, including Grizzly Bear, Tanlines and Sleigh Bells.
The Nitehawk Cinema is the place I look for when I am craving a midnight session of classics like Scarface or Trainspotting on the big screen. All that movie action takes place while chomping down some food and drinks, served by a friendly wait staff. That’s cool, and you can only find it in Brooklyn. What’s also cool is going to Brooklyn Bowl, to bowl and drink and listen to quality live music, which depending on the day, could be salsa, or classical; you take your pick.
Another local specialty gem is the Mast Brothers Chocolate factory. This local staple makes delicious dark chocolate unlike anything you’ve tasted before. Exported to hundreds of Manhattan retailers who crave their beautifully wrapped delicacies, some of the most popular flavors include Sea Salt Chocolate and Spicy Chocolate.
It was also in Brooklyn that I rediscovered one of my favorite daytime activities: the flea market. That’s one thing I “knew” before I moved here; I knew Brooklyn had great flea markets. But where to find them? Well, my favorite outdoor choices are the Fort Greene Flea, or once the spring hits, I like to head over to the Williamsburg Waterfront to enjoy the Williamsburg Flea Market on Sundays. At that same spot however, you can enjoy the taste-bud tantalizing “open air restaurant” concept of the Smorgasburg on Saturdays, which honestly, is a top weekend choice.
My idea of Brooklyn thankfully has evolved. Since I moved here I have come to see Brooklyn as it really is. Here is a place filled with diversity and options for entertainment. And if the Central Park is the lung of Manhattan, then here you will find the breathtaking lusciousness of Prospect Park. The island of Manhattan exists gigantic in its microcosmos, while Brooklyn vibrates in constant and unexpected evolution. My vision of Brooklyn is no longer that limited idea created by television. My source of information today comes from my own experiences, in which every corner, every week, equals the opportunity to encounter a world of new possibilities.
Article appeared in Onne Magazine, October 2014