Jane L. Levere
Want to visit the real New York?
Forget Manhattan. Brooklyn is where it’s at today.
One of New York City’s five boroughs, Brooklyn is “rapidly relegating Manhattan to outer-borough status,” said Mark Zustovich, spokesman for Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president. And “outer-borough status,” in New Yorkese, is definitely not a compliment.
While Zustovich has an obvious bias, he makes a good case for Brooklyn as “authentic,” with its home-grown breweries and bowling alleys and locally sourced restaurants. He points out that it is not overrun by chains like the Hard Rock Café.
To get the full-on Brooklyn experience — particularly if you’re visiting in mild weather — walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects lower Manhattan to the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO, whose name is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
At the time of its opening in 1883, the bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge and the first bridge to span the East River. While representing a technical feat, the bridge also inspired art, including the iconic painting by Joseph Stella and the poem by Hart Crane. The Brooklyn Bridge was considered one of the “eight modern wonders of the world,” said Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet guidebooks, and it continues to offer spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty.
Continue on it to DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge Park, a green space between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (the latter also spans the East River) that has a restored 1920s carousel. You can snack happily here at Almondine Bakery and Jacques Torres Chocolate, or check out local art galleries and the art books at powerHouse Books.
Next stop, via the East River Ferry, is high-profile Williamsburg, considered by many to be the trendiest neighborhood in all five boroughs. Besides its own burgeoning art scene, there’s Nitehawk Cinema, where dinner is served along with movies; Brooklyn Brewery, which offers tours; and posh new boutique hotels, such as the Wythe or King & Grove, where the rooftop-lounge view is memorable. At McCarren Park, weather permitting, you can listen to live music and play kickball, baseball, soccer and bocce.
Greenpoint, another stop on the East River Ferry, is heaven for beer-lovers: Spritzenhaus beer hall features communal tables straight from Germany and a long list of German beers. Greenpoint’s atmosphere, says Reid, is an intriguing combination of “Polish restaurants and hipster bars.”
The subway can take you next to Park Slope, whose “other Fifth Avenue” (not to be confused with the one in Manhattan) has designer and vintage clothing shops. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is also here. Saturday morning, before noon, admission is free. “I especially like it during the cherry blossom festival in the spring, when there’s Japanese drumming, theater and music,” Reid said.
Another must-see here for outdoor-lovers is Prospect Park, designed by the men who created Manhattan’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. “I like it more than Central Park, it’s just more alive. You can play soccer, picnic, bike. It’s much more used than Central Park; you can really enjoy it,” Reid said.
Via subway, continue on to Fort Greene, home of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a 150-year-old institution whose mindset is very much in the 21st century: It has a vibrant, multi-national, multi-screen movie program at its BAM Rose Cinemas, a new theater offering contemporary plays and dance with $20 tickets, and a café with live music on weekends by performers from around the world. A few blocks away is Brooklyn’s newest landmark, Barclays Center, the home of basketball and hockey teams.
Finally, don’t leave the borough without visiting its ocean-side attractions, including Coney Island, with a boardwalk offering tasting treats, the New York Aquarium, and off-beat entertainment like the legendary Cyclone, a 1927 roller coaster in Luna Park. Coney Island is also home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the minor league team of the major league baseball team the New York Mets — where else can you watch baseball by the sea? Brighton Beach, which shares Coney Island’s boardwalk, has its own unique atmosphere, thanks to authentic Russian markets and vibrant nightlife. Go to Tatiana Restaurant to dine on the boardwalk in summertime, then slip inside for a Las Vegas-style revue.