New York Times         

 

Brooklyn

By Nick Kaye

 

 

BROOKLYN should need no introduction: ancestors of as many as one in four Americans are said to have once called it home. But New York's most populous borough - with about 2.5 million residents representing more than 90 ethnic groups - has always been shadowed by its glamorous neighbor across the East River. Thriving a century ago, Brooklyn fell off the map around the time the Dodgers went Hollywood. Now it's back. Over the last decade or so, a new generation of immigrants in search of affordable rents have brought youthful energy to the patchwork of distinctive neighborhoods. Progress, both good and bad, can be seen in strands of new parks that will eventually share space along the waterfront with towering high-rises and a new cruise-ship terminal, and the possibility of a new basketball stadium looms near downtown. A weekend is hardly enough time to take in the borough's many sides, so try to see as much of today's Brooklyn as you can - while you still can.

 

Friday

 

3 p.m.

1) The Billyburg Scene

 

In Williamsburg, once a thriving industrial area, stylish restaurants, shops and a raw, vibrant art scene have popped up among the long rows of decaying, graffiti-covered buildings. Start just off the main strip, Bedford Avenue, at Pierogi (177 North Ninth Street, 718-599-2144), which opened in 1994. Its 1,200-square-foot space has exhibitions that focus mostly on conceptual works. Walk west to CB I Hate Perfume (93 Wythe Avenue, 718-384-6890), a kind of olfactory gallery where Christopher Brosius, a perfumer, sells off-center scents like burnt rubber as well as more conventional concoctions like honeysuckle (starting at $25 a half-ounce). Schroeder Romero (173A North Third Street, 718-486-8992) is a second-floor gallery with political, often process-oriented exhibitions. And at 31Grand (31 Grand Street, 718-388-2858), shows tend to focus on an artist's "personal mythology." More information and a map are online at www.williamsburggalleryassociation.com.

 

8 p.m.

2) Dinner by the Pool

 

Stay in the neighborhood and head to the wildly popular Thai spot SEA Restaurant (114 North Sixth Street, 718-384-8850), in a cavernous, modern space glowing with shades of orange and green light. The focal point is a large reflecting pool framed by small tables with a statue of Buddha and a lotus-covered scrim. Grab a cold Oseki sake ($8) as you look over the huge menu, with everything from crab and shrimp dumplings wrapped in green wontons with massaman curry ($5) to whole fried red snapper with tamarind chili sauce ($14).

 

10 p.m.

3) Choose Your Club

 

Not far east is Pete's Candy Store (709 Lorimer Street, 718-302-3770; no cover), a former sweet shop with honey-colored walls painted with playing cards. Grab a Brooklyn Lager ($4) and check out the small stage, where a mix of local and national rock bands appear. Or head to the backyard, where the neighborhood lounges under Japanese maples. Nearby but a world away in its style is Triple Crown (108 Bedford Avenue, 718-388-8883; $3 to $5 cover), above, which opened in the summer of 2004 and is making a name for itself with monthly appearances by turntable pros like Rob Swift. The minimal space is almost undetectable from the street, but inside, a kinetic young crowd swarms around a raised D.J. booth.

 

Saturday

 

11 a.m.

4) Fort Greene Fran¨ais

 

Ease into the day in tree-shaded Fort Greene at Chez Oskar (211 DeKalb Avenue, 718-852-6250), where the brunch crowd is large but - like the neighborhood - easygoing. Grab a sidewalk table and start with a fresh strawberry mimosa ($6). Then go for the ham-and-cheese crepes ($8.50) as you watch the neighborhood pass by.

 

12:30 p.m.

5) Down Under

 

Like the Disney character, Dumbo (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) has capitalized on its flaws, turning a dingy stretch of industrial buildings trendy. Check out halcyon the shop (57 Pearl Street, 718-260-9299), a music store where a D.J. spills everything from hip-hop to dub reggae into the street. Not far away is the sweet-freak landmark, Jacques Torres Chocolate (66 Water Street, 718-875-9772), where you may spot "oompa loompas," as Mr. Torres is said to call his staff, busy in the glassed kitchen making eclectic bonbons (90 cents each or boxes from $13) like dark chocolate filled with ancho-chili-infused chocolate ganache.

 

3 p.m.

6) A Bench With a View

 

Once you've shrugged off your saccharine swoon, head south to Brooklyn Heights, where Victorian town houses were long ago discovered by Wall Street commuters. A bench on the promenade offers unbeatable views, with the Brooklyn Bridge stretching across the river to the forest of skyscrapers.

 

4:30 pm.

7) Urban Couture

 

Keep walking south to Atlantic Avenue passing Middle Eastern restaurants and food stores until you get to Cobble Hill and Neighborhoodies (234 Atlantic Avenue, 718-797-2267), which sells custom-designed clothing. It's right at home in Brooklyn, where neighborhood-as-identity is a given. Follow the store's instructions and choose a shirt ($24) or hooded sweatshirt ($54), browse through various fonts and graphics and "represent to the fullest" - maybe with something like "GENTRIFY THIS."

 

7 p.m.

8) A Home-Cooked Meal

 

If you had friends in Park Slope, the blocks of brownstones just west of Prospect Park, going to their place for dinner would be a lot like going to Applewood (501 11th Street, 718-768-2044). But don't let the homey atmosphere fool you, David and Laura Shea are serious about food. They are proponents of the organic, seasonal cuisine trend, so local ingredients are the stars of the menu. The wine list has half-bottles of Caymus Conundrum ($30), and while the menu changes almost daily, some recent standouts were roasted veal sweetbreads with mascarpone polenta and hazelnut brown butter ($12) and wild king salmon with crispy pancetta and rhubarb ketchup ($22).

 

9 p.m.

9) Time for Some Music

 

At the Brooklyn Museum's monthly First Saturday series (200 Eastern Parkway, 718-638-5000), admission is free and the exhibitions are open late. But you're there for the music. In the vast Beaux-Arts Court, an amazingly diverse crowd crams together to dance. When things slow down - or if it's not the first Saturday of the month - head to Southpaw (125 Fifth Avenue, 718-230-0236; $10 to $15 cover), a fairly large club in a former 99-cent store that's been host to everyone from KRS-ONE to the Go! Team since it opened in 2002.

 

11:30 p.m.

10) Night Cap

 

Don't end your night before going to Brooklyn Social (335 Smith Street, 718-858-7758) in Carroll Gardens, a remnant of the neighborhood's Italian men's social clubs, restored and now open to the public. Too authentic to be retro, the old Societ‡ Riposto is a neighborhood memorial, with restored Art Deco lights and photographs of old members lining the spare walls. Bartenders in ties and white aprons sling old-fashioned specialty drinks ($7) while, until midnight, a crowd out back lounges on lawn chairs.

 

Sunday

 

11 a.m.

11) A Walk in the Park

 

Grab a fresh croissant or banana walnut muffin ($1.30) at Cousin John's Cafe & Bakery (70 Seventh Avenue, 718-622-7333) in the Slope and take in one of the borough's best amenities, Prospect Park. If you need some activity, head to the park's waterfowl-filled lake and rent a pedal boat, above, near Wollman Rink ($15 for an hour with a $10 deposit; available through mid-October). Or explore the ravine in the park's interior, where paths wind past small waterfalls and over densely wooded rocky hills. But like most Brooklynites, you may want to find a nice spot on a grassy hill and sprawl out.

 

The Basics

 

Two major international airports are next door in Queens. Don't even think about renting a car. The subway (www.mta.info) and your feet will get you pretty much everywhere you want to go. Taxis may be hailed on major streets, but car services are a better option: Northside Car Service in Williamsburg (718-387-2222), Myrtle Avenue Car Service in Fort Greene (718-230-8100), Court Express in Carroll Gardens, also serving Cobble Hill (718-237-8888), and Legends Limousine and Car Service in Park Slope (718-788-1234). Fares start around $8; ask what the fare will be when you call for a car.