A trip to New York City can procure a list of varied reactions: excitement, anxiety, joy at the idea of basking in the bright lights of a city that never sleeps, tears, general nausea, lightheaded wonder — and that’s only from booking a hotel in midtown Manhattan. Such an incredibly massive city presents an equally massive scale of options — so many, in fact, that any sense of enjoyment from a quick trip across the state can be totally overwhelmed.
A major potential mistake when traveling to New York is to underestimate Brooklyn as the short, mustachioed cousin of Manhattan, filled with “fughedaboutits” and the myth of the hipster. Those who’ve been to New York City more than a few times still seem to assume that Brooklyn is a destination akin to Central Park or The Guggenheim — a one-stop, in-and-out trip; a box waiting to be ticked on an infinite NYC tourism list of “things to see and do.”
But to consider Brooklyn a place to get really great pizza is to consider Buffalo a place to get really good wings. Yes, it’s totally correct; but there’s so much more. Just like Manhattan, Brooklyn is a gorgeous puzzle of different neighborhoods, each piece with a feeling as distinct as the rest of its surrounding counterparts.
Perhaps the key to assuaging any doubt in your New York City street cred is to behave like the city itself: think big and act small. How do you eat the Big Apple? One bite at a time.
For those who haven’t been to Brooklyn in some time — or ever, for that matter — Park Slope is a perfect jumping-off point. There, a traveler can find Airbnb accommodations at a fraction of the price with double the quality of any Times Square hotel. The laid-back, easily accessible and safe area’s vibe is one part quaint Main Street, two parts melting pot and a dash of glamour. Park Slope is also a “stroller central” of sorts — families abound to the west of Prospect Park, and the area is perfect for visitors of all ages. Just south of downtown Brooklyn and crowned by the recently-constructed jewel — Barclays Center arena — Park Slope is overflowing with Brooklyn’s beauty and character.
Where to eat, shop and go
To feel like a real New Yorker, wake up and immediately walk to the nearest source of coffee. While some may opt for the closest corner bodega for a quick cup of joe and an egg-and-cheese on a roll, others trek to their favorite bagelry, bakery or upscale cafe. Don’t let the facades fool you — when it comes to bagels, you want something authentic. While La Bagel Delight is a long-time staple of the neighborhood and offers a pretty gigantic variety at its two Park Slope locations, The Bagel Hole is a true hole-in-the-wall gem. With a few kinds of schmear, and hand-rolled, crispy, chewy, boiled bagels that dreams are made of, you’ll pay no more than a couple of bucks for the best carb binge of your life.
To get a little fancier on the coffee front, Cafe Dada, Gorilla Coffee, Cafe Grumpy, and Gather are homes to some of the must-haves of fair trade, single source, small-batch roasted, french pressed gourmet cups of java, as well as some lighter fare. Avoid Starbucks at all costs. While its presence is pervasive, there are far too many better, locally-owned and operated options.
Regardless of the season, Park Slope is a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors. Prospect Park, the namesake for the neighborhood, is essentially its emerald green beating heart, perched atop the aforementioned slope. As the Central Park of Brooklyn, Prospect Park is home to year-round outdoor music festivals, playgrounds and waterworks, tours, exhibits, kite-flying, roller skating or ice skating, sledding, horseback riding, and picnics galore. Rent a bike to get a feel for the 585-acre park from a nearby bike shop such as Ride Brooklyn.
Make it a mission to cover as much Park Slope territory as possible, but make sure you do it at a relaxing pace. And while the D N R, the F G, and B Q subway lines thread throughout the expanse of the neighborhood, easily connecting to the 2 3 4 5 lines at Atlantic Avenue and elsewhere in Manhattan, choose walking as your primary form of transportation.
These dreamy streets, lined with elm, oak and chestnut trees, are home to the gorgeous brownstones that seem fictional in their idyllic charm. Walking around is also the best way to stumble upon iconic stoop sales, which serve as a Brooklynite’s version of garage sales. In this upscale neighborhood, there’s an exciting mix of old New York glamour — vintage bedding, clothing, and spectacular jewelry — with eclectic pieces from younger generations and newer residents. You’ll likely not walk three doors down before stumbling upon stacks of books left out, free for the taking; it’s a lovely system indeed.
Markets are a major activity for Park Slopers on the weekends, with the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket at the tip of Prospect Park on Saturday, and the Down to Earth Farmers Market on Sundays at 4th Street and Fifth Avenue. On both Saturday and Sunday, PS 321 (Seventh Ave. between 1st and 2nd) hosts nearly 30 antique and food vendors, as well as free programming for children and adults, such as art and writing workshops, dance lessons and film screenings.
Brunching and shopping
If none of the stands and food trucks have quite filled you up and you still need a little more coffee, consider taking part in the oh-so-New York ritual of brunch. Most places will be packed, so prepare to wait. Rustically charming Applewood and Asian-American fusion restaurant Talde are two of the most popular spots, so put your name down well in advance. And if breakfast food isn’t your thing, try Bierkraft. One of the best sandwich joints in the city, split a massive
“ferociously delicious” sandwich with fresh ingredients, artisanal meats and cheeses, and a growler of some of the best craft beers in the Northeast. Polish everything off with a “Shameless” ice cream cookie sandwich on the back patio, and rejoice for having had one of the best lunches ever.
One of the freeing facts about New York is that you can walk down the street wearing anything. Honestly. To look like a million bucks but not feel that loss in your pocket, head to some of the best vintage and thrift stores for not-so-new, completely unique threads. Beacon’s Closet, Monk Vintage Thrift and Guvnor’s Vintage Apparel are overflowing with things on consignment or found by in-house buyers. The same goes for Housingworks Park Slope Thrift Shop, one of many outposts raising funds for the nonprofit “committed to ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness.”
Park Slope is overflowing with independent shops, carefully curated by their owners with a sharp eye and loving care. The adorably cozy bookstore, powerHouse on 8th, is an annex to the leviathan bookstore and arts events center in DUMBO, powerHouse Arena. Catering particularly to Park Slope families, there’s an excellent selection of children’s books and toys, gorgeous cookbooks, critically-acclaimed fiction, and quirky-cute stationery in addition to the company’s own, independently published art books. Homebody Boutique offers gorgeous home goods that, while on the pricier side, can fulfill your craving for amazing accent pieces or gifts. And among some elegant, high-end boutiques such as Bird, there are slightly more casual shops like Habit that offer lovely apparel and personable service.
For an extravagantly unique souvenir, make sure to drop by The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co, which serves as “cover” for 826NYC, another fantastic nonprofit that offers kids ages 6-18 expository and creative writing programs. Pick up a cape, grappling hook or utility belt, and check in on the programs that are associated with writer Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s publications.
Dinner, drinks, dessert
If you haven’t yet had your fill of the local gastronomical offerings, head to Pork Slope to try some of this roadhouse-style BBQ and enjoy the fantastically friendly, unpretentious atmosphere, and sample one (or more) of their many whiskeys. If something a bit more intimate is in order, Piccolli Trattoria is a perfect, no-frills but cozy way to spend a couple hours in a dimly lit booth, enjoying the buzz that comes from experiencing a carafe of house wine and classic homemade Italian food — and the voice of Dino or Ol’ Blue Eyes crooning in the background.
After a fantastic fun-and-food-filled day, the only appropriate way to end the night is with one last vice. Head to Bit O’ Sweet, an ethereal confectionery shop befit for Willy Wonka and Harry Potter. Dig into rows and rows of old-fashioned glass candy jars (and don’t forget to brush before bed). Other sugary stops include Four & Twenty Blackbirds (an incredible pie shop), and Ladybird Bakery (open early to offer pastries from early morning to evening).
For a nightcap, check out Cocoa Bar (chocolate and booze!) or the local extension of the national favorite, Beauty Bar. Sometimes functioning as an actual nail salon in addition to being a bar, it’s a perpetual bachelorette party paradise. When it comes to manicures and martinis, this is the place to go.
There’s a reason that many diehard New Yorkers are flocking en masse to Brooklyn: cheaper rent. But with all the character that comes with living in the second-largest and most populous borough, they choose to stay. You’ll see why after spending a weekend in a place that is an essential chunk of the Big Apple, but where you’ll never feel too far away from home.
Story topics: Travel