[spotlight series. maggie hansdorfer and laura o’neill]
[Brooklyn soundtrack. heaven]
There is something about the charm, authenticity and ever-present feeling of opportunity here, that makes Brooklyn a very special place. The Brooklyn Mag nails it when they describe this borough of New York as being the “darling of Hollywood-weary celebrities, avant-garde chefs, and independent-minded New Yorkers”. Made up of so many different pockets and neighborhoods, Brooklyn is so much bigger than at first thought. We have spent most of our days in Williamsburg (fast becoming known as “little Australia”) and Greenpoint, but we have also dabbled around in Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene –hoods that all seem to have a lot of goodness to offer. Get bikes and cruise around. More low-key than its big city NYC neighbor, we have highlighted some of our favorite things below.
So close to the city (just a stop or two on the L-train), this hip little hang-out offers so much. We love it here.
Toby’s Estate: yes, they are Australian (and we might therefore be slightly biased), but this open, airy space is so beautiful, the staff friendly (albeit hipster to the holt), and the coffee is good. Damn good. The pastries are also amazing…and you can get some awesome Aussie favorites like vegemite or avo on toast. Not to be missed. (Note: if they are still doing the caramel dipped macaroons, it would be a crime not to try one. The start of something good).
Blue Bottle: An awesome brick building on Berry Street that was once filled with glass blowers, and metal smiths, and barrel makers…but now houses Blue Bottle’s coffee roaster and café. It’s a great space, and very good (serious) coffee.
Café Colette: another Berry Street favorite of ours, we adore this cute little French corner spot. Grab a seat at the bar, or a cosy corner booth. Brunch is amazing, but anytime of day will do. This little local haunt will impress, always.
Café Mogador: Moroccan deliciousness on Wythe Ave. Come here for the eggs. Brunch here is awesome. Packed full of Moroccan spices, or poached in a za’atar pita, so many delicious flavors, it’s crazy. Queues can be long.
Egg: good for brunch or casual lunch. Light, airy, good vibes.
Walter Foods: another great brunch spot, and raw bar as well. We are told not to miss the French dip at dinnertime. Can’t say we have tried it yet though.
La Superior or Rosarito Fish Shack for tacos.
Roebling Tearoom for eggs for brunch, or for the burger for lunch.
Pastries from Bakeri: super cute French-style bakery on Wythe. Come here for sweet treats or something delicious for lunch. Love the aesthetic, and cute server get-up.
Dumont: for burgers on Bedford.
Saltie: for sandwiches in a super cute little storefront.
Brooklyn Whole Foods Market: the most exciting new addition to the Williamsburg scene (we love a good Whole Foods!). It’s beautiful here. We challenge you to find another whole foods store that has a record store inside it…?! Doesn’t get more Brooklyn than that !
Marlow & Sons: an old favorite. This cute spot has been tucked away under the Williamsburg bridge for almost ten years now. Cosy, always busy, American goodness. We love the back bar. Great food, try the brick chicken. A romantic little dinner option.
Diner: we came here to this 1920s-restored dining car restaurant on our first ever trip to New York in the year 2000. Armed with a hitlist of recommendations, we quickly tried to tick this one off, and it quickly became one of our Brooklyn favorites. American Nouveu food and good vibes. Brunch also good.
Fette Sau: this is the place to come for meat. Good ol’ fashioned no-frills meat. Ribs, steak, pork belly…the choice is yours. Busy and fun. You pay by the pound.
Dotory: Korean is the flavor of the month for us right now, and Dotory is just the place to fix that hankering.
Reynard: within the beautifully-restored Wythe Hotel warehouse building, come here for seasonal deliciousness in a gorgeous environment.
For something sweet…Momofuko Milk Bar, Bakeri, orSaltie.
Wythe Hotel Rooftop: our #1. This is our favorite place for a sunset drink in all of New York. The views from the bar and rooftop are spectacular. Nothing screams New York City more, than looking back over the East River to Manhattan as the sun goes down over the Manhattan skyline. Great cocktails, delicious wines, good vibes.
Hotel Delmano: we love cocktails here before or after a fun dinner in the hood. Grab one of the leather banquettes or sit up at the long marble bar for some seriously tasty drinks.
D.O.C. Wine Bar: our favorite Williamsburg wine bar.
Vine Wine: when you are feeling like a night in, or a few wines by the riverfront, grab a bottle from our favorite neighborhood wine store. A great range of wines…and always a bunch in the “under $15” section that are super affordable and really delicious.
The Commodore: fun bar and good, easy bar food.
Pete’s Candy Store: don’t be fooled by the name, you wont find candy here – rather, a music venues / bar / club.
Brooklyn Bowl: according to Rolling Stone magazine, this is “one of the most incredible places on earth”! This is a bowling alley that not only acts an awesome performance space, but also serves high-quality, delicious food care of Blue Ribbon, bars offering local brews, as well as 16 bowling lanes. Located in the former Hecla Iron Works (built 1882), this is definitely worth checking out.
The Red Bull Music Academy: an awesome concept. The Red Bull Music Academy is a world-traveling series of music workshops and festivals. Two groups of 30 participants have been chosen – producers, singers, djs, etc from around the world – to come together in a new city each year for two weeks worth of recording sessions, lectures, collabs and performances around town. A platform for those who make a difference in today’s musical landscape. The Academy began back in 1998, and was set-up in Williamsburg last year. Now in 2014, the Academy will be held in Tokyo, Japan.
Wythe Hotel: our favorite hotel in New York. This is the only place to stay, in our opinion. Unbeatable views, beautiful design, the best rooftop bar New York has to offer, our favorite and most perfectly well-curated mini bar (on par with the ACE anyway), and a great restaurant downstairs. Oh and super friendly staff. It doesn’t get any better.
If you’re not on a hotel budget, there are some really awesome rental apartments to be found on Airbnb.
Enjoy a Sunday Supper: a communal cooking center in Williamsburg. Shared meals, communal cooking, and seasonally, market-fresh food. The founder used to host these suppers in their home, but the dinners have evolved and are now housed in a beautiful space documenting food, travel and life. A great supper last year offered produce sourced from local North Brooklyn Farms, in a stunning location in Havemeyer Park with a view of the Williamsburg Bridge and a summer sunset behind the Manhattan skyline. For only $45, you were presented with a delicious seasonal menus by notable local chefs, and cocktails from Sailor Jerry.
Brooklyn Grange Farm: we came to this – the world’s largest rooftop soil farm (located on two roofs in New York City) – for a communal rooftop dinner party last September. Crazy sunset views from our Long Island location back over Manhattan. Quite spectacular. On what we thought would be a warm evening though, we freezed our little bottoms off as the winds set in!! Nevertheless, the setting was breathtaking…and if more prepared, with some winter woolies, we would have been toastie and much more content. An interesting food offering, paired with local Brooklyn craft brews. This is a space where 50,000lbs of organically-cultivated produce is grown each year. Brooklyn Grange also provides urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services to clients worldwide, as well as partnering with numerous non-profit organizations throughout New York to promote healthy and strong local communities.
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: the chickens in the coop here on this impressive rooftop urban farm in Greenpoint, have the best views of Manhattan we have seen. Three stories up, on the banks of the East River and with a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm located atop a warehouse rooftop. During growing season, a farmers market is held here on the roof, and the farm also supplies local restaurants with produce. As well as that, the farm also hosts a range of farm-basededucational and volunteer programs. Open to the public, during growing season, on Sundays between 1pm-4pm.
MoMA PS1: we stop here at least once on visit to the city. A branch of MoMA, this is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art institutions in the US. An exhibition space with a constant rotation of super interesting and thought-provoking experimental art on display. “A catalyst and an advocate for new ideas, discourses, and trends in contemporary art, MoMA PS1 actively pursues emerging artists, new genres, and adventurous new work by recognized artists in an effort to support innovation in contemporary art”. This is a unique artistic environment, and we also love the cute school-style café downstairs that has a great little menu for after-art downtime.
Definitely check out the Domino Sugar Refinery. An abandoned old building in Williamsburg – once a processing plant – is currently filled with a sugar-coated (literally) 75 ft. long, lily-white mammy in the shape of a sphinx, by artist Kara Walker. On display only until July 6.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese from the Bedford Cheese Shop: a visit here is essential. An old-fashioned cheese shop, you will find some amazing cheeses in here, from all across the world.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream: this is what ice cream is (and should always be) about. Made from scratch, locally in Greenpoint, there is nothing artificial in this creamy goodness. Using only fresh hormone and antibiotic free milk and cream, cane sugar, egg yolks and the best fruits, chocolates, spices and nuts from small producers locally and around the world. Van Leeuwen celebrates ingredients perfected by nature, not science. Starting out with just two Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream scoop trucks in the Spring of 2008, they now have six trucks and three stores around Brooklyn and Manhattan serving their seriously delicious and quality ice creams, fresh pastries and Toby's Estate Coffee. We love the fresh mint. Wow.
Mast Brothers Chocolate: handcrafted, locally-made, quality single estate and single origin chocolate. This space is amazing and definitely worth checking out.
Hang out riverside along the N4th Waterfront.
In need of a mani/pedi? Check out Hello Beautiful.
Baggu: we love their colorful leather coin purses, and fun plastic make up and travel bags.
Catbird: our favorite jewelry spot in New York. Dainty little rings, and other beautiful pieces.
Mocium: we love this light-filled, airy store in North Williamsburg. Come here for gorgeous, delicate handcrafted ceramics, textiles and jewelry.
Brooklyn Flea (held in Fort Greene on Saturdays and Williamsburg on Sundays): a classic Brooklyn experience. So many awesome vintage and antique vendors, local food stalls, and an incredible location smack bang on the East River with views back to the city. It stays open through winter, but moves to the former Williamsburg Savings Bank.
Vintage shopping: what Brooklyn is known for. So many places to check out. We always hit up Artists & Fleas (for a rotating selection of vendors, in an old warehouse building); and Beacons Closet (a “cavernous temple of cheap clothes”, for second-hand and vintage clothes and accessories).
Kinfolk: the new Kinfolk studios in Williamsburg are housed in a beautiful lofty warehouse space. At this stage, dedicated entirely to menswear – this building is super impressive and there are big plans for an event space in the future.
Main Drag Music: check out the wide range of music here, all handpicked by musicians themselves.
SOME OF OUR OTHER BROOKLYN FAVORITES…
After Williamsburg, this is where we have spent most of our BK time. We love the strong and happy sense of community here. A hive of creativity. Everyone seems to be doing something different, interesting and inspiring, and often for the benefit of the community as well. A dining destination in its own right, there are some amazing eating options here (and the odd Lena Dunham-fan cruising around on Girls sightseeing tours!).
We especially love Franklin Street. Some great little spots to stumble across here.
Five Leaves: our #1 favorite brunch spot in all of Brooklyn, on a Bedford Ave corner. Australian/American owned, come here for seriously good food at any time of day. For brunch, it’s always a toss up between the Mushroom Toast (with sautéed kale and poached egg), or the Moroccan Scramble (with chickpeas, crushed avo and sourdough)…or go the burger. Oh and truffle fries. They are a must. Be prepared to wait, especially on weekends. It is absolutely worth it though.
Selamat Pagi: our favorite Balinese resto outside Bali itself. A super cute, warm, welcoming, cosy neighborhood feel-good number. Fresh, seasonal, traditional and inspired dishes from Bali. We have tried everything on the menu, and can safely recommend it all. You can’t go wrong. A cute little bar as well. Pale woods and creams. Good tunes. Happy vibes. It’s beautiful here.
Paulie Gees: a beautiful old warehouse space dishing up seriously good pizza (be prepared to wait – but wait you can, at the craft brewery next door). Our pick – the Greenpointer: white base, Fior di Latte, Arugula (rocket to us Australians!), Olive Oil, Fresh Lemon Juice and Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Also famous for their pizzas with hot honey on top.
Calexio: for tacos and margaritas. Lots of locations, a mix of restaurants and food carts.
Alameda: this beautiful neighborhood bistro is a perfect option for your daily hang. They do a mean burger.
Acapulco: come here for old-school Mexican action, this is part-taqueria, part-American diner. Authentic, and cheap. Think sombreros on the walls and colored Mexican rugs as tablecloths. Order the homemade guac, and try their chorizo tacos.
Nights and Weekends: come here for great drinks and nachos.
Broken Land Bar: a cosy neighborhood bar, run by locals. Hand-crafted cocktails, beers, fine wines. Oh and a lovely back courtyard.
Dandelion Wine (aka Dandy): a cute boutique wine shop, with a stack of carefully curated and hand-picked little gems. Large selection, many organic or biodynamic, and seriously well priced.
Spina: a super cute combination flower and coffee shop…serving Blue Bottle coffee and Dough donuts, together with flowers, plants and lots of local BK designer goods.
Bklyn Curated: this cute interiors store on Franklin Street immediately caught our eye. A gorgeous fit out, and cute back yard, there are heaps of vintage and antique Americana goodies to be found.
Dinner at Vinegar Hill House: a long-time favorite of ours. We love the aesthetic here…somewhat reminiscent of Freemans (where the VHH owners met), more vintage though, but similarly cosy, warm and candle-lit. Seasonal American-style food, flavorsome and delicious. A fun, cosy, winter spot to hang…and brunch good as well.
Pop in and support the artists at LAND Gallery. We were introduced to the LAND studio and gallery a few years ago, which features the work of artists with neurological diversities. We were lucky enough to have a piece commissioned by artist Michael Pellew, who dreams up vignettes of celebrities of his own preference, staged together in any random combination. For me, Michael created a picture of “President Obama, Michael Jackson, Georgia Hopkins, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Mayor Bloomberg, Mr.T and Lady Gaga, and don’t forget Georgia Hopkins”. Pellew’s pop culture drawings have become so popular hey are now available as greeting cards, and sell-out items, at stores like Opening Ceremony. TheACE even hosted a special exhibition for LAND’s artist’s last October. Worth checking out for sure.
Also, if you happen to be in DUMBO in September, check out Photoville: an awesome photographic event held in the Brooklyn Bridge Park– housed in old shipping containers, overlooking Manhattan.
Visit Brooklyn Bridge Park: a beautiful green park, on the banks of the East River, in the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge. Great views back over Manhattan, and check out the beautiful Jane’s Carousel.
Shop at (or at least swoon-over) ZOE: high-end designer stuff: somewhat rare for this side of the river - in a beautiful space.
Sleep here…at the 3B boutique bed and breakfast coop. Run by 8 young creatives (artists, singers, writers and designers) out of their original home, this is a great little taste for Brooklyn-style communal living. We stayed here in 2012 and loved the warm and welcoming vibe, and beautifully renovated space, in an awesome location in Downtown Brooklyn. Interesting conversation around the cute and charming kitchen table, you will be cooked a delicious, home-made breakfast each morning.
For accessibility, vibe and value, we think this is the best place to stay in Downtown Brooklyn. These guys have been written up a bunch (in New York Magazine,Budget Travel Magazine, Huffington Post, The Paris Review and more.) So check them out, if you are looking for a more budget option.
We love Fort Greene. A neighborhood that is filled with classic brownstones, lots of trees, good restaurants and a strong arts community. Filmmakers, musicians, writers, and dancers now call Fort Greene home. We love its old-school, laid-back feel.
A SMOOCH weekend brunch (or any day breakfast actually) is essential. Owned by a super friendly Australian legend – you will be so happy you found this little beauty. Great organic coffee, food and wine. Cosy, laid-back atmosphere. Cute bench seating on the pretty tree-lined street. Some awesome Aussie-named menu options as well. We love it here. Say hi to Basquali !!
Brooklyn Flea at Fort Greene: on Saturdays (as above). It might not be along the waterfront, but we love the laid-back feel of this neighborhood market – same vendors, different vibe.
Dinner at Roman's: good vibes resonate from this great Italian bistro-style spot, courtesy of the same people behind Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg. Come here for delicious, reasonably-priced pastas and other Italian goodness.
Smoke Joint: for low-key BBQ hang out time. We once read that the “Smoke Joint feels likes the Fort Greene version of Cafe Gitane. Less models, more Baby Back Rib Sauce.” Couldn’t agree more. Come here for ribs and good times.
Franks Cocktail Lounge: this place has a totally local vibe. ‘80s in style, R&B jukebox, always good tunes – think rap, R&B, house, reggae – sometimes djs, sometimes live music. Fun times.
Feliz: this cute store on DeKalb Avenue is full of well curated bits and pieces. Cards and jewelry and homewares and cute baby stuff. It’s a lovely spot to check out after brunch at Smooch, just around the corner.
Dossier: what started out as a twice-yearly fashion magazine called Dossier Journal, has now evolved into this cute little boutique. Books, jewelry and vintage finds.
Boerum Hill is another BK neighborhood we love, known for its independent boutiques, restaurants and brownstone-filled streets. Many artists end up here, and there are galleries galore. Arts and culture thrive here in abundance – we came here for a music festival at BAM, but it is also well-known for The Invisible Dog Art Center, Roulette and Issue Project Room, the thriving Smith Street restaurant row and Atlantic Avenue Design district.
BAM: the Brooklyn Academy of Music has been a BK staple for more than 150 years. BAM is home to artists, audiences and ideas. Theatre, dance, music, opera, film and so much more. We were spoiled to catch the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry back in May 2012, witnessing Brooklyn-locals The Walkmen kill it on stage, as well as another fav, Sharon Van Etten.
We loved dinner at this cute and rustic Boerum Hill favorite, Rucola. Inspired by the slow food movement in Piedmont Italy, the menu here is seasonal and constantly changing. Cosy, warm and very inviting, this is a great choice for dinner before or after a show (and just walking distance from BAM).
Sun in Bloom: BK neighborhood favorite for all things gluten-free, vegan and raw! They do amazing cold-pressed juices, coffee with fair-trade, organic beans, and hot drinks using cashew and almond milks. There sweet stuff is amazing as well. We love it here.
You’ve got to visit Roberta’s. You will literally wait hours. But the wood-fired pizza is definitely worth the wait (and the extra few stops on the L train). If it’s warm, grab a table outside. On second thoughts, just take whatever table you can get. It will be so busy, you wont have a choice! We love the fact that most of their ingredients come from their very own co-op garden outside.
Try Bunna for fresh and delicious Ethiopian food.We love this story. Friends threw a launch party in June 2011 to celebrate the launch of their new project – Bunna Café. Having only met months earlier, they both shared a desire to promote Ethiopian food, coffee and culture. After hosting a series of popups, dinner parties, appearing at street fairs, fundraisers, music fests, flea markets, and so on…they then raised funds on Indiegogo to open their first permanent location, here on Flushing Ave in Bushwick. These guys feel that Ethiopia has so much to offer the rest of the world, and hope to change the common perception that it is a country in need. Amazing good and really lovely vibes. Check it out for sure.
Brunch at Northeast Kingdom: we love brunch here. The husband-wife team behind Northeast Kingdom offer a contemporary-American menu emphasizing the seasonality of the Northeast. They have their own farm in Ghent NY, and grow vegetables, raise hens and bees, press apples and make beer. A great little spot.
Franny’s: a Brooklyn institution, Franny’s has been churning out some of the best pizza and locally-sourced food in Brooklyn for almost 10 years. Having recently moved to a new (and bigger) location – just five-minutes walk from the previous one – you will queue. And queue. And queue. But it’s worth it. Like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in San Francisco, Franny’s was one of the early adopters when it came to introducing sustainable and seasonable food to the New York food scene. And it still remains the flagship.
Weather Up: chilled vibes, good tunes, friendly service. Come here for a drink. If you are hungry, grab dinner across the street at The Vanderbilt. Tribeca (and Austin TX) location as well.
Pok Pok: this Portland-favorite headed East, and people here in BK are going just as crazy for it. Fresh takes on Thai classics. Try their yummy Thai-inspired cocktails as well.
OTHER BK RANDOM…
Make your way to Lefferts Gardens in Prospect Park to witness “Drummer’s Grove”. Established in 1968, these Congo Square Drummers come here every Sunday from April to October from 2pm to dusk. Grab a drum and get involved, or just watch and hang out.