Sep 1, 2012

Brooklyn ain't gonna bite y'a!

Manhattan Bridge at DUMBO, Brooklyn, New York.

The beach underneath the Manhattan Bridge in New York City.

To first time visitors New York is all about Manhattan. However, when you live in New York City, you discover it is much much more than that. I always considered myself lucky for having lived in Brooklyn (derived from Dutch name Breukelen like many neighborhood names in New York City) for over two years at the end of 1990s. At the time, it was just Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope that were considered nice parts of Brooklyn while Williamsburg in the northern end was up and coming. As this New York Times pieces attests, today, Brooklyn is totally cool and hip. 

Jane's Carousel at DUMBO in Brooklyn, New York.

Fulton Landing in Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn is the largest of the five boroughs in New York City and home to the highest number of artists in the world who are in eternal search for affordable urban housing. This affordability of Brooklyn no doubt contributes to a sense of neighborhood not prevalent in Manhattan. For instance, people put their folded chairs-table and play cards on the street while girls jump rope and boys ride their bicycles. Kids on the block talk to you randomly “my mum has the same bag” or run to you, hold your hand and ask where you are going. Sometimes people just hang out on the steps of their brownstone watching walkers by while the barbeque warms up. Even better, in this bundle of joy, you are still close enough to the city. 

Madiba Restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York.

A view from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, New York.

A view from Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn is huge and there are various parts of it. Built for bankers' houses, Brooklyn Heights and its promenade to watch Manhattan are classics, as are the cafes and restaurants of Montague Street. From the Brookyln Heights Promenade, it can still be quiet disorienting to look at downtown Manhattan and no longer see the Twin Towers. If this is your first time in Brooklyn, walk along the Promenade and access the Brooklyn Bridge to cross over to Manhattan as soon as you can:-). Or maybe seeing that Brookyln isn't gonna hurt you, you can relax and head down the bridge towards DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge), yet another hip part of Brooklyn that has become even more hip with the opening of the Jane's Carousel and being the location of Humphry residence in Gossip Girl. Right next to the bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is full of newly wed couples looking for a pretty picture opportunity while people read their books and children run around on grass.

Junior's in Brooklyn, New York.

The famous Junior's plain cheesecake.

And Mister Softee of Brooklyn, your local icecream man in New York.

Card players in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York.

If you walk up towards Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn, one stop should be Junior's for the best plain (or strawberry) cheese cake in town. Or try the chocolate cake. If sweets are not your thing, get a pastrami sandwich. At Fulton Street, you can shop until you drop. You can also walk south (or take the F train to Bergen or Carroll Streets) and end up in Cobble Hill where there are many options to dine on Smith Streets from Cuban to Thai. After feeding yourself, you can head south to the Prospect Park in Park Slope for a concert. Park Slope is the Upper West Side of Brooklyn:-) Do not miss the Ample Hill Creamery  (629 Vanderbilt Avenue) nearby that makes the best ice creams in the city and makes all ingredients at their own premise. 

Residents of Brooklyn fill Prospect Park for a free
New York Philarmonic concert.

A beautiful Clinton Hill building, Brooklyn, New York.

Another option for concerts is the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in downtown Brooklyn towards Atlantic Avenue. From downtown Brooklyn, take a bus (B25, B26, B38 or B52) to neighborhoods such as Clinton Hill or Fort Greene that have been totally gentrified in the last ten years. Walk on Greene Avenue to select any cafe house to hang out with locals and admire the beautiful brownstone houses. You might run into a concert in Fort Greene Park and listen to Beethoven like I did. Or head towards Dekalb Avenue and sit either at Madiba or Chez Oskar, my favorite neighborhood places that both opened in 1999 and still kick! Madiba (named after Nelson Mandela's nick name) is serving South African cuisine while Chez Oskar is excellent for brunch. If you head further east of Clinton Hill, you can hit Bedford-Stuyvesant, a previously notorious but today gentrified neighborhood. This is where Spike Lee's "Do the right thing" was shot. At that time, Lee did the right thing by starting a riot!

A fire hydrant in Brooklyn, possibly deliberately triggered
to resist the heat in summer.

The improved G train service then can take you up North from here either to Williamsburg or Greenpoint. The former, on the outskirts of the Hasidic Jewish community and Hispanics, has become so fashionable, it is almost sad to see lofts coming up while more and more yuppies move in. In fact, Williamsburg -once an extension of East Village in New York- has now finished off Bedford Avenue and eats up Wythe and Driggs Avenues. Its storage and factories turned into flats, bars and cafés, it even has a hotel now. Williamsburg is also the location of the active Brooklyn Brewery, located next to a concert hall. Greenpoint is the Little Poland in New York and thanks to lesser connections, have been saved the "boom" that Willamsburg underwent.

Neighbours in Bed-Stuy at card game, Brooklyn, New York.

A block in Bed-Stuy after rain in Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Alternatively, you can head south from Dekalb Avenue station towards Coney Island for beach or recreation. Another place to explore is Bay Ridge. For its unbeatable views of the Verazano Bridge (connects Brooklyn with Staten Island) walk down to Shore Road where locals are jogging, walking or cycling. Bay Ridge is also the neighborhood where the cult movie Saturday Night Fever was shot: in the movie John Travolta was living there and longed for a life in Manhattan. And, for discount designer clothing lovers, there is a Century 21 on 86th Street in Bay Ridge. 

Chez Oskar in Fort Greene, the neighborhood's
best brunch spot since 1999.

Shore Road in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York.

Verrazano Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, New York.

Lastly, if you feel it is time for arts, head to Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway, easily accessible from Manhattan by 2 and 3 trains. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in America. While you are walking there, wait for the never changing melody of the ice-cream car, sold all over Brooklyn. And never forget, Brookyln, huge and diverse, is full of surprises and is not gonna eat y'a!