Thursday, March 18, 2010

New York: It's a Brooklyn Thing


 Soldiers' & Sailors' Memorial Arch, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New YorkLooking back to Manhattan from Brooklyn, New York
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New YorkCog & Pearl, Brooklyn, New YorkFlatbush Farm, Brooklyn, New YorkFlatbush Farm, Brooklyn, New YorkAkwaaba Mansion, Brooklyn, New York

Cross that famous bridge from Manhattan to discover a brave new world, where funky neighbourhoods are filled with hip galleries and a happening vibe.

Actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn with their baby daughter Ramona. Adrian Grenier from Entourage is doing an eco-renovation on his Clinton Hill property. Character actor Paul Giamatti programs the cinema selection at Brooklyn’s Rose Cinemas. The star of Waitress and the TV series Felicity, Keri Russell, picks her way through Fort Greene’s weekend market. Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly and husband Paul Bettany stroll through Prospect Park. In Brooklyn it seems there’s a celebrity on every corner.

New York magazine recently noted that since the finale of Sex And The City, the zeitgeist has shifted across the East River to Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn boasts $US3 billion ($3.3b) of construction projects in the pipeline, plus the controversial $US4 billion Atlantic Yards development with a Frank Gehry-designed stadium. And just built on Grand Army Plaza is a gleaming, glass-fronted, Richard Meier apartment building.

But it’s not just the shiny new towers that have charmed celebrities and newcomers. Unlike tourist trap Manhattan, Brooklyn feels real. The different neighbourhoods that make up Brooklyn are architecturally and culturally distinct, each with its own personality. Clinton Hill is the vibrant backdrop to Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Park Slope is the leafy,literary hub in The Squid And The Whale. And in the opening scenes of Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta struts his stuff on the streets of Bay Ridge.

The most obvious entry point is a walk across Brooklyn Bridge. The world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge affords postcard-perfect views across lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and, of course, Brooklyn. It’s a 30-minute walk and, be warned, there’s no shade. Once you cut across the tangle of freeways you can explore two very different neighbourhoods – DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights.

Squeezed between bridges is DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The heart of the ’hood is the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park with a children’s playground and lawn that hosts free outdoor movies in summer. Once an industrial relic, DUMBO’s warehouses have been converted into artists’ studios and million-dollar lofts. Practically cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by motorways, DUMBO is a self-sufficient enclave with designer boutiques (visit Prague Kolektiv, 143b Front Street, for retro chrome furniture), a 24-hour gourmet supermarket, bars and restaurants.

On the southern side of the Brooklyn Bridge is Brooklyn Heights, an old-money neighbourhood of mansions and killer views. This is where the Huxtables supposedly lived on The Cosby Show. Bob Dylan wrote Tangled Up In Blue while living on Montague Street. WH Auden, Truman Capote and Arthur Miller have all called Brooklyn Heights home at some point. Norman Mailer’s wife Norris still does. The best way to take in Brooklyn Heights is to stroll the Promenade at dusk and then have a drink at the beer hall Floyd (131 Atlantic Avenue).

Trailing south below Brooklyn Heights is another acronym, BoCoCa. This one takes its name from the first two letters of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. Jonathan Lethem’s National Book Award-winner Motherless Brooklyn is a good introduction to the area’s gritty past. Now, the parallel streets of Smith and Court are home to some of New York’s best restaurants. On Smith Street, check out The Grocery (288), Chestnut (271) and Saul (140). There’s some great shopping, too. Dear Fieldbinder (198 Smith Street) is a must for pretty frocks and fine jewellery.

But enough of cutesy shopping districts and tree-lined streets. Kick your Brooklyn tour up a notch with a visit to Grand Army Plaza, a grand entrance to Prospect Park adorned with bronze statues of Civil War generals and a bust of John F Kennedy. Across Eastern Parkway is Brooklyn’s Central Library, built in 1941. Next door is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 21ha of giddily perfect landscaping.

Nearby is Brooklyn Museum of Art, a vast 1897 beaux arts building with one of the largest art collections in the US and a water fountain that throws drops of water into the air in patterns (it’s cooler than it sounds). In 2007, the museum opened the Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The centrepiece of the collection is Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, a banquet set for 39 great women in history with another 999 women’s names engraved in the floor.

For a closer look at Brooklyn’s contemporary art scene, head to Williamsburg. Industrial in scope and young at heart, Williamsburg’s main thoroughfare is Bedford Avenue, where you’ll find hipsters leafing through the arty ephemera at Spoonbill & Sugartown bookshop (218 Bedford Avenue). There are galleries galore: see Pierogi (177 North Ninth Street) and Jack The Pelican Presents (487 Driggs Avenue).

There are so many other Brooklyn neighbourhoods to explore. Greenpoint to sample kielbasa (Polish sausage) and see local bands perform in the ballroom of the Polish National Home (261 Driggs Avenue). The sculpture garden at the Pratt Institute (200 Willoughby Avenue) in Clinton Hill. Cupcakes and confection at Joyce Bakeshop (646 Vanderbilt Avenue) in Prospect Heights. The push and shove of Bugaboo designer strollers on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. And then there is the famous Coney Island.

At the end of the train line, Coney Island is a crass, tacky and yet somehow soulful Brooklyn destination. A century ago, New Yorkers fled tenement blocks for the beach. Today the esplanade is still crowded, but the water’s edge is littered with cigarette butts and plastic straws. On the boardwalk the city-owned Cyclone rollercoaster rattles thrillseekers on its wooden tracks. Every summer the anyone-can-enter Mermaid Parade takes over the streets. And on July 4, the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest grabs national headlines. Property developers are circling the faded beauty of Coney Island’s waterfront. But for now, it’s still possible to enjoy a Brooklyn pizza on the footpath and watch the crowd go by.

Stay

Akwaaba Mansion347 MacDonough Street.
Bed & Breakfast on the Park
113 Prospect Park West.

Hotel le Bleu
370 Fourth Avenue.

Shop

Cog & Pearl
190 5th Avenue.
+1 718 623 8200.

The Future Perfect
115 North 6th Street.
+1 718 599 6278.

Jumelle
148 Bedford Avenue.
+1 718 388 9525.

Stuart & Wright
85 Lafayette Avenue.
+1 718 797 0011.

Eat & Drink

Flatbush Farm76 Saint Marks Avenue.
+1 718 622 3276.

Locanda Vini & Olii
129 Gates Avenue.
+1 718 622 9202.

Mamalu
232 North 12th Street.
+1 718 486 6312.

Sea
114 North 6th Street.
+1 718 384 8850.

Local Brews

Brooklyn Brewery
79 North 11th Street.
+1 718 486 7422.

Brownstone Beans
+1 646 312 9330.

Bars

Larry Lawrence
295 Grand Street.
+1 718 218 7866.

Moe’s
80 Lafayette Avenue.
+1 718 797 9536.

Union Hall
702 Union Street.
+1 718 638 4400.

See & Do

Brooklyn Museum of Art
200 Eastern Parkway.
+1 718 638 5000.

New York Transit Museum
Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street.
+1 718 694 1600.

Prospect Park

Source: Qantas The Australian Way December 2007
Updated: July 2008


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1 comment:

  1. Wow i am so glade to see all these sights i wish i am i,l be there now its amazing place to see

    Pegasos world side

    ReplyDelete