16 reasons for Brooklyn


David Whitley heads across the bridge from Manhattan to New York’s second borough. And here are 16 reasons why you should too 
Brooklyn Bridge
When it opened in 1883, ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ was the longest bridge on the planet. The mayor had to arrange for a herd of elephants to cross it before people were convinced it was safe – and remarkably safe it has proved to be. The cables holding it up have never been replaced, and their almost dainty web balances the majesty of the arched stone towers wonderfully. It’s a genuinely beautiful bridge – and it’s no surprise that it has enchanted people for over a century.

The Promenade
The walk along Brooklyn’s waterfront, from the bridge southwards, will undoubtedly be a greater treasure in ten to twenty years’ time. It is slowly being turned into a connecting series of parks, with old industrial remnants being turned into performance venues and kayak launch sites. For now, it’s a bit scraggly, but the views more than make up for that. The Manhattan skyline, Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty line up dutifully for prime gawping.

Of those performance venues, Bargemusic has the head start. There are bigger and more architecturally saliva-inducing places to enjoy classical music in New York, but none have Bargemusic’s level of charm. As the name suggests, it’s an old coffee barge moored near the Brooklyn Bridge, and the regular concerts held on it have a living room-like intimacy. Best of all, the 3pm Saturday afternoon concerts are free – and seats are given away on a first come, first served basis.

Nearby is a former industrial district that the artists have well and truly taken over. DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) hosts scores of studios, galleries and performance spaces. 111 Front Street is the prime mooching ground – it hosts over 20 separate galleries, most of which are artist-run. 145 Front Street is great too – it’s a collection of independent craft and fashion shops, where the creators can often be found at work making jewellery or spray-painting in a back corner.

Street Art
The most exciting art scene is found outdoors, however. Levys’ Unique Tours runs special runs special jaunts around the street art hotbeds in Williamsburg and Bushwick, pointing out the most impressive murals, stencil work and guerrilla redecorations. It ranges from the cute to the deliciously subversive, using everything from glued-on wood to indelible road paint. The tours introduce some of the major players in the street art scene and point out works that most people would pass without noticing. 

Pointing and Laughing
Brooklyn is the Serengeti of people-watching. Williamsburg, in particular, is a seething hive of affectation and ludicrous outfits that the wearers genuinely think look good. A walk around the streets can become a gleeful idiot safari, with plentiful spottings of absurd facial hair, patchwork quilt waistcoats and painful tight drainpipe trousers turned up to reveal an immaculate sockless ankle. Watching this scenester descent to the Mariana Trench of self-parody is a tremendous fun.

The plus side of all this self-styled (and self-conscious) cool is a phenomenal bar scene. Brooklyn is teeming with highly individual bars, often created out of old factories and warehouses, and regularly competing for the best beer and cocktail selections. Excellent examples include the Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick and Bierkraft in Park Slope, while the stalwart Brooklyn Brewery site in Williamsburg is a hugely enjoyable – and surprisingly egalitarian for the area – hang-out.

Live music
Everyone in Brooklyn seems to be either in a band or has a friend that’s in one. This leads to bars, cafés, garages – you name it – regularly being taken over by indie-rockers. The Music Hall of Williamsburg is the best bet for catching a big name on the scene amongst people who say the band was much better when no-one else had heard of them. Zebulon, meanwhile has an utterly eclectic mix of genres and no cover charge. 

Movie magic
Hundreds of classic movie scenes have been shot in Brooklyn. John Travolta strutting along the street in the opening sequence to Saturday Night Fever? That’s Bensonhurst. Al Pacino driving blind in a red sports car in Scent of a Woman? DUMBO. But it’s not just about going to the locations – during the summer months, Pier 1 by the Brooklyn Bridge is turned into what is arguably the world’s most spectacular open air cinema. Best of all, the film favourites and the Manhattan backdrop are free to watch at Movies With A View

Many of the movie locations are covered and pointed out in A Slice Of Brooklyn’s wide-ranging tours. But the main focus is pizza – something that is an undisputed strength in a borough with a historically huge Italian population.  The Neapolitan-style margaritas at Grimaldi’s in DUMBO and the thick Sicilian-style slices at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst are both the stuff of legend in these parts. 

Coney Island
The pizza tour finishes at Coney Island, a gloriously shabby throwback to the days when theme park rides invoked fear through dubious-looking construction rather than multiple loop-the-loops. It’s a blue collar place of staggering along the boardwalk with your shirt off after too much beer. Or watching fire-eaters, contortionists and people who’ll hammer metal spikes through their bodies in the name of sideshow entertainment. Then there’s the Cyclone, the wooden rollercoaster that may as well be the dictionary definition of “rickety”. 

Freaky festivals
It’s Coney Island’s mix of old-fashioned and odd that elevates it above run-down seediness. And that odd factor comes bursting to the fore twice a year at the Mermaid Parade and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. The former takes place in mid-June, offering a surreal cavalcade of OTT aquatic costumes. The latter – taking place on July 4th - is gross-out viewing. Junk food warriors attempt to stuff as many hotdogs down their gullets as possible in ten minutes in front of a bearpit-like crowd. The record? A terrifying 68, buns and all.

Beacon’s Closet
There are second hand stores, and there are second hand stores. Beacon’s Closet is the Colosseum of clothing exchange, with rows of specialist buyers casting their eye over the items brought in, then putting a value on them. Sellers get 35% of that value in cash or a 55% store credit. And in that store, amongst some fairly generic chain store garments, are some world class vintage finds and outfits that push ‘individual’ to its outer limits. Beacon’s Closet has spread over several locations, but the biggest is in Williamsburg.


Brooklyn Flea
Fans of such delving for jewels can extend beyond clothing into antiques, furniture and, well, just about anything at one of the world’s great flea markets. Taking place in Fort Greene on Saturdays, and Williamsburg on Sundays, the Brooklyn Flea blurs the traditional tat-flogging boundaries by throwing craftspeople, jewellers and locally-made fresh food into a highly pleasurable mix. 

New York Transport Museum
Inside a still-working but decommissioned subway station, which is often used for action film shoots, the New York Transport Museum tells the unexpectedly absorbing story of the city’s Subway network. The sections on buses and power supply to the transport system are take-or-leave, but the opening salvo on the construction of the Subway is superb. The photographs brim with stories, whilst tales of workers being thrust out of the tunnels under the river on a blowhole of compressed air are terrifying. 

Prospect Park
Central Park in Manhattan isn’t New York’s only world class green space. Prospect Park was planned by the same man – Frederick Law Olmstead – but it has a much wilder, forest-like vibe to it. Until you emerge at the boating lake or Picnic House, it feels hundreds of miles away from the biggest city in the US. But there’s space in the 585 acres of often untamed woodland for a few crowd-pleasers – including a small zoo, a music pagoda and an atmospheric Quaker cemetery.


by David Whitley



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