South of Williamsburg, you can find an older Brooklyn: boisterous and beautiful, worldly with working class roots.
Recent decades have brought big, fraught, much-discussed changes to Brooklyn. But south of Williamsburg, the borough’s character — both boisterous and architecturally beautiful, worldly with working-class roots — remains. The waterfront no longer teems with longshoremen and heavy industry, but century-old river barges are enjoying second acts as unconventional arts venues, and a commercial pier has been reclaimed as a public park that draws families from across the borough. For better or worse, several high-profile projects like the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, an industrial park for high-end food manufacturers and movie studios, and Barclays Center, home to music and sporting events, have transformed areas of central Brooklyn. But many neighborhoods cater almost entirely to their local communities, from the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach to the Jewish Orthodox populations of Midwood, from Caribbean Flatbush to Sunset Park’s Chinatown.
1) 4:30 P.M. ALONG THE WATERFRONT
For a scenic arrival in Brooklyn from Midtown, take the East River Ferry($6 on weekends), which skirts the waterfront of Queens and northern Brooklyn before delivering riders to Brooklyn Bridge Park in the Dumbo neighborhood. Then, take a spin on a beautifully restored, colorfully painted wooden horse or chariot. Housed in a glass box with views of the city skyline, Jane’s Carousel ($2) is open year round and lit at night, creating a reverse snow globe effect during winter storms. Walk along the water through Main Street Park to Brooklyn Roasting Company, an industrial space decorated with globes, books and vintage vinyl records. Get a kick of caffeine with a Maple Shay espresso drink or snack on a ham and Cheddar croissant ($5) or one of the yeast doughnuts from the popular Bedford-Stuyvesant bakery Dough, in flavors like passion fruit and horchata.
2) 5:30 P.M. GET LIT
A former warehouse district, Dumbo — or Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass — houses some of Brooklyn’s most beloved bookstores and art galleries. The neighborhood hosts a gallery walk the first Thursday of each month. But you can design your own art tour by visiting Art in Dumbo’s gallery listing (artindumbo.com). Don’t miss Powerhouse Arena, a bookstore and event space that has hosted readings by authors like Anthony Bourdain, Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates, and has an excellent children’s book corner.
Housed in a glass box with views of the city skyline, Jane’s Carousel is open year round. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
3) 7:30 P.M. MOVE WITH THE MUSIC
Moored at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Bargemusic is a 118-year-old, 100-foot-long former coffee barge turned floating concert hall. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the venue presents some 200 annual chamber music concerts; tickets typically from $35. (Free “Music in Motion” family concerts are offered on Saturdays at 4 p.m.)
4) 10 P.M. ONLY IN NEW YORK
Go for a Spanish-style late dinner at La Vara. In New York City, it’s wise to seek out meals so exceptional you’re unlikely to find anything like them anywhere else. La Vara is such a restaurant. On an unassuming residential block in brownstone Cobble Hill, a husband-wife team, Eder Montero and Alex Raij, serve regional cuisine that celebrates two cultural and historical influences in Spain: the Jewish and Muslim North African influences of the Moors. Dishes include such offerings as pincho de ceuta (grilled chicken hearts with a salad of fresh herbs and lime-date vinaigrette, $13) and crispy suckling pig, slow-cooked with a rose petal-quince sauce and chimichurri ($30).
5) MIDNIGHT; OUT WITH BANG
For a nightcap, walk through the back streets of Brooklyn to Hank’s Saloon, a century-old dive with a sticky wooden bar, a ceiling strung with Christmas lights, and raucous rock shows with free or cheap admission. For a more cerebral evening, try Littlefield, a performance and art space in a 6,200-square-foot 1920s textile warehouse in Gowanus that hosts big-name comedy acts like Wyatt Cenac, live-band karaoke and a cocktail menu by the mixologist Tona Palomino of the Wylie Dufresne restaurant WD-50, which closed in 2014.Planet Cute, devoted to novelty items and plush toys. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
6) 11 A.M. BOUTIQUES AND BRUNCH
Take the 2, 3 or 4 train to the Brooklyn Museum stop and head to Crownside (formerly Bar Corvo), the sister restaurant to Park Slope’s beloved Al Di La Trattoria. It has recently undergone renovations and is set to reopen in late February. Try the avocado toast with pickled carrot, cilantro, jalapeño aioli and poached egg, or a fried chicken biscuit with spicy honey and pickles, in the heated backyard. Afterward, window-shop along Washington and Vanderbilt Avenues, the diagonal borders of Prospect Heights. Stop into vintage shops, boutiques like O.N.A. for women’s fashions and Güreje for hand-dyed and embellished clothing for men and women, or Planet Cute, for novelty items, plush toys and Hello Kitty cuteness.
7) 3 P.M. SKATE CITY
Take the Q train to the Prospect Park stop and walk down to the 1905 Beaux-Arts-style boathouse on the eastern edge of Prospect Park Lake. Note the gnarled limbs of the camperdown elm, a 145-year-old tree. The nearby LeFrak Center at Lakeside, the most ambitious addition to the park in 150 years, opened in 2013. During the winter, there is ice skating ($6 to $9, plus $6 for skate rentals), curling and broomball. On summer nights (Fridays, May to October), Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Discobrings 1970s and ’80s glam outdoors for adult-only themed skate nights, which celebrate the likes of Prince, Madonna and David Bowie. The 26-acre, $74 million Lakeside project also has boat rentals, a splash pad and specialty bikes, like the single surrey, which fits three adults and two children ($25 an hour).
Hank’s Saloon is a century-old dive with a sticky wooden bar. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
8) 5:30 P.M. A WALK IN THE PARK
Next, walk south to Ditmas Park for an early dinner at the cozy, brick-walled neighborhood Austrian restaurant Werkstatt, where the back room has a wine bottle chandelier, a peaked skylight and wood piled for a corner fireplace. The food (crepes stuffed with sauerkraut and smoked white fish, with mushroom cream sauce and sautéed greens, for $15, or beef goulash with spaetzle, for $19) is excellent, modern without being highbrow, and the happy hour, 5 to 7 p.m., welcomes all comers. En route, be sure to get onto the side streets to see the grand historic mansions. For a drink before your next stop, head for the Lodge, a heated backyard tent and food court, at Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop on Ditmas’s main drag, Cortelyou Avenue.
9) 8 P.M. THE KING OF FLATBUSH
Once one of the five original Loew’s “Wonder Theaters,” the grand Kings Theater, deep in the heart of Flatbush, is a beautiful performance space. Reminiscent of the famed Avalon Theater on Catalina Island in California, the spectacularly restored space has a honeycomb ceiling with ostentatious flourishes of red velvet drapery and ornate molding. The $95 million restoration project is so gorgeous that one could be forgiven for focusing more intently on the venue than on the eclectic performers it draws, which have recently included Bon Iver, R. Kelly and John Prine.
Kings Theater, deep in the heart of Flatbush, has undergone a $95 million restoration. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
10) 8 A.M. THE RUSSIAN WAY
Get off the Q train at Neck Road, and walk three blocks to the Russian Baths of Brooklyn, where you can sweat out a weekend’s worth of indulgence in the Russian sauna or Turkish steam room — or have it beaten out of you with a platza treatment, in which a spa worker slaps you with a bushel of water-soaked oak leaves, which is said to remove toxins (admission to the Baths, $45). For lunch, continue on the Q to Brighton Beach to the seven-table Cafe at Your Mother-in-Law, which opens at 11 a.m. With its odd name, peach walls, Asian paper lanterns and a Russian-language TV program playing in the corner, the family-run cafe serves the food of the Korean Uzbeki — the descendants of Korean nationals who settled in Uzbekistan, mingling two very different food cultures in fascinating and delicious ways. Try the samsa — a flaky triangle filled with beef and onion ($3) and an assortment of à la carte sides, simply called “salads,” which are similar to banchan, the small dishes served before a Korean meal.
11) 12:30 P.M. ISLAND LIFE
Brooklyn’s southernmost coast, Coney Island, feels like an outpost of Old New York. During the summer, Luna Park is a scene unto itself. But even during the off-season, when the amusement park is closed, Coney Island has an odd appeal. Old men sit shirtless along the boardwalk, tanning in bracingly cold temperatures. A block off the beach, Coney Island Brewingpays homage to the strip’s sideshow culture with colorful labels of tattooed mermaids and winter “polar bear” swimmers. For indoor amusement, there is the New York Aquarium (entrance, $11.95), which has been reopened after flooding during Hurricane Sandy, and the Coney Island Museum, a nonprofit museum and arts space ($5) that celebrates the pop cultural legacy of “Brooklyn’s Beach” and is operated by Coney Island U.S.A., the organizers of the flamboyant Mermaid Parade in June.