We’re not opposed to doing a straightforward comparison of Brooklyn neighborhoods, coming right out and declaring which one is the BEST. But, you know, we’ve done that before. Like, more than once. So instead of doing it again, we decided to forgo comparing a group of totally disparate things in order to (somewhat) arbitrarily claim that one is unequivocally better than the others, and instead celebrate the differences inherent within all these neighborhoods. And we decided to do it using pseudo-high school yearbook superlatives. No, we didn’t declare Red Hook to have the Best Hair or Crown Heights to be Most Likely to Succeed (although we could easily make a case for both of those classifications), but we did try and distill the qualities most unique to each neighborhood in order to explore what it is exactly that makes these places so special.
Fort Greene/Clinton Hill
The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area has always been an important locus of culture in Brooklyn; a partial list of the writers and artists to have lived in its environs includes Walt Whitman, Richard Wright, Marianne Moore, Robert Mapplethorpe, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Mos Def. The area is also home to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Music School, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, BRIC Arts|Media, the Pratt Institute, and the Barclays Center. As another neighborhood native asked: Where Brooklyn at? Right here.
When we were kids, there were still enough Scandinavians here that Eighth Avenue had a restaurant that specialized in both Chinese and Norwegian food. Those were the Last Days of Lapskaus Boulevard, as the commercial strip was affectionately known in the mid-20th century, and the ethnic transition has long-since ended: western Sunset Park is predominantly Latino, while the eastern part is overwhelmingly Chinese—like, it’s one of the city’s largest Chinatowns. (The population has started to spill northward and eastward into Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights, diversifying those erstwhile Italian strongholds just like Manhattan’s Chinatown did to Little Italy.) What does this mean for you, if you don’t have a personal connection to those cultures? Well, the best way for different peoples to come together is over a shared appreciation for delicious food. And Sunset Park has a reputation for being home to some of the best off-the-grid Chinese and Mexican restaurants (as well as those that specialize in cuisine from other Asian and Central American countries). Taco purists come here for their tacos; ditto dim sum devotees, because it’s the most authentic stuff you’re going to get.
It happened slowly—record labels and stores were priced out of their Williamsburg digs, and rather than folding up shop, many of them crossed over McCarren Park and set up shop in (comparatively) cheaper Greenpoint real estate. Crate diggers have long treasured Permanent Records, Co-Op 87, Record Grouch. But last year, when Academy Records Annex moved and Captured Tracks opened a shop, Greenpoint’s status as the best record shopping neighborhood in the city became indisputable. Many of our borough’s best indie labels are HQ’d there, too. If you have a band, there’s no better place to be.
Marketers still like to sell Bushwick as the next great urban frontier, but if rents are any indication, the cat’s out of the bag on that one. Amenities and apartment quality may not have quite caught up to the neighborhood’s popularity and high prices, but if there’s one thing the neighborhood does right, it’s bars. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about at least one new watering hole opening up somewhere between the Morgan and Myrtle-Wyckoff stops (and these days, even along the JMZ). It may not be the place you see yourself raising kids, but for now, it’s a damn good time.
Most Alliterative-Friendly Shopping i.e. Best for Borscht, Babushkas, Bialys
Brighton Beach is home to Brighton Bazaar, the city’s best Russian market. The neighborhood also boasts numerous cafes and delis, most scattered along Brighton Beach Avenue, peddling meaty starches, root vegetable-based soups, and, yes, borscht. Where else are you going to find khachapuris (a Georgian baguette with cheese) and shotis puris (without cheese)? Not to mention vatrushki danishes, potato dumplings, poppy-seed rolls, and rugelach. The best news is that you’re basically culturally obligated to chase it all with vodka. Go hungry.
Best Neighborhood to Go to When It’s 20 Degrees Out and You Need to Pretend You’re Somewhere Warmer
And by that, we mean best place to go to get authentic, flavorful, not-sure-what-you’re-gonna-get Caribbean food that will allow you to pretend that you’re on an island other than Long Island. You want pumpkin roti and curry goat? Go to Gloria’s. Oxtail stew and jerk chicken? The Islands is there for you. You can go to A&A and Ali’s* for doubles and rotis of plentiful variety, not to mention the head-spinning array of drink concoctions with fanciful names, like Irish Moss, which purportedly increases a man’s sexual ability while also boosting a woman’s libido. Umm…
*While Ali’s does have a Crown Heights location, there is also an Ali’s in Bed-Stuy, a block north of the Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights border. A&A also falls just over that border. All of which is to say, we made a mistake. But at least there are an abundance of places to enjoy Caribbean food, right? Right.
We don’t always believe the kind of real estate hype (and price inflation) Bed-Stuy’s been getting lately, but in this case, it makes a whole lot of sense. Unlike, say, Bushwick, the neighborhood’s held onto most of its beautiful old townhouses and brownstones, most of which sit on peaceful, spacious, tree-lined streets. Sale prices in the neighborhood are going up by the day (and unfortunately, so are the incidences of realtors trying to strong-arm longtime residents out of their homes), but man, if we had a down payment’s worth of money sitting in our bank accounts, we’d be first in line.
Most Likely To Be the Subject of a New York Times Trend Piece in Two Years
East New York
After years of dispatches about the neighborhood’s stubbornly high crime rates, East New York got some much-deserved love recently with Flex is Kings, a documentary about its homegrown dance style, flexing. It’s also getting some early attention as the next logical choice for anyone hoping to find a room off the L Train for less than $1,000 a month. The “next Bushwick,” if you want to go there. It hasn’t exactly seen an influx of hip little bars and restaurants you’d associate with that type of superlative, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and these things tend to happen lightning-fast.
We can all agree that Park Slope as punchline is a tired cliché, but what we can also agree on is that at its core, the joke is a pretty accurate one… but for all the best reasons. Sure, there are strollers and puppetry nonprofits and a heckuva lot of vintage shops specializing in children’s clothing, but that’s all part of what makes it one of the best places in Brooklyn to raise a family. And, hey, even after you’ve officially become an Old, you’re still gonna want to hang out at Freddy’s and High Dive once the kids are tucked into bed, snoozing soundly after the umpteenth reading of Go the F*ck to Sleep.
All logic suggests that if Brooklyn were a country, Gowanus would be its flyover state. Long home to coal manufacturing and oil refineries, the environmental hazard it’s currently best known for is the infested waterway running through it. (The phosphorescent green Gowanus Canal isn’t the best known landmark of the neighborhood, though. That honor goes to the Kentile Floors sign which we’re worried might fall over if isn’t constantly being Instagrammed.) However, despite its, um, aromatic past (and present!), Gowanus is a bonafide, Whole Foods–approved destination in its own right, featuring some of the borough’s best new restaurants and bars (Runner & Stone, Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, The Pines, et al.), making Gowanus a pretty awesome place to be. Unless, that is, you’re a dolphin who took a wrong turn and wound up in the canal. In that case, you’re fucked.
Most Misleadingly Named Neighborhood
Quick: picture what “South Brooklyn” looks like. You’re probably thinking Ferris wheels, boardwalk hot dogs and avenues that use letters instead of numbers. However, you would be wrong. Very, very wrong. Like, embarrassingly wrong. South Brooklyn is in fact the amorphous blob of neighborhoods which include Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and the Columbia Street Waterfront District. All of which is to say, it’s not southern Brooklyn i.e. Coney Island, Gravesend, Bath Beach, or Bay Ridge. Is it confusing to most people? Sure. But hey, it’s still a better name than the real estate agent–invented “BoCoCa.” Barf.
Because of the fact that the nearest subway is in an entirely different neighborhood, few out-of-towners (or out-of-borough-ers for that matter) venture to the peninsula that is Red Hook. Which, considering it’s home to Red Hook Food Vendors, as well as some of the best views of the city sunset at Louis Valentino Pier, is surprising! Sometimes it seems like most of its visitors are made up of miserable Ikea-goers and tourists about to be very disappointed that the Sixpoint Brewery does not, in fact, give tours, but, you know, maybe we’re ok with that. Let’s leave Williamsburg’s waterfront for the masses, and keep Red Hook’s for ourselves.
Historically in New York, the waterfronts have been working waterfronts, which is why in neighborhoods from Red Hook to Greenpoint, so much shoreline access is blocked by heavy machinery or factory fencing. But southern Brooklyn, thanks to its distance from the center of commerce that is lower Manhattan, developed residentially, as suburbs, which means its waterfront is more open. Sure, the automobile-loving Robert Moses built his Belt Parkway along the Brooklyn coast, so you can’t enjoy it without also enjoying the smell of exhaust and the hum of turning tires, but still: in Bay Ridge, you can walk right up against the waterfront (well, ok, there’s a low fence, just so you don’t fall in) from the equivalent of 69th Street to 101st Street, where you can stand beneath the Verrazano, still the longest suspension bridge in the US, and marvel at the grandeur of its modernity. (The promenade continues over into Bath Beach.) As a bonus, on the other side of that highway is a system of parks—leafy trails that open up into ballfields—that stretches the same length, all combining for 58 acres of waterside open space.
Best Neighborhood for Experiencing the Old Brooklyn
One of us grew up in Brooklyn—in Bay Ridge—and when that editor thinks about how the borough has changed, he doesn’t start cursing “the hipsters” or worrying about how some people like to eat different foods than his grandparents did. Instead, he remembers how working-class neighborhoods used to feel different. “The roughness-around-the-edges for which Brooklyn was once known—not from poverty, abandonment or crime but from a resolute working-classness,” he once described it. “What I mean is the details: the texture of walls, the attitude of eaves, the paving of streets.” He says Bensonhurst still feels like this, a place where not every neighborhood-specific storefront occupier (like an Italian record store!) has been turned into a bank or a chain store—where people still tinker in yards and driveways, where corners still smell like sawdust, where murals are allowed to fade, where timeworn and tattered flags still fly over stoops, where a sense of history hasn’t been erased by corporate development. It’s often unpainted, unsanded, unpatched. As such, it feels less like a place preserved than a wormhole into the past. If you ever actually traveled back in time, what would shock you immediately wouldn’t just be the change in aesthetics—it’d also be the sounds, smells, the ineffable feeling in the air. That’s what gets you here.
There are downsides to living here, like the fact that trains clattering over a bridge is very noisy and never stops, but if you can afford to move here (rents are the highest in the borough, so start saving now!) there are upsides, too. DUMBO is only, like, 20 square blocks, but on those blocks there’s one of Brooklyn’s premier venues for literary events (powerHouse Arena), a slew of art galleries (from Front Street to Jay Street), one of the borough’s leading performance spaces (St. Ann’s Warehouse), an arts and performance space (Galapagos), a great used bookstore (PS) and specialty shops for poetry (Berl’s) and manga (Zakka). Not to mention a great bakery (One Girl), chocolatier (Jacques Torres), two of the foremost pizzerias in Brooklyn (Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s), plus other notable restaurants (the River Cafe! and Gran/Electrica, Atrium, Al Mar, Superfine), likable bars and more. There’s even a little movie theater (reRun)! So whether it’s film, books, fine art, performing arts, or food that you enjoy, DUMBO has so many places for you to visit—all within walking distance from each other and you, down charming old-fashioned streets lined with old, repurposed brick buildings, down which are also walking, by day, lots of smart people who commute here to be part of tech and media startups.
We’re unabashed advocates of public transportation and fully believe that one of the benefits of living in New York City is that we don’t need to be reliant on a car to get around. And we’re not just saying that because we, um, can’t really afford a car. In fact, in most parts of Brooklyn having a car would be far more of a burden than it would be an asset. Just think about the headache of alternate side of the street parking, or what it must have been like for car owners this past winter, always having to dig out of huge snow drifts. Terrible. But there’s one neighborhood in Brooklyn where owning a car makes some sense: Windsor Terrace, where parking spaces abound and public transportation is limited. This tiny, mainly residential area lacks basic commercial amenities like a full-service grocery store, meaning that unless you only use Fresh Direct, you’re going to spend a lot of time on the F/G lugging around Trader Joe’s bags. And speaking of the F/G, it’s a rare weekend when the two stations servicing Windy T (15th Street/Prospect Park and Ft. Hamilton Parkway) aren’t shut down, rendering the neighborhood unreachable except by bike, bus (*shudder*)… or car. So it’s tempting, you know? Living in Windsor Terrace almost makes you feel like getting a car wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Almost. Except that living in Windsor Terrace also makes it impossible to ignore the terrible scar that car culture (and Robert Moses) has left on many Brooklyn neighborhoods, because Windsor Terrace (like Red Hook, Park Slope, and Williamsburg among others) is a neighborhood that was torn asunder in order to make room for the Prospect Expressway and the unimpeded flow of traffic. So, yeah. A car might seem like a good idea for a little while, but ultimately, Windsor Terrace reminds you why it’s just not worth it. Get a bike instead.
Best Neighborhood to Appreciate the Changing of the Seasons
It’s spring! Spring has sprung. But it’s hard to really appreciate the changing of the seasons when your environment is full of glass and concrete instead of, we don’t know, meadows and mountains and whatever natural wonders exist outside of this city. Unless, of course, you’re in Prospect Heights and can pop into the lush, verdant wonderland that is Prospect Park or—even better—head over to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, where the cherry blossoms are just starting to brighten our once dreary landscape and think about what Pablo Neruda once wrote, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” And then get all warm inside. Just like how the earth is getting warm on the inside. Ah, spring. You’re back.
We love the iconic Brooklyn brownstone as much as the next person, but we fulfill our real estate fantasies by wandering the tree-lined streets of Ditmas Park so that we can drool (uh, not literally… well, sometimes literally) over the century-old houses, many featuring gracious, wraparound porches; original stained glass windows; and turrets reaching up into the sky. And if the gorgeous houses weren’t enough to make us want to move to Ditmas Park, the mini- Restaurant Row that is Courtelyou Road features some of our favorite restaurants, plus a food coop that might not be as well-stocked as the Park Slope version, but comes with none of the drama.
We hate being the type of people to bemoan the demise of Williamsburg into Brooklyn’s very own version of Times Square, but, uh, Williamsburg on the weekend? Is Brooklyn’s very own version of Times Square. Well, in fairness, not all of Williamsburg is like that, but the northern part of the neighborhood certainly is, and should be avoided at all costs. Unless, of course, you are a Pat Kiernan mega-fan and want to catch him living his Bedford Avenue life, which, Kiernan has recently reported, includes frequent meals at the Meatball Shop. So, yeah. We think we can safely predict Williamsburg’s time of death as being circa now.
Considering that all of Brooklyn Heights is an officially designated historic district, it should come as no surprise that there are tons of interesting Brooklyn Heights factoids that you can learn and use to impress your friends. No, really! There might be no better way to spend a beautiful spring day than to walk around this neighborhood and look for the houses where such literary luminaries as Norman Mailer (49 Remsen Street), Truman Capote (70 Willow Street), Henry Miller (91 Remsen Street), and Thomas Wolfe (5 Montague Terrace) lived. But possibly the most interesting house in the area is 58 Joralemon Street. Although at a quick glance it looks like any other townhouse on the block, closer examination reveals that the windows are blacked out and that it is slightly architecturally incongruous with the rest of the buildings on the block. Why is it like this? Well, because it’s not a real building. It’s a front! That’s right, in one of the most expensive areas in all of the city, there’s an MTA-rented (before you ask, yes, it goes for way below market value) fake house that’s used to cover up a subway ventilation system. The more you know, right? Right.