While “bucket lists” might more traditionally comprise things that people want to do before they die, it often feels like more people are leaving Brooklyn for the promised land of LA rather than that other, more ephemeral promised land. But before the door hits everyone on the way out, here are 47 things that we think you should absolutely try to do in Brooklyn before you go. Because these things? Can’t be done anywhere else.
1) Spend an afternoon at the Hogwarts-esque library in the Brooklyn Historical Society poring over old maps portraying the borough when it was actually its own city, way back before the Great Mistake of 1898.
2) Ride the Cyclone after running the Brooklyn Half-Marathon and before slurping down a half-dozen clams on the boardwalk. Do your best not to throw up as you pretend to be Beyoncé in her “XO” video; give yourself permission to vomit if you see that video’s director, Terry Richardson, or anyone who looks remotely like him.
3) Tell the lady who pushes her little white dog in a baby stroller (with another big dog—usually off leash—walking behind her) around Maria Hernandez Park that her dogs are cute. Start a convo with her. She’s really nice and funny and loves her dogs.
4) Take your mom to Smorgasburg. Wait in line for the ramen burger (only this one time, never ever do it again). Ask someone to take a photo of the two of you with the ramen burger. Your mom will literally never stop talking about this. It’s just what moms do.
5) Instead of spending money on a cab home when you go out drinking around the Myrtle/Broadway area in Bushwick, go get Popeyes (open until 4am, god bless it) and eat it on the J train ride back to your apartment. Throw away the evidence in a public trashcan. This means that by the next morning you won’t be totally sure whether it was a dream or actually happened. This is a sign you had a good night.
6) Go to Green-Wood Cemetery in the spring and lie down under the white magnolia trees. Realize this is legitimately the quietest place in all of Brooklyn. Check out Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grave on the way out. And Leonard Bernstein’s. And Dr. Susan Smith McKInney-Steward.
7) Whether or not you’re leaving Brooklyn because of impending death or because of an impending move to LA (something both similar to and worse than death), make plans to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery, the acreage-rich embodiment, technically, of the bucket itself.
8) Make out in a dark, filthy bathroom at Bossa Nova Civic Club for exactly one minute. No more, no less. Set a goddamned timer if you have to because that line is long and people will start knocking. Get back in line after the make out if you have to pee or whatever.
9) Make friends (even if it’s just for one night) with someone who lives in the ridiculous Two Northside Pier Kent Avenue waterfront skyscrapers. Insist on having drinks at their place. Enjoy the breathtaking view, but outwardly act underwhelmed. Use the bathroom with, um, reckless abandon, i.e. if you get pee on the toilet seat don’t clean it up.
10) Ride your bike down Broadway (while wearing a helmet) then write a damn letter to Bill de Blasio about the potholes. That’s what mayors are for, right?
11) Go spend a half hour volunteering at BARC animal shelter during their walking hours and walk a really cute pup down to the East River State Park and then maybe adopt it and take it home and love it forever.
12) ‘Shroom in Brooklyn Bridge Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon and, while looking at all the intense blues and greens, be blown away by the fact that the horses attached to Jane’s Carousel seem to be trying to escape their glass-enclosed prison. “Run free, little horses!” you cry, maybe a little too loud, to the bemusement and fear of the many, many European tourists perpetually lurking nearby.
13) The next time you’re walking down the street and you get stopped by those people with clipboards who want you to stop and give a minute of your time for (fill-in-the-blank-progressive-cause), actually stop and listen to them for a few minutes, talk to them about what it is they’re so passionate about, think about the things you’re passionate about, if anything. Just, you know, don’t give them your credit card info. Don’t be dumb.
14) But do be smart about what causes you might want to support. Do think to yourself as you walk pass the Planned Parenthood in Downtown Brooklyn and see the smocked volunteers standing outside its nondescript office building about how lucky women in this borough are when it comes to having relatively easy, safe access to affordable healthcare services. Remind yourself to donate to Planned Parenthood when you get the chance.
15) Be elected to public office. Or run for public office. Or start going to community board meetings. Just get involved with what’s going on in your backyard. Lol. “Backyard” is metaphorical here for most of us, we know.
16) Join the Park Slope Food Co-op and enjoy buying really, really, really cheap leeks and goat cheese and laugh to yourself because you’re planning on leaving before ever working a shift and then realize that the joke is on you because you are suddenly invested in the type of endeavor that you’ve always instinctively mocked. Who even are you anymore? Someone who eats a lot of affordable organic vegetables, that’s who.
17) Plan a first date to the Morbid Anatomy Museum. Don’t tell the person where you’re going, just take them. If they’re legitimately into it then they are probably worth taking on a second date. Anyone who doesn’t understand that love and death (or even better: decay) go hand in hand is not good enough for you.
18) Join the Montauk Club. It’s apparently the oldest private club in New York City, and it’s definitely one of the most beautiful, stateliest buildings in the borough. So get on in there and hobnob with a totally different set of Park Slope residents than you’ll probably find at the Food Co-op. (Or maybe not? We’d bet A.O. Scott belongs to both!)
19) Read at the Franklin Park Reading Series and join the illustrious literary company of past readers like Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gaitskill, Stanley Crouch, Edwidge Danticat, and so many other book-world luminaries that if you bother thinking too hard about it, you’ll pass out from the excitement of it all.
20) Find a body in a manner that could easily translate to an episode of Law & Order: SVU. Like, we don’t know, maybe go fishing with your company for a fun day out at sea, filled with sun, surf, and Lime-a-Ritas, but before you’re able to embark on your voyage, a horde of ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and even a police helicopter descend on your Sheepshead Bay location so that they can fish something (was it a body? it was!) out of the crystal clear waters. Yeah, maybe something like that.
21) Eat Russian food in Brighton Beach; eat Polish food in Greenpoint; eat Chinese food in Sunset Park; eat Mexican food in Bushwick; eat West Indian food in Flatbush; eat Italian food in Carroll Gardens; eat Bangladeshi food in Kensington; eat Middle Eastern food in Bay Ridge. Repeat. Forever and ever.
22) Ride the East River Ferry with a beer (because you can, maybe? maritime law, we guess? be discreet!) and think to yourself, wow, Brooklyn is part of an island. Sure, it’s Long Island and nobody likes to be reminded of that, but also, isn’t the water nice? It is.
23) Hand out bananas and breakfast sandwiches at Mile 8.5-ish of the NYC Marathon (Lafayette and Vanderbilt aves), while the Bishop Loughlin jazz band plays the theme from Rocky on a loop for four hours.
24) Run the bases after a Cyclones game, pushing all the little kids aside to clear your path for a perfect hook slide into home.
25) Send your children to public schools. The system only works if we all use it, and the people who opt (or pay) out do so to the detriment of their kids and their communities. Haha, this one not whimsical enough for you? Well, our school system and the future of the one million students involved in it isn’t really a joke. Oh, well.
26) Watch the Red Hook Criterium in the summer and head to Fort Defiance afterward to drink cocktails with international bike enthusiasts. Seriously question what is wrong with the world that more men don’t wear this much spandex.
27) Go to Sunny’s when Smokey Hormel is playing and slow dance with your baby to country lullabies in the back room. Pretend not to be starstruck when Norah Jones and Jeff Tweedy show up; don’t pretend you’re not crying when you think of Sunny Balzano and all that he brought and meant to this corner of Brooklyn. Weep away.
28) For once in your goddamned life, do what you’re supposed to and go watch the sunset from Sunset Park. It’s spectacular.
29) For the millionth time in your goddamned life, do what you’re not supposed to and sneak contraband alcohol into the Prospect Park bandshell during the free concert series and get hammered for free while watching free music. Delight in all the free things Brooklyn has on offer.
30) Get sunburnt on the beach at Coney Island while eating two or three Nathan’s hot dogs on your towel, which you plopped right next to that fake metal palm tree whose mist falls on your hot, hot skin, whereupon it evaporates immediately. Stare out at the Atlantic Ocean and think about how big it is and how you should have gotten fries to go with your hot dogs. Nathan’s makes the best fries.
31) Go on a springtime date in the Botanic Garden and kiss in under the cherry blossoms. Then do it again in a secluded grove of flowers. And again while looking at the massive school of gloriously colored koi in the Japanese gardens. And once more in the Shakespeare garden because what is it for if not that?
32) Throw wish pennies into the Gowanus Canal and convince yourself that you can see them fizzle and dissolve upon contact. Hope and pray that one won’t land in the blowhole of a very lost dolphin or whale. RIP Sludgie.
33) Spend a day doing all the ~Brooklyn~ things that you never thought you’d do: Go to the Brooklyn Flea and buy some meaningless, handmade art to hang up in your tiny, cluttered apartment. Eat a donut with bacon on it, or something equally decadent and trend-based. Stand on a long line to do it. Realize that, once in a while, these things aren’t that bad.
34) Spend some time doing a ~non-Brooklyn~ thing that you’d never thought you’d do: Go to Downtown Brooklyn’s Rocco’s Tacos and sit at the bar during happy hour with a good fro-worker (that’s friend + co-worker, naturally) and gorge yourselves on jalapaño rellenos, guacamole, deviled eggs (yes, really!), tacos, and margaritas while watching basketball and talking to no one except each other. Then maybe walk across the Brooklyn Bridge? Nah, just kidding. Go home. Enjoy your food baby and watch some crappy TV.
35) Walk into Turkey’s Nest while already wasted, walk out with some to-go margaritas and wander down to the Williamsburg pier to make out, smoke pot, and generally be your best teenage (read: actual) self.
36) Become friends with the weeknight bartender at Montero’s. It’s a good thing to be a regular at a bar, and there are few spots as perfect for that as Montero’s.
37) Get blocked on Twitter by Ed Champion. Understand this means you’ve made it in the Brooklyn lit-scene and can now pack up and go.
38) Duet on “Suzanne” with Joe Crow Ryan on the southbound Metropolitan G platform after the bars close. (“Train… solo!”)
39) Buy—and drink—a squeeze bottle of the mystery drink sold by the “Liquor stores are now closed!” guy flogging a Hefty bag full of contraband on the late-night A train
40) Buy property (lol).
41) Fist Gavin McInnes.
Collages by Sarah Lutkenhaus