New York City, the magnificent mega metropolis that represents the American Dream like no other place. A city, whose sky rocking limits, electric energy & abundant possibilities will never fit into any pocket of this world! I want to start this series of NYC guides in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where vibrant streets & colorful artistry have ascended to New York`s hippest neighborhood. – A mecca for young people & creatives that will feed your bohemian spirit!
Williamsburg these days has become a synonymous for hipster culture and the very idea of urban revitalization, like the Statute of Liberty epitomizes the spirit of New York. It is easy to forget just how a few years ago it was a very different neighborhood: An area meant to be a spread of factories, mean streets struck by crime & gloomy apartments that the rest of New York City feared and everyone but artists with nowhere else to go left alone, as Robert Anasi recalls in his book “The Last Bohemia”. It was a new wave of immigrants, young artists & bohemians that colored the dim streets of Williamsburg with off-mainstream culture. To escape the high rents and commercialism of Manhattan, artists found cheap space in old industrial buildings and former factories in Williamsburg, which were turned into art studios & galleries. Soon dusty bodegas, restaurants & shops followed and a creative enclave was born, whose free spirited lifestyle has spilled waves!
Today, Williamsburg is more than a hipster cliché. Often named “The new SoHo”, the Brooklyn neighborhood has become an influential hub for fashion, music, art and culture! Locals proudly say that you can find anything here from excellent restaurants to cool vintage boutiques, from funky underground bars to posh rooftops with scenic views.
The Brooklyn neighborhood is an
influential hub for FASHION, Music, ART
hen I took the train to Williamsburg for the first time, rain was pouring like it was the end of the world. Large murals on former factories glimpsed through the raindrops clinging to the train windows. As the train spit me out shortly after crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, it felt like the no man`s land that early Williamsburg is described as. Industrial buildings and wire fences clenched in the rain, like the water I could squeeze out of my Nike sneakers.
As I finally arrived at Bedford Avenue, the sun came out and the streets were bustling with LIFE. Young people with individual styles were on the go between graffiti and a colorful array of shops & eateries! Behind a brown brick stone wall, the rays of the sun broke through clouds, highlighting the letters of a large mural: “LOVE NEVER GIVES UP”. My heart started to beat faster and I knew this was the start of my story…
The Coffee Heavens of Williamsburg
Devoción Café with locations in Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Bogota Colombia. Photo Credit: nycxclothes (Instagram) and Devocion (Instagram)
Coffee has been fueling the hustle & restlessness of New York City ever since! It was New York`s finest harbor in North America and natural primacy in shipping that allowed the dark caffeine from overseas to flow through the streets of Manhattan and fuel the city that never sleeps with energy. Even though the coffee beans might have travelled from far away, the sugar & coffee were roasted and refined along the shores of the East River (see Domino Park below).
In addition to facilitating circumstances, coffee culture is hip and Williamsburg is hipster country. You can naturally assume that the Brooklyn neighborhood is a destination for quality coffee (and roasters) in a borough full of coffee lovers. DEVOCIÓN is one of Williamsburgs hip coffee houses, where the passion for fresh coffee is made a matter of devoción (devotion). In the airy garage-style space with brick walls & green plants, Colombian coffee culture is brought to NYC – the Williamsburg way! Founded by Steven Sutton, a native of Medellín, the coffee beans are sourced directly from small farms in Colombia, fully living up to the credo of farm fresh coffee.
Tobys Estate is one of Williamsburgs many coffees that roast their own coffee beans.
If you searching for a good breakfast or lunch spot, I recommend you to check out Gotan. I love their cauliflower sandwich and hummus salad. Soups, salads & bowls are coming in generous portions, all made from healthy ingredients. Another El Dorado for coffee lovers is Toby`s Estate. The Australian café is a lively hub, where you might run into famous personalities like Justin Bieber. The coffee passion at the small batch roaster is infectious! Taste different flavors of coffee, watch live roasting or take it to the next level and get professional training by baristas at a brew school!
Brooklyn Streets – The Real Fashion Runway
Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is dotted with small retro shops like Awoke Vintage and LOVE ONLY. (Photo Credit: Awoke Vintage Instagram & hiinhn)
The best fashion runway is not found at New York fashion week, but in the streets of Brooklyn! Some New Yorkers argue that the L Train to Williamsburg is the most interesting train to take. In fact, the vintage-inspired, bohemian style that prevails in the hip community distances itself from any kind of mainstream. While Manhattan is walking in posh stilettos, Williamsburg proudly wears casual coolness. “People from Williamsburg spend as much money as possible to look as disheveled as possible, and pretend to be poor!”, is a popular joke about Williamsburg`s fashion sense – and there might be a spark of truth in it.
While Manhattan is walking in posh stilettos, Williamsburg proudly wears casual coolness.
Bedford Avenue marks the longest street of Brooklyn, stretching 132 blocks (10 miles) through diverse neighborhoods. In the lively center of Williamsburg, around North 5th street and North 10th street, you can find plenty of shops, coffees, small eateries and funky street dealers. At small vintage boutiques like LOVE ONLY or Awoke Vintage, you can indulge in individual treasures & second hand pieces that make Williamsburg`s hipster style.
The Fight for (Street) Art
The opening of a 51,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market at Bedford Avenue, was a welcoming convenience for residents, but also an unmistakable sign of Williamsburg’s commercialization. Many long-term residents are criticizing the “Gut Renovation” that has been taking place in North Williamsburg. Old industrial buildings & artists lofts were crushed down for glitzy high-end apartments and moneyed sleekness, creating a yawning divide between North and South.
“The South of Williamsburg has a feeling of New York in the 80s with fire hydrants open, kids playing in the street and graffiti-covered warehouses.”
Street Art by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra at the corner of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The South of Williamsburg still has a feeling of New York in the 80s with fire hydrants open, kids playing in the street and graffiti-covered warehouses. Authentic Williamsburg with indie character and bohemian D.I.Y. roots has survived here, just like the multiethnic, gritty neighborhood it used to be. At the corner of Bedford Ave. and N. 9th, a colorful mural of Basquiat and Andy Warhol by Eduardo Kobra reminds of an exciting time in NYC, when underground culture was on the rise. Amid the controversy over endangered creative space and the imminent gentrification of the neighborhood, the slogan “Fight for street art” gets a bigger meaning that reaches beyond the borders of Williamsburg.
Domino Park – Honoring the Industrial History of Williamsburg
Green Domino Park at the site of the once largest sugar refinery in the world. (Photo Credit: Daniel Levine Photography)
It has been the getaway from the hustle, yet closeness to Manhattan that has drawn newcomers to Williamsburg. The silhouette of the skyscrapers of Lower East Manhattan can be seen from a distance at the green grounds of Domino Park. At the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery, the New York-based landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, which also worked on the High Line, created a waterfront park, honoring the remains of Brooklyn’s rapidly disappearing industrial past. The 5-acre public park along the East River encompasses volleyball fields, a sunbathing spot, taco stand and a colorful industrial-style playground, reconnecting locals to the waterfront and the history of the once largest sugar refinery in the world.
It has been the getaway from the hustle, yet closeness to Manhattan that has drawn newcomers to Williamsburg.
Photo Credit: Daniel Levine Photography
Photo Credit: Eldar Street Photography
Where to Dine?
Photo Credit: The Four Horsemen (Instagram)
1) Llama Inn
Located at one of Williamsburg’s less picturesque intersections, below the dark rumble of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, you can discover a culinary destination & urban hacienda at Llama Inn. The NY Times described the hotspot “Williamsburg way to Peru”. The flavorful kitchen is diving into the complex cuisine of Peru beyond ceviche, with its very own twist and turn. Colorful lampions & green plants bring bohemian coziness to the modern restaurant. Make sure reservation on weekends, the restaurant is packed!!
2) Have & Meyer
I fell in love with this neat Italian restaurant, whose beautiful ambiance I could gush all day about. Have & Meyer is a cozy little eatery with DELICIOUS Italian food, I`m still dreaming of their pasta! Candles light up the cozy spot, where you might have to move together a bit closer, which might not always be a bad thing – My personal tip for a beautiful dinner date!!
3) The Four Horsemen
The restaurant & wine bar The Four Horsemen was recommended to me by a local. Great food, good wine & music are poured until late at night! If you want to rejoice in a wine list hugely impressive from different countries, including natural orange wines – This loveable neighborhood spot is the place to go!
4) Fette Sau
This garage-style eatery is a haven for meat lovers. When I heard the German name of the popular barbecue spot “Fette Sau” (meaning “fat pig”) for the first time, I smiled. My traditional home country represented in hippest Williamsburg way! Smoked ribs, pulled pork and sausages, served with craft beer by the gallon & plenty of coolness. If you have a boyfriend, I recommend you to take him to this meat heaven!
High-Rise Nightlife vs. Underground Culture
In the past, New Yorkers would leave to Manhattan for it`s splendid bars. Nowadays the excellent nightlife of Williamsburg is a destination, even for young people from Manhattan. The surge of Williamsburg to a desirable address & trend spot is nowhere more apparent than at the gorgeous rooftop bars of The William Vale or the Wythe Hotel, whose surreal panoramas of the Manhattan skyline are standing for the new glittery world entering Williamsburg! The underground feel of the hipster colony, however, is not lost. Locals love the grungy vibes of Union Pool; the funky bar with open-air backyard and Taco Truck is a worthy secret tip!
Scenic rooftop bars like The William Vale draw a new young crowd to Williamsburg.
Williamsburg has become a signifier for sociocultural trends far grander than itself! The swift transformation from grey factories & no mans land to colorful artists’ district and now a trending high-rise colony, is the story of many neighborhoods of today. Therefore, the fight for street art is also a fight for a way of life, it`s a fight for a bohemian world, a fight for creativity and freedom, resisting the sleekness of conventionalism. There is a place in Brooklyn called Williamsburg, it has been a stronghold for off stream culture, artistry & individuality – and I hope it is going to stay that way!
THINGS TO DO
1) Watch a Movie at NITEHAWK CINEMA
Old-time movie theaters are becoming a rarity. This Brooklyn institution allows you to enjoy art house movies & indie films along with great food & cocktails! There is no reserved seating at this cozy dine-in theater, I advise to show up early.
2) Enjoy the flavors of craft beers at BROOKLYN BREWERY
Some of the earliest residents of Williamsburg were immigrants from Germany, Belgium, Ireland and other brew-centric countries! Experience the history of Brooklyn`s beer brewing tradition in a sociable way with beer samplings or free tours.
3) Eat at NYC`s giant food market at SMORGASBURG
Make sure you don`t miss “The Woodstock of Eating”, as The New York Times dubbed Smorgasburg. The largest weekly open-air food market in America is attracting 20000-30000 people to the East River State Park in Brooklyn each weekend!
4) Bowl & Listen to Live Bands at BROOKLYN BOWL
Dance to live music or bowl some balls? At this cool venue you can do both with bands of different music genres rocking the stage every week.
Awoke Vintage 132 N 5th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Brooklyn Brewery 79 N 11th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
Brooklyn Bowl 61 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
Devoción Cafe 69 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
Domino Park 300 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
“Fette Sau” 354 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Gotan Coffee 258 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
Have & Meyer 103 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Llama Inn 50 Withers St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
LOVE ONLY 122 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA (and 434 E 9th St, New York, NY 10009, USA)
NITEHAWK CINEMA 36 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
SMORGASBURG 90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
The Wythe Hotel 80 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
The William Vale 111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
The Four Horsemen 295 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Toby`s Estate Brooklyn 125 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA
Union Pool 484 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA