When the sun drops behind Brooklyn`s East River waterfront, leaving her footprints in the cotton pink skyline of Manhattan, you can feel the surreal magnificence of the “Big City of Dreams” contriving its inherent “the sky is the limit” attitude. Young artists spilled Manhattans kinetic energy over the East River, evolving a Mecca of creativity, where diversity & culture thrive ceaselessly. The startling diversity of Brooklyn might never fit into the pocket of one travel story, but if this article can “spread love” for one of my favourite places in the world, that`s all I have been striving for, “because its the Brooklyn way!”.
In the past decades, the fairly easy commute over the East River has made Brooklyn a destination for young professionals, artists and families finding affordable & livable neighbourhoods across the crowded concrete jungle and howling street canyons of Manhattan. Connected through arteries like the Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and the East River Ferry, New York City`s most populous borough has been fueled by the pounding heartbeat of the “Big City of Dreams”.
Early on, the character of Brooklyn has been defined by the shores of the East River providing space for harbours and an economic powerhouse to thrive, which have shaped Brooklyn`s face with the features of industrial history to this day. In the 21st century, however, areas like Williamsburg, DUMBO or Greenpoint have witnessed a rebirth into vibrant sanctuaries of creativity, where art & culture flow like the ceaseless stream of the East River. If you are talking to young people working in bars or walk past shop windows advertising “Marais Home”, an invisible link to the universal chain of the world hippest neighbourhoods can be felt. And yet, Brooklyn inhibits its very own universe, whose orbit is braced by vast cultural diversity and eclectic neighbourhoods is unparalleled in the world. New York`s most dynamic borough is stirring waves like the ships gliding out into the vast bight of the Atlantic Ocean.
Brooklyn`s Rediscovery of its Waterfront
In the summertime, life bursts at Domino Park in Williamsburg. At the site of the former Domino sugar refinery, loungers are facing the shores of the East River and the twinkling skyline of Manhattan. Kids are playing at water features, cheers are coming from volleyball fields, picnics are enjoyed on green areas and entangled lovebirds watch the sun drop behind New Yorks silhouette like an illuminating fireball. On days like this, it is hardly to imagine that the recreational haven for Brooklynites once used to be the largest and most productive sugar refinery in the world, where 4 million pounds of sugar were daily refined!
The old Domino Sugar Refinery was of incredible significance for the growth and development of Williamsburg and the entire Brooklyn waterfront as a global economic powerhouse.
The impressive ruins of the old Domino Sugar Refinery are a silent reminder of glorious industrial days when up to 98% of the sugar consumed in the United States were produced at this site. As the spirit of Manhattan is epitomised by the heart of its skyscrapers, Brooklyn`s character has been inseparably linked to the history of its industrial waterfront: Well into the 20th century Brooklyn embodied an economic powerhouse and shipping hub that provided thousands of jobs in factories, port facilities and warehouses, stretching for miles along the shore of the East River from South Brooklyn to Greenpoint and Newtown Creek bordering Queens in the North!
Once the largest sugar refinery in the world!
Back in the 90s, in the wake of a staggering industrial decline, the shores of Brooklyn were a forgotten land, which was almost impossible to access. Homeless, daredevils and hopeless romantics were the only ones to trudge with enough boldness through wholes in fences, debris of stocked mechanical crocodiles and knee-deep sewers, traversing the hazardous way to gain access to the priceless view of Manhattans skyline, Robert Anasi recalls in his book “The Last Bohemia-Secenes from Williamsburg”. Luckily, New York has rediscovered the treasure of its water front and the times when Brooklyn`s waterfront was a toxic wasteland are lodging in far distance.
A recreational haven for Brooklynites
Today, colourful large-scale artifacts are creating the nexus between past working waterfront and vivid future. The innovative recreational area around Domino Park is not to think away in the quality of life of Williamsburg, like the views of Manhattan`s skyline luring from the calming shores of Brooklyn. Locals embrace the exuberant life at neon coloured Tacocina taco stand with Mexican inspired snacks & cocktails or enjoy the thriving community on Sunday Suppers with local organic vegetables at North Brooklyn Farms. According to the change of seasons, regular events for yoga, salsa and creative workshops are enlivening Brooklyn`s waterfront with leisure. When the briskness of free time echoes late into night at Domino Park, everything “Manhattanites” adorn themselves is within reach for your fingertips and yet the noise and overwhelming hustle of the concrete jungle is lingering across the East River in liberating distance.
“Luckily, New York has rediscovered the treasure of its water front.”
A mural at Domino Park honouring Luis Garden Acosta, the founder of El Puente and advocate of the disadvantaged embodied the fighting spirit of the Hispanic community in North Brooklyn.
DUMBO: Before Instagram Fame & Startup Vibes
Unremitting waves of tourists are spilling over from Manhattan across the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge. Their destination is DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) to chase the perfect poster shot with the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge. In retro perspective, the name DUMBO chosen to make the area sound unattractive for investors and developers leaves an aftertaste of irony: Where the Manhattan Bridge appears awestruck in the canyon of Washington Street, Instagrammers are relentlessly shooting, filming and trying to keep balance on the old cobblestones. The arches of the Manhattan Bridge sometimes must hang down facing the tiring repetitiveness of photocopies.
The arches of the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge sometimes must hang down facing the tiring repetitiveness of photocopies.
DUMBO has evolved from a gritty neighbourhood to one of America`s most Instagrammed and photographed places, like the pictured famous canyon of Washington Street.
Back in the 70s and 80s artists and young people ignited a gritty romanticism down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass (DUMBO), where factory buildings with large windows and the noise of rattling trains were swapped against the low cost of living. An industrial, maybe forgotten, yet a magical place, where priceless views of the flickering Brooklyn Bridge illuminating the Manhattan skyline at night made up for empty pockets. Nowadays, DUMBO has become a synonymous for many places around the world, whose magical aura has evaporated just like the dust of old factories that have been refurbished into trendy lofts. DUMBO`s artistic aura only to be retrieved in black & white nostalgia fulfils the prophesy of the German philosopher & culture critic Walter Benjamin,who claimed that modern times will reap any artwork of its unique aura if endlessly reproduced.
Nevertheless, DUMBO has become far more than a sightseeing destination. The gravitation of investors superseding artists and their free-spirited lifestyle has created a lean hot spot for tech companies where the median home value is $1,579,100. Guests at 1 Hotel affording the luxury of the lush boutique Hotel hardly would have agreed to linger in the same area at a time when cab drivers wanted to get out of the area as quickly as possible and had to get paid to wait in the streets with the engine of the car running. As time is moving forward, a different era has commenced down under the Manhattan Bridge that has brushed away any last traces of grittiness. The newly, fresh breeze of innovation and optimistic startup vibes fuelled the growth of a significant corporate hub, where companies like Etsy, West Elm and We Work have established their headquarters.
A Colorful Melting Pot of Cultures & Continents
Many tourists visiting Brooklyn from Europe and the U.S. are enthused by the vibrant streets of North Williamsburg, DUMBO and parts of Greenpoint, where gentrification has transformed entire neighborhoods and Brooklyn`s authentic vibe sometimes can slip through a sleek shop window of big brands, which have been gravitating towards the borough. What the camera lens of visitors, focusing on the perfect shot, frequently misses out is the sheer extent and unparalleled diversity of Brooklyn.
“The camera lens of many visitors focusing on the perfect shot misses out the unparalleled diversity of Brooklyn.”
Home to 2.6 Million people, Brooklyn embraces a cultural melting pot, where 136 languages are spoken and over 36 % of residents are foreign born. With a population larger than the French capital Paris (2,14 Million), Brooklyn itself could be an independent city as it has previously been until 1898, and would rank the 4th biggest city in the U.S. As Brooklyn developed, its neighborhoods became distinct enclaves for ethnic groups and businesses. Different continents, countries and cultures are living block to block: Pointedly, if you walk out the front door you might find yourself in Poland, if you walk out the back door you find yourself in the Dominican Republic.
“If Brooklyn was a city, it would be the 4th largest city in the U.S.”
In Bushwick, one of New Yorks biggest Latino communities enlivens the streets with exuberant dance & rhythm. At Dyker Heights, known for the spectacular Christmas decoration of homes, many Italian Americans reside, Bedford-Stuyvesant is home to one of the most well-known African-American communities in the city, Flatbush has been a hub for Caribbean people, food & culture for years, officially dubbed the “Little Caribbean” of New York City and south Williamsburg is home to many Hasidic Jews wearing traditional garbs with their own businesses & schools. Even though since 1990 Brooklyn`s crime rate decreased by 82 %, parallel universes persist. From exclusive Soho House members’ club DUMBO House and lavish new penthouses along the East River to the striking contrast of eastern areas like Brownsville ruled by the highest poverty level and crime rate in New York City, where many low income earners struggling with the hardships of every day life.
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop in Greenpoint. The Polish bakery is known for its delicious bagels, donuts and pastries (illustration by David.regone)
“In Greenpoint, the little sister of Williamsburg, the larger wave of gentrification has not yet arrived.”
New York`s dynamic neighbourhoods have become a metaphor for the city`s continuous transformation. In Greenpoint, the little sister of Williamsburg, only foothills of hipster land have spread. The larger wave of gentrification has not yet arrived in “Little Poland”, where Polish immigrants plaited their heritage into Brooklyn`s motley streets. Polish restaurants, markets and bakeries like “Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop” enrich the working class neighbourhood with deliciousness. At lunch time, you can find contraction workers, policemen and regulars line up for bagels and glazed pastries gleaming in the display cases of the bakery with 50s flair.
Greenpoint might for most parts be lingering in a preliminary stage of gentrification, but as time is running faster here than anywhere else in the world, bets are running for the potential of Greenpoint to become Brooklyn`s next cool neighbourhood! “Brother Vellies” showroom by Aurora James representing the thriving community of Brooklyn-based artists or places like the vibrant waterfront community The Brooklyn Barge are heralding an approaching transformation. Where once cargo was shuttled from the East River to warehouses, this popular restaurant & bar floating on a barge is bustling on beautiful days. The cool hangout spot is revealing the perfect view of the Manhattan skyline. Expect the horizon to start faltering from good drinks or passing ships, whose waves swing the ground under your feet.
“Bets are running, it could become Brooklyn`s next cool neighbourhood!”
More than a cool hangout spot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn Barge is providing space for environmental studies like the Billion Oyster Project, aimed at restoring one billion live oysters to New York Harbor. (Images The Brooklyn Barge)
At “Brother Vellies” shop, founder Aurora James created an artistic space for retail at Franklin street in Greenpoint, whose stylish shoes & accessories crafted by artisans in South Africa and Kenya include famous fans like Solange Knowles and Meghan Markle.
Bedford-Stuyvesant: The Home of Hip Hop Culture
Bedford-Stuyvesant is another low key neighbourhood in Brooklyn, whose streets known for beautiful, historic “brownstones”, referring to the “brown-reddish” sandstone coloured townhouses, have witnessed the beginnings of gentrification. What distinguishes Bed-Stuy from other neighbourhoods of Brooklyn is Hip Hop culture: The legacy of “Biggie” and “Jay Z” are well alive in the buoyant residential area, which raised both iconic rappers and is home for many young Afroamericans today. “The Notorious B.IG.” grew up on a block of Bed-Stuy, that today is honouring his birth name “Christopher Wallace Way”. How important “Biggie” really was for Brooklyn, becomes graspable when standing in front of the larger than human mural of the king of Hip Hop on the intersection of Bedford and Quincy Street.
From “Playground Coffee Shop” you have the best views of the impressive artwork, while sipping on a cup of coffee to chilled Hip Hop beats. Even though many young people are working on laptops, the coffee shop founded by a young exuberant woman named “Zenat”, feels like a place where community and culture can gather beyond a cup of freshly brewed coffee. “Chilo`s” is another popular local meet up for Tacos and drinks! The funky coloured bar serving imported beers and Margarita varieties leads to an all-year open backyard with Taco stand, where you can enjoy authentic Mexican street food for a decent price, a rarity on the East Coast.
“Pilar” Cuban Eatery and Bakery is serving Miami vibes in Bedford-Stuyvesant with empanadas, croquettes and fruit shakes.
The Black Fuel of Creativity
Due to its huge capacity for storage and processing, Brooklyn’s vast waterfront piers became the landing place for the coffees of the world. It is hard to imagine that our coffee drinking habits today can partly be attributed to two brothers that moved to Brooklyn in 1881 to create the most popular and innovative coffee brand “Arbuckle Coffee” of their time! Prior to Starbucks and third wave coffee roasters, when coffee was sold green and had to be roasted at home, brothers John and Charles Arbuckle initiated a new concept in the 19th century to sell roasted coffee in one pound packages, which revolutionised the coffee industry and shaped our coffee culture to this day!
“Prior to Starbucks and third wave coffee roasters, brothers John and Charles Arbuckle initiated a new concept which revolutionised the coffee industry!”
In the wake of Brooklyn`s transformation from an industrial waterfront to a cultural epicenter, coffee has evolved into the black fuel that keeps creativity awake! In 2009 Brooklyn Roasting Company opened its doors on 25 Jay Street, a former warehouse and freight station of Arbuckle Coffee reviving the spirits of the fathers of our coffee culture!
More vibrant coffee shops have sprouted in the rustic walls of former brick stone factories and garages like buzzing Partner`s Coffee, where the air is filled with the smell of fresh coffee and creative meetings are held with laptops and sketches of ideas. Only a stones throw away from the shores of the East River, Devoción Coffee on Grand Street in Williamsburg celebrates Colombian coffee spirit in a light flooded space, whose rustic brown sofas and massive wall of tropical plants are filling up the bountiful brick stone walls with South American vibes. In Greenpoint, Sweet Leaf Coffee Roasters feels like a cozy living room with vintage flair, where you want to linger forever as the ceiling ventilator is spinning laid-back vibes. On beautiful days, the garage door is opened to the front street and the soothing breeze is gently cooling the heat from coffee beans swirling in the drum roaster in the back of the coffee shop.
Vibrant Weekends in Williamsburg
The bustling outdoor food heaven taking place every Saturday at “Smorgasburg” on East River State Park until October.
Colourful unique handmade jewelry from local artisans at BROOKLYN FLEA, the vintage & antique market to shop for unique pieces.
eekends in Brooklyn offer an elixir of fun with hip eateries, vibrant open air markets & eclectic nightlife to explore. If there existed a birthplace of the term “Food Porn”, you can find it every Saturday at “Smorgasburg”. New York`s giant food market has established the largest weekly open-air food market in America, attracting 20,000-30,000 people to Brooklyn each weekend to eat from 100 local vendors. In the summer time, Smorgasburg is hosting a colourful food show against the backdrop of the beautiful shores of East River State Park filling the air with the deliciousness of every thinkable cuisine, which is moving indoors to 25 Kent during winter season (beginning end of October). When all food cravings are served, take a stroll over the BROOKLYN FLEA, Saturdays in Williamsburg and Sundays in DUMBO, Brooklyn. At the lively market, vintage lovers can find treasures, unique antiques & vintage pieces while supporting local artisans and small business.
At 12 Chairs Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, you might be trying to stop taking food pictures, but the delicious Israeli delights & homemade hummus won`t let you.
New Yorkers love to kick off their weekend with a good brunch and it is hard not to participate in the social buzz! Cool spots like 12 Chairs Cafe are bustling with crowds of young people on Saturday & Sunday. The Israeli restaurant is celebrated for its delicious cuisine with fresh pita bread, hummus, falafel and many more Israeli delights. If you haven’t caught the whirl of infectious weekend vibes, don`t worry, the waiters which are always in good spirits, might ring in the weekend with you and your friends, cheering with a shot to the goodness of life no matter what time of the day. Brooklyn`s dazzling restaurant scene basks in culinary abundance reflecting its cultural diversity: From delicious Italian food & cozy wine bar ambiance at Have & Meyer to the complex flavours of Peruvian cuisine at NY Times selected Top New Restaurant Llama Inn to rustic Texas BBQ inspired “Fette Sau” honouring the German heritage of meat love, eateries are catering to every food craving.
“Come through & chill in a hidden backyard or party all night, it`s a FREEHOLD to celebrate good times!”
In the past years, even proud Manhattanites have been lured by Brooklyn`s eclectic nightlife, which blossomed into a cultural magnet reversing the stream of people once heading to Manhattans glamourous bars & clubs into the opposite direction of the “more down to earth” and maybe cooler side of the East River. Freehold, a coffee shop by day and club by night is hosting live events in Music, Fashion, Art & Comedy for which lines are queuing already by midday, when nightlife in Brooklyn unofficially starts! Come through & chill in the hidden backyard or party all night – it`s a Freehold to celebrate good times at this popular Brooklyn venue!
(Images Freehold and Kristofer Sims)
Feeling more like a fun night of bowling? Let the bowling balls roll while enjoying live performances at Brooklyn Bowl. Afterwards you can cheer to your strikes at Brooklyn Brewery next door and discover the history of Brooklyn’s brewing tradition attributed to some of its earliest immigrants from Germany, Belgium & Ireland. And if all of this isn’t enough, dive deeper into the nightlife at the funky bar and open-air backyard of Union Pool, presumably Brooklyn’s perfect dive bar to find a hookup.
“Living it up” at Brooklyn`s Best Rooftops
The view of Manhattans magnificent skyline is one of the best parts about Brooklyn. Understandably, Brooklyn`s rooftops are the jewels in the crown and ultimate place to be in the summertime! The Williamsburg Hotel rooftop is one gem far above the howling noise of NYC streets. Unwind your mind at a pool floating towards the instagrammable horizon of Manhattans skyscrapers, when the sun is glistening the skyline with its golden light, you can let sink in the surreal scenery and this moment of “living it up” with a drink at the bar! Until midday you can embrace the spectacular pool even if you are not a guest, otherwise expect a minimum coverage of 100 $ (depending on the week day).
(Images The Williamsburg Hotel and Lauren Scala)
In DUMBO, at the exclusive Soho House members’ club DUMBO House, another next level sun deck is waiting for you with epic views of the Brooklyn bridge close enough to touch, even for celebrities a summer hotspot! Only 5 minutes away, the futuristic pool of luxury boutique 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge reveals the icing on the cake of Brooklyn`s rooftops: At the pool edge seemingly floating into the East River and Manhattan skyline, you can ultimately become one with New York`s iconic waterfront.
The scenic rooftop pool of DUMBO House in Brooklyn (Image by Nico Schinco)
The Colourful Street Art Game
Artists and creative young people were the first ones to spread the initial dash of colour that transformed Brooklyn into one of New York`s most buoyant boroughs. The creative spirit of Brooklyn is still thriving on every street corner: Former inconspicuous factories & warehouses, where once machines rattled and screwdrivers squealed, are serving as blank pages for artists and their brush strokes illuminating the borough with an infinite stream of creativity.
Every day, you can watch artists on lifting platforms turning brick stones into large scale street art with inspiring messages. Creative ads of big brands are catering to hip, young pedestrians walking on sidewalks past innovative pop-up shops and daily rays of inspiration to “Protect yo Heart”. Eccentric murals are carrying their wisdom high into the sky reminding not just Millennials to “Make your legacy golden” and finally “Make the decision to be happy”.
“Every day, you can watch artists on lifting platforms turning brick stones with brush strokes into large scale murals.”
Brooklyn`s colourful walls have become a synonym for the ascending power of street art, which is gaining democratic momentum as a stomping ground for creative shoots, films & interviews of somebodies, nobodies and wannabes. A literal a playground of street art can be found at Rodney Park North in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Dee Rosse and Evan Rossell painted a large scale Space Jam 2 artwork on the grounds of the basketball court that can be seen from far up in the air! Players can ball and score in the spirits of Tune Squad: Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety and Taz are bringing the fun vibes of the iconic comic to the basketball game!
(Images Dee Rosse Instagram)
“New York will never adjust to your convenience. You have to let the city chew you up and spit you out a whole new person. I would not be everything I am today, if this city had not kicked me in the ribs many times.”
(Images Overthrow Instagram)
New York Spirit: Overthrow Your Limits
“New York will never adjust to your convenience. You have to let the city chew you up and spit you out a whole new person. I would not be everything I am today, if this city had not kicked me in the ribs many times.” I read this quote in a coffee shop in Brooklyn that perfectly pins down the undefeated spirit of New York City. If you are searching for the true underground spirit of Brooklyn to get back up on your feet after literally taking a hit, you are going to find it at “Overthrow Boxing”. Neon banners, graffiti and Hip Hop music herald the vibes of an underground boxing club! The “warm up” might already knock you out, but without airs and graces, bloody beginners receive the same warm welcome as professional pros. Faster than you can see, your hands will be tied up in boxing gloves and under the cheers of the group you will “overthrow” your limits in the ring. You will leave this place with sore muscles, carrying an attitude to crush every goal in your life!
“SPREAD LOVE, it`s the BROOKLYN WAY!”
Brooklyn is more than a borough of New York City, Brooklyn is a vibe. It is the unaltered rawness & realness infused by cultural diversity that creates the unparalleled dynamic of the borough! In one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time, Notorious B.I.G. rapped Brooklyn on the map of the world with one sentence: “Spread love, it`s the Brooklyn way.” A vibe that wreaths all of Brooklyn`s ambiguities into the gems of a crown, whose sparkle shines far beyond the City of Light!