Brooklyn: The World Just Over The Bridge
You probably think this article is BUSINESS WEEK's idea of a joke. How little you know--Brooklyn really is a great getaway. New York's largest borough offers scads of culture, entertainment, historic sights, shopping, and architectural treasures, and it's much less crowded and costly than Manhattan.
In fact, Brooklyn was once a city in its own right--the nation's third-largest until Albany lawmakers voted in 1898 to incorporate it into Greater New York. Brooklyn is still larger and more cosmopolitan than most U.S. cities. With 2.5 million residents and 93 ethnic groups, it boasts neighborhoods that are almost exclusively Chinese, Russian, West Indian, Arabic, Polish, Latino, Hasidic, or Italian.
The newest immigrants, though, are ex-Manhattanites lured by the (slightly) lower real estate prices and easy commutes. The borough has enjoyed a renaissance in the past few years as everyone from wealthy Wall Streeters to struggling artists has moved across the river. In their wake have come dozens of top-notch restaurants, music clubs, trendy bars, art galleries, and stylish boutiques. Ralph Kramden would barely know the place.
It's easy to get around. While driving can be more confusing than in Manhattan, parking is a lot easier. Cabs are plentiful in most of the areas tourists would visit, as are car services. Or make like the natives and take the subway--you can get from tony Brooklyn Heights to honky-tonk Coney Island for only $1.50. For useful visitors' information, contact the Brooklyn Tourism Council at 718 855-7662 or www.brooklynx.org.
Recognizing that Brooklyn is worth more than a day trip, Marriott in 1998 opened the borough's first new hotel in 60 years. The 374-room New York Marriott-Brooklyn is conveniently located in downtown Brooklyn. If you'd rather avoid a big hotel, bed-and-breakfasts are scattered throughout Brooklyn's 15 official historic neighborhoods. One of the more elegant is the Akwaaba Mansion (718 455-5958) in Stuyvesant Heights, a neighborhood of lovingly restored brownstones. This 1860 Italianate mansion features a wraparound sun porch, gardens, and a 40-foot-long ballroom. Its four guest rooms with private baths mix Victoriana with African artifacts, and the price includes a hearty Southern breakfast.
Have a cocktail on the patio of the River Cafe and view Brooklyn's most famous icon: The stunning Brooklyn Bridge soars overhead, and you understand why so many poets and painters have immortalized it. If you're feeling flush, stay and dine--the top-rated River Cafe has a $90-per-person prix fixe menu. Or try Peter Luger Steak House, which has been serving some of the city's best beef since 1887, and Gage & Tollner's, still illuminating diners with the gas lanterns that were in place when it opened in 1879.
If you're looking for the new Brooklyn, stroll down Smith Street, sometimes called Restaurant Row. In the past two years, a dozen or so trendy restaurants and bars have opened, interspersed with smart boutiques. Among the choices: Restaurant Saul, opened by a former chef of Manhattan's renowned Le Bernadin; Grocery, which serves seasonal American cuisine; and Banania, for French food with a twist. After dinner, you can drop by some of the happening bars on the street, such as Halcyon, where DJs spin acid-house dance sounds. (You can buy the music from the record shop in the back.)
Or travel to Williamsburg, a.k.a. the new SoHo. Artists and musicians started flocking to this down-at-the-heels neighborhood a few years ago for its low rents and close proximity to Manhattan, and the cognoscenti soon followed. Now, art galleries, performance spaces, and some of the city's most cutting-edge shops abound. Check out Teddy's restaurant, a neighborhood favorite that offers live music. Williamsburg's new hip cachet is an interesting contrast to its traditional Hasidic community, whose 30,000 residents converse in Yiddish and dress much as their ancestors did in Eastern Europe centuries ago.
If culture's your thing, there are classical concerts at BargeMusic, a floating concert hall moored near the Brooklyn Bridge, and avant-garde art, dance, music, theater, and film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the oldest U.S. performing-arts institute. The Brooklyn Museum, with one of the nation's largest art collections, is well-known for its Egyptian artifacts--and its edgy special exhibits. This fall, there's one called "Hip-Hop Nation." Next to the museum is the lovely Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
For historic Brooklyn, there are many tours. Norman Oder of New York Like A Native (718 393-7537) leads a four-hour walking tour from Park Slope to Brooklyn Heights that includes a stop at the New York Transit Museum and Junior's, purveyor of what many believe is the world's best cheesecake. "The brownstone neighborhoods offer a fascinating mix of architecture, history, and public spaces," says Oder. Then head over to Atlantic Avenue for some serious shopping. The three blocks between Smith and Nevins are lined on both sides with antiques stores.
Don't forget the ethnic neighborhoods. Sunday morning is a good time to try one of the huge dim sum restaurants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn's bustling Chinatown. Then stroll down the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, where Russian is spoken almost exclusively. Check out one of the many boisterous restaurants there, and you'll see why the area is called Little Odessa. Sample pastries and salami in Carroll Gardens, a charming brownstone neighborhood that is the heart of Brooklyn's Italian community. Who needs Manhattan? With Brooklyn, you have the whole world.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for gorgeous views. The pedestrian walkway has plaques explaining the span's dramatic history.
Visit Greenwood Cemetery in Sunset Park. The 478-acre Victorian cemetery contains the graves of Mae West and other notables.