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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
People enjoy the Wild River ride at Luna Park in Coney Island.
People enjoy the Wild River ride at Luna Park in Coney Island. (Lauren Crothers/FTWP)
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Brooklyn

People enjoy the Wild River ride at Luna Park in Coney Island.
People enjoy the Wild River ride at Luna Park in Coney Island. (Lauren Crothers/FTWP)
  • By Alexander-Julian Gibbson
  • Photos by Lauren Crothers
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For a long part of its history, Brooklyn was known as just a teeming residential stop on the way into the glamorous chaos that is Manhattan. But over the decades, the culturally and creatively diverse New York City borough has finally been given its flowers, so much so that in the past several years Manhattanites have been moving here in droves. Brooklyn’s charm is captivating and undeniable — it has the livelihood of the city, with the personality of a town.

You see, the beauty of Brooklyn is characterized by its people. It’s been built on the various cultures that New York invites. Many of the immigrants who came to America through New York found their home in the city’s most populated borough. Long-standing minority and immigrant cultures, coupled with the influx of independent-minded New Yorkers with an artistic streak, all make up the complicated mix that gives Brooklyn its flavor.

The creative energy and the cultural diversity have made way for a spirited food scene, a buzzy nightlife and a semi-good basketball team, turning a county with an industrial agenda into an area large and active enough to rival some of America’s greatest cities, all on its own.

Meet Alexander-Julian Gibbson

Alexander-Julian is a Nigerian-born, Houston-raised, Brooklyn-based writer who specializes in travel, style and culture. He’s spent the past four years living in Bedford-Stuyvesant after graduating from Howard University. He loves exploring the culture and people of the borough and avoids “the city” (Manhattan) at all costs.

Want to get in touch?

Email bytheway@washpost.com
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IN THE ACTION
Williamsburg
Speaking of industrial parks, Williamsburg was the epicenter of industry in Brooklyn. Up until the late ʼ70s, the majority of Williamsburg comprised factories, a large parking lot and a Peter Luger steakhouse (that’s still there). Now Williamsburg is a bustling cosmopolitan neighborhood filled with trendy restaurants, vintage shops and chic hotels — with much of its industrial flair still intact, but for aesthetics rather than function. The waterfront neighborhood sits at the edge of Brooklyn, facing the East River, and is relatively small compared with other BK neighborhoods, so many of the things you’ll be interested in doing will be within walking distance from where you’re staying. Spend your days people-watching, thrift shopping and sipping craft beers in McCarren or Domino park, or just lounge at the Williamsburg Hotel’s rooftop pool. Billyburg is your oyster. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Crown Heights
Crown Heights sits smack-dab in the middle of Brooklyn, sharing borders with Prospect Heights, Flatbush and Bed-Stuy. With Brooklyn’s transit system not originally being made for inter-borough travel, Crown Heights’s super central location makes maneuvering Brooklyn slightly less painful. Since it borders Prospect Heights, you have easy access to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but you’re also close to Crown Heights history like Weeksville Heritage Center and Gloria’s Caribbean Cuisine. Your best bet is to find an Airbnb so you can experience the beauty of a Crown Heights rowhouse for yourself. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Sweet Chick
Sweet Chick is the mecca of chicken and waffles in Brooklyn and a beloved brunch spot here. The Southern brunch staples, like shrimp and grits and mac and cheese, are made with Brooklyn love, and the brunch-only biscuits and gravy are so good you’ll want to slap your mama, or some other cliche physical expression of flavor-motivated joy. Less carnivorous brunch companions have been known to rave about the vegetarian chicken and waffle dish.
BTW: The franchise is co-owned by American rapper, songwriter and entrepreneur Nas, so have your Shazam app on standby — you’ll hear one of the best dining playlists in the city.
164 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
BREAKFAST
Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe
With its perfectly toasted “soft on the inside, crisp on the outside” bagels and old New York decor, this nine-year-old shop wins the hearts of true Brooklyn bagel-eaters. Franky Assad, the born-and-raised Brooklynite who owns the shop, has packed out his menu with sandwiches named after his favorite neighborhoods in the borough, from Red Hook to Sunset Park.
BTW: Brooklyn is big, and Assad is ambitious, so there are over 35 bagel sandwiches on the menu. Save yourself the stress of making a decision and try out the Park Slope, Flatbush or Brooklyn Heights sandwiches — three tried-and-true crowd favorites.
645 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238
LUNCH
The Bedford
At the corner of Bedford and North 11th, facing off the neighborhood’s beloved McCarren Park, the Bedford is a quintessentially Williamsburg dining experience. Appropriately described as offering “upscale pub cuisine,” the restaurant has an eclectic lunch menu with a comprehensive wine list for the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” crowd. The gastropub dishes out a crispy pickleback chicken sandwich and a very Instagram-worthy “mac n cheese burger.”
BTW: If for some reason you can’t get into the Bedford for lunch, the Roebling Sporting Club is a bar just 10 minutes away that’s owned by the same management. It has a similar menu, so you can still get the upscale pub cuisine sans the upscale pub.
110 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11249
LUNCH
Black Nile
Black Nile, a restaurant self-described as “a river that feeds the soul,” is the home of flavor-packed, itis-inducing soul food cooked by Brooklyn native Fanerra Dupree and her husband, Hasson. You’ll be served perfectly seasoned seafood with Southern comfort recipes like hot-honey catfish, seafood cornbread and Cajun pasta. If seafood isn’t your thing, thankfully pretty much everything on the menu is phenomenal.
BTW: You’ll have serious regrets if you leave without buying a bottle of hot honey sauce on your way out.
592 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11216
DINNER
Fancy Nancy
Fancy Nancy is, by all means, a true neighborhood joint. Right on the corner of Bedford and Lafayette avenues, in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the restaurant has been serving the block only since 2015 but has become the go-to spot for locals thanks to its refreshing take on classics. In the spirit of the diversity that characterizes Brooklyn, the restaurant offers American dishes with hints of foreign flair. Dishes like homemade potato chips with a Middle Eastern labneh dipping sauce and roasted chicken with kale fried rice and ginger-scallion dim sum dressing carry the spirit of the neighborhood.
BTW: The Calabrian Cowboy is the drink to get. That is all.
1038 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11205
DINNER
Win Son
Win Son looks like your average neighborhood Chinese restaurant, but it takes its “not necessarily fusion” Taiwanese-American fare seriously. The menu is an inventive spin on genuine Taiwanese classics that will tempt you to order everything. Trigg Brown and Josh Ku, the duo who opened the restaurant in 2016, put together a menu meant to pack a punch, and a bit of spice, in every bite.
BTW: Brown, Ku and their new pastry chef, Danielle Spencer, brought their same inventive twists to pastries, coffee and grab-and-go breakfast foods with their new bakery right across the street. Stop by for a mochi doughnut, milk-bun sandwich or soy milk hot soup at Win Son Bakery.
159 Graham Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11206
LATE-NIGHT
Emmy Squared
Emmy Squared may not be the pizza Brooklyn is known for, but this Detroit-style spot in Williamsburg is still beloved. They serve traditional thick, red pies like the Classic or the Roni Supreme, creative whites like the Broccoli Bob with broccoli, bacon and cheddar, and even a Nashville Hot Chicken pizza. You’ll also find fancier-than-a-pizza-place cocktails like frozen palomas.
BTW: If you aren’t in the mood for pizza, try the burger: Le Bi Matt, a double patty on a pretzel bun.
364 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
LATE-NIGHT
Pies-n-Thighs
The best response to your post-dinner sweet tooth is a late-night pie from Williamsburg’s Pies-n-Thighs. The little restaurant situated under the Williamsburg Bridge is a Brooklyn staple that serves up sweets including cookies, donuts, pies and honey butter biscuits. It’s best known, however, for its banana cream pie.
BTW: If your sweet tooth turns savory, this spot is also known for its fried chicken, so grab a thigh with your pie.
166 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(Sindy Ethel for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Almost everything you could ever need is within a 15-minute walk in your neighborhood. Check out and support the local stores — no need for a Walmart.
  2. Try with all your might to schedule your trip between June and August to experience the full magic of the city.
  3. Always check the schedules of any restaurant, park or attraction you’re interested in. Cool events pop up all the time, so if your timing is right, you can pull off a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
(Sindy Ethel for The Washington Post)

Do

Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is the nexus of art and culture in the borough. Home to exhibits highlighting modern American, African and European art, the Beaux-Arts-style museum opened in 1897 champions the people who influence us today. The museum is New York’s third-largest museum and holds a collection with well over 1.2 million works. Its commitment to diversity is evident throughout the curated works. One favorite includes an entire wing devoted to feminist art, such as Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” a huge permanent installation that pays tribute to famous female trailblazers.
BTW: Every first Saturday of the month the museum hosts a house party from 5 to 10 p.m. You’ll find live music, performances, drinks and free entry to check out the exhibits.
200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238
Prospect Park
Prospect Park, home to a wildlife center, horseback riding trails, baseball fields, tennis courts, ice skating rinks and more, is the epicenter of Brooklyn living. Best of all, the Prospect Park programming committee is undefeated in hosting free and low-cost events ⁠ — such as yoga in the park or performances at the Bandshell ⁠ — that manage to bring together the borough and capture the livelihood of Brooklyn.
BTW: Make sure to always check the Prospect Park “events” page on their official website during the dates you’re in town. You may end up at a free concert, movie screening or food festival on any given day.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225
Coney Island
“Coney Island has something for everyone.” It’s a line in the Coney Island tourism guide, but it’s true. From roller coasters and restaurants to an aquarium and boardwalk, the list of attractions and activities are endless. Luna Park, the amusement park, sits right at the center, and it’s the perfect place to bring your kids or just release your inner one.
BTW: During the summer, Coney Island puts on an impressive fireworks show every Friday at 9:30 p.m.
1000 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 112244
Smorgasburg
Sure, Smorgasburg is a foodie Instagram playground, but it also boasts genuinely incredible dining. Normally, the giant weekly outdoor food market attracts 20,000 to 30,000 people to Brooklyn each weekend to eat from 100 local vendors. Among the 100 food vendors, you can find something for those with even the most eclectic tastes or diets — whether they’re vegan, keto, kosher or gluten-free.
BTW: Although the website claims that all vendors accept credit cards, do yourself a favor and bring cash. It will save you time and withdrawal fees.
90 Kent Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pier 1)
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a lush waterfront park made up of six piers. If it’s views you’re in search of, Pier 1 is the place to be. The first pier in the park has the most panoramic view of Manhattan you’ll find anywhere in BK. Pier 1 also has a playground and a ferry to the city.
BTW: Each pier is worth a visit for their own unique attractions. Pier 6 has five different playgrounds and a dog park, in case you need to let your dog, or precious offspring, off the leash.
2 Furman St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201
Rooftop Films
Many would say you didn’t do Brooklyn right if you weren’t on somebody’s roof at some point. With that sentiment in mind, check out Rooftop Films. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit group hosts free and low-cost rooftop and outdoor film screenings around the borough and provides a platform to amazing independent films. Check their site for a full list of events.
BTW: During the summer, Rooftop Films operates as a film festival sponsored by the SundanceTV, the network operated by AMC.
232 Third St. Suite E-106, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215
Alexander-Julian Gibbson
Alexander-Julian is a Nigerian-born, Houston-raised, Brooklyn-based writer who specializes in travel, style and culture. He’s spent the past four years living in Bedford-Stuyvesant after graduating from Howard University. He loves exploring the culture and people of the borough and avoids “the city” (Manhattan) at all costs.
Lauren Crothers
Lauren is a contributing photographer for The Washington Post born and raised in Hong Kong, now settled in Brooklyn after a long stint in Cambodia. She’s a year-round biker and loves doing loops in the quiet of Prospect Park, particularly in the autumn.
laurencro

CITY GUIDES