Having been to New York a couple of times before and based myself in Manhattan, I decided this time around to stay in Brooklyn. I was looking forward to not having an agenda or a list of attractions to visit. I just wanted to hang out and soak up the city without the need to run around looking at things. I was, for a short period of time, to become a New Yorker.
Brooklyn is on an island and you can see it from the island that is Manhattan. Once the poorer sister, Brooklyn has now come into its own. I was told that ‘Manhattan is so over” and Brooklyn is the place to be. I’m not sure that statement is entirely true, Manhattan is Manhattan. It’s iconic, it’s energetic, it’s frantic and there is no other place like it in the world. Cross the Hudson River and you arrive in historical Brooklyn. With its back story of Irish and Italian immigration, it has a totally different atmosphere from Manhattan. Nowhere near as frenetic or busy, wide leafy green avenues and streets lined with designer boutiques, coffee shops, cafes and restaurants. The once rundown brownstones have been renovated and are now desirable des res’ for the families, hipsters, and stalwart residents of a bygone era.
DOES THE MOB STILL EXIST?
I was staying in Carroll Gardens, a delightful suburb of Brooklyn, with a shady past, it was once a stronghold for The Mob. There are signs that indicate a strong Italian influence, prominent shrines to the Virgin Mary in many of the front gardens and numerous delis and garages named Vinnie’s or Frankie’s. I was fascinated by the accent, and one day I found myself following a man talking on his mobile, he wasn’t happy and was desperate for his “Ma’ to put “Ant-tOe-knee” on the line. The poor kid was getting the blame for something. Sadly I never got to find out what Ant-tOe-Knee had done, but I said a prayer for him just in case.
Apparently The Mob doesn’t exist anymore, but when I repeatedly bought the most unctuous Mozzarella from “Toe-knee” who made it three times a day in his deli – unsurprisingly called “Tony’s Deli” – and I observed his other customers, I got the impression that perhaps The Mob hadn’t completely disappeared from the city and that maybe a few members of the Genovese or Gambino family were still knocking about.
BROOKLYN: GETTING AROUND
I walked most of the time, the grid system is easy to get to grips with and tourist maps are widely available. There is always something new to see and walking was the best way, for me, to take it all in.
I had a moment of madness and hired a Citibike, it was terrifying. I’m a confident cyclist at home, but deciding to cycle in New York was just stupid. There are no roundabouts, the avenues and streets are one-way and the cars are BIG. The NYPD didn’t take kindly to me cycling on the pavement, but this was, at times, necessary in order to save my own life. Rent a bike at your own peril, I’m just saying.
The subway is hot, busy and full of crazy people, I tried to avoid it as much as possible. There are signs up saying you are not allowed to put your make up on whilst riding the subway. You can carry a gun, be a danger to society and a total and utter nuisance but you can’t put your lipstick on. Sort it out.
The one time I used Uber, I was picked up in a Limo – what are the chances of that? – with a wonderful Peruvian driver. He had never heard of Paddington Bear but he did pass on his recipe for a perfect Pisco Sour. It was a very memorable cab ride.
BROOKLYN: FAVOURITE SPOTS
The Brooklyn waterfront with its awesome views of Manhattan was once a busy working dock. It’s now too shallow for the visiting containers and has been turned into a well used and well-respected community space. Water parks, restaurants, public BBQ’s, hockey pitches, basketball courts and gyms line this pedestrianised area from Red Hook to DUMBO and beyond.
They love a locational acronym in New York, and DUMBO stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Underpass. Once a disused area and out of bounds to anyone who valued their safety, it is now the buzzing ‘MetroTech,’ full of bright young things coding, drinking coffee and sinking craft beers. I loved the cobbled streets and the big waterside warehouses, which have become coffee shops, workshops and digital hubs. Standing on the cobbles in Dumbo you can’t help but look up in awe at the giant Manhattan bridge that looms overhead *bridge geek alert*.
Vinegar Hill leads straight on from Dumbo. It was where the Irish settled in the 1800’s. I didn’t know this when I first wandered through the romantic cobbled streets, but there was something about Vinegar Hill that drew me back for a second visit and that must have been the Irish in me. It was a place where I just sat and pondered. An oasis of peace and quiet and a strange feeling of being at home.
I went to Williamsburg on a Monday, specifically to follow up a couple of restaurant recommendations and coffee roasters. The two eateries I wanted to visit, Martha’s and Rider, were both shut – bad planning on my behalf – but Blue Bottle Coffee didn’t disappoint. That said, I wasn’t impressed with Williamsburg. It was dirty and scruffy and a bit too cool for school. However, the view of the Manhattan skyline from the Ides rooftop bar at the Wythe hotel was well worth the trip.
Walking across Brooklyn Bridge was on my bucket list – tick. It is a phenomenal structure and a thing of beauty – not something I thought I would ever say about a bridge. The day I walked across, was a beautiful clear day and the unadulterated view across to Manhattan was breathtaking. Empire State building to one side, Statue of Liberty on the other, Financial District straight ahead. It’s busy, you need to take a deep breath and ignore the other pedestrians – mainly tourists – elbowing you out the way, or the frustration of having your journey thwarted every few minutes by a selfie stick and its owner. Find a gap, put your camera down and just take in the view.
Surprisingly, Americans, on a whole drink really weak coffee. Last time I visited New York, I wasn’t a coffee drinker, and I certainly hadn’t turned into the coffee snob I am now. I like one, strong, coffee a day and it’s such a disappointment if doesn’t hit the spot. To save you the pain of a disappointing coffee, here are my recommendations:-
Seeds of Love Coffee (SOL) – one shop, one man and his very expensive coffee machine. The best!
Blue Bottle Coffee – They take coffee really seriously. A roasters in Williamsburg and a few shops dotted over Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Café Regular – a little bit of Paris. Great coffee, really friendly staff and warm cinnamon buns. C’est tres bon.
Blue Stone Lane – Australians were responsible for the coffee revolution in the UK, so generally, they can be relied on to make a good, strong coffee. Blue Stone Lane is Australian owned and not only do they do a great coffee, they also do a great brunch. You’ll find them in DUMBO and in Manhattan.
The following coffee shops didn’t, in my opinion, do great coffee, but if you’re not as fussy about your coffee as I am, they are all great places to sit and people watch:-
Smith Canteen – terrible coffee, BUT delicious quinoa breakfast bowls and really buttery croissants with really buttery scrambled eggs.
Henry’s Local – gorgeous little place, but you’ll need 3 shots if you want your coffee to hit the spot.
Brooklyn Roasting Company – Uber cool hangout in DUMBO, a roasters and cafe in a big old warehouse, great music, great salads, and lots of beards.
BROOKLYN: FOOD & DRINK
New Yorkers, in general, don’t cook. I was staying in a fabulous house, with a wonderful Whole Foods around the corner, so I thought one night I would cook rather than eat out. Just as well I checked the cupboards before I went shopping, there was nothing to cook with, or in, or on. The food scene is impressive and it would appear to me that the American’s work to eat, they easily spend $30 plus, each a day on eating, which makes for a huge variety of food on offer, and some wonderful eating.
Happy Hour in Brooklyn is usually beer or wine and a plate of oysters. The Kittery was located at the end of our street, and $10 got you a large glass of very dry, drinkable Rosé and six oysters. It was a no-brainer.
There is nothing to make you feel more like a local than perching on a bar stool at the open window of a Pizzeria, ordering fresh pizza by the slice and drinking cold beer. It’s hard to get it wrong and ‘joints’ like this are all over the place.
Juliana’s is an institution. Massive pizzas under Brooklyn Bridge.
Wilma Jean for when a dirty dinner is required. Delicious buttermilk fried chicken and potato salad. I was too busy licking my fingers to take a picture.
Alma is an understated Mexican restaurant, the kind of place you would walk past, but don’t. It has an amazing roof terrace and spectacular views across to Manhattan. Perfect spot for watching the sunset, accompanied by a cucumber margarita and a plate of fish tacos.
MilkMade ice cream – One girl and her ice-cream machine. I tried a Cobble Hill made with peach and cinnamon, a great combo.
Van Leewen – where the cool people eat ice-cream. I can highly recommend their vegan, salted caramel.
I have never seen Thai Ice-cream rolls in Thailand, but they are a work of art and being brought to Brooklyn by Blossom Ice Cream. The ice-cream mixture is poured onto a freezing plate and manipulated as if making a crepe, the end result, wafer thin ice cream rolled up and put in a cup. UTTERLY delicious. If you can’t quite picture it, watch the video of how they do it here.
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain – a traditional seltzer bar that will bring out the kid in you. I wanted to try everything, but I restrained myself and just ordered a creamy and nostalgic root beer float.
Brooklyn Social – has a dark and fascinating history. Originally an Italian men’s’ club, for members only – what was I saying about the Mob? – it now welcomes non-members, and women – welcome to 2016.
Smorgasburg the street food market to beat all street food markets. Saturdays in Williamsburg and Sundays in Prospect Park. Innovative and exciting food from all over the world, the highlight for me was pulled and bbq Jack Fruit an exciting discovery from pop-up vegan restaurant Chickpea and Olive. Braised jackfruit is made into a patty and bbq to give you a burger with the texture of pork, it was delicious and so exciting to eat something totally new. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan but I do love plant-based food and in NY they are doing amazing things with vegetables, it’s really inspiring.
I feel I should also mention some of the great food that I tried over in Manhattan,
Sweet Green – delicious fast food. Big bowls of salads, grains and proteins mixed up with amazing dressings. Who would have thought of putting watermelon and coriander together and through a juicer? It so works.
By Chole – pure vegan, but a bit too much ‘fake meat’ for my liking.
The Butchers Daughter – vegan food and amazing juices.
Black Seed Bagels – hand rolled and cooked on a wood fire, yes they are as delicious as they sound. I had a #8 Lox (smoked salmon) dill cream cheese, radish and sprouts. I’ve tried to re-create at home, but to no avail, their bagels and radish’s are something else.
Egg Shop, does what it says on the tin, sadly we couldn’t get a seat.
Balthazar – a French bakery that makes very fattening, but very delicious, doughnuts.
I wanted to keep up my regular yoga practice whilst I was away, and I had heard great things about the standard of yoga in NY and I wasn’t disappointed. I was lucky enough to have two established and respected yoga schools on my doorstep, Preema Yoga and Brooklyn Yoga Project.
I practised classes at both studios, all were Vinyasa Flow based and set to music, I loved them all. I’d like to thank Bobbie Marchand, Miles Borrero, Ossi Raveh and Jessica Weiss for their inspiring classes, hands-on adjustments and words of wisdom.
Looking back on this trip, the one thing that really stood out for me, was the friendliness of the people in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. I met only one really grumpy person and he was working in a booth on the subway. Given his dark, airless environment and diversity of customers, I could forgive him his bad temper. New Yorkers are keen to speak to visitors, and on many an occasion I got asked about Brexit and told about their concerns for the upcoming Presidential elections. Shop assistants, baristas, men in suits, all forthcoming and friendly and when someone says ‘have a nice day,” I think they really mean it.
If you’d like to see more of my photos, head over to my Instagram page @jofuller_life