Williamsburg is a neighborhood with multiple personalities. This warehouse-filled, once industrial area now has a thriving arts and music scene, stellar restaurants, cutting-edge entertainment, and some of the city’s most interesting shopping destination. I mentioned this neighborhood briefly in my article “6 “Hidden” Gems in New York”, but this time I want to take you across the Williamsburg Bridge, and show you why a visit to this neighborhood is an absolute must.
The first artists moved to Williamsburg in the 1970s, drawn by the low rents, large spaces available and convenient transportation, with only one subway stop from Manhattan. This continued through the 1980’s and increased significantly in the 90’s as earlier destinations such as SoHo and the East Village became gentrified. The community was small at first, but by 1996 Williamsburg had accumulated an artist population of about 3,000. Today that number is much larger, and still growing. However, Williamsburg is not only the home of hipsters and artists, it is inhabited by tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews of various sects, a community that has one of the highest birthrates in the country, with an average of eight children per family.
To get to Williamsburg by public transportation you can take the L, G, J, M, and Z subway lines from Manhattan, and its a short ride away. So what to do once you have arrived on the other side of the Hudson? Let me break it down for you:
1. Shop for vintage
Williamsburg is a vintage shopping mecca, and has countless vintage and antique stores with different price ranges.
Beacon’s Closet on North 11th street is the mother of all thrift shops, but due to its large size you will have to pace yourself – and enter with the mindset of a treasure hunter. They also buy used clothing, if you are looking to get rid of some old rags and exchange it for store credit or cash!
Street Vendors on Bedford Avenue
Artists and Fleas
Spoonbill and Sugartown
2. See a show
Williamsburg is full of creative people that work full or part time as musicians or performers, writers or artists. For poetry readings check out Pete’s Candy Store, formerly an actual candy store and today serving “ear-candy” and local brews, with live music performances every night. Unforgettable music performances are to be found at the Music Hall of Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bowl. For a cutting-edge theatrical experience go to Brick Theater, a not-for-profit theater company dedicated to nurturing the work of emerging artists at its performance space. The Brick presents world premieres, monthly performance series, and seasonal festivals. Then you have the Music Hall of Williamsburg, with great concerts by world famous bands and singers as well as emerging artists.
3. Go bowling
You might not be excited by the idea of bowling, but WB doesn’t do things by the book. Add gourmet food and indie band concerts into the mix, and you have yourself a party!
Brooklyn Bowl is an unusual venue: half bowling alley, half concert venue. You can come with kids, out-of-town guests, a date or friends, it’s a good time for everyone. Concerts are sometimes sold out, so don’t forget to buy tickets in advance. Bowling alleys aren’t generally known for their food, but most don’t have award-winning chefs cooking for them either. The people behind Blue Ribbon Seafood have taken a stab at American comfort food and are largely successful. The most popular menu items are wings, fried chicken, oyster po’ boy and the catfish sandwich, all washed down with a local brew of course.
If you can do without the live music, check out The Gutter (200 N 14th St), a gorgeous vintage bowling alley, dismantled in Minnesota, trekked cost country, and reassembled on a cool warehouse row in the heart of Williamsburg. It’s a classic hangout with a great beer selection of mostly local microbrews, retro but hip décor, and reasonable prices on pitchers and pints. Large cafeteria-sized tables and a friendly atmosphere make it easy to meet new friends as well as chill with your old ones.
Williamsburg restaurants are among the best in New York.
My favorite café sits right on the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg and serves eclectic food at all hours of the day. Fresh flowers are everywhere you look, and the décor is nautically themed. Though seasonal entrees are sublime don’t miss the burger and truffle fries! They also have amazing pancakes on the weekend brunch menu.
Peter Luger Steakhouse and Diner
The Roebling Tea Room
Marlow & Sons
Nights and Weekends
The drinks are great, and the fried plantains are to die for!
More gimmicky treats from the owners of the Crocodile Lounge and Alligator Lounge, inside an airplane-hangar-size cavern.
Spotted Pig veteran and culinary magician Nate Smith strikes again, and this time across the Hudson just off the main Bedford drag. And it’s darn good. The Allswell menu varies from night to night, so be sure to check their website. Brunch is especially good and nowhere near as crowded as many other Williamsburg favorites. Considering the fact that you have to wait hours to be seated at the Spotted Pig brunch, this is an awesome alternative.
As far as nightlife goes, Williamsburg has countless bar options, rooftop lounges and live music venues.
Barcade’s main attractions happen to be thirty vintage video games, including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Asteroids, Punch Out!, Gauntlet, DigDug, and many others. Now add 25 tap beers featuring a strong local presence and super chill bartenders to that geeky awesomeness and you have a recipe for an epic night.
This spot is unquestionably the best place to drink a beer in a styrofoam cup on the entire planet. It serves as a time machine to the golden age of blue collar Brooklyn, and is a dive in the best sense of the word. Friendly bartenders, cheap prices, a defiantly unhip juke box, + a unique crowd makes this a delightful neighborhood bar that has refused to surrender to the hipsters and the too cool crowd.
Bembe lies on a sketchy block underneath the Williamsburg bridge and from the outside it looks like an abandoned warehouse. Inside however, you will an impressive menu of fruity island cocktails, varied live music occurring nightly, low attitude vibe. Bembe is the dance club for people who hate dance clubs.
Although only open for Friday happy hour and Saturday afternoons, this is still a prime location for unpretentious socializing and people watching with 300 of your best buds. Walk in and buy some tokens, redeem them for fresh malty goodness and sit at any of dozens of long wooden tables.
Ale enthusiasts from all over the city make pilgrimages to this Belgian themed beauty. With dozens of obscure and fanciful bottle selections and decadent appetizers to go with them, this upscale tavern (named for a loogie-slinging Lucifer) takes the genre to new heights.
The bartenders are knowledgeable and usually very good, although some regulars grumble that they aren’t quite as attentive as they once were. Regardless, there is nothing else quite like it any closer than Brussels, and that’s a good thing.
With a modern Iberian themed menu and an impressive selection of specialty cocktails like the Tequila Mockingbird and the Barton Pear, Nita Nita adds a touch of sophistication to a bar scene that could use it. The outside patio and cozy atmosphere make this an awesome first stop of the night or date destination.
This cheerful nook is frequented by many of the artists and writers that live in the vicinity. With wood everywhere and a relaxed atmosphere, this is the place for those long, pointlessly meaningful conversations with your best friends. Harefield also provides a multitude of beer choices (26 selections on tap), as well as plenty of wine by the glass and a wide range of single malts.
RADEGAST HALL AND BEER GARDEN
In case you hadn’t noticed, WB is all about the beer… This authentic Czech beer hall is ten blocks south of The Gutter but four thousand miles away in spirit. Radegast revels in the glory of lager and ale, not to mention bratwurst, kielbasa, and schnitzel. It’s the minor details that really make this joint, from the homemade sauerkraut to the waitresses wearing straight out of Bavaria dirndls while hoisting steins.
The old world feel is reinforced by the tap selection, which hail almost entirely from central Europe. The whole deal is complemented by a strong bottle list, fine wine, and a full bar. The reasonable prices and smiling staff make this one a winner across the board.
6. Go to the park
McCarren Park is a great spot for a picnic or quick game of kickball or soccer and if you plan ahead you can catch an event throughout the year, including the annual Summer Screen outdoor movie series.
For a complete overview of everything WB has to offer, and to see what’s going on right now – check out this neighborhood blog: http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/. It has a daily calender listing of all events of the day, and it covers everything you need to know to enjoy what WB has to offer. Enjoy!