Shopping and Sightseeing in Brooklyn

In the second part of her blog from New York’s hippest ’hood, former Londoner Heather Hodson cherrypicks shopping and sightseeing in her adopted hometown

The creative industries may have been priced out of Manhattan in recent years; but Chelsea’s loss has been Brooklyn’s gain, as struggling artists and the galleries that support them head to Williamsburg. Today, there is no greater concentration of galleries, curators, dealers, art organizations and publications promoting emerging artists anywhere in America. The most important art galleries are in Williamsburg, Dumbo (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Greenpoint and Bushwick. What I really love is the Dumbo First Thursday Gallery Walk, an evening of art each month that will take you to art talks, performances and galleries open late into the night in this cool, cobble-stoned neighbourhood under the Manhattan Bridge.

The Brooklyn Museum, another amazing local resource, houses, amongst other things, art and objects from ancient Egypt, the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the 19th century decorative tradition. My favourite gallery, however, is the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which contains Judy Chicago’s famous The Dinner Party. Be sure to stop off at Saul, the iconic namesake restaurant of chef Saul Bolton which recently relocated from Cobble Hill to a gleaming new space in the museum.

Brooklyn has the most iconic views of Manhattan and you cannot visit without taking a walk along the Brooklyn Promenade. Enter at the river end of Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights and head north towards Dumbo. If you go carefully you will see a brass rubbing set into the stone slabs showing the view when New York was settled by the Dutch, and 200 years later when the Twin Towers still stood. The path takes you by the North Heights, a beautiful historic district dotted by Greek Revival clapboard houses and the former residences of artists and writers including Truman Capote and Thomas Wolfe.

I always take friends visiting to Plymouth Church in the North Heights. Its first pastor was the Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, who with the support of his sister Harriet launched one of the greatest ministries in 19th century America, placing Plymouth Church at the heart of the Underground Railroad. Contact the church to make an appointment to tour.

After all that improving culture, you might want to take in a little retail therapy. I love the Brooklyn Flea, a weekend event conjured up by Jonathan Butler, the man behind Brownstoner (Brooklyn’s most influential blog). Hunters of vintage fashion and antique furniture (including mid-century modern finds), one-off pieces by local artisans, records, bicycles, clocks and jewellery will be in heaven. Until the end of March the Flea can be found indoors with its sibling, the food market Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg.

Also in Williamsburg is the just opened Rough Trade, the legendary London-based label-associated record store and now New York’s largest record emporium. An audacious move in this era, but if it can survive anywhere it’s in Brooklyn. There is also a coffee shop and performance space.

For a mix of Brooklyn-grown designers and avant-garde names the best boutique is Bird, which has three locations (220 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, 316 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and 203 Grand Street in Williamsburg). Here, you can find the perfect little black jacket and the jewellery to go with it.

After all that you’ll need a sit down and a drink. Try the rooftop bar at the Wythe Hotel, launched by Andrew Taylor, the man behind Roman’sDiner, and Marlow & Sons and the grocery store Marlow & Daughters, which sells – how very folkloric – ‘house-churned butter’. The hotel is in a gutted 1901 redbrick factory on the Williamsburg waterfront. Wood recycled from the original structure makes the beds and ceilings of its 72 rooms. Its restaurant, Reynard’s, with fresh produce from upstate farmers, is also well worth a visit.

Photo by Vito Palmisano/Getty Images 

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