DUMBO, Near the Brooklyn Bridge — A Tour of Trendy Front Street

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    Defining DUMBO — Betweeen the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge

    ••• View of Brooklyn Bridge from picturesque DUMBO, where photo ops are abundant. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    DUMBO, a tiny but prominent Brooklyn neighborhood on the East River, sits beneath two of Brooklyn's most famous bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. Beyond simply defining the neighborhood's location, these historic bridges define the essence of DUMBO, both past and present.

    Why is DUMBO a "destination?"

    As old time Brooklyn residents will attest, DUMBO wasn't always a destination address. To the contrary. For about a century it one of Brooklyn's many centers of manufacturing.

    Today, along with its waterfront access, it's DUMBO's re-purposed 19th century nitty-gritty charm, or the echo of it, that makes you feel like you've been "somewhere else" after spending even an hour in the area.

    In its 21st reincarnation, the neighborhood is a favorite destination for Brooklyn residents, guests, and tourists. That's thanks to a pleasing, unique mix of attractions:

    • Interesting shopping
    • Fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline and Lady...MORE Liberty
    • A full calendar of special events (many free, such as outdoor summer movies)
    • Cobblestone streets and characterful old buildings worthy of a movie
    • The extraordinary Jane's Carousel
    • New York City's newest big park, Brooklyn Bridge Park

    In addition, there is a nascent high tech industry growing in DUMBO.

    When to Visit DUMBO: Something for Every Season

    DUMBO has its seasons. In high tourist season, and on weekends, you'll find tour buses and lines at the pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and bathrooms. It's a big, airy area, with much larger buildings than human-scaled brownstone neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights nearby. Here are some ideas for what to do, when, though many of the following ideas are year-round:

    • In summer: Enjoy the great events and performances at spectacular Brooklyn Bridge Park, including Syfy outdoor movies, the outdoor locavore snack-fest in the historic Tobacco Warehouse that is known as Smorgasburg on the weekends (through November), swim in the PopUp Pool, hear the Metropolitan Opera, rent a bike and ride around Brooklyn, and enjoy various festivals.
    • In autumn: As tourist crowds thin out, visit DUMBO's galleries, and take in the community events around such calendar dates as the Brooklyn Book Festival in September and Halloween in October. Don't miss the autumn DUMBO Arts Festival. On a nice Sunday go to the DUMBO farmers market. Attend one of the ETSY labs, a mecca for DIYers with a commercial sense.
    • In winter: Do not miss the chance to go to Jacques Torres for a cup of incredible hot chocolate in the cold weather, or an expensive dinner at the cozy River Cafe. See the lighting of the Christmas tree and gigantic menorah under the Archway, and shop at the holiday craft fair. Cozy up for a drink and bluegrass brunch at Superfine. For a sense of quiet, wander DUMBO's streets in the morning or early part of a weekend day. Check out the shows at edgy St. Ann's Warehouse. ​Take a December walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.​
    • In spring: Catch a concert at Brooklyn's floating concert hall, Bargemusic. Watch the wedding limos line up near Fulton Landing and the bridal parties posing for photo shoots. Walk around Brooklyn Bridge Park, take photos of Lady Liberty, walk or bike the Brooklyn Bridge. See what's up at the art galleries and Powerhouse Arena Books. Take the kids to the playground, bring a book and ...relax.
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  • 02 of 12

    The Brooklyn Bridge

    ••• Opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of America's most historically important bridges. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Called the "8th wonder of the world" when it was opened in 1883 as the world's largest suspension bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge has justifiably become one of New York's top destination walks for the forty-million or so tourists who visit the Big Apple every year.

    The Brooklyn Bridge, with its soaring suspension cables and wide, wooden pedestrian walkway, affords spectacular views of New York Harbor and the inimitable Manhattan skyline.

    In DUMBO, one gets an unusual set of views not from, but of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's worth a moment to imagine what it was like to build this immense structure — and how extraordinary it must have been to walk it for the first time.

    Seen close up, from DUMBO, one gets a humbling sense of just how large the Brooklyn Bridge is, and how grand a project it was to build it.

    6 Things to Look For When Viewing the Brooklyn Bridge From DUMBO

    Even those without any appreciation of engineering will be interested to note some of the features of the...MORE Brooklyn Bridge:

    1. The two massive masonry towers, which are so often photographed
    2. The 4 steel suspension cables, each over a foot in diameter
    3. The span of the cables, which is 1, 595 feet
    4. The sheer distance of the Brooklyn Bridge spans, just shy of 6,000 feet
    5. The lack of subways (which do, however, run on the nearby Manhattan Bridge)
    6. The immense anchorage you can see in DUMBO, supporting the Bridge, measuring about 130 feet by 120 feet, and weighs 60,000 tons

    One of America's Most Photographed Bridges

    Great sites have a certain timelessness about them, and this is true of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is surely the most photographed bridge in New York City. It ranks as one of the iconic architectural images of New York City, along with the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. It's safe to say that the Brooklyn Bridge, like the Golden Gate Bridge, is one of the most photographed bridges in America.

    Well Used, Well Worn: The Brooklyn Bridge as Informal Indicator of Brooklyn's Health

    The ever-growing popularity of the Brooklyn Bridge for walkers, bikers, photographers, tourists and daily pedestrian commuters is one indicator of the renaissance of the borough of Brooklyn itself, which began in the 1980s. In the several decades prior, pedestrian traffic was much rarer.

    Due to its centrality, the Brooklyn Bridge is also one of those places that reflect what's going on in Brooklyn. For instance,

    • When social issues are the occasion for protests, it becomes a protest bridge. The bridge has seen gay, feminist, civil rights and animal rights protest walks, Occupy Wall St., union protests, and many others.
    • After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers, when mass transit was shut, tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents streamed back over the Brooklyn Bridge from jobs in Manhattan.
    • It has been identified as one of the places in Brooklyn that could be a terrorist target.
    • Whatever large-scale issue is going on that impacts Brooklyn, it seems that the Brooklyn Bridge somehow reflects that reality.

    The Brooklyn Bridge was rehabilitated in 1994 and is again undergoing repairs through 2014.

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    The Manhattan Bridge

    ••• A tower of the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Like a rich dowager with a surfeit of riches, New York City has far more than its share of marvelous, historic, and beautiful bridges. After all, Manhattan is an island.

    Just blocks away from the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side) sits the younger, less attractive Manhattan Bridge. It gets less than its fair share of acclaim.

    Whereas the Brooklyn Bridge carries only pedestrians and cars, the Manhattan Bridge is a workhorse that carries subway traffic, automobile traffic, and pedestrian and bike traffic from busy Chinatown onto gritty-but-gentrifying Flatbush Avenue.

    One way to get the sense of the difference is to walk the Brooklyn Bridge in one direction and return across the Manhattan Bridge.

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    Deweys Candy Store at 141 Front Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

    ••• A popular stop with kids, Dewey's is an old fashioned candy store — ranked among New York's best. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Gigantic lollipops. Vats of candy. Pretty displays of sweets. Who doesn't love a trip to an old-fashioned candy store, with bins of sweets that remind you of your childhood?

    Plan to spend awhile mulling over your delicious options at tiny Dewey’s Candy shop. NY Magazine gave it a rave review in an article titled Best Sweet Shops a few years back. It's still excellent —and conveniently located to the subway at the "F" train York Street station.

    Their treats may tempt the most disciplined dieter, but the kid-friendly owners have taken some socially-responsible steps (unrelated to calories). For instance, they've contributed some profits to an anti-bullying campaign.

    Tip for indulgent parents: If a promise of a trip to a candy store is what will get your children to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge with you, then this is your made-in-candy-heaven destination bribe.

    A Local, Mom-and-Pop Operation

    Dewey's, in case it sounds familiar, is not to be confused with Dylan's,...MORE a chain which has shops in Miami, East Hampton, Los Angeles and Manhattan. DUMBO's Dewey's candy store was opened in 2010 by a young woman entrepreneur who lived in the neighborhood. "When I found myself unemployed in late 2008, it gave me the opportunity to assess and redefine my next career move. Having spent over 25 years in the fashion industry working for such powerhouses as Donna Karan International and Victoria's Secret," she says, she discovered that the one retail concept that would make people of any age happy was....candy. The store is named after her father, whose babyhood nickname was "Dewey."

    What You Can Do Here: Treat yourself to some candy, then take your bag and stand under the Manhattan Bridge, ride the wonderful Jane's Carousel, or wander in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    • Name: Dewey’s Candy
    • Address: 141 Front Street
    • Phone: (718) 422-1333
    • Official Website: http://deweyscandy.com
    • Other: Opens 11:30 a.m., Sundays at noon
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    Views of Manhattan From DUMBO

    ••• View of the Empire State Building from DUMBO. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    As you walk down Front Street, it's hard to know where to look first, up at the bridges or across the water at Manhattan.

    The Manhattan views are amazing. Close to the East River, and nestled between the enormous supports for the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge, you get the sense of just how close and far Brooklyn and Manhattan are.

    From this perspective, it seems completely conceivable that Brooklyn started as an independent city. At the same time, is also clear how connected these two boroughs of New York are — literally.

    What You Can Do Here: Find a quiet bench. Let your imagination go. Bring a camera. Even for those born and bred in Brooklyn, this is a wonderful place for memorable photos.

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    Nestled Under the Bridge, Human Scale is Dwarfed

    ••• Under the Manhattan Bridge. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Busy New Yorkers don't bother looking up at skyscrapers, and don't take the time to notice how fast other people are walking at rush hour. That's not the case in low-key DUMBO, where it's almost impossible not to look up, and out.

    The combination of these effects:

    • DUMBO's huge man-made structures
    • the dull roar of cars overhead and the periodic rattle of subways humming over the Manhattan Bridges
    • the proximity of the fast-flowing East River and its own rhythm of currents, boats and water traffic
    • and the Manhattan skyline

    ...conspire to make for a rare and enchanting New York moment.

    DUMBO: A Different Scale

    Unlike Manhattan neighborhoods, Brooklyn's DUMBO has a low population density. Except when tour buses bring hordes of tourists, the streets are quiet. DUMBO's old buildings, originally constructed for industrial use in an era when New York was a manufacturing city, are large. The bases of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges are immense.

    The scale of DUMBO is in...MORE complete contrast to other well known Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as nearby Brooklyn Heights, or, a short subway ride away, Park Slope, or Prospect Park South.

    DUMBO: Heightened Experience

    DUMBO seems to have a multiplier effect, in certain ways. When it is cold and windy in Brooklyn, DUMBO, because of its proximity to the water, is particularly so. When a blistering New York summer heat wave sets in, DUMBO's lack of trees (outside Brooklyn Bridge Park) DUMBO can be unforgiving.

    Most of all, the presence of constant movement — on the water, on the two bridges, and nearby, on highways that loop around DUMBO — create an island-like sensation.

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    Superfine Restaurant at 126 Front Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

    ••• Superfine bar and restaurant is a laid-back spot frequented by DUMBO locals and visitors. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Quintessentially DUMBO, Superfine is a favorite of the professionals, artists, rich hipsters and young families who live in this unique Brooklyn neighborhood. You could almost miss it, tucked about as neatly under the Manhattan Bridge as could be. But don't.

    Superfine is a local DUMBO institution. It's a bar, restaurant, music venue, and local hangout. And, it's a DUMBO pioneer. Superfine was one of the earliest hip restaurants in this under-the-bridges neighborhood, back when it was creepily empty at night.

    Inside, the space is intriguing. Superfine represents, and, perhaps helped define, what's now a DUMBO post-industrial aesthetic. Walk in, and you get an eyeful of retro-industrial architectural elements: a ramp walkway more suited to factory shoes than fancy footwear; exposed brick, a floor that is still half-wood half-cement, and exposed ductwork. But in the 19th century you most decidely are not; there's also a pool table and a fun, loud, local bar scene.

    Superfin...MOREe's menu, like its decor, is eclectic and generally gets good reviews (more so than the service). The general gist is the Mediterranean, with lots of fish and fresh vegetables. But more than the food, what makes Superfine a fine destination is the DUMBO vibe.

    What You Can Do Here: Relax, have a meal (sometimes the service is slow), stay late on Saturday, go on Sunday for a funky bluegrass brunch, hang with locals.

    • Name: Superfine
    • Address: 126 Front Street between Jay and Pearl Streets
    • Phone: (718) 243-9005
    • Other: Reservations recommended; closed Mondays
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    NOS Shoe and Clothing Store at 117 Front Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

    ••• NOS, with both men and women's clothing stores, is one of DUMBO's trendy boutiques. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    As hip as the 'hood around it, NOS shoe and clothing boutique — one for ladies and one for gents — sells tasteful contemporary brands for the urban sophisticate.

    Think, curated.

    NOS started as a shoe store, but it's added a layer or two. Literally. They sell anything that can be worn in layers. This includes ladies t-shirts, leather jackets, and raincoats. Brands include fashion forward designers such as Vera Wang, Cynthia Vincent, and ​Cavage. You can also pick up that essential accessory that just makes your outfit pop.

    The NOS for Men is at 165 Front Street.

    Regulars swoon over the sales, which offer as much as 50 percent off.

    What You Can Do Here: Window shop, and pick up some fashionable shoes, boots, and duds for him and her.

    • Name: NOS
    • Address: 117 Front Street
    • Phone: (718)422-0095
    • Official Website: http://nosboutique.com
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    Journey at 72 Front Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

    ••• Unusual, arty stores such as Journey attract shoppers to DUMBO. Photo courtesy of Pam Shelala, Journey

    One of the nice things about DUMBO is discovering the mom-and-pop stores with a back-story, for instance, Journey.

    Owners Pam Shelala and Billy Rohl go on a shopping foray to Rajasthan, India once or twice a year to hunt for vintage furniture. Back in their DUMBO shop, they see cleaned up and reconfigured recycled vintage items as unique pieces that add character to an apartment or home.

    For instance, old teak shutters, carved teak doors, and old metal gratings are transformed into coffee tables, nightstands, and large armoires. Prices range from $150 for a small piece to $2,000 for the largest cabinets.

    One of their best-sellers is characterful but functional trunks. The small trunks start at $275 and the large ones range from $400 and up.

    Another popular item is old metal kitchen cabinets from the 1920s, recycled into nightstands.

    I love a mixture of past and present, it brings a room to life. When people say they like our style, but that it doesn't 'go' with their modern...MORE furniture, I advise them to live with things they love. You don’t want a home to look like like a hotel. It's fun to mix contemporary apartment furniture with, say, an old Indian coffee table.

    - Shelala, a former Soho photographer

    Indeed, you can get both modern and ethnic looks here. Journey also sells mid-century modern sofas and accessories. Works of local artists are hung on the walls.

    It's a true Brooklyn mom-and-pop shop. In business since 1995, Pam's business partner is her husband, a retired NYC firefighter from Engine house 114 in Sunset Park; they were high school friends.

    What You Can Do Here: Shop, get ideas for home decorating, and chat with the friendly store owners.

    • Name: Journey
    • Address: 72 Front Street
    • Phone:(718) 797-9277
    • Official Website: http://www.journeydumbo.com
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    Foragers Market at Corner of Front Street and Adams Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn

    ••• Foragers in DUMBO has a locavore sensibility, and delivers artful presentation of food. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Hungry after a trek over the Brooklyn Bridge? Looking for some items for a picnic in Brooklyn Bridge Park?

    Stop in at this appealing food store with the funny name, Foragers, for a friendly, super healthy eat-in or take-out meal.

    You won't have to forage far for fine food here. For under $10 you can have a chicken salad sandwich with apples, celery, and tarragon mayo, or an all natural roasted turkey breast sandwich stuffed with cheddar and tomatoes. You can also order a fresh juice made of pineapple and ginger, or a healthful combo of carrot, spinach, cucumber, and parsley.

    This handsome store has a friendly staff, an artful and humorous website. Most importantly, they will nourish your body with good food and locally grown produce so you can continue your adventure in Brooklyn's neighborhoods.

    What You Can Do Here: Grab a picnic and go sit in Brooklyn Bridge Park and watch the harbor boats go by.

    • Name: Foragers
    • Address: 56 Adams at the corner of Front Street
    • Phone:(718) 801-8400
    • Offic...MOREial Website: foragersmarket.com
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    La Bagel Delight at 104 Front Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

    ••• La Bagel Delight in DUMBO serves the quintessential Brooklyn bagel. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    Walking Tour of DUMBO'S Front Street: Best Bagels in Brooklyn (Arguably)

    As with pizza, everyone in Brooklyn has their own ideas about who makes the best bagels. But with five stores, a lot of people agree that La Bagel Delight turns out some of the best bagels in the borough. They're fresh, big, and often hot from the oven. Eat 'em plain or get choose from a variety of predictable, but very good, sandwich fillings, from excellent smoked salmon to cooked chicken breasts. And, these Le Bagel Delight guys are true blue Brooklyn.

    Need catering? These folks make heroes big enough for heroes (order in advance).

    What You Can Do Here: There are only two things to do here; eat (or get bagels to take home) and schmooze with the friendly storekeepers.

    Afterward

    Afterward, go to Jane's Carousel or Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    • Name: La Bagel Delight
    • Address: 104 Front Street
    • Phone: (718) 625-2235
    • Official Website: http://www.labageldelight.com
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    For Walkers & Bikers, Special Lanes on Manhattan Bridges to DUMBO

    ••• DUMBO is easily accessible from both the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge pedestrian-and-bike paths. Photo © Ellen Freudenheim

    In order to get to Front Street, you might decide to walk or ride over one of the two bridges that define this waterfront neighborhood.

    Indeed, thousands of Brooklyn residents, New Yorkers from other boroughs, and tourists walk or bike over the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge.

    And what's the first Brooklyn neighborhood they come to? DUMBO.

    Trip Tips

    • Front Street is only a few blocks long, so it doesn't matter a great deal which end you start from. This tour starts at Front Street at the intersection of Jay Street.
    • Public bathrooms are located in Brooklyn Bridge Park, near the Ice Cream Factory
    • Wear comfortable, low heeled shoes; some DUMBO streets are uneven.
    • Start at the F train stop at Jay Street, and walk down Jay Street toward the water to Front Street. Turn left.
    • Get off at the A-C train stop at High Street, and walk toward the water down Pearl Street, arriving in two blocks at Front Street.