Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn's most popular and exciting neighborhoods, straddles old and new. Yet some things in this hipster-hood remain timeless. You can explore the lively arts, music, and boutique scene here, compose your great American novel on your laptop in numerous cafes, dine in some very good restaurants, and soak up the youthful and creative energy.
The hip Williamsburg scene plays out against a backdrop of old industrial buildings, modest attached homes (though punctuated by increasing numbers of expensive waterfront high-rises), and a long-standing residential Jewish community. If there's one neighborhood that's indicative of the "new Brooklyn," it's Williamsburg. Because even if you've lived in Brooklyn for 1,000 years, Williamsburg can sometimes seem like foreign terrain.
At the Brooklyn Art Library, the Sketchbook Project is a collection of over 50,000 sketchbooks from over 30,000 artists who have donated their sketchbooks to this massive library. The museum is free and every sketchbook is cataloged with keywords if you have something special in mind that you'd like to see sketches of. And if you're an artist yourself, you can buy a sketchbook to fill up and donate it back to the library. The library is also a community space, so keep your eye on the online calendar for workshops and other events.
If you've been dying to see the latest indie film that everyone keeps talking about, you're likely to find it playing at Nitehawk Cinema. This dine-in movie theatre is just a few blocks away from the main action on Bedford Avenue and a favorite haunt among the film-loving hipsters of Williamsburg. You can expect a mix of independent and award-nominated films in the regular mix of programming with an occasional cult classic slotted for the midnight showing. If you really want to enjoy the show, arrive with an empty stomach and order from the eclectic theatre menu of truffle-flavored popcorn and duck confit tacos, and wash it down with a drink.
Eat in a Williamsburg Restaurant
Williamsburg is one of Brooklyn's foodiest neighborhoods, meaning one can find excellent wine, cheese, meat, and produce. Better yet, the area's popping with excellent eateries, from fine dining to cool, freshly-prepared tacos. Visitors enjoy a wide range of restaurant options—take your pick by cuisine, ambiance, price, or location. To start, consider the classic Peter Luger Steakhouse is a Michelin-rated one-star restaurant, whereas the Marlow & Sons serves rustic, farm-to-table cuisine.
Drink Good Beer
For a relaxed experience, visit the Brooklyn Brewery, a local institution that helped reinvent the beer industry in Brooklyn. The borough was once home to many major brewers, but Brooklyn Brewery ushered in a renaissance when it was founded in 1988. Now, Williamsburg is home to plenty of destinations for suds, including Skinny Dennis, a honky-tonk dive bar with 18 beers on draft, and Ba'sik, an underrated bar filled with locals and Radegast Hall & Biergarten, which is well-loved for its varied offerings of pretzels and sausages.
Visit a Cocktail or Wine Bar
Interested in a casual experience that costs less than dinner out, but feels fancier than just having a beer? Head to one of the interesting cocktail bars in the neighborhood and imbibe in a carefully-crafted cocktail at an atmospheric bar like Night of Joy or the bright and classy Donna. If wine's your thing, explore some of the neighborhoods small wine bars like Four Horseman, a sleek, modern spot with an expansive wine list and one Michelin star, or the intimate Woodhul Wine Bar.
Williamsburg's full of creative people who toil at their day jobs but revel in their "real" work as musicians or performers, writers, or artists. If you'd like to see the creative spirit of Williamsburg on full display, you'll have a lot of choices when it comes to the art form. Whether you prefer poetry readings at Pete's Candy Store, music performances at the Music Hall of Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bowl, and theater at The Brick Theater, there's always something interesting going on any given night.
If it's vintage clothing you're shopping for, Williamsburg has a lot to offer, and in different price ranges. For a "hunt-and-find" experience, go to the huge, popular Beacon's Closet, where inexpensive basics mingle with designer duds. But there's no shortage of other vintage shopping in the neighborhood, from the funky Narnia Vintage to Monk Vintage.
Hang Out at McCarren Park
Williamsburg, unlike some New York City neighborhoods, is home to plenty of green space. McCarren Park is centrally located between Nassau Avenue, Bayard, Manhattan Avenue, and North 12th Street. It has baseball fields and basketball courts, playgrounds, running tracks, and dog run areas. On Saturdays, try to get there between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the farmers market which runs year-round.
Given the locavore, farm-to-table ethos in this corner of Brooklyn, it's no surprise that one can also find interesting cooking classes. Need to learn how to carve a hock of ham? What to do with knives? How to make a killer pie crust? Take a class at Brooklyn Kitchen. You can learn how to make your own fresh pasta at home or receive an in-depth lesson on the art of pickling and canning your own condiments and toppings.
It may not be as famous or as picturesque as the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Williamsburg Bridge played an important role in New York City history and was once the world's longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1903. There are both bike and pedestrian lanes (cyclists are advised to be careful when returning to Manhattan's traffic) and it makes a nice alternative trip to the often-crowded Brooklyn Bridge.
Edited by Alison Lowenstein