No visit to New York City is complete without a visit to Williamsburg in Brooklyn — one of the coolest places in the city, at least for the next minute or two, if you listen to the buzz. (A lot of New Yorkers will tell you Williamsburg is past-it, and in my experience when the is-it-cool-or-is-it-over debate gets going in earnest, you know that the area has probably lost some of its edge and artsy cachet, but you can at last get a good meal and the loos in the bars actually flush.)
The first time I visited Williamsburg was in the ’90s, when one of my coolest, most creative friends lived there. The walk to her loft from the Bedford Street subway stop went by a handful of trendy cafes on Bedford Street. The rest was a vision of ramshackle buildings, small houses with vinyl siding and guys loitering on street corners. Note: The guys were not wearing porkpie hats nor working as software developers. Nobody had a fixed-gear bike out of choice.
Why go to Williamsburg now
Now Williamsburg is home to a landslide of groovy shops, packed coffeehouses, and restaurants that give Manhattan’s best a run for their money. It’s got a reputation for being a hornet’s nest of hipsters, a place that could have artisan knot shops and is definitely well-furnished with bearded men.
Either way, I firmly recommend anyone visiting New York make the journey out on the L train. It’s still a bit gritty and modish, where old-school Brooklyn residents mix with young families and with 20somethings whose lives, frankly, we just don’t understand anymore.
No doubt your kids will like it. But on a recent girls’ weekend sans famille, my girlfriends and I did a grown-up version. Here, what to do and see:
Top 9 things to do in Williamsburg
1. Go vintage shopping
Williamsburg is lousy with cool vintage shops selling clothes, furniture, and home decor items. If your American aunt sold it in a garage sale 30 years ago, you can reacquire it here. I found a first-class 1950s structured ponyskin bag at Lavai Maria, which displayed its lovely selection of clothes, shoes and bags not in a dusty jumble but like a Soho boutique. One of our best-dressed friends (along with French Vogue) swears by Beacon’s Closet, a clothing exchange known for its designer labels at great prices. Even if you aren’t buying, come to wander the streets and stumble upon shops where you can browse vintage wooden Christmas signs as well as shoes the ’70s forgot.
Brooklyn Reclamation – http://www.brooklynreclamation.com/
Horizon Vintage – http://instagram.com/horizonsvintage
2. Eat well
There is a rich and varied eating scene in Williamsburg. Every restaurant has a concept and many have the good food to match. We set out for Rye upon a recommendation, seconded by local Grace & Favour shop owner Andrea (see below). We arrived early, just after they opened for dinner and the room was by no means deserted. Without half an hour most of the tables were full and couples at the bar were keeping the bartenders shakers rattling. Low light, good wine — I had the duck confit but just as appealing were the mac & cheese with bacon and braised short ribs. You’d feel comfortable having an early dinner here with children; several pairs of local parents were there with young kids having a very civilised dinner indeed. Rye, 247 S. 1st Street, Williamsburg; 718.218.8047 www.ryerestaurant.com/rye
Next up on my eating list:
Shalom Japan, a Jewish Japanese restaurant opened by a Jewish Japanese married couple, both acclaimed chefs. http://shalomjapannyc.com/
Marlow & Sons, with a general store in front, small dishes and a “well-groomed wine list” (according to the New York Times) in back. http://marlowandsons.com/
St Anselm, a steakhouse that purportedly makes magic from the simplicity of fire and animal fleshhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/St-Anselm/140900289276127
3. Drink well
Maybe you won’t take the kids (they always demand top-shelf) but well-heeled and interesting drinking is something New York excels at, no where more than trendy neighbourhoods. A few places on my list:
Maison Premiere — Absinth, oysters, cocktails and beautiful people to serve them.http://maisonpremiere.com/
Union Pool — Regular music from DJs and bands, a patio with a taco truck, a glimpse of your former, more youthful self for a few hour. http://union-pool.com/
The Commodore — A dive bar with Southern(ish) food including noteworthy nachos and kitschy cocktails. I might just be in heaven. http://www.nytimes.com/restaurants/1247468519219/the-commodore/details.html
4. Visit a fellow Brit
While on our way to dinner, we ducked into Grace & Favor, intrigued by its liberal use of the British flag, to discover not some Yank pretender but one of our own, interior designer Andrea Brooke, who had just opened this home design store. And here’s a coincidence: Andrea’s parents live in the same Cotswolds village as my in-laws, and her father-in-law lives in my hometown in Texas. At Grace & Favor there is wallpaper from Cole & Son, artwork featuring good ol’ Queen Elizabeth, True Grace candles and more. I fell in love with a gorgeous drinks cabinet that she’d picked up at an antiques shop in the Cotswolds. Pick your favourite and, if you’re feeling flush, repatriate it. Grace & Favor, 168 North 1st Street, Williamsburg; open daily. www.gracefavor.com