For many first-time visitors to New York, New York equals Manhattan. But just a couple of subway stops across the river lies a whole other delicious world that deserves your exploration. So set aside a day to take a tour of Brooklyn, with these hand-picked highlights from Brooklyn local, Brian Spencer.
Brunch off Bedford Avenue
Kick off your day with brunch at Teddy's Bar & Grill, a laid-back joint that arguably offers the best no-frills weekend brunch menu around: you can't go wrong with the salty-and-sweet French Toast Sandwich (stuffed with ham and gruyere) or spicy Eggs Guajillo. Afterwards, start burning off those delicious calories by walking two blocks west to East River State Park for sweeping views and photo opportunities of the Manhattan skyline.
An afternoon in Greenpoint
After you're done snapping pictures, head north up Kent Avenue. Once Kent turns into Franklin, keep going about six or seven blocks, then take a right on Greenpoint Avenue and plunge into the heart of the Greenpoint Historic District, one of the most underrated (and under-visited) neighborhoods in the borough. Greenpoint's charm is found in its quiet tree-lined streets and old-world European feel, the latter of which can largely be credited to the long-standing presence of a thriving Polish community.
Take a right onto Manhattan Avenue and meander through the main shopping area, stopping for coffee and pastries at Peter Pan Bakery or, farther down, a late-afternoon beer at mild-mannered Manhattan Inn or grittier Matchless, which occupies the space of an old auto shop.
McCarren Park, the biggest green space in the area, lies straight ahead and is a great place for taking a break, picnicking, and people-watching. With its rowhouses and long, lilting trees, Guernsey Street, between Meserole and Nassau Avenue, is one of the prettiest two-block stretches in the area and is just south of Manhattan.
After dark in Williamsburg
Once considered the poster child of Brooklyn counterculture, Williamsburg has long since passed its gentrification phase but that doesn't mean the area has lost its character: this is where you'll find one of the borough's densest concentrations of cool bars, restaurants and boutiques. It's easy to get around, it's safe, and the welcome mix of longtime locals and transplanted creative types give it a convivial personality that's distinct from other parts of the city.
There's no shortage of choice for dinner and drinks once the sun goes down in Williamsburg - one solid option is nearby Grand Street. From McCarren, walk about 11 blocks up Driggs Avenue and take a left on Grand. The next three blocks are lined with bars and restaurants: standouts include hand rolls and sushi bombs at Bozu and picklebacks at Maracuja Bar & Grill.
Alternately, exit McCarren from the southwest corner, walk a few blocks to the subway station on N. 7th St., and take the train two stops east to Graham Avenue. Less commercialized but every bit as lively as the Bedford Avenue area, Graham is home to my pick for New York's best Napoli-style, brick-oven pizza, Motorino. Try to arrive no later than 8pm. It gets packed on weekend nights and doesn't accept reservations, but don't let the crowds scare you away - it's well worth the wait. Nearby Mesa Coyoacan and Sel de Mer are also tasty options.
After after dark in Brooklyn
After dinner, you'll have more trouble deciding which bars to go to than you will finding one. But no matter which direction you head, late-nighters should consider winding up the evening (or early morning) at one of two neighborhood bowling alleys: stylish Brooklyn Bowl , open until at least 2am, or the divey Gutter, open until 4am.
So here are some recommended drinking dens along each subway stop between Bedford and Grand, as well as three favorite spots in Greenpoint.
Bars off Bedford Avenue:
Bars off Lorimer Street:
Bars off Graham Avenue:
Bars off Grand Avenue:
Bars in Greenpoint:
How to get to Brooklyn and around
Williamsburg is serviced by the L subway line, which cuts across Manhattan along 14th Street. From Union Square, downtown's main transfer hub, it's just three short stops to Bedford Avenue. If you're in a walking mood, instead take the F, J, M, or Z line to Delancey Street and enjoy spectacular vantage points of the city during a 1.5-mile stroll over the Williamsburg Bridge.
Late-night subway service back into Manhattan can be sporadic, and yellow taxis are sometimes few and far between. To get fast and (relatively) affordable transportation back into the city, call Metroline (718 388 1111) or Northside (718 387 2222).
This article was first published in February 2011. It was updated in November 2012.
Has Brooklyn given you an appetite for more New York? Our latest New York Encounter guide is sure to satisfy.