How many residents get to play tourist in their own town? Is this something that folks do in Omaha or Detroit? It’s easy to do in New York and Brooklyn is a great tourist destination if you’re looking for the real New York. If you’ve done the Empire State Building and the Rockettes and seek more edge and less glitz, Brooklyn is worth the schlep.
We live in New Jersey and rarely get out to Brooklyn. Anyone who lives in this area understands that simply going crosstown can be an odyssey requiring an overnight bag or at least a few toiletries in case you’re stranded or stuck in crosstown traffic. I remember when I lived in downtown New York City 15 years ago; on the occasions I ventured uptown, I felt like I was traveling to the other side of the world, to a land full of strange people walking small dogs wearing sweaters and barrettes.
Brooklyn’s quotient of donned dogs isn’t as high as the Upper East Side’s, but the spirit of this borough is strong and unapologetic (does anyone in New York apologize for anything? Seriously…), beginning when you cross over from Queens to Brooklyn on I-278 and you’re greeted with a sign that says “Brooklyn-Believe the Hype!”
We kicked off our Brooklyn adventure with Coney Island. The new Luna Park reopened a few weeks ago after being closed for massive renovations, and has been remodeled as a return to its roots. It now resembles the Luna Park of 1903 when it first opened. Luna Park replaces “Astroland,” which closed in 2008 after 46 years of sending children “to the moon.” While new Luna Park didn’t include the original wild elephant rides that were there at the start of the 20th century, there were new rollercoasters, swings, and other contraptions that make you vomit the cotton candy you just ate.
A great place to settle your stomach after an afternoon of riding rides at Coney Island is at Beer Table, a funky new restaurant in Park Slope that consists of a long brick wall facing a wall of dusty bottles of beer with three tables in between. Park Slope is one of the hippest neighborhoods around, but don’t just take my word for it; the American Planning Association rated it one of the best neighborhoods for 2007. The community is lined with rows and rows of stunning late 19th century bronwstones mixed with beautiful parks. Park Slope went through decline in the 1950s and 1960s when everyone escaped to the suburbs. Naturally, hippies and artists starting buying and renovating the cheap, old brownstones through the 1960s and 1970s, and if they held on to their properties, they’re probably multi-millionaires now. Park Slope is one of those neighborhoods that makes you wish you had been there before its upswing. It is here that we celebrated Mike’s birthday.
Park Slope’s Beer Table (and Brooklyn overall) is a great place to escape the heat and enjoy brews from around the world. The owner clearly got his beer geek on when Mike asked a question only a reader of Beer Advocate would know to ask. The New York Times reviewed Beer Table last year shortly after it opened, and called it “a small jewel, more atelier than bar dedicated to showing off some of the world’s best and most obscure beers.” (I had to look up ‘atelier’ to make sure this was a good thing, and turns out, it is!) Mike was a beer snob long before it became fashionable and it has been interesting to watch the wine-and-food-pairing trend take hold with beer and food. Garrett Oliver is right (another master Brooklyn brewer and the mastermind behind Brooklyn Brewery). There are simply some foods that do go better with beer, like certain cheeses and meats. The owner gets his foodie on, too; the kitchen is small, but the output is copious and extraordinary. I strongly recommend the Grafton cheddar toast.
Beer Table is also a great place to wear Coney Island-purchased cotton candy. Since I was a kid, I had a thing for twirling cotton candy mustaches and now I have passed this goofy practice on to my daughter.
It’s easy to forget New York City is surrounded by two major rivers and an ocean with all of these tall, glass buildings and Trump’s ostentatious tastes blocking any view of the waterfront. Anything from the natural world is something that you visit in New York City–it is not something that is simply present, like, say, the Olympic Mountains overlooking Seattle or the Atlantic Ocean caressing Miami. But with a subway card, you can access the natural world that circles New York City. You can travel to the Coney Island beach by subway and the community is home to the famous Mermaid Parade–an event where you can shimmy down Neptune Avenue dressed like Lady Gaga wearing nothing but very gelatinous whipped cream and strategically-placed cherries above the waist.
I complain about New York City a lot–the traffic, the attitude, people wearing black when it’s 90 degrees out. Fifteen years after my first time living here, I still have the same love/hate relationship with the Big Apple. Our day trip to Brooklyn reminded me of everything that I love about New York–its history, its shamelessness, its creative, tireless entrepreneurial forays into food and booze. Every block in Brooklyn is fueled with a tension between the old and new. I’ll admit, so far I’ve enjoyed Brooklyn more so than Queens, though the pastries at Astoria’s Greek cafes remain the cream of the crop and worth the $8 toll on the George Washington Bridge and the $5 toll across the Triborough–sorry–the Robert F. Kennedy bridge. I’ll cross the Hudson and Harlem Rivers and pay $13 doing it for $4 chocolate ganache mouse cake. Does that make me a true New Yorker? Focused and obsessed on getting the best? Hmmm…I fold my pizza and refuse to eat store-bought bagels although I also refuse to wear black in July. I’m getting there, New York. I’m getting there.