Looking for an idyllic day trip from Manhattan? These three neighborhoods are quiet by Brooklyn standards, but brimming with well-conceived restaurants, vintage shops, and wine bars.
American bistro Colonie is a beauty bedecked in rustic wood, brick walls, and a green wall that sprout 20 species of plants. Snag a seat at the candlelit chef’s table and try the egg salad with smoked marrow, scallops with spring peas, and salty caramel custard donuts.
Japanese shirts, crisp jeans, and tortoiseshell glasses spill out of vintage trunks and line the walls at menswear shop, Goose Barnacle, owned by David Alperin, who started out on Wall Street and ended up designing jewelry at FIT. You’ll find labels like the Swedish Svennson, Naked & Famous, and Crate Denim. For women, there’s the longstanding Tango, which stocks blouses, blazers, skirts, and dresses from Theory, Max Mara, Elie Tahari, and more.
When it first opened in 1883, most residents feared crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Today, hundreds if not thousands pass its Gothic arches. For an in-depth guided walking tour, enlist the historians at Big Onion Tours. When the excursion wraps up, wander over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a third-of-a-mile stretch with uninterrupted views of lower Manhattan along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Don’t forget to bring your camera.
If you’re looking to quench your thirst without a lot of fuss, the unassuming Henry Street Ale House draws a steady crowd for its 16 drafts, laid-back vibe, and two relatively unobtrusive TVs. Wine swillers, meanwhile, are better served at the Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar, which has an equally low-key atmosphere but an affordable selection of international wines like Sine Qua Non, Martinelli, and Chateau Montelena.
Tin ceilings? Check. Brick walls, roughly hewn wood tables, vintage-style menus? Check, check, check. On the hushed end of Court Street, Frankie’s 457 Spuntino gets the down-home formula right. Think anchovy and toasted garlic atop dandelion greens, lentil soup stirred with smoked bacon, and house-made gnocchi bursting with ricotta. Named for mile-long tidal strait between Brooklyn and Governors Island, Buttermilk Channel is all about comfort food, and serves (not surprisingly) buttermilk-fried chicken, hanger steak with black olives and beef jus, and an excellent house-ground burger with grilled onions and New York state cheddar cheese, in the airy, buttercup-yellow dining room. For brunch, locals swear by their short and tall stack pancakes drizzled in maple syrup.
Sweets & Snacks
Remember that soda shop counter your grandma told you about? Owners Peter Freeman and Gia Giasullo bring it back with Brooklyn Farmacy, set in a restored 1920s pharmacy. Order one of the sodas—all of which are made with Brooklyn-based P&H Soda Co. Syrups—or my favorite, the egg cream. Everything here is fresh, local, and kid-friendly; and there’s space in the back for groups and private parties. Meanwhile, F. Monteleone Bakery speaks to the borough’s Italian heritage, with classics like pignolis, biscotti, napoleons, and ricotta cheesecake, all in gleaming glass display cases then boxed up with old-fashioned red-and-white spiraled string.
One standout: Dear Fieldbinder, which draws creative types—writers, musicians, photographers—for its artistic approach to fashion. Co-owner and artist Lara Fieldbinder not only selects feminine—and often affordable—cuts from brands like Eberjey, Myne, Coclico, and more, but arranges them just so against the white walls and cabinets. You’ll also find a range of leather shoes and handbags.
The result of a partnership between local mainstays Smith & Vine and Stinky Brooklyn, The Jake Walk was slated for success. With its prime spot on the corner, brick walls, and polished dark wood bar, the wine-and-cheese bar hits all the right notes for the neighborhood. That’s not even to mention the dozens of bottles (from New York State to Italy, to Austria to Chile, and more), 25 wines by the glass, and 30 kinds of cheese. For stronger tipples, head to Char No. 4, which serves one-ounce pours of 300 whiskies, as well as comfort food to soak it all up.
One of the best cups of Joe in Brooklyn can be had at Cafe Pedlar, where all of the roasted beans come from Red Hook’s Stumptown and are paired with organic milk from Finger Lakes Farms. If you stick around for dinner, wander over to the 44-seat La Vara, a new Jewish- and Moorish-influenced Spanish restaurant from the duo behind two Spanish restaurants in Manhattan, El Quinto Pino and Txikito. Order the cumin-roasted lamb’s breast with scallions and preserved lemon dates.
Sweets & Snacks
When it’s hot out, nothing hits the spot like ice cream. Indulge with less guilt at the third outpost of the eco-friendly Blue Marble Ice Cream, which scoops flavors like dulce de leche, banana chip, and ginger, all made from the organic milk of grass-fed cows living in New York. For a more nostalgic fix, check out the old-school “penny” candy bar stocked with saltwater taffy, Charleston Chews, and other hard-to-find confections at the Sugar Shop. It’s a crowd-pleaser with more than 150 types of candy in all.
For a dose of uptown sophistication and downtown cool, peruse the racks at the 10,000-square-foot Barneys Co-Op, which are heavy with the latest designs from Theory, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, and the like. Not far away, former Barneys buyer Jennifer Mankins curates the trove of women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories at the LEED-certified Bird. Designers range from the international to the very local, and include A.P.C., Band of Outsiders, Demylee, Loeffler Randall, Steven Alan, and Thakoon.
Expertly mixed cocktails are the thing at the moody Clover Club, which presents them under nine categories, including “Sours & Daisies” (try the Daisy Mae), “Drink Your Vegetables” (one standout: the Green Giant), and “Cobblers & Swizzles” (definitely go for the Midnight Buzz). For a more hands-on experience, take a class at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange, which hosts regular tastings of Pinots, Sancerre whites, locally produced gin, and more.