I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published January 17th 2011
The next time you'd like to head out in search of New York's outer borough delights, consider Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood. Situated off the Hudson River between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Hamilton Avenue, Red Hook is easily accessible from Manhattan via the F train to nearby Carroll Gardens (the Smith/9th St. station, followed by the B61 or B77 bus), and also by water taxi (from Manhattan's Pier 11/South Street Seaport) when the weather permits. (Fares are $5 during the week and free on weekends.) Obviously, many New Yorkers visit Red Hook to take advantage of the great deals at Ikea, but there is so much more to this once industrial neighborhood than the Swedish superstore.
For starters, Red Hook has creative spirit. Recent gentrification there has been more a cause of celebration than alarm, as various boutiques, restaurants, and bakeries can finally rely upon a steady stream of shoppers to thrive. A walk down Red Hook's main thoroughfare, Van Brunt Street, is reason enough to spend the day. Stop by Baked, the neighborhood's most popular bakery, for a cup of delicious coffee and homemade pastry. Locals rave about its made-from-scratch Oreos and other sweet and savory delicacies. Baked's cookies are made fresh every day. Stock up on homemade granola, and taste more than 15 varieties of cake including Coconut Cream, Coca-Cola Bundt, and Lemondrop.
Once you've got your sweet tooth under control, head to the waterfront for some amazing views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Red Hook's public parks single-handedly make the trip worthwhile. Our favorite spot is the Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier at Coffey and Ferris Streets. Once the site of New York's bustling shipping industry, nearby factory buildings remain testament to Red Hook's earliest days of commerce. Depending on when you take the trip, you might consider other recreational sites at Pier 44, including the Red Hook Recreational Center and Pool or the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge. Museum admission is free and tugboat tours of the Brooklyn waterfront are given during August and September. Free kayaking and canoeing is offered from the NYC Parks Department from May through September.
Nearby Pier 41 (a short distance from the Waterfront Museum) is Flickinger Glassworks, a glass-bending factory that makes shaped glass for lighting fixtures and other items. Besides being able to purchase glass creations in the front gallery, occasional tours are available for the asking. Be sure to see Flickinger's Cabinet of Curiosities.
All of Brooklyn is buzzing about the recession-friendly deals at Fairway Market, a 52,000-square-foot gourmet super store that has been created in the Civil War era Van Brunt Buildings. With an impressive selection of hard-to-find import items, you'll want to bring a huge bag to trek back home with your collection of exotic spices, organic veggies, and imported cheese. For snacking on the fly, head to the store's back patio for breezy waterfront dining. Before leaving Fairway, take a closer look at the collection of vintage busses and trolleys (pictured) that line Van Brunt Street. Though largely decayed from the constant spray of salt water, they are still great for photos; curiosity seekers and kids will especially enjoy getting up close to the urban decay.
Those with a penchant for boutique shopping will not be disappointed in Red Hook. A number of quaint shops offer unique and affordably priced wares. Just a few of our favorites include the antique goods at Erie Basin (388 Van Brunt St.) where you'll find a massive collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century jewelry, obscure art objects, and vintage furnishings. A few steps farther will lead to Metal and Thread (398 Van Brunt St.), an artsy shop devoted to handcrafted items from locals, many of them made from metal, such as one-of-a-kind jewelry, original wall art, sculpture, and fabric items like handmade quilts. Check out their modern chain mail, like this stainless steal mesh scarf.
Finish your day with a drink and mini meal at Home/Made (293 Van Brunt St.), a small restaurant that offers an ever-changing menu and limited seating amid a mix of antiques and urban architectural salvage pieces that fit seamlessly into its industrial surroundings. Home/Made also serves a delectable all-day brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.