Brooklyn is the new cultural capital of the Big Apple. Thanks to a steady influx of small business innovators and hipsters, New York’s most charismatic borough is now the best way to see the city. Bushy green trees line the grid-style streets, with locals opting to hang out on the stoops of their cosy brownstone homes (some houses over 100 years old). The casual visitor is spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants and bars, as a healthy and thriving hospitality hub is around every corner. And, of course, the main Manhattan borough is just a short train trip away.
Best time to go: May – September.
Best time to avoid: November – March.
Ideal length of stay: 7 nights.
With a family event coming up in Texas, NYC was the obvious choice to kill some time for a week. To my family and I (mostly amateur travellers), the prospect of the city seemed overwhelming. I welcomed the challenge of a city that never slept and seemed to always be doing something. Whilst I’d seen the West Coast of the U.S., I expected the East to be different – although, it’s more than appropriate to say that New York has a unique cultural influence of its own. Furthermore, each borough has a definite separate culture from its neighbouring suburbs. New York is deservedly a state on its own, but a strong case could be made for Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and The Bronx to become independent bodies as the levels of diversity between each is staggering.
Manhattan houses the main city and the largest population of all the boroughs and is a tourist’s dream. I wanted to tick the traveller’s metaphorical boxes: Central Park, The Met, Times Square. And I did. And I loved each experience, as I worked to conquer the city that is larger than life.
But each evening, as I stepped out of the bustling subway at about 7 PM, when dusk’s sun streaked through the heavy oak leaves, were the moments I fell in love with the city. I knew I’d made the right choice to stay in Brooklyn.
The steamy summer nights are best spent in one of the many politely positioned restaurants that are scattered around the street’s corners. There’s an endless supply of choice, with Mexican, Japanese, and everything in between all strong contenders. If you’re big on immersing yourself in the culture, I would recommend soul food, especially the ribs. There’s no holds barred when it comes to ‘healty eating’ with soul – the tastier the better.
Some restaurants are a little pricey, as rent is especially high in the area. Expect to pay at least $20-$30 USD for a casual meal at each restaurant. Adding drinks, desserts, and the American’s insistent tradition of tipping the waiter, and a hearty dinner for two begins to flirt with the $100 mark. However, there are some jewels. My best experience was Bravi Ragazzi on Putnam Ave. We happened upon the happy hour (which, in truth, was actually a happy 4 hours) and treated I myself to an $8 Old Fashioned. The deal of the day for pizza was ‘buy one, get on for $5’, which was fortunate as the initial average price was about $20 per pie. But with four pizzas between us, the final pricing was much more appropriate. Oh, and it was (I don’t say this lightly) the best pizza I’ve ever had: Doughy, light crust, and the perfect sauce-toppings ratio.
After a couple nights with the fam, I met up with a mate from home and we tried our luck at Brooklyn’s nightlife. As it was Friday night, my hopes were high – although misplaced. As two 22-year-old, hot-blooded young men, we were disappointed to learn that Brooklyn isn’t especially renowned for its nightclub scene. However, two hours and multiple IPA’s deep at one of the borough’s charming bars had us more than content on a quiet-er night. The best way to get around is to ask the locals, and bars are no exception. We chose to walk into one at random and had a blast with the locals and the talkative staff, who then directed us on to a nearby sports bar. The sports bar was just that – sporty. I personally preferred the quiet lighting and loud laughter of the traditional Brooklyn bar but if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the wider American culture, go ahead and catch a basketball, baseball, or football game at one of the many sports bars.
Although Brooklyn’s evening charm had me won over, I still made the trip each day to the mainland of Manhattan to tick those metaphorical boxes I mentioned. In my opinion, you’ve only got one option here – the subway. $32 will give you an unlimited 7-day trip, a more-than-generous price on behalf of the Metro system. Trains are regular and run late into the night and I’ve already mentioned cultural immersion a couple of times. Well, nothing is more New York than the New York subway. Depending on how deep into Brooklyn you’re staying, and how deep into Manhattan you plan on venturing will obviously determine your travel time. I was looking at an average of about half an hour each day. This time flew by, as there was plenty of home-grown entertainment supplied by fellow train-goers.
Finally, I must take a strong stance on your accommodation choice. Go Airbnb. 1-2 bedrooms are going for about $200 a night. A little steep, but you’ll be feeling like a classic struggling artist in no time (this is a good thing). If you’re as lucky as us, your host will be happy to talk to you about some of the local knowledge. Our host had prepared a hand-drawn map with at least 30 go-to locations marked out within a 15-minute walk. 5-star service.
Sure, you could stay in the never-ending hustle and bustle of Manhattan in some franchise’s high rise. But, you’ll be just another one of the countless thousands of customers that walk through those revolving doors each year. And it’s not called ‘the city that never sleeps’ for nothing. Constant chaos. Which is fun while the suns up, but you’ll be thankful you chose to stay in Brooklyn at the end of the day. With a confident strut, I felt like one of the locals in no time. Brooklyn is my new home away from home in the States.