In contrast to its grid-bound neighbor across the river, Brooklyn seems without borders, without end: just as you’re about to leave it, it turns you back, Borges-like, into a new, undiscovered neighborhood whose avenues radiate out into more and unknown places, secret interstitial tracts of immeasurable richness and vibrant character… So yeah, it was a pain in the ass to put this together and everyone’s going to complain about it. But hey, this is Brooklyn.
(Photos by Guang Xu and Samantha Sutcliffe)
1. Best Dead-End Block:
(between Cooper and Trinity Cemetery, Bushwick)
As if the far end of Central weren’t bleak enough (despite the avenue’s long, pleasant bike route), it dead-ends in a good place to die. Or at least, in a place where most everyone’s already dead. Game of Ghost in the Graveyard, anyone?
2. Best Secret Block:
In our last best blocks round-up
, we declared Bay Ridge’s stately Colonial Court the best secret block. But then we learned that Colonial Court’s back alley is sometimes called Westerly Lane—making this a side street off a side street off a side street that usually does not appear on maps. PRETTY FUCKING SECRET.
3. Best Block to Get a Sense of “Before the Grid”:
(between Richards and Dwight, Red Hook)
Anytime we go to Red Hook, we go out of our way to walk down this block, mostly because we adore the several houses set several yards from the sidewalk, which suggests they were there before Dikeman Street was.
4. Best Block with Stairs:
(between Ridge and Colonial, Bay Ridge)
In the middle of this block, the street turns into a grand stone staircase—just like Montmartre! (It’s one of two blocks in Bay Ridge where the ridge was so steep they couldn’t cut a street.) When the trees are bare, from the top you have a stirring view out toward the harbor; from the bottom, you can see the fronts of the grand old mansions that flank it.
5. Best Back Alley Block:
Most of Malbone Street, named after a grocer, was renamed Empire Boulevard after a famously deadly train accident, The Malbone Street Wreck of 1918
. All that survives is this half-block extension, now running parallel to Empire and intersecting with a crooked alley (Clove Road). Just past where the old right-field wall of Ebbets Field once was, it’s home to some drab apartments and a lot of parked cars—presumably spillover from the 71st Precinct station house on the corner of New York Avenue.
6. Scariest Block:
(between Lawton and Dodworth, Bushwick)
Superficially scary for all the silly Bushwick reasons people might imagine (the darkness underneath an ominous, rattling train line, the perfect backdrop for Big City fearmongering); actually scary because of the occasionally awkward open mic spilling out from generally awesome bar and venue Goodbye Blue Monday
7. Best Unexpected Retail Block:
(between Fifth and Flatbush, Park Slope)
You’d expect Bergen Street to be all residential here, but instead, walking west from the 2/3 station, you stumble upon a terrific strip of stores and restaurants, perfect for a nerdy, sexy vegan cyclist (aka a typical Brooklynite): Bergen Street Comics,
Babeland, Sun in Bloom, and Ride Brooklyn, as well as other boutiques and cafes.
8. Best Block to Smoke a Joint:
(between Baltic and Butler, Park Slope)
Butler doesn’t cut through to Fifth Avenue, making this side street behind the Key Food more like a back alley, the kind where you might see joint-toking teens pass a yuppie with a one-hitter walking his dog.
9. Worst-Smelling Block:
(between Main and Washington, DUMBO)
There may be blocks with more powerful miasmatic reach, but the mysterious vent of raw sewage somewhere between West Elm and Gleason’s
that shoots olfactory poison darts at unsuspecting passersby is truly a hogo too high. (We’re sick just thinking of it.)
10. Best-Smelling Block:
(between Driggs and Nassau, Greenpoint)
You could start and end this one with the New Warsaw Bakery (technically on Lorimer) in the middle of the block and its sweet, sweet bready scent-cloud. But what’s that across the street? Recently opened Charlotte Patisserie
, a French-style pastry shop filled with the aromas of sugar, butter and coffee. On the slightly odder olfactory front, we also love the smell of early morning bar (that combination of stale beer, cigarettes, and bleach is basically our madeleine moment), which can be found in great gusts at the corner of Driggs, between Matchless and Enid’s...
11. Best Example of Gentrified Ugliness:
North 3rd Street
(between Bedford and Berry, Williamsburg)
At one of end of the block you have the null space of contemporary bank “architecture” in the HSBC; at the other end a parking garage and soon-to-be national cut-rate gym franchise; in the middle, what looks like a public high school airlifted from the Des Moines suburbs, c. 1996. And how about this for a little ugly irony? The squat, depressing 25-year-old row houses across the street were built for people displaced by the original renewal project that preceded the gym-bank-bunker awfulness (and failed).
12. Best Example of
(between Metropolitan and North 3rd,
At one end we have perhaps one of the better single lot pieces of riverfront condo in all of North Brooklyn, the easy-to-look-at Louver Building. Next door is the wonderful Zebulon
, the platonic ideal of a thoughtful, painfully-cool-without-caring bar/music venue; next to that is, appropriately, a giant wheatpaste image of a businessman lamenting his drop in worth; then we have a surf shop on the corner! All of that sits across from a beautiful old diner that’s found new life as a high-end Mexican restaurant. And across from the Louver Building? Oh, a fancy vintage design shop that shares the building with fashion darling Hollander and Lexer. So much win.
13. Best Block for Illustrating the
Multiple Stages of Gentrification:
South 2nd street
(between Wythe Avenue and Kent, Williamsburg )
Hard to pick just one, but on this formerly desolate stretch of semi-occupied low-rise industrial, nestled in the long shadow of the soon-to-be Domino development
, we now have a high-end burger joint, a Japanese tavern, and new-American hipster restaurant (stage 3), a bar (stage 2, occupying a former police car garage), a DIY show space (stage 1), an independent cinema (stage 3), and shiny newish condos anchored to Kent Avenue by a super-fancy Soho-esque trattoria (stage 4). Oh, and the long-dormant doily factory in the middle of the block? It’s being converted into a private
14. Best People-Watching
The Saturday Greenmarket
(Union Avenue, between Driggs and North 12th,
Closed off on Saturdays for the greenmarket, this little patch of weekend Brooklandia is nearly as crowded as the adjacent dog-run on one side and the McCarren Park track on the other. Point is, thousands of Brooklynites, of all colors and creeds (and breeds!), flow through here on Saturdays; sit, brown-bag it, and watch them all...(Photos via A Tiny Kitchen Blog)
15. Worst Block to Live On:
(between Cumberland and Carlton [north side, top floor], Fort Greene)
There are a lot of benighted blocks in the borough with third floor windows a mere ten feet away from the BQE, but this stretch leading up to the perpetually clogged Tillary exit is a special hell of juddering trucks and horn-crazed livery drivers. Throw in Park Avenue’s steady traffic drone echoing up under the overpass and the charmless discount liquor store on the ground floor, and we have a winner.
16. Best Block for Urban Palimpsests:
(between Powers and Ainslie, Williamsburg)
You see it all over Brooklyn: evidence of past glory chiseled into pediments or capitols, scrolled windows into a time when businesses built their own buildings as a matter of course... But there’s something particularly touching about the old Cono and Sons restaurant
sign still hanging from the first floor at 301 Graham (along with the wrought-iron Cono and Sons door!) at one end of the block; and there’s something depressing about the laundry-torium at the other end now occupying the beautiful old Metropolitan Tobacco building. Sigh.
17. Best Block for Accidental Voyeurism:
(between Driggs and Roebling, Williamsburg)
Locals will know exactly what we’re talking about: just next door to the bar Clem’s, there is a ground-floor apartment occupied by a fairly large family that believes neither in curtains nor dressing gowns, and can be found at all hours in various states of repose, under bright lights, on shiny couches, their intimate domesticity plainly visible to throngs of bargoers mere feet away. Just down the block, a signless old-school Latino beer-and-pool joint reveals itself in bright snatches of light spilled onto the sidewalk with each opening of its secret-feeling door, inviting envious gawks (man, it looks fun in there).
18. Best Block for All the Asian Food:
(between Bedford and Driggs, Williamsburg)
This one’s easy. There might be better blocks for just Chinese or just Korean, but for the full house, you can’t beat Dokebi
(Korean), Samurai Mama
(late-night Japanese/Korean), and wonderful newcomer Sensation Neo Shanghai
(Chinese, featuring amazing hand-pulled noodles from a former M Shanghai chef) all on the same block.
19. Most Unrecognizable-as-Brooklyn Block:
(between Evans and Plymouth, Vinegar Hill)
North of the Farragut Houses, Hudson Avenue looks like a quaint Main Street in small-town New England, with its Belgian-block street and old-fashioned storefronts, many of which have been converted into homes.
20. Most Eastern Bloc:
(between Brighton 4th and Brighton 6th,
On one end, the famed (and Jonathan Ames-beloved) Tatiana, where the prix fixe includes a bottle of vodka; on the other, Cafe Restaurant Volna, as seen in James Gray’s old-neighborhood rhapsody Two Lovers
. Everywhere, sunbathing Russians.
21. Best Block for Brownstones:
South Portland AVENUE
(between Lafayette and DeKalb, Fort Greene)
Let’s just say that Park Slope doesn’t have a monopoly on lavishly restored park-adjacent single-family homes with first-floor windows perpetually open, the better for you to admire their original detailing, new chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
22. Best Block for Mansions:
(between DeKalb and
Willoughby, Clinton Hill)
The 19th-century oilman Charles Pratt
, in his prescience, endowed the Pratt Institute because he foresaw industrializing Brooklyn’s coming need for a steady supply of graphic-design freelancers in ballet flats. His other great gift to Clinton Hill was his family compound: the grandiose Italianate-Greek Revival pileups he built for himself and then, across the street, for his adult sons.
23. Best Block for McMansions:
(between Montana and Arkansas, Mill Basin)
Because Brooklyn has so little actual waterfront residential property, our entire allotment of stucco was funneled into the villas-by-Vegas of this atypically prefab development, when the formerly quiet shipping peninsula went residential in the postwar years. At the end of the road, where National Drive empties out onto Basset Avenue, is the gothic mobster’s palace that Carl Kruger
and his lover’s family bought with all that bribe money.
24. Most Polluted Block:
(between Metropolitan and Johnson, Bushwick)
So, who’s up for a stroll along the banks of Newtown Creek
? Any takers? Anyone? No, it’s probably pretty unpleasant, especially if you encounter the sludgy sediment piles of raw sewage and toxic waste on the banks. At least the oil, pesticide and PCB-riddled tributary of the Hudson has federal Superfund status now, so hopefully more funding will translate into tangible clean-up.
25. Greenest Block:
(between Bedford and Driggs, Williamsburg )
If you thought platinum LEED certification was the greenest a building could get, you thought wrong.
174 Grand Street features some of the city’s most eco-conscious architecture, albeit by a different standard. The building is classified as a Passive House
, a zero-energy system developed in Germany two decades ago, and by reducing energy toward heating and cooling by up to 90 percent, it’s arguably more rigorous than LEED’s 30 percent improvement in efficiency. This block features the first new Passive House of its kind. (Bonus: save the earth while getting drunk by buying super-local beer in reusable growlers from the lovely Breukelen Bier Merchants.)
26. Reddest Block:
(between Fifth and Sixth, Bay Ridge)
Not only are there an unusual number of American flags protruding from the limestone homes here, but there’s also a large American flag, strung from opposite rooftops, looming over the street itself. (We hate to perpetuate the stereotype that the American flag signifies conservatism, but oh well.)
27. Bluest Block:
(between Sixth and Seventh,
Behold the well-heeled collectivism of the Park Slope Food Co-op (first they came for Israel
and we did nothing, except buy our hummus at Trader Joe’s).
28. One Percentiest Block:
(between Plymouth and Water, DUMBO)
If the 7,000 square-foot triplex penthouse in the Clocktower building, used by Esquire
as their everyman bachelor pad
(inhabited solely by that one-percentiest of beings, a hot lady hologram named Charlotte), isn’t enough for you, than how about all the celebrity fancypants paying millions of dollars to live there?
29. Ninety-Nine Percentiest Block:
(between New Lots and Hegeman, East New York)
East New York has the highest foreclosure rate in the city; it was here that the Occupy movement rallied in December
, moving a homeless family into a foreclosed property.
30. Most Literary Block:
(between Hoyt and Bond, Boerum Hill )
Yes, Dean between Bond and Nevins is the childhood home of Jonathan Lethem, and the domain of The Fortress of Solitude
(and also where, as Lethem likes to point out, Isaac Asimov lived for a year in the 1940s). But down the street was home to original brownstone-parent
L.J. Davis, father of Lethem’s childhood playmate and author of the definitive gentrification novel A Meaningful Life
. Around the time he moved out, the actress Emily Mortimer moved in—her dad was the English dramatist and lawyer John Mortimer, who created Rumpole of the Bailey. And on the corner lives Michelle Williams, star of noted literary adaptations such as Ethan Hawke’s The Hottest State
31. Foodiest Block:
(between Kane and Baltic, Cobble Hill)
Reasonable minds may differ, but we’ll plump for the block with Watty and Meg
, and Sam’s.
32. Best Block for Drinks:
(between St. Mark’s and Prospect,
As the gentrification of Prospect Heights creeps inexorably eastward (“Crown Heights North” was in the Sunday Times!), a new social nexus appears: nerd haven Way Station
, the airport-loungey Bearded Lady, and late-night spot Minor Arcana
have all mushroomed up in the last couple years, as has Winey Neighbor, a fancy-dancy wine store (read: no bulletproof glass).
33. Best Block for Pretending
it’s the 19th Century:
At the southern end of this side street near the Prospect Expressway sits a beautiful row of meticulously restored colonial rowhouses, one of which has one of those hilarious “on such and such a historical date, nothing happened here” signs. Haha!
34. Best Block for Pretending
it’s the 1920s:
(between Water and Plymouth, DUMBO)
Though at least one of these structures is now a Two Trees development, superficially the red-brick buildings and Belgian-blocked street typify the industrial waterfront of erstwhile Gairville.
35. Best Block for Pretending
it’s the 1950s:
(between Beverly and Cortelyou, Ditmas Park)
Seriously, is this where they shot Tree of Life
36. Best Block for Pretending
it’s the 1970s:
(between Tompkins and Throop, Bed-Stuy)
This block shimmies along the shaky continuum between newly revived Bed-Stuy and the bad old days: here an elegant single-family home, there the sun-baked stoop of a stately, subdivided brownstone in desperate need of renovation, and a scattering of empty lots (at least for now).
37. Best Block for Schadenfreude:
(between Seventh and Eighth, Park Slope)
Have fun pushing your strollers up and down that hill, breeders.
38. Best Block for Weltschmerz:
(between 29th and 30th, Sunset Park)
As if the mammoth, light-blocking Gowanus Expressway overhead weren’t dispiriting enough, the east side of the street houses a XXX video store while the west side of the street is home to a federal prison.
39. Best Block for Art:
(from about 70th Street to 90th Street, Bay Ridge)
Not in the ‘Burg and not in the ‘Wick, and only for a couple months or so in early summer, the best block for art is Bay Ridge’s bustling Fifth Avenue, when it’s taken over by the annual Bay Ridge Art Walk—storefront after storefront adorned with artworks by artists from all over Brooklyn. (And yes, it’s not one block, but it’s like a block party!)
40. Best Block for a Date:
Van Brunt Street
(between Pioneer and Visitation, Red Hook)
Of the many charming spots that make Van Brunt the platonic ideal of a small-city Main Street, we’re especially partial to the slick, homey seafood at Kevin’s and the perfect, blissfully coexistent dive bars Bait & Tackle and the Brooklyn Ice House. “Let’s lean our heads in together and close the place down…”
41. Block Most Likely To Completely
Transform In a Year:
(between Third and Fourth, Gowanus)
With the el on one end and a nice pie place on the other, construction on this block couldn’t stay stalled forever—and indeed, a 12-story building is going up just as a condo development promising “green living” has started to enter into contract on its $725,000-and-up units. Just in time for the Whole Foods up the block
42. Block Most Likely to Stay the Same for the Next Decade:
(between Court and Smith, Carroll Gardens)
As house-proud and car-clotted as many of Carroll Gardens’ side streets, but bookended by two institutions that seem uniquely immune to changing demographics: PS 58 and the Saraceno Funeral Home.
43. Most Getty Image of
(between Front and York, DUMBO)
We walk north up this block everyday, and the sight line of the Manhattan Bridge that springs into view—with the Empire State Building perfectly framed underneath its arch—still impresses us, as it does the many still-standing tourists framing the perfect shot, whom we’re constantly maneuvering around.
44. Best Block for
(Knickerbocker and Johnson, Bushwick)
It has become hard to discern how many graffiti-dorned walls in Bushwick are commissioned anymore (one speaks of a certain corporation responsible for decades of music-television leasing the walls wrapping Moore’s and White’s couple of corners, for instance, and hiring artists to paint and repaint them), but many of the pieces and occasional full walls spanning the triangle formed by Knickerbocker, Morgan and Johnson have just enough palimpsestic grit and variant freshness-to-fade to appear largely legit.
45. Most Musical Block:
(between Bushwick and Morgan, Bushwick)
This industrial strip is an one-stop destination for every stage of your music career. Buy your weapon of choice at Main Drag Music’s Bushwick Supply Annex, learn to play it at one of the dirt-cheap practice spaces at The Sweatshop (or opt for one of the other rooms housed in the Danbro complex), record your debut at Swan7 studios, and land a spot in Newtown Radio
’s heavy rotation. Swing around the corner, and you’re a short walk from playing your first gig at The Acheron or Shea Stadium. And play loud, because there aren’t any neighbors to file noise complaints.
5 Best Blocks to Live On
1. Carlton Avenue
(between DeKalb and Willoughby, Fort Greene)
The endlessly scrolling brownstones! Trees! The backyards, tantalizingly visible as you walk down Willoughby to the nearby Fort Greene Park! The restaurants on DeKalb, and the strollerific coffee shop near the corner! (Smooch!) The bike lane! On a one-way residential
2. North 3rd STREET
(between Wythe and Berry, Williamsburg)
The Mill Building is one of the best examples of factory-turned-loft in all of Brooklyn, so if you can afford to live there, bully for you. Amenity-wise, it’s not so bad to have a bookstore, café, yoga studio, artisanal chocolatier, art store, wine store, Japanese vintage clothier, beer hall, dive bar and Mexican restaurant on your block, now is it?
3. Owl’s Head Court
Just a block from leafy Owl’s Head Park in one direction and the salty-aired 69th Street Pier in the other, the proximity to outdoor spaces makes this a killer location. Add to it the side-street cred, the groups of old-school residents we see when we walk by in warmer months, and the affordable apartments, and it has most of what you’d want from a Brooklyn block.
4. Cranberry Street
(between Willow and Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Heights)
At the conclusion of the Battle of Brooklyn, as British troops encircled the Continental Army’s encampments on the Heights, Washington and his men beat a daring retreat across the East River back to Manhattan, marking the last time anyone willingly vacated real estate in this neighborhood.
5. Milton Street
(between Manhattan and Franklin, Greenpoint)
With the old-school Brooklyn bustle of Manhattan Avenue at one end, and the new-school hipster amenities of Franklin Avenue at the other, you have pretty much everything you need within walking distance. But considering the gorgeous, ornate old brownstones and quaint mansard-topped Victorians (with front yards!) that line Milton, we can’t imagine ever wanting to leave the block.