Brooklyn, the most populous borough in New York City, has had a reputation for also being the most gruff, home to tough guys on brownstone steps yelling “Yo!” to friends passing by, or taking personal offense to Yankee fans calling their hometown team “Dem Bums” (before the Brooklyn Dodgers went all California in 1957, a move that’s still resented). The lesser known official Brooklyn motto of “Unity Makes Strength” has been overshadowed by “fuhgeddaboudit” as the unofficial slogan.
However, Brooklyn is changing as it becomes more culturally vibrant and diverse and increasingly prized as a hub of business, luxury and development. Along the East River, waterfront properties have soared in value, as have the communities along the L subway line stretching from 14th Street in Manhattan, through Brooklyn, and into the border town of Ridgewood in Queens.
Brooklyn is rapidly becoming a destination not only for tourists but for business travelers as well. The borough’s gentrified districts are becoming increasingly expensive, but they’re still a step below Manhattan’s cost of living. In addition, Brooklyn is equally convenient to Tri-state area airports. In terms of bleisure, though Manhattan seems to have everything, Brooklynites can always boast that they have Coney Island.
In fact, after Superstorm Sandy, revitalization projects along the beachfront have retained the classic old Coney Island charm, and combined it with new big venue attractions, such as an outdoor amphitheater and a renovated aquarium, Don’t leave without downing a Nathan’s hotdog, a staple of Coney Island.
Brooklyn owns a rich literary history as well. For instance, it was Brooklyn Heights where poet W.H. Auden had an office, and where Carson McCullers, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe and H.P. Lovecraft resided. It was here that Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. In addition, Brooklyn Heights was the place where 26 year old Walt Whitman, the young editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, began his printing of Leaves of Grass.
Artists, too, have found inspiration here. However, it’s the contemporary graffiti and street art movement that has taken hold in Brooklyn for the past few decades. As the Manhattan art districts became too pricey, artists came to Williamsburg, and later Bushwick, in search of cheaper rents and larger work spaces.
Many of these artists challenged the social restrictions and wore the cloak of anonymity. The result is a museum of murals open 24/7 which speaks out against the inequities of life as much as it celebrates the collective consciousness of the urban landscape.
Trees Grow in Brooklyn
As one travels from the grit to the grass, Brooklyn has the terrain for any mood. In central Brooklyn, Prospect Park covers 526 acres, and is a New York City Historic Landmark. Visitors to the park can enjoy Brooklyn’s only lake which covers 26 acres, the Prospect Park Zoo, a band shell for summer concerts, and various sports facilities.
Right next door (if a park had a door) is the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which, at 52 acres, and over a hundred years old, is the product of the Olmsted Brothers, who were architects of Central Park as well. The Gardens were open for business in 1911, and by 1925, visitors were able to enjoy a Rock Garden, Japanese Garden, and Shakespeare Garden. Today, guests to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens can absorb the bucolic landscape at any of the numerous events such as the cherry blossom festival or the Tuesday Twilight Tour with nature’s ambient magic and seasonal cocktails.
The food and beverage scene in Brooklyn was always robust, but keeps getting better. Brooklyn Bowl (brooklynbowl.com) in Williamsburg offers patrons the opportunity to hear foundation-rocking bands, imbibe craft beer, dine on a southern-inspired menu and then roll a heavy bowling ball in low light – danger can be fun.
Red Hook has become part of the burgeoning hip Brooklyn food scene. Hometown Bar-B-Que (hometownbbq.com), which opened in 2013, specializes in authentic pit-smoked meats and tasty side dishes, including the best collard greens outside of Harlem, as well as craft beers, seasonal cocktails and American whiskeys.
Red Hook Lobster Pound (redhooklobster.com/pound) offers a Maine-lobster-to-Brooklyn-table experiences within a nautical decor that’s so authentic, you swear you can hear Robert Shaw singing irreverent sea shanties amidst the dinner hour crowd.
DUMBO, short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, is home to an innovative international food concept. TimeOut Market (timeoutmarket.com/newyork), which originated in Lisbon and saw its first American outpost in South Beach, Florida, has opened its second American market in Brooklyn.
This 24,000-square-foot eating arena encompasses twenty-one eateries, three bars, a demo cooking area and a video-installation wall. Each restaurant is selected for its outstanding cuisine, talented chefs, and unmissable quality as a New York culinary experience. The open concept, cafeteria style seating allows for interaction and camaraderie, creating a friendly space perfect for positive vibes. In addition to the ground floor, TimeOut Market also hosts music events, dance parties, paint and sip, work out classes and much more on its fifth floor rooftop creative showcase platform.
For Asian cuisine, the ultra-gentrified area of Park Slope boasts a variety of eastern dishes guaranteed to please. Mori (mori-nyc.com) pairs taste and presentation in fine Asian fusion style. Wangs (wangsbk.com) leans toward Korean cuisine but offers a variety of dishes from the wider region. Katsuei (sushikatsuei.com) has a Japanese flair, from Miso soup to Sashimi to Sake, because one cannot live by sushi alone.
Bricolage (bricolage.nyc) is a Vietnamese restaurant with French Indo-Chinese inspired crepes, a wide variety of meats, and a list of impressive craft beers. Asian cuisine is not complete without a taste of Thai. Song Thai Restaurant and Bar (joyabrooklyn.com/song) ties the eastern flavors together with spicy noodles, pad thai, spring rolls, massaman curry and lemongrass, flavors that announce themselves with the music of pan flutes and the power of the cobra.
One of the most popular venues in Brooklyn is the Barclays Center (barclayscenter.com), a multi-purpose indoor arena, which is home to the New York Nets, hosts music concerts, conferences and other sporting and entertainment events. Despite a rocky start due to low profits from high construction debt, the Barclays Center continues to draw the crowds, helped by the strong commercial and hotel presence. The surrounding streets show a growing chic café groove, though the subways are still dicey.
However, it’s the emergence of hotels that is the true measure of the borough’s growth and appeal. Business travelers, in particular, staying in surrounding hotels can find those bleisure experiences played out at the Barclays Center on the basketball court and hockey rink, or on-stage where the list of top name performers include Billy Joel, Jay-Z, Selena Gomez, The Who, Pearl Jam, John Mayer and Barbara Streisand, to name a few.
This section of Brooklyn is called Boerum Hill, and has become home to some boutique and luxury hotels that offer all the amenities and meeting spaces for business traveler’s needs.
The William Vale Hotel (thewilliamvale.com) at 111 N 12th Street is an all-balcony hotel which features decor by local artists, the largest hotel pool in Brooklyn, a 5,000-square-foot terrace for events and gatherings, a 22nd floor rooftop bar with panoramic views of the city, and Leuca, a restaurant specializing in Southern Italian cuisine from Chef Andrew Carmellini.
All 183 guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows for that NYC skyline view, glass-enclosed rainfall showers, and modern decor that follows the motif throughout the hotel. The William Vale is also equipped with state-of-the-art board and conference rooms.
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (1hotels.com/brooklyn-bridge) at 60 Furman Street brings a touch of nature into the luxury of metropolis. Through the carefully curated use of sustainable and reusable energy, the hotel is able to be large on quality and small on its carbon footprint.
The rooms mix the astounding views of the city with the tranquil ambiance of foliage and repurposed wood. This property is perfect for the business traveler who keeps a lookout for eco-conscious decisions. There are three types of meeting spaces here: Creative, Zen, and Focused meetings.
The Beekman (thebeekman.com) at 123 Nassau Street evokes the atmosphere of those classic, luxury turn of the century hotels with marble mosaic lobby floors, Persian rugs, antique glass lamps, and a nine-story atrium bordered by Victorian wrought-iron railings. The standard rooms have space to move and stretch within their classic decor, oak floors and accessible amenities.
The suites offer a homier feel with wider doors that open to the 600- to 900-square-foot living spaces. Each of the two penthouse suites have private entrances and separate rooftop terraces. Within the hotel, space is available for meetings of up to 60 people, and event space for many more.
The Wythe Hotel (wythehotel.com) at 80 Wythe Avenue is a fairly new hotel, opened in 2012 on the Williamsburg waterfront. It occupies a factory building more than a century old, but has been meticulously restored to make way for this 70-room hotel. The decor manages to be classy yet maintains that rough Brooklyn art gallery feel, with wood floors and brick accent walls giving many of the rooms a coffeehouse vibe.
Each room, though, is inspired by some aspect of New York City life, from the spacious loft to the economical railroad flat. The hotel has a restaurant and a rooftop lounge for signature cocktails and casual dishes. Innovative meeting spaces are also available for as few as eight and as many as 100 people.
Hotel Indigo (ihg.com) at 229 Duffield Street, stays true to this IHG brand, existing within the urban landscape, but not apart from it. Among the industrial edifices and bohemian shops of Williamsburg, the hotel rises above the cement in its ultra-contemporary and sleek design. The nearby Brooklyn Bridge brings guests into Manhattan in a matter of minutes.
The hotel’s eight meeting spaces for a total of 10,000 square feet are professional and relaxing. The rooms are spacious and work-friendly, but when bleisure time comes, the hotel’s rooftop pool, bar and sundeck with stunning city vistas are sure to make the business trip seem much less like business.
For all it’s rough edges, Brooklyn is still a vibrant and burgeoning cultural landscape, with as many blessings as burdens. No matter one’s opinion of the edgy borough, Brooklyn is what it is. Newsman Larry King once said, “In Brooklyn, if you say, ‘I’m dangerous,’ you’d better be dangerous.”