Sandwiched between mega-wealthy Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, the eyesore of Gowanus, with its junkyards, big empty warehouses and that toxic canal, has for years remained Brooklyn’s dirty little secret. Even now that it is home to the borough’s first branch of Whole Foods (opened in December) and a string of new, slightly offbeat venues along Third Avenue, this undeveloped industrial backwater has managed to remain under the radar. But it won’t do for much longer – and here are 10 reasons why.
Ice-creams in signature flavours such Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and a new brownie-hazelnut concoction called It Came From Gowanus are made in big batches at Ample Hills Creamery’s new Union Street locale. An expansive seating area and rooftop deck mean folks can linger well after their cones have been devoured. “We wanted to create a space that would become a destination,” says illustrator Lauren Kaelin, who has worked with owners to capture the neighbourhood’s untamed vibe with a mural depicting a pig, a cow and a chicken rafting merrily down the Gowanus canal.
• 305 Nevins St, +1 347 725-4061, amplehills.com. Open Sun-Thur midday-10pm, Fri-Sat midday-11pm
Crop to Cup
Plenty of coffee shops have delusions of grandeur when it comes to pouring the perfect cup. But this low-key cafe, which doubles as a tasting room and wholesaler, truly knows its beans: after reopening last month as one of the city’s only raw coffee retailers, the space now offers home-roasting kits alongside sacks, from 2lb to 132lb, of pure, unroasted beans imported directly from co-ops in Papa New Guinea, Tanzania, Burundi and Mexico.
• 541A 3rd Ave, +1 347 599 0053, croptocup.com. Open Mon-Sat 8am-5.30pm, Sun 9am-5pm
Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Locals who like their breakfast on the sweet side head to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, an old-timey pie shop where classics such as salted caramel apple and black bottom oat are baked on site. Throughout the day, aproned staff busily sift flour, roll out dough and pour batter in a kitchen the size of a cupboard. It’s a fun process to watch, though not quite as enjoyable as the moment fork meets mouth.
• 439 3rd Avenue, +1 718 499 2917 birdsblack.com. Open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-7pm
Morbid Anatomy Museum
With its black-painted facade and permanent library of taxidermied birds, folk art and occult books, the recently opened Morbid Anatomy Museum offers a taste of the macabre against the relentless commercial thrum of 3rd Avenue. However, owner Joanna Ebenstein, who single-handedly curated the quirky death-themed gallery, sees her collection as anything but bleak: “We’re showcasing material culture from the past. The only thread tying these disparate objects together is that I happen to think they’re beautiful.”
• 424 Third Ave, +1 347 799 1017, morbidanatomymuseum.org. Open daily midday-6pm except Tuesday. Admission $8, seniors and students $6, under-12s free
Gowanus Wine Merchants
After years without a proper liquor store to call its own, the entire neighbourhood rejoiced when Gowanus Wine Merchants opened in late 2012. The cosy corner shop, which offers free tastings every Friday from 6-8pm, pays homage to its surroundings in both name and product: spirits by local distilleries Widow Jane and Breuckelen Distilling, maker of Glorious Gin (the latter is headquartered eight blocks away) sit alongside affordable bottles of selected European wine.
• 493 3rd Avenue, +1 718 499 9700, gowanuswines.com. Open Mon 4pm-9pm, Tues-Thur midday-9pm, Fri-Sat midday-10pm, Sun midday-8pm
Whether you’re hunting for the perfect gift or just enjoy unusual greenery, Twig is as enchanting as they come. Flanked by a Super 8 motel and a block-wide storage facility, the terrarium shop is a refreshing burst of green amid Gowanus’s concrete. The owners specialise in hanging plants such as asparagus ferns, kokedama string gardens (a sort of bonsai), and glass-housed, carefully tweezed moss sculptures that are mini worlds in themselves.
• 287 3rd Avenue, +1 718 488 8944, twigterrariums.com. Open Thur-Sun midday-7pm
Runner & Stone
An eye-catching wall made of what appear to be pillows (the effect was created by pouring concrete into empty flour sacks) is the first sign that all-day eatery Runner & Stone is more than meets the eye. First off, there are two kitchens – one to bake the baguettes, brioches and sourdough rye loaves that have become a neighbourhood staple, and another to create the dishes on the menu. Show up on Wednesdays for hot dog and hamburger night – the former are made from scratch with lacto-fermented sauerkraut, freshly baked brioche buns and homemade dogs.
• 285 3rd Ave, +1 718 576 3360, runnerandstone.com. Open Mon-Thur 7.30am-10pm, Fri 7.30am-11pm, Sat 8am-11pm, Sun 11am-9pm
Popular in warm-weather places like Miami, the game of shuffleboard, where players use cues to push weighted discs, down a long narrow court, was relatively unknown in Brooklyn until last year, when co-owners Jonathan Schnapp and Ashley Albert opened the Royal Palms, a hipster-fied country club, which boasts 10 courts, two bars, a rotating food truck, and a bingo area. White-clad attendees offer a three-minute tutorial to newbies of the game, though after a few of their excellent orange-and-coconut cream cocktails, expect the rules to get a little blurry.
• 514 Union St, royalpalmsshuffle.com.Open Tues-Wed 6pm-midnight, Thur-Fri 6pm-2am, Sat midday-2am, Sun midday-midnight
With its laid-back sidewalk seating area, affordable cocktails, and versatile indoor event space (the NPR radio show Ask Me Another records here several times a month), the Bell House, a rollicking music venue in an old sweater factory, was one of the first places to put Gowanus on the map back in 2008. Today, locals show up for quirky food contests like the Chili Take Down, or get hot and heavy at The Rub, an all-night twice-monthly dance party. An impressive roster of live acts – The Breeders, Yo La Tengo, The Detroit Cobras – rounds out the scene.
• 49 7th Street, +1 718 643 6510, thebellhouseny.com. Bar hours weekdays 5pm-4am, weekends 5pm-4am. See website for listings
Inn on Second
Get a feel for a real Brooklyn domicile at Inn on Second, a converted 19th-century brownstone owned by Fran and Joe Dirks, who have been in the neighbourhood for years. One block from the subway, the inn offers two private rooms with coffee makers, milk and soft drinks provided.
• Doubles $125 a night room-only, 60 Second Street, +1 718 596 3185, innonsecond.com
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