Southern Comfort
The Southside of Williamsburg has become a place to put down roots.
  • By Jada Yuan
  • Published
  • If a hip neighborhood follows the same life cycle as a fashion trend, then Williamsburg is like camou¦age: So beyond over, it’s verging on timeless. With giant skyscrapers coming to the north waterfront by the 2010s, the area is squarely on the path to fully gentriÞed respectability—like it or not—in record time. If North Williamsburg is Brooklyn’s East Village, the Southside below Grand Street—just out of range of the waterfront-redevelopment plan, with a firmly entrenched population of Hispanics and Hasids—is still the Lower East Side of a few years back. Not for long: There are so many new condos, Southside looks like a giant construction zone. But they won’t be filled for at least a year, which means you’ve still got time to discover the neighborhood.

    (1.) City Reliquary
    307 Grand St., at Havemeyer St.
    Southside’s unofficial entrance gate is the outside wall of this apartment building. Essentially a tenant’s art project, it has painted directions to local landmarks like the Metropolitan Pool and the Lorimer Street subway stop. Peek through the windows at the obsessive collection of New York memorabilia, including pieces of the Manhattan Bridge and the World Trade Center.

    City Reliquary, Southsides's unofficial gateway.  

    (2.) Lodge
    318 Grand St., at Havemeyer St.; 718-486-9400;
    With its mammoth wood bar and deer-antler chandeliers, this restaurant feels like a lakeside cabin in the Adirondacks. It’s the best place to eat outdoors, with one of the few sidewalk-café permits.

    The Tainted Lady's soft-core paintings.  

    (3.) Tainted Lady Lounge
    318 Grand St., at Havemeyer St.; 718-302-5514
    This ode to your inner voyeur has walls covered with soft-core-porn paintings—all by a fifties truck driver. Be sure to see both bathrooms—a “color” one covered in pulp-novel covers and a “black-and-white” one with early-sixties National Enquirer headlines like GIRLFRIEND WAS ALIVE WHEN . . . HE CUT OFF HER HEAD.

    (4.) Taco Chulo
    318 Grand St., at Havemeyer St.; 718-302-2485
    That’s Taco Pimp. Don’t leave Southside’s newest restaurant without trying the Michelada, a surprisingly refreshing Mexican drink made of lime juice, chile, and Dos Equis. Cash only.

    (5.) Ghosttown
    335 Grand St., nr. Havemeyer St.; 718-387-0990
    This vintage boutique’s legendary bashes, sometimes D.J.’d by members of the Rapture, left it reeking so badly that the owners swore off throwing them (it didn’t take: The next one is September 23). Pick up local designer Brendan Donnelly’s eagle-stenciled hoodies, fit for a tasteful Hells Angel.

    (6.) Atlas Cafe
    116 Havemeyer St., at Grand St.; 718-782-7470
    Southside’s only true coffee shop, with huge windows, free wi-fi, H&H Bagels, and really strong dark-roasted organic coffee trucked in from Oakland, California, just like the owners’ laid-back attitude.

    (7.) M Shanghai Bistro and Den
    129 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 1st St.; 718-384-9300
    Upstairs, there’s the only good Chinese food in Williamsburg. Downstairs, struggling writers do hip-hop karaoke on Sundays.

    (8.) Spokes and Springs
    140 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 1st St.; 718-599-2409
    Where elitist messenger types gather to mock recreational cyclists. The focus is strictly on custom-built track bikes (from $750) and hybrids (from $379) designed for pothole abuse. For basic repairs, try Bicycle Doctor (133 Grand St., nr. Berry St.; 718-302-3145).

    (9.) VGF (Very Good Food) Town
    163 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St.; 718-782-1756
    This family-run market caters to Havemeyer’s sizable Dominican population with an impressive selection of plantains and strange roots like apio, malanga coco, and yautia, brought in from a tropical market in the Bronx (all for under $2 a pound).

    (10.) Sweet Virginia
    164 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St.; 718-963-3999
    The gauzy, pastel dollhouse interior makes this the most charming thrift shop on the block. Deconstructed T-shirts from local designers are overpriced, but there’s a terrific collection of dresses from the late fifties and early sixties, including a filmy gold Audrey Hepburn number for $55.

    (11.) Peter Luger
    178 Broadway, at Driggs Ave.; 718-387-7400;
    Despite recent griping that the porterhouse institution is coasting on its reputation, it’s still the only place in the neighborhood you can take your dad to, to convince him that you don’t live among heathens. Try the superb burger for a change.

    (12.) Williamsburg Art and Historical Center
    135 Broadway, at Bedford Ave.; 718-486-7372;
    Set in the beautiful landmarked Kings County Savings Bank building, this nonprofit, multi-use art center is home to poetry readings, dance, avant-garde theater, and exhibitions by big names like sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Closed for renovations until January 2006.

    (13.) East River
    97 South 6th St., nr. Berry St.; 718-302-0511
    This bar is the best place to soak up the last of summer, thanks to the gigantic stone patio. Bring your own food; they’ll let you use their barbecue grill and clean up the mess.

    (14.) Bembe
    81 S. 6th St., at Berry St.; 718-387-5389
    There’s almost no natural light inside—and just a tiny blue light outside—this terrifically fun Brazilian hangout. Upstairs doubles as an art gallery and tropical retreat (complete with hammocks), with the soccer-jersey-clad owner serving vodka out of a watermelon. Downstairs, there are D.J.’s every night, often accompanied by live percussion. Get there around 10 p.m.; dancing typically rages past four in the morning.

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