Wythe Hotel. Whole Foods. J.Crew? If there was any doubt Williamsburg is closer than ever to becoming a mini-Manhattan, the opening of the former and impending arrival of the latter two should clear that up. It’s hardly news that the neighborhood is changing. Its transformation from Hasidic-Hispanic enclave to the red-hot center of all things artisanal to, most recently, a shadow of the meatpacking district has been thoroughly, even obsessively, documented by the media (including in these pages). Just saying the name Williamsburg can induce groans. But most of that happened on the neighborhood’s north side (specifically between Grand Street and McCarren Park). The south side, meanwhile, has remained comparatively untouched—scruffier and more residential. Now that’s changing, too. In the past year or so, the area south of Grand has seen the addition of dozens of bars, restaurants, and shops, not to mention a trapeze school. While it’s still a good ten years behind the north side, the south’s nascent development is raising some of the same issues that the north’s gentrification did—questions about who “belongs,” culture clashes between new and old residents, and, of course, rent hikes. Here, a guide to Williamsburg’s new frontier.
It’s not just Steak for Four anymore.
Thanks to tastemaking pioneers like Andrew Tarlow (Marlow & Sons, Diner, and, to the north, Wythe Hotel) and Colin Devlin (Dressler, DuMont Burger), and Peter Luger a century before them, the road south has become increasingly well paved. Taavo Somer built hippie farmhouse Isa (1) (348 Wythe Ave., at S. 2nd St.; 347-689-3594) with his own two hands, and his seasonal menu continues to infatuate despite the recent ousting of chef Ignacio Mattos. Former Queen’s Hideaway proprietress Liza Queen has a new venture, Potlikker (2) (338 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 3rd St.; 718-388-9808), devoted to rootsy American cooking: Think meat loaf on a Parker House roll and Dutch pancakes layered with bacon and fried oysters. Matt Lang, a Baltimore native and student of Fette Sau and St. Anselm, tackles his home city’s grub at Lake Trout (3) (160 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St.; no phone), a sporty fourteen-seater serving deep-fried whiting, crab cakes, and corn. Juicy kebabs are prepared the Afghan way—marinated and then broiled—at the casual Kabob Shack (4) (182 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 3rd St.; 718-387-7111); for the vegetarian set, falafel are swaddled gyro style in flatbread and smothered with a garlicky tsatsiki sauce. San Francisco chainlet Rosamunde Sausage Grill (5) (285 Bedford Ave., nr. Grand St.; 718-388-2170) opened last week with tube steaks from local boys Brooklyn Bangers, plus Mission favorites like smoked-beer sausage made with Lagunitas Ale. Mini-chain Hummus Kitchen has installed Tel Aviv dining vet Nir Mesika at its opening-this-week Zizi Limona (6) (129 Havemeyer St., at S. 1st St.; no phone yet), where a basement cocktail lounge is also in the works. Four pork-and-chive dumplings cost $1.25 at Vanessa’s Dumplings (7) (310 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 1st St.; 718-218-8806)—a quarter more than at its Eldridge Street sister—but with abundant seating and $2 beers, who’s complaining? Over at corner spot Bistro Petit (8) (170 S. 3rd St., at Driggs Ave.; 718-782-2582), Korean-born chef Sung Park puts an Asian twist on French standards, most notably in his kimchee bouillabaisse. Subway tiles and bistro chairs make another Frenchified spot, Morgane (9) (340 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 3rd St.; 347-599-0699), look like something out of the Keith McNally playbook. But this being Brooklyn, it boasts one amenity none of McNally’s joints have: a spacious back garden.
Rock-and-roll dives, absinthe saloons, and boozy boccie.
Les bons temps can’t help but roll at Maison Premiere (10) (298 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 1st St.; 347-335-0446), a NOLA tribute with faux-weathered walls and an enchantingly overgrown back garden. Strong cocktails, an absinthe list, and a 33-deep selection of oysters (a buck each on weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m.) complete the illusion. The gravel-strewn backyard at police-car repair shop turned whiskey haunt Crown Victoria (11) (60 S. 2nd St., nr. Wythe Ave.; 718-387-0003) is dotted with Ping-Pong tables, boccie courts, and, inexplicably, an old broken tractor. At Tender Trap (12) (245 S. 1st St., nr. Roebling St.; 347-763-1825), a polished-hillbilly aesthetic inside—church pews, an American flag—gives way to a greeting-card-size patio where hard partyers cool off during the nightly D.J. sets. Around the corner, the Grand Victory (13) (245 Grand St., nr. Roebling St.; 347-529-6610) has taken over where Cake Shop spinoff Bruar Falls left off, with a spiffed-up stage and sound system but still mostly local bands. Duke Quan, formerly of Duke’s in the East Village, has hauled that venue’s roadhouse-kitsch décor over the bridge to Bia Bar & Grill (14) (67 S. 6th St., nr. Wythe Ave.; 718-388-0908). The fresh-juice cocktails and Asian beers are expected; less so are the Vietnamese fare and rooftop patio. The whitewashed vaulted ceiling, open windows, and rum-centric cocktail menu at the Haslegrave-brothers-designed Donna (15) (27 Broadway, nr. Dunham Pl.; no phone), meanwhile, conjure somewhere even farther-flung than this far-west corner of South Williamsburg—like Nicaragua.
Clothing with a conscience.
The bewhiskered look that made Williamsburg gentrifiers the poster children for hipster scum everywhere has also migrated south—albeit with a more thoughtful M.O. To wit: Lisa Joseph’s Eco Closet (16) (230 Grand St., nr. Driggs Ave.; 718-360-4587), a green boutique bursting with faux-silk dresses, açai-berry necklaces, and recycled SmartGlass bangles. Next door: Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart’s Vaute Here (17) (234 Grand St., nr. Driggs Ave.; 718-717-2193), devoted to her vegan clothing line Vaute Couture. The designers behind jewelry lines Cold Picnic and Species by the Thousands stock their brick-and-mortar A Thousand Picnics (18) (171 S. 4th St., nr. Driggs Ave.; no phone) with skeleton cuffs, brass bolo ties, and dream catchers. The analogously free-spirited Beautiful Dreamers (19) (326 Wythe Ave., at S. 1st St.; 718-388-4884) carries diaphanous maxi-dresses and Spanish avarca sandals. Hilary Park Jewelry (20) (94 S. 1st St., nr. Berry St.; 718-387-7076), the first shop for this ex–Wall Street trader, showcases astrology- and nature-inspired pieces. Then there’s Joinery (21) (263 S. 1st St., nr. Havemeyer St.; 347-889-6164), “a shop where all kinds of good things come together,” including vegetable-dyed straw mats from Brazil and mobiles from artist Kim Baise. Hickoree’s Floor Two (22) (109 S. 6th St., nr. Bedford Ave., second fl.; 347-294-0005) answers the call for urban frontiersmen, trading in sturdy Thorogood boots, Ursa Major shaving cream, and Silly Putty, among other backwoods necessities. On the aesthetic flip: Fred Perry Surplus (23) (306 Grand St., nr. Havemeyer St.; 347-689-2096), the first outlet for the streetwise British sportswear label. Heaps of piqué cotton polos and patterned trousers are priced to move at up to 70 percent off. And natty little Brooklyn Tailors (24) (358 Grand St., nr. Marcy Ave.; 347-799-1646), situated in the shadow of the BQE, is the go-to for bespoke menswear, though it also stocks ready-to-wear suits, shirts, and ties.
Aerial, tattooing, and otherwise.
When the apartment above Marlow & Sons became available last year, Andrew Tarlow snapped up the lease so that Anna Dunn—Diner bartender and editor-in-chief of Diner Journal, which documents goings-on in the Diner universe—could make a gallery out of it. This Must Be the Place (25) (81 Broadway, nr. Berry St., third fl.; thismustbetheplace.org) raised a year’s worth of Kickstarter funding in March and is already booked up with art shows, Pilates classes, and poetry readings. Production studio Picture Farm (26) (338 Wythe Ave., nr. S. 1st St.; 718-218-8001) opened its doors to gallery exhibitions last summer, allowing “homeless” creatives like Kayrock Screenprinting and Ugly Art Room to set up shop for a few weeks at a time. At illustrator Tara McPherson’s gallery Cotton Candy Machine (27) (235 S. 1st St., nr. Roebling St.; 718-387-3844), the art rotates monthly, and there’s always a hand-selected surprise for sale—like rock posters plucked from McPherson’s personal collection. The just-opened Bird River Studios (28) (343 Grand St., nr. Marcy Ave.; birdriverstudios.com) offers after-school programs in ceramics and stop-motion animation for kids ages 3 to 12, plus workshops for adults. Acrobatics and trapeze classes are de rigueur at the Muse Brooklyn (29) (32D S. 1st St., at Kent Ave.; 347-868-7369), but the warehouse also has a packed lineup of aerial dance shows, should you wish to leave the bungee-dangling to the pros. Those who prefer more cutaneous art lauded the landing of Joe Truck’s Magic Cobra Tattoo Society (30) (775 Driggs Ave., nr. S. 3rd St.; 718-782-8287). Truck opened the first legal tattoo parlor in New York in 1997, then split for California. Now he’s back with a new shop and a slew of reputable inkers, plus Anna Monoxide in the piercer’s chair. Business is booming, so book ahead.
Cafés and bagelrias galore.
When its North Bedford rent skyrocketed last year, neighborhood mainstay the Bagel Store (31) (349 Bedford Ave., at S. 4th St.; 718-218-7220) decamped to a more southerly location. The no-frills menu includes “Brooklyn Mexican” breakfast sandwiches and six varieties of tofu cream cheese (it’s still Williamsburg, after all). The retro-styled Bedford Baking Studio (32) (347 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 4th St.; 347-278-4548) serves Crop to Cup coffee and Turkish pastries like rosewater-soaked güllaç. At much-lauded Whirlybird (33) (254 S. 2nd St., nr. Havemeyer St.; 718-384-1928), an album-cover-adorned coffee shop with tree-stump sidewalk seating, there are just two types of breakfast taco: one with chorizo, the other veg, and both fried up on a sizzling griddle. Black Brick Coffee (34) (300 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 1st St.; 718-384-0075) is the haven of choice for stay-all-day freelancers. Dust Bowl–era furnishings and a ceiling shellacked with old packing crates recall simpler times, an illusion belied only by the carefully brewed Stumptown and sea of Mac laptops.
Live the locavore dream.
You can calculate a neighborhood’s livability by its crime rate and school system, or by something far more frivolous—like ease of access to ooey-gooey doughnuts. The 2,800-square-foot Gourmet Guild (35) (110 Broadway., nr. Bedford Ave.; 718-388-7726) is the go-to source for small-batch perishables, including Long Island produce, free-range eggs, and shot-put-size Dough doughnuts. Six blocks away, fill your growler with one of sixteen on-tap brews or select from 500 bottles at Breukelen Bier Merchants (36) (182 Grand St., nr. Bedford Ave.; 347-457-6350), where the grocery section also specializes in Brooklyn-made goods. Ferry it all home on a new set of wheels from the outpost of East Village fixture Landmark Vintage Bicycles (37) (376 Bedford Ave., nr. S. 4th St.; 347-799-2116).
Coming Soon …
A hotel, movie theater, and racing-inspired taproom.
Zak Pelaccio’s gonzo eatery Fatty ’Cue (38) (91 S. 6th St., nr. Berry St.; 718-599-3090) finally reopens in October with a new focus on raw and roasted seafood. Also due this fall: the Brooklyn edition of Max (39) (740 Driggs Ave., at S. 2nd St.), an Italian charmer with 40 seats and a focus on small plates. From the owners of Post Office bar comes OTB (40) (141 Broadway, nr. Bedford Ave.), an “old man”–ish ode to New York’s defunct Off-Track Betting joints. Lights will be numbered like betting windows, and the drink menu will resemble a racetrack form. Williamsburg Cinemas (41) (217 Grand St., at Driggs Ave.), a seven-screen movie house with stadium-style seating, will test the famously snobby residents’ appetites for blockbuster fare. Another indicator that South Williamsburg has become a destination: Juan Figueroa of Bushwick’s New York Loft Hostel bought the Williamsburg Savings Bank (42) (175 Broadway, nr. Driggs Ave.) in 2010 and has been furiously renovating ever since. When he’s done, the Beaux Arts landmark will house a 350-person event hall for weddings and corporate functions, a ballroom, and a 150-seat restaurant. Two private dining rooms will inhabit the bank’s former offices, and there’s a hotel blueprinted for next door.
Reporting by Melanie Barnes, Alex Carp, Jillian Goodman, Jenny Miller, Jen Ortiz, and S. Jhoanna Robledo.