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.