Exclusive | New York City: Neighborhoods Part Six
By Joe Okonkwo | AN OUTTRAVELER.COM EXCLUSIVE
While most of our coverage is devoted to the island of Manhattan, remember that there are four other boroughs comprising the city of New York. Often derided as the home of the "Bridge and Tunnel" crowd (meaning people who have to cross a bridge or drive through a tunnel to reach Manhattan), the other boroughs have lots to offer.
The Bronx Zoo (Fordham Rd, at Bronx River Pkwy; 718/367-1010; $8-12) is the most famous attraction here, and is the largest urban zoo in the world, with over 3,600 animals. The Congo Gorilla forest, Himalayan Highlands Habitat, home to rare snow leopards - and Wild Asia habitat as some of most attractive zoo collections in the world.
Attached to the zoo is the beautiful New York Botanical Gardens (Southern Blvd, at E. 200th St; 718/ 817-8700; $13), 250 acres of gardens, woods, valleys, hills and floral displays. The restored Haupt Conservatory has over 10 pavilions, each with a different environment. Both are easily reached via Metro North, the commuter railroad, making the Gardens just twenty minutes from Grand Central Station.
The Edgar Allen Poe Cottage (Kingsbridge Rd, at the Grand Concourse; 718/881-8900; $2), open on Saturdays and Sundays only, was one of the American Master of the Macabre's New York City homes. Belmont, centered on Arthur Avenue, is a predominantly Italian enclave, more like Italy than Manhattan's Little Italy.
By itself, Brooklyn would be the fourth-largest city in America. One in seven Americans can trace their heritage to Brooklyn, and it seems all of America's favorite entertainers grew-up here, acquainting America with the famous Brooklynese accent and Jewish comic style. (Yes, we're talking about Barbra!)
The most picturesque and cinematic of Brooklyn's neighborhoods is Brooklyn Heights, just over the Brooklyn Bridge and stretching into the borough only as far as Cadman Plaza. This tightly woven, genteel neighborhood of exquisitely preserved brownstones, brick townhomes, even a few wood-frame houses, dates back to the Victorian era and before, and still feels it, helped along by original gas burning street lamps and brick streets. You might even recognize a few of the homes from movies, including Prizzi's Honor, which filmed at the Pierpont Mansion at the corner of Montague and the Promenade; Moonstruck also used the streets as an outdoor location.
The Promenade (follow Montague Street straight west until it dead ends into the Promenade) is a pedestrian walkway overlooking the East River and lower Manhattan's towering Financial District, as well as a distant Statue of Liberty. The view at night is dazzling and romantic.
The best cheesecake in the world is served at Junior's (386 Flatbush Avenue; 718/852-5257), on Flatbush and Dekalb Avenues, about a 10-minute walk from the Heights.
Coney Island (take the F train to the end of the Brooklyn-bound line) is famous for its tawdry boardwalk and amusement park, where the Cyclone (1000 Surf Avenue at W. 10th Street; 718/372-0275; $22) still roars as America's most famous rollercoaster. Walk down the boardwalk until you get to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn's Russian community, called "Little Odessa" for its Black Sea immigrants who arrived here in the mid-'70s, now numbering over 20,000. The subway is elevated over the main commercial thoroughfare, Brighton Beach Avenue, which is lined with Russian businesses of every kind. In fact, you'll rarely hear English spoken here, and most signs are written in Cyrillic. Other ethnic neighborhoods run the gamut from a Caribbean enclave that puts on the city's biggest parade every Labor Day, to the Arab area around Atlantic Avenue, but the latest immigrants are Manhattan exiles -- trendsetters with prodigious talent but lacking Fifth Avenue-sized bank accounts. And they're creating a new scene all their own.
The easiest way to explore Brooklyn is with a trip to its Williamsburg section, where the artier element that once inhabited the East Village has relocated. It's only a short cab ride from downtown, or even simpler still, take the subway: The "L" train will speed you right from the major gay hotspots of Chelsea, Greenwich Village and the East Village to Bedford Avenue, the first stop in Brooklyn and the main drag of Williamsburg's trendy north side. It doesn't look like much -- this neighborhood hasn't had a glamorous makeover -- but tucked inside the converted pharmacies and unassuming storefronts are the makings of "the new SoHo."
The folks behind the East Village's Nowhere and Phoenix are responsible for gay hipster hangout Metropolitan (559 Lorimer Street; 718/599-4444), a laidback lounge for the boho art set, with free internet access, pool table and video games.
Just off Bedford is Planet Thailand (133 N. Seventh St; 718/599-5758; $8-13), a hip and cavernous Asian eatery complete with sushi bar, hibachi tables and a DJ to keep the vibe humming.
Williamsburg also boasts a host of unusual shops, eateries and hangouts, including Main Drag Music (207 Bedford Ave; 718/388-6365), a tiny space housing so many rare guitars it would make Les Paul weep with joy; Bliss (191 Bedford Ave, between N. Sixth & Seventh St; 718/599-2547; $6-10), a gay-friendly organic caf? with a neighborhood atmosphere; and the Abbey (536 Driggs Ave, between N. Seventh & Eighth St; 718/599-4400), a mixed gay-straight bar where the hipsters gather to groove.
Secrets (1321 Avenue Z; 718/308-9547) is another gay lounge in the area. The area has a community spot of its own, called Gay & Lesbians Of Williamsburg (GLOW, 139 N. 10th St; 718/782-3105).
More Williamsburg information is available at www.freewilliamsburg.com.
New York City: Introduction
New York City: Where to Stay
New York City: Where to Eat
New York City: Where to Play/Meet
New York City: What to See and Do
New York City: Where to Shop
New York City: Resources