For the longest time the always-quaint mix of bars, restaurants and boutiques on Columbia St. didn’t seem to inspire the same kind of day tripping as neighboring Red Hook, Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens. But in the past year, a ton of attractions have opened in the area, making it perfect for a day spent exploring the old and new haunts.
Brooklyn Bridge Park’s expansion, for one, is bringing more people to the waterfront. The new playgrounds at Pier 6 and the free ferry service to Governors Island–which ends Oct. 10 for the season!–have made the trip to the very end of Atlantic worthwhile. (As has Henry Public and the Roebling Inn, the newest additions to the Last Exit, Floyd and Montero’s bar scene.)
But there’s a lot more to see if you venture beyond Atlantic, and into the heart of the Columbia Waterfront District, a three-block-wide swath of quirky shops like Freebird Books, neighborhood bars like Moonshine, and brand-new restaurants like Lilla Café.
Columbia Commons, which unveiled its thoughtfully designed apartments this spring, sponsored a guide to a few of our favorite Columbia Street spots and nearby gems. Some lines of the wide-plank-floor apartments are already sold out, and only a limited number of one- and two-bedrooms–some with harbor and Manhattan views, all with access to the courtyard, rooftop and gym–are left at the leafy Warren Street building. You can take a tour during their open houses this weekend and next, then hit up some of the spots on our list.
Lilla Café: Watching the chef leave the kitchen to chop herbs from the lush garden sealed the deal on this charming, brand-new new café. On a recent trip their arancini–golden fried croquettes of shrimp risotto–was the standout starter, and the seasonal squash and striped bass was fresh and thoughtful. Don’t forget to BYOB. 126 Union St., 718-855-5700
Calexico: One door down, Calexico just got its wine and beer license so you can have Tecate and Sangria with their awesome carne asada burritos and daily specials. 122 Union St., 718-488-8226
Jalopy Theater: This jewel-box theater is the home of the best bluegrass, folk and old timey music in New York. It also holds classes for the budding banjo picker and uke player. The regular Wednesday night gig, Roots n Ruckus, is always fun and free. 315 Columbia St, 718-395-3214
Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain: Not technically in the Columbia Waterfront District, but if you haven’t been, this beautiful, old-school soda shop is worth going out of your way for. If it’s pickled, canned, or baked in Brooklyn, chances are you can find it here. Stay for an artisinal soda, bring home a bag of Early Bird Granola’s Choca-Doodle-Doo. 513 Henry St., 718-522-6260
Brooklyn General Store: A cozy shop that caters to the crafter in need of yarn, fabric, thread, trims, patterns, and any little tools needed along the way. You’ll find fabrics by well-known designers like Amy Butler, and can take classes on sewing and knitting. 128 Union St., 718-237-7753
Bopkat Vintage: A must for those that like their vintage stores neat and organized, Bobkat features clothing, collectibles, and accessories at reasonable prices. 117 Union St., 718-222-1820
Art Lot: Once a vacant lot repurposed into an interactive art exhibit called “Media Mixed x4” by Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, Babs Reingold, John Roach, and Mary Schiliro, installed through January 2011. 206 Columbia St., no phone
Brooklyn Collective: One of the most unpredictable storefronts on Columbia Street, the Collective’s rotating group of artists and designers always keep this shop’s inventory new and interesting. To celebrate their new 1500-square-foot digs, they’re throwing a grand re-opening party this Friday, Oct. 1, 7-11 pm, with complimentary cocktails and over 30 new collections. RSVP here. 212 Columbia St., 718-596-6231
Sugar Lounge: This roomy bar/restaurant has a great happy hour and a cozy backyard with a pool table. They’ve also got heaters back there so you can keep sipping outside all the way through fall. 147 A Columbia St., 718-643-2880
Freebird Books & Goods: While this used bookshop is only open at the end of the week, it’s worth a visit for its carefully chosen collection. The backyard hosts concerts, readings, and movies during the summer. 123 Columbia St., 718-643-8484
Mazzola Bakery: Also just outside the Waterfront District, this tiny Italian bakery bakes their goods fresh every morning (and rumor has it they source many local restaurants with dough). The lard bread alone is worth a trip to this corner of Brooklyn. 192 Union St., 718-643-1719
Fultummy’s: A good reason not to judge a restaurant from its storefront, or its ridiculous name. You would never expect this spot to serve delicious Asian fare, specifically “international sandwiches” like a superior bahn-mi and a pork Katsu sandwich. Order with the spicy, homemade ginger ale. 221 Columbia St., 347-725-3129
Moonshine: Pool, darts, southern fried rock on the jukebox and more than a dozen craft brews on tap has made this a destination dive bar even for people far outside the neighborhood. You can sometimes fire up the grill outside and BBQ your own food, too. 317 Columbia St., 718-422-0563
Petite Crevette: Neil Ganic’s tiny cafe attracts cult-like fans who happily oblige the cash-only, no reservations policy in exchange for a very intimate, lovingly assembled dinner of fresh, Mediterranean-style seafood. BYOB. 144 Union St., 718-422-0563