Surrounded by Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Sunset Park and Carroll Gardens, Gowanus has developed a sewage-tainted reputation thanks to its southwest boundary and namesake, the Gowanus Canal. The area’s network of marshlands morphed into an industrial landscape during the 19th and 20th centuries, as factories used the canal to move cargo to and from New York Harbor, polluting it along the way. As heavy industry exited the large, adaptable, empty buildings left behind shaped the character of the neighborhood as they filled with exhibition spaces for the performing and visual arts. Today, Gowanus is peppered with neighborhood hangouts, music venues, new eateries and more than a few trivia nights.
Neighborhood boundaries run from Fourth Avenue to the canal/Hoyt Street or Smith Street, depending on who you ask, and from Prospect Avenue/the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to Butler or Baltic Street, depending on who you ask. We’re not here to declare official boundaries–just to tell you where to have a good time.
Start your day with an invigorating walk or bike ride over the canal via the Carroll Street Bridge, the oldest of four rectile bridges left in the country. It stills bears a sign from its late 19th century origins warning drivers of a $5 penalty for crossing faster than pedestrians. Head to Monte’s (Nevins and Carroll) for an old school Italian brunch. The century-old establishment serves a decidedly new-school Nutella and ricotta pizza and the eggs a la Monte’s come drenched in bechamel. Once you’re full, stop by Proteus Gowanus (Union and Nevins) for a cultural fix. The gallery space is dedicated to canal and community history and features toxic sediment donated by the EPA–separated from the public by display case glass, of course. Aside from ever-changing shows, displays and events, the museum also offers a quiet study hall and work space, as well as a writing society. A fixers collective meets the third Thursday of each month at 7pm to share techniques on repairing and mending broken things–plan your trip around that table lamp your grandmother gave you that has a frayed cord.
For a look at the industrial future of Gowanus, check out Cut Brooklyn (Third Avenue and Ninth Street). Owner Joel Bukiewicz handcrafts beautiful knives, which you can examine, and purchase during open studio hours, Wednesday 3 to 7pm, and Saturday noon to 5pm. Or, sharpen your knife skills at a one of their just-about-monthly classes. In the warmer months, The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club also offers boating experiences, for a canal’s eye view of the neighborhood. The slots fill up quickly so check their calendar well in advance of your day trip.
If you’ve worked up an appetite thinking about slicing and dicing, Wing Bar (Smith and Degraw) is the neighborhood spot for wings, fried brussels sprouts, jalapeño poppers and pitchers of beer. Or, settle in on the patio of the Gowanus Yacht Club (Smith and Union), which is yacht-free but offers veggie dogs, PBR and dive-y charm aplenty. Once you’ve refueled, head down Ninth to take a peek at Gowanus Ballroom (Ninth Street at the canal), an airy, white-walled event space. Built as a steel mill, the Ballroom boasts 50-foot ceilings and a metal fabrication shop. It can be hard to find, but if you can spot FIND Home Furnishings, head back into the complex and follow the signs for Serett Metal. FIND, easily identified by its bold black-and-white exterior, is fun for browsing antique lamps, modern items and quirky replicas.
After satisfying your eye for design, sing a song of sixpence and fill your stomach with a slice of pie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eighth Street and Third Avenue). This season, pick from a menu including maple buttermilk custard, cranberry sage, and the bourbon-infused derby pie. Forgot your bike lock? Don’t worry, sisters and co-owners Melissa and Emily Elsen have loaners and a bike pump on hand.
Wash down dessert with a glass of Battenkill Valley Creamery milk and head up to Fourth Avenue for a round of trivia at Fourth Avenue Pub or Pacific Standard (both between St. Mark’s and Bergen), though eggheads be warned: The latter is rumored to feature some of the toughest questions in Kings County. If you chicken out, Littlefield NYC (between Third and Fourth on Degraw) is a 1920s era warehouse that offers walls made of recycled tires and a bar constructed from former bowling alley lanes. The watering hole also features a packed calendar of midnight hip-hop dance parties and sultry jazz performances. Variety shows like Hot Tub (Monday nights), featuring Kurt Braunohler and Flight of the Concords’ Kristen Schaal, and Talent Show with This American Life’s Ira Glass (monthly) are a house specialty.
If Littlefield doesn’t float your boat, swing by the Bell House (Seventh Street between Second and Third Avenues), another recycled warehouse, for live band karaoke, a fake blood and glitter-speckled party thrown by the arts collective CHERYL, or the Secret Science Club, a tamer form of entertainment, at which you can indulge in a glass of wine and a lecture by an astrophysicist or psychiatrist.
For a quieter evening, head to Lowlands (Third Avenue and 14th Street) for chic bartenders, stimulating conversation and candlelit ambiance. The window-facing booths are ideal for late-night people watching on Third Avenue. Across the street, Draft Barn boasts a beer selection of around 300 different brews. The kitchen serves up beer-flavored croutons with their Eastern European fare, and the bartender has yet to be stumped by a beer-related query. If you’re ready for a low-key game of Jenga, head to Halyards (Third Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets). Complete with darts, a pool table and long communal tables, Halyards is an excellent spot to bring a big party of good friends.
If you skipped wings, dogs or pie, you may be peckish and ready for dinner. Littleneck (Third Avenue and President) is a New England-style clam shack on the banks of one of Brooklyn’s most notorious waterways, serving fried clams, seasonal seafood and a raw bar. All those canal views may have inspired thoughts of natural filtration systems, like oysters, after all.
If you haven’t yet passed the midnight mark and turned into a pumpkin, don a red or white nightcap at Gowanus’s favorite wine bar, the Black Mountain Winehouse (Union and Hoyt). Snag a seat in front of the fireplace for a snuggly end-to-the-evening that may almost convince you that you’ve taken a day trip to the countryside.