Williamsburg has gotten a lot of eye rolls recently, but me, I refuse to write it off completely. Gentrification is a hard road to travel, and the transformation in this neighborhood has been a barrage of growing pains: from the pickles/wax mustache/trucker hat trends of yesteryear to the sleek glass condos and chain stores of today. Many of the residents who have lived here for generations were booted, making way for more expensive living conditions that even the initial gentrifiers couldn’t afford, and continuing ad nauseam until now. Time waits for no neighborhood, and over the years Williamsburg has gotten taller and more bland, until it seemed only the hotels and the Duane Reades could survive.
But I have a secret: This is still an interesting neighborhood. It may not be the same one that existed twenty years ago, but the creative class is thriving here. New designers are setting up showrooms, niche stores are selling quirky items (small-batch hot sauce!), and DJs are still spinning obscure records until the wee hours. There is also no shortage of culinary innovators who are experimenting with decadent dishes and cutting-edge cocktails.
By this time next year, the L train will be shut down, making Williamsburg harder to get to. Don’t miss your chance to appreciate its excellent food and drinks, be one of the first to relax in the brand-spanking-new Domino Park, and dance the night away in places that take music seriously. It might take 10 hours for you to be convinced—or our Williamsburg Immersion on Saturday— but then, I promise, even developers won’t be able to tear you away. Like an optical illusion, at first you might only see a crowded shopping mall, but look hard enough (and drink enough mezcal negronis and orange wine) and you’ll see the other thing. That’s when the neighborhood gets a little more interesting.
1pm, Coffee at The Lot Radio
Good morning, Williamsburg! Imagine you are a star in 90’s classic Pump Up The Volume, just hangin’ with the cool kids in a parking lot, coppin’ a squat on a milk crate, and sippin’ your iced coffee. Christian Slater’s voice might ask, “Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?” That’s the gist of The Lot Radio, a tiny coffee counter-slash-radio station housed in a shipping container that serenades with an eclectic soundtrack (not Slater’s pirated talk radio) out through the speakers for the enjoyment of all the customers chilling with their croissants and NY Times, or light beers and cigarettes, on benches perched precariously on cinder blocks. It’s the perfect DIY-summer morning destination. The Lot, 17 Nassau Avenue, Williamsburg. Take the G to Nassau Street.
1:30pm, Visit MOFAD (Museum of Food and Drink)
Take your coffee with you and stroll across the park. In this lab space, MOFAD develops multisensory exhibits as they work towards funding a large-scale food museum. This is a preview of what’s to come, while also funding its future endeavors. The current exhibit, “Chow, Making the Chinese American Restaurant,” takes a look at the history of Americanized Chinese food, like chop suey and chow mein, which were made especially for American palates and became wildly popular in this country. “Chinese Americans persevered against closed borders and racist immigration policies,” the show notes explain. “They opened American palates to new flavors, ingredients and techniques. And they redefined the meaning of American cuisine.” After feasting your eyes on photos and artifacts from this incredible history, you can enter the tasting room, where chefs serve up samples of unique flavors. On my visit, I tried a delectable softshell crab with lemongrass on rice. Plus, the best part, there are unlimited fortune cookies. Open Friday to Sunday 12-6pm; Tickets: Adults: $15; Students, Seniors & Low Income: $10; Youth 5-17: $7; Children under 5: free. Admission includes one tasting and unlimited fortune cookies.
Outside the museum, you’re going to jump on a Citi Bike right there for a quick 3$ three minute ride across Williamsburg (or do an 11-minute walk) to The Wythe Hotel N. 15th and Wythe bike dock.
2:30pm, Hot Dog at The Ides at the Wythe Hotel
Most people come up to the Ides on the 6th floor of the hotel for the roof deck cocktails and the magical view. You’re here for the $13 hot dog. This is not just any wiener; this is a beef and pork hot dog made on site by their in-house butcher. It’s been braised in beer and tastes like a lager. Topped with fermented sour ramps, sharp yellow mustard and crispy shallots in a house made sourdough potato roll, it is an excellent upgrade to a common summer sandwich. Feel free to order a beer or sparkling rose if you must (that’s what you do on a rooftop after all), but if you’re here with a friend, split the meal. There’s so much more eating to do, and this is just the beginning. The Ides at the Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Avenue, 6th floor, Williamsburg.
3pm, Taste Test at Smorgasburg
I know, I know, you’re probably sick of Smorgasburg. It’s not an optimal eating experience. Crowds plus zero shade equals a broiling parking lot full of barbecuing meat. Sometimes it can feel like the worst tailgating party, made even worse, by a lack of free beer. But in Smorgasburg’s defense, each year brings new and innovative food vendors, and if you plan out what you are going to eat, it can be worth your time. Bring cash and skip anything that has too long of a line. Today, head straight to Lobsterdamus, which should be on your summer bucket list. Refresh yourself with a John’s Juice in a watermelon or pineapple. Then support a high school freshman’s banana bread stand at Bread & Monkey, where you can get a warm Kong sundae, or just buy a loaf of this delicious bread to bring home with you. Smorgasburg, East River State Park, 90 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg.
4pm, Shopping: Heatonist and McNally Jackson
Most foodies love hot sauce, and everyone has a favorite one that they are loyal to. Hillary Clinton and Beyonce claim to both carry their brand in their bags. Heatonist is the store to stop at to branch out and find a new flavor. With over 100 varieties of small-batch, all natural hot sauces to choose from and sample, aficionados are bound to taste something new. Please note that although you can sample the sauce, there are no chasers, so taste the Hellfire with extreme caution. Heatonist, 121 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn. At this point, you might need some air conditioning and a rest. McNally Jackson’s newest branch opened earlier this year, and the clean, comfortable, bi-level space is the perfect place to sit for a bit and rifle through some new books. Upstairs is a solid cookbook section, if all this food has you craving a little time in your own kitchen. McNally Jackson, 76 N. 4th Street, Brooklyn.
5pm, Chill with a cold brew at Domino Park
That yawn doesn’t mean you’re tired, it’s just a coffee crash. We recommend stopping by the North 3rd Street Market, for a little caffeine buzz from Champion Coffee (with beans roasted right in Queens). When I was there, the market was still working under limited hours, but by now should be open until 10pm. You could spend a few hours trying out pizza from Di Fara and burgers from Corner Bistro. Instead take your cold brew to go. Champion Coffee, North 3rd Street Market, 103 N. 3rd Street, Williamsburg. Use the coffee energy to hoof it over to the brand spanking new Domino Park. Designed by the visionaries behind the Highline, this 5-acre greenspace has a similar vibe with an elevated catwalk that you can walk across. It also has a space-age feeling with giant cranes painted in neon colors, lit-up water fountains, a sugar factory inspired playground, and Tacocina, an over the top taco stand by Danny Meyer. Take a seat in one of the lounge chairs and reminisce about the days when Williamsburg had terrible parks. Domino Park, 15 River St., Williamsburg.
6pm, Home Goods Shopping: Leif and Package Free Shop
After you’ve rested, you can shop your way down Grand Street towards dinner. In between all of the chains, Williamsburg still has some of the cutest independent shops around. Leif is one of them. Entering the shop is actually dangerous, because it’s possible to see how every one of these objects would elevate your home to its Pinterest potential. Ceramics in muted earth tones, colorful Turkish towels, and a seagrass basket are all necessary items. Leif, 99 Grand St. Williamsburg. A few blocks further is Package Free Shop, the sexiest sustainable store in existence. It is a boutique dedicated to the zero waste lifestyle, where you can get beautiful and utilitarian objects like mesh produce bags, mason jars, and palo santo sticks. Package Free Shop, 137 Grand St., Brooklyn.
7pm, Dinner at The Four Horsemen
Maybe you have planned ahead and made a reservation at this tiny shoebox-sized restaurant. The Four Horsemen has started accepting limited amounts of reservations for the tables in back, but you can still walk in and put your name in for a bar seat in the front. (If you have to wait, backtrack to Clem’s for a sidewalk drink at one of the neighborhoods best low-key haunts.) Once seated, the waiter will talk to you all night about wines, but limit things down, as our friends suggested, to just the orange wines. The plates are best shared family style, so you can try a little of everything. We started with all the cheese and charcuterie, which came on a slab of marble, and melted in our mouths and on the warm house bread. Afterwards, there were oysters with an orange chutney, salt cod fritters that are fried but not heavy, seasonal snap peas that have some heat, and a roasted pork sausage dish. They sold the last fish collar as we sat down, but we will be coming back for this. The restaurant is a bit of a celebrity magnet, being owned by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and being a favorite hangout of Aziz Ansari; don’t hold this against it. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is exciting, and it’s a crash education about the culinary scene. The Four Horsemen, 295 Grand St., Williamsburg.
9pm, Bar Crawl: Have & Meyer or Mezcaleria La Milagrosa
Orange is the new rosé in Williamsburg, and you may be in the mood for another bottle. Our friends recommended Have & Meyer, an Italian natural wine bar, with an entire page of a menu dedicated to orange wines. If you’ve spent the last few years trying to learn the ins and outs of reds and whites, your head will explode with this new category to taste, each one better than the last. Have & Meyer, 103 Havemeyer St., Williamsburg. If you’d rather move on to something stronger, head to a bodega up the street, where you’ll walk through a freezer door to Mezcaleria La Milagrosa and Listening Room. It’s not the most hidden speakeasy, but that’s hardly the point. Inside you can order a mezcal negroni in a wooden paneled room designed for optimal acoustic levels, that feels part spa and part rec room. The small space seats about 25 people at the bar, and manages to feel comfortable, not pretentious. A DJ spins sounds from top-of-the-line sound system and speakers. For audiophiles, this is a dream come true; for the rest of us, it is the chillest bar with some delicious drinks. Mezcaleria La Milagrosa and Listening Room, behind the deli, 149 Havemeyer St., Williamsburg. Cash only.
10pm, Dancing at Black Flamingo
You’ve eaten and drank too much; it’s probably time to switch to water and dance off some of those calories. By day, Black Flamingo is a vegan Mexican restaurant (which Brooklyn Based writer Ilana Novick recently visited), but by night the basement hosts one of the best dance parties in the neighborhood. An impressive lineup of DJs, a vinyl sound system, and free admission means a crowded space with some very happy revelers. If you can squeeze onto the dance floor, you’ll have a front-row view of the DJ, mixing “I’ll House You” by the Jungle Brothers, while the crowd flits itself around like fireflies in a jar. It’s claustrophobic, sure, but you’ll be having too much fun to care. By the time you come up for air, it may be time to go home, but I guarantee you won’t want to. Black Flamingo, 168 Borinquen Pl., Williamsburg.