Whenever I think of fall, I immediately think of the 1970 film Love Story, starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. The collegiate outfits of wool sweaters, camelhair coats and tweed blazers, framed by the hues of the changing leaves, completely overshadow the film’s tragic plotline about a life cut short. Autumn is also a fleeting, romantic time, and Clinton Hill is the quintessential Brooklyn neighborhood to celebrate fall in New York. The leafy streets, the turn of the century brownstones, and the range of hearty food and drink options make this a perfect way to fall in love with the borough. Nothing is cozier than a weekend stroll in “sweater weather” through a sculpture garden in a college campus, fighting the chill in the air at a backyard beer garden with friends, or eating a casual dinner at the bar in front of a woodfire pizza oven. On Halloween Night, the neighborhood pulls out all the stops. While its annual “Halloween House” performance has moved to Bed-Stuy this year, there is still a Halloween walk with maps of the candy-doling houses in the neighborhood, the block of Waverly between Willoughby and DeKalb shuts down for revelry, and the band, the Dead Zombies, plays throughout the night. But even before or after the holiday, the streets have a crisp, festive feel, as ephemeral as Ali MacGraw in the film. The season will be over soon, so make the most of it with this 10-hour plan.
10:30am: Start slow with a flow at Healhaus
Every weekend should ideally start with #SelfcareSaturday. There is no better way to learn about being present than with a meditation or yoga class. Healhaus offers up classes, along with workshops and a community space where participants can gather and bond around the ideas of wellness and freshly squeezed juice. I visited before for a chakra clearing meditation class, and was impressed with the inclusivity of the space. The space was designed to be non-gendered, the music is actually good, and the back porch is dreamy. Start the day with an Open Level Vinyasa Flow class, a perfect beginning for those new to a practice, and a chance for more experienced yoginis to slow down and get oxygenated for the day. If this is your first time here, you’ll be rewarded with a $20 newcomer rate, which gives you a week of unlimited classes for that price. Otherwise, a drop-in yoga class will run you $20 for the class. HealHaus, 1082 Fulton St., Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy border
11:45am: Brunch at Otway
Otway has the “perfect brunch” interior down pat. Inside the bright space are shelves of green plants, large windows for people watching and cozy nooks for eating homemade comfort food. On the day that we went, there were quite a few empty tables, but for some reason, they wouldn’t seat anyone until all of the tables were cleared and cleaned. We waited for about 15 minutes with a crowd of other confused patrons and once seated, another 15 minutes while we waited for a menu. But, really, what’s the rush, anyway? The women behind this experimental restaurant (Samantha Safer and Claire Welle) dish out delectable items that are worth the wait. The hot chicken sandwich looked like a crowd pleaser, and literally elicited gasps from surrounding tables when it was put down. But my money was on the Johnny Cakes, a cornmeal pancake, like cornbread, but sweeter. This was served with fig butter, strawberries, and sprinkled with actual corn. It was divine and replaced any idea I had of pancakes for brunch. Why am I just learning of this? And, it’s gluten free, for crying out loud! Round this out with strong coffee, and it is a good way to start a weekend. Otway, 930 Fulton St., Clinton Hill.
En route to the next stop, you’ll walk down St. James Place between Fulton and Gates, which, at the time of writing, is currently under proposal to be renamed “Christopher Wallace Way” to commemorate hip-hop legend, Biggie Smalls, who grew up on the block.
1:30pm: Thrift at Salvation Army
Brooklyn has quite a few curated vintage stores, that are perfect when you are in the mood for a quick thrift fix. But, for the more experienced thrifter, nothing beats a giant warehouse of racks of disorganized apparel. This Clinton Hill Salvation Army has been a staple for the neighborhood but was new to me. On a desolate side street, the Salvation Army sign is a beacon, and climbing two flights of dingy stairs brings you to a mecca of used goods. Clothing, housewares, furniture: if someone once owned it, you’ll find it here. Currently, they have an above average supply of high-end seasonal jackets, DKNY down fur-trimmed parka, a Ralph Lauren puffer, and an assortment of leathers that looked promising. One stylish girl was hoarding unworn track pants, a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt, and a hoodie. For the best goods, you’ll have to be willing to put some time in and dig. Salvation Army, 22 Quincy St., Clinton Hill.
2:30pm: Explore the Pratt sculpture garden
If you haven’t been to the Pratt Sculpture Park yet, then you are in for a surprise. This beautiful campus is hidden between wrought iron fences but is open to the public for wandering amongst the artwork. This esteemed art institution sits on an enclosed 25-acres of land, with the artwork sprinkled about like ants at a picnic. Part of the fun is in the wandering: the hilly paths traverse past the brick buildings, and the sculptures are constantly changing. In the midst of it all is the DeKalb Gallery, where we went in to see a group alumni show. The campus feels like a park, and with the crisp, autumn breeze, it may be tempting to spend a long time exploring and relaxing in the greenery. The leaves are changing colors, the sun reflects off of a metal sculpture, the park bench is comfortable. It’s a perfect space to hold a pretentious conversation about art or just to take a mid-day nap. Pratt Sculpture Park, 200 Willoughby Avenue, Clinton Hill.
3:30pm: Pie at Petee’s Cafe
If ice cream is summer’s favorite dessert, then the pie is definitely fall’s favorite treat. There are so many seasonal pies that scream autumn that even just a dash of nutmeg can conjure up the sights and smells of the season. Pumpkin, apple, and sweet potato are all traditional favorites and at Peetee’s Cafe, the pies are lined up on the old school counter just waiting for a taste. Your biggest issue will be choosing a flavor. On our visit, we opted to share a rich Pecan Pie and brought it to the back garden to enjoy. With our hands wrapped around hot mugs of coffee, we shoveled morsels of sticky sweet pie into our mouths. These pies are made 100% from scratch, and the difference is remarkable. (Pro tip: they are already taking orders for Thanksgiving. I’ll take a maple whiskey walnut, please? ) Peetee’s Cafe, 505 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill.
4pm: Explore mansion row
Part of the beauty of this neighborhood is the architecture. Known as Clinton Hill’s “gold coast,” Clinton Avenue is chock-a-block full of mansions and townhouses with exquisite detailing. Brownstoner has a great map and guide to these estates. According to this guide, in the 1870’s and 80’s, this was considered one of the richest streets in Brooklyn. Some of them are in better condition than others, and most have been cut up into apartments now. But on a perfect fall day, there is nothing better than walking down the streets of yesteryear that once housed titans, and breathing in their faded glory. Clinton Avenue between Myrtle Ave. and Greene St.
4:30pm: Shop at Su’juk
Sujuk is the perfect place for a life makeover. It’s a small boutique that sells vintage clothes, statement accessories, and home goods like incense and ceramic pots. It’s also a hair salon, and tarot studio on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (15 minutes $30, 30 minutes $40, 60 minutes $80.) The day that we were there, a client was bleaching her roots, while another was finding out the roots of her love life stress. It’s a one-stop shop for healing: new clothes, new hair, new future, new you. And it’s where I want to go seasonally for a tune-up. Chunky dangling earrings, size 9 No. 6 clogs, and a Benetton oversized cardigan all caught my eye as transformative pieces. Su’juk, 216 Greene Ave., Clinton Hill.
5pm: Beer at Mekelburg’s
Mekelburg’s, which just opened a second outpost in Williamsburg, is like an onion. There are layers hidden within layers. From the outside, it looks like an upscale corner deli, and surprise, it is! There are rows of Sfoglini pasta, stinky cheese, and fresh bread. They sell everything you would want and more, maybe even desperately. (Later in the night, after a few drinks, I would almost get in a fight with my husband, insisting on backtracking for a loaf of chocolate babka I had been eyeing!) Tucked beyond the store is a large, dark and populated bar, selling craft beer and playing the game on television. Patrons are eating artisanal sandwiches ordered from the bar, carb-heavy baked potatoes, and cheese plates. This would be a great place to have a beer, and you might be perfectly happy here. But if you venture beyond the bar is a quaint back patio filled with group sized picnic tables. If it’s not too cold, this is where you should have your first drink of the day. The sun shines on the brick wall just so, and the wooden boxes filled with dying hydrangeas set a mood; it’s where you want to be in your wool sweater, wax jacket, and boots, drinking a Grimm ale on tap. Mekelburg’s, 293 Grand Ave., Clinton Hill.
6pm: A casual dinner at Speedy Romeo
Clinton Hill is full of spectacular restaurant options. The Finch has earned a Michelin star. Locanda Vini & Olii seems to check all the boxes. The restaurant, Sisters, has rabid fans. Any of these would be a perfect option, with solid food, service, and environment. But if you are looking for just a chill space, with an open kitchen and a decent wine list, where you can roll up to after eight hours of walking, yoga and pie eating without changing your clothes, let me suggest Speedy Romeo. Housed in an unmarked building that has a LIQUOR sign, the restaurant is named after a racehorse, and the equestrian decor is strong in here. If you can, sit at the bar, where you will be looking into a woodfired oven behind a stack of pizza boxes. There is enough noise to feel exciting and to drown out the tables of children, but not enough to strain the conversation. Start with a glass of red, and move on to a hot, meaty pizza, like The Dangerfield, complete with pork and veal meatballs, a white sauce, ricotta, and enough garlic to keep away any vampires. Sure, everyone is so sick of pizza, but when it’s this good, you’ll make an exception. Paired with a classic Caesar and it’s pretty much a perfect meal. Speedy Romeo, 376 Classon Ave., Brooklyn.
8pm: C’mon Everybody
Based on the name, you already know that this is the inclusive bar that you’ve been dreaming of. The front two rooms of C’mon Everybody consist of a long bar and a room with cocktail tables, filled with friendly faces indulging in an inventive cocktail list. On this night, the bartender is chatty and attentive, making us some killer cocktails that energized us after a carb-heavy dinner. If you’ve come on one of those special nights when the stars align, or when you’ve looked at the events calendar, there may be something even more dreamy happening in the back room. This small music and performance space draws some interesting and diverse acts. Upcoming highlights include an Afrobeat Dance Party with Rich Medina 10/27), The Jelly featuring Kendra Morris (11/5) and an album release party for Adeline (11/13.) Autumn will eventually come to an end, but with the right lineup, or the right crowd, and your night might continue onward towards a Brooklyn Love Story. C’mon Everybody, 325 Franklin Ave., Bed-Stuy