What would you do if you could spend 48 hours in Brooklyn, New York, but the spending of money wasn’t as fancy-free as you’d like? We asked journalist, writer, buddy and Brooklynite (now living abroad), Cameron Cook, to share his tips on how best to do the Big Apple on a budget. And he said……..
If you’ve done so much as speak two words to a New Yorker over the last decade (this writer included), you’ll be familiar with the tedious refrain of how much the city has changed, how it’s not worth the skyrocketing rents, and how slapdash condos and invasions of Wall St. bros have made NYC virtually unlivable. Admittedly, New Yorkers are prone to hyperbole, but unfortunately, many of our gripes are all too true: it seems like almost minute-by-minute, our favourite cultural landmarks are disappearing before our very eyes (RIP Pearl Paint, Other Music, Winnie’s Bar… and that’s only the past year).
We get so caught up in the city’s whirlwind transformation that sometimes we can forget that there are still many, many reasons to visit NYC, and even one of the most expensive cities in the world still has its fair share of chill, low-cost activities for more casual visitors. There are a million and one lists on the Internet dedicated to experiencing New York on a budget, so I’m omitting the obvious fare, and instead focusing on how a low-key Brooklynite would spend a weekend exploring their favourite neighbourhoods with friends while and avoiding typical tourist traps.
Assuming that you didn’t go too hard on Friday night, it’s now Saturday morning and you’re looking for a coffee and bagel before getting your act together and attacking the weekend. When Frankel’s opened last year you could hardly get in the door, but now that the old-style Jewish deli has been in Greenpoint for a while, the crowds are more manageable. Like a younger, hipper Russ and Daughters, their lox is to die for, and it’s a taste of classic NYC food without having to schlepp into Manhattan.
If you’d rather have something sweet, Peter Pan Donut and Bakery Shop on Manhattan Avenue has the best doughnuts around—do not be fooled by bougie alternatives. Peter Pan has been a Polish staple in the area since forever and their simple recipes and flavours can’t be beat. If it’s the summertime and you’re there later in the day, ask them to put a scoop of ice-cream inside your donut—heaven.
If you want to find the perfect hotel for you in the right part of the Brooklyn, try KAYAK Heat Maps. Simply click on ‘Show map view’ in the the top right-hand corner of the results page where it says ‘Go to map view’. From here you can filter by what’s most important to you: Shopping? Food? Nightlife? We’re guessing all three.
Saturday, noon: Park, pizza, vintage and record stores in Williamsburg
Taking a stroll through McCarren Park, on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, is still an incredible people-watching experience, whether it’s a group of hungover kids devouring a vegan pizza from Vinnie’s or several Orthodox Jewish men playing a game of croquet in the middle of the baseball diamond (true story). One of the only businesses opening a flagship store in Williamsburg that was actually welcomed by the neighbourhood was Rough Trade, the legendary British record store. With brick and mortar record stores disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s one of the only places in the borough where you can still have a comprehensive and pleasant music shopping experience (although I am also partial to Earwax on North 9th street). Rough Trade also doubles as a fantastic live music venue, so check their schedule.
Williamsburg has been taken over by chain clothing stores in the past few years (I’m fairly certain I went to an illegal punk festival in the basement of what is now a J.Crew), but you can still find one-of-a-kind vintage pieces at stores like About Glamour, without completely setting fire to your bank account. Of course, there’s the neighbourhood stalwart Beacon’s Closet and, if you’re willing to venture into Bushwick, Urban Jungle has a vast selection of vintage menswear.
5 PM: Eating oysters in Greenpoint
Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. has become one of my favourite dinner haunts. It can get pricey, but get this: every day they do an oyster happy hour from 3-6PM. If you’re looking for something a little less fancy, hit up the amazing taco truck that’s usually sitting idle on North 6th St. and Bedford Ave. Prime foot-traffic area, but the have a tongue torta for $6 (£4.8), which is the most filling meal you’re going to get on that strip.
8 PM: Get your drink on – Brooklyn bars, booze and tunes
Brooklyn Bowl is a bowling alley, restaurant, and live music venue all rolled into one. Try to get there early because the wait can be a little brutal, but the general vibes and incredible food (courtesy of the upscale Blue Ribbon) are well worth it. Saunter down under the Williamsburg Bridge to Baby’s All Right, another newish bar that has become a local favourite. The front room always has an interesting DJ set going on, and the bartender will whip you up a stiff drink as you slide into a booth and watch the who’s who slink by.
Sunday, noon: Brooklyn brunch and Prospect Park
At this point, it’s practically mandated by New York State that you spend Sunday afternoon scoping out a brunch spot, so why not dive deeper into Brooklyn? Tom’s Restaurant in Prospect Heights is absolutely legendary, a real, old-school ‘Mom and Pop’ restaurant that feels like stepping into a wood-paneled episode of Laverne and Shirley. There’s always a line on Sundays, but the waitstaff will come out and give you free snacks while you wait, which is unheard of. Three words: lemon ricotta pancakes.
By now, you’ve surely been to Central Park, but every Brooklynite will tell you to spend at least an hour or so wandering around Prospect Park, which has all the amenities and attractions of its Manhattan cousin but fewer people (and rollerbladers). On a sunny day, the lake is extremely placid (and it wintertime makes for a great ice skating rink).
2 PM: Squeeze in some culture
Right off the end of the park is the Brooklyn Museum, whose monthly free First Saturday events are unmissable (again, get there early). There are discussions, reduced entry to their current shows, DJs and bands play in the museum’s giant atrium, and their permanent collection is also on display. If nature is more your style, right next door is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where you can get lost for hours among every type of plant and flower you can imagine.
5 PM: You’ve earned a drink ot two in Bed-Stuy
Much like the poisonous cobra to the crafty mongoose, gentrification is the Brooklynite’s natural enemy. Just the word “Bed-Stuy” used to strike fear into the hearts of law-abiding citizens, but these days, what was once South Brooklyn’s no-fly zone is now an artists’ haven. However, while strolling through streets lined with gorgeous historic brownstones, you can still find some authentic Bed-Stuy experiences to be had.
Peaches, for example, is a soul food restaurant and that really strives for down-south cooking while maintaining a Brooklyn atmosphere. After, stop by Project Parlor for a drink, a bar that caters to students from the nearby Pratt Institute, or even better, check out Tip Top Bar & Grill, a locals-only dive bar where I have never, ever seen anything being grilled. Great jukebox, though.
8 PM: My favourite restaurants in Chinatown
Alright, I know I said we were staying in Brooklyn, but in certain ways, Chinatown feels like an extension of our borough—it’s cheap(ish), chock full of culture, and there’s always an adventure to be had in its narrow alleyways. Jump on the A train and get off at Canal St, you still might be able to peruse the extensive shopping alleys full of knockoff handbags and weird, only-in-NY T-shirts. For dinner, my never-fail, go-to recommendation is either Nice Green Bo or Great NY Noodle Town, across the street from one another on Bayard St. Go to Green Bo for the best pork soup dumplings on this continent, or hit up Noodle Town for $5 (£4) duck over rice specials. For desert, the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which has been in the neighbourhood for over 30 years, has mind-blowing flavours like durian, taro and black sesame.
Winnie’s (sadly closed) used to be the undisputed champion of Chinatown karaoke dives, and its said that on quiet nights when the moon is full, you can still hear Winnie herself singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ in Mandarin. BINY (which stands for ‘Best In New York’) is currently your best bet, and with the option of private rooms, you don’t necessarily have to completely embarrass yourself in front of a room of total strangers (but where’s the fun in that?).
The city may be changing, but some things stay the same: drunk people love karaoke, you can still survive a summer on hot dogs and Mr. Softee ice cream cones, and NYC is still one of the greatest places in the world.
So, now you know how we recommend you pass the time in Brooklyn. Of course, you’ll want to see other parts of the city and, naturally, won’t want to waste your time in transit. That’s why we created a handy guide that shows you a breakdown of the different options for getting from any one of New York’s three airports to Penn Station in the centre. Taxi, subway or car. Now you can make the right choice for you.
Note: These rates are based on search queries made on KAYAK.co.uk on April 10th, 2017. The prices are quoted in GBP. Flight prices are based on results for a return economy flight search. Hotel prices are for double occupancy and include taxes and fees. Currency conversions are based on the rates shown on April 10th, 2017. Prices are subject to change, may vary, or no longer be available.