Few neighborhoods have experienced as complete a turnaround as Red Hook, a stubby section of the Brooklyn map jutting out into New York Harbor. Only two decades ago, Life magazine called the area one of the worst neighborhoods in America. Today the streets along the waterfront boast hip diners and cafes, eclectic shops, artists' studios and IKEA, which has transformed the neighborhood from an eccentric enclave to an essential destination for New Yorkers. But Red Hook still feels off the grid - the area is not serviced by subway - and an afternoon spent strolling the waterfront or the businesses along Van Brunt Street promises the charm of an unexpected discovery.
WHAT TO DO
Have a Pan-Latin feast
Through the last weekend in October, the sidewalks surrounding the Red Hook Ball Fields (corner of Clinton and Bay streets, redhookfoodvendors.com) are lined with vendors of Latin American street foods: pupusas (breads stuffed with cheese, pork or veggies), seviche (shrimp or fish marinated in citrus fruits), grilled corn slathered with cheese and lime and other mouthwatering treats.
Decades before Red Hook became a bustling commercial neighborhood, it was a beacon for artists drawn to inexpensive studio spaces and start-up galleries. Kentler International Drawing Space (353 Van Brunt St., 718-875-2098, kentlergallery.org) features temporary exhibits of contemporary drawing and works on paper. Space 414 (414 Van Brunt St., 718-408-1643, space414.com) boasts a garden for site-specific installations and film screenings.
Savor a cocktail
With French doors that open onto a quiet street corner, Botanica (220 Conover St., 718-797-2297, brooklynbotanica.com), a stylish cafe and bar housed in a 17th century Dutch building, glows like a jewel box in the evening. The bar serves fresh cocktails - such as a strawberry-basil martini or the "Botanica," cacao-infused vodka with raspberries - made with ingredients purchased daily from regional farmers and vendors.
Visit a floating museum
Once a railroad barge in active duty, the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge (290 Conover St., Pier 44, 718-624-4719, waterfrontmuseum.org) traces the history of the Red Hook waterfront through art exhibits, performances, lectures and kid-friendly tours.
WHERE TO SHOP
388 Van Brunt St., 718-554-6147, eriebasin.com
Owner Russell Whitmore has assembled a deeply interesting collection of European and American antique jewelry and decorative objects. Recent finds include a Georgian-era mourning ring, hanging Victorian earrings made of marbled black ocean agate and a vintage George Washington plaque.
147 Van Dyke St., 718-624-2929, saipua.com
A family-run shop that sells olive oil-based soap made in the Hudson Valley, in such appealing scent-hybrids as coffee mint and lavender oatmeal, as well as arrangements of bright, fresh seasonal flowers.
Key Lime Pies
204 Van Dyke St., Pier 41, 888-450-5463, stevesauthentic.com
Housed in a picturesque waterside warehouse, this bakery makes fresh, tart Key lime pies that are distributed to restaurants all over the city. But its secret weapon is the irresistible "Swingle," a tiny key lime pie on a stick, dipped in dark chocolate and frozen to make a sweet and tangy Popsicle-like treat.
WHERE TO EAT
The Good Fork
391 Van Brunt St., 718-643-6636, goodfork.com
One of the pioneers of the Red Hook culinary revival, this homey restaurant marries American and Korean cooking; on the menu hearty burgers and roast chicken sidle up to pork dumplings and skirt steak served with kimchee rice.
365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672, fortdefiancebrooklyn.com
This airy, laid-back neighborhood joint serves a small menu of terrific sandwiches, including an already-famous muffuletta, the touchstone New Orleans hero made from salumi, cheese and olives. The bar fashions new takes on classic cocktails, such as the "Cucumber Collins," as well as homemade sodas.
Hope and Anchor
347 Van Brunt St., 718-237-0276
A neighborhood stalwart that gives classic diner fare a contemporary twist. Highlights include mac-and-cheese fritters and tofu quesadillas. The extensive burger menu offers such oddball toppings as grilled eggplant and Spam. Friday nights are devoted to a raucous karaoke party.
359 Van Brunt St., 718-222-0345, bakednyc.com
The chocolate chip cookies (crispy outside, soft inside, with a hint of caramel) and brownies (dense and fudgy) at this much-loved bakery-cafe are arguably the best in New York. The mile-high layer cakes can verge on sugar overload, though; go for the rosemary apricot shortbread bars or crème de menthe-infused grasshopper bars instead.
Columbia Street Waterfront District
Officially part of Red Hook but separated by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the area around Columbia Street, once industrial, has lately been transformed into a vibrant neighborhood with charming shops and restaurants. Freebird Books & Goods (123 Columbia St., 718-643-8484, freebirdbooks .com) has a quirky selection of new and used books and a schedule of readings, film screenings, and writing workshops. Brooklyn General Store (128 Union St., 718-237-7753, brooklyngeneral.com) is a crafter's paradise, with yarns, threads, vintage textiles and needlework tools. Alma (187 Columbia St., 718-643-5400, almarestaurant.com), a swanky restaurant that serves contemporary Mexican dishes, boasts a roof deck with knockout views of the Manhattan skyline. Down Under Bakery Pies (193 Columbia St., 718-858-8414, dubpies.com) serves Australia's signature savory snack, miniature pastry shells loaded with steak and mushroom, chili cheese, Thai chicken curry, and other fillings.
BY CAR Take the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278) to exit 27. Turn left on Columbia Street and right on DeGraw Street. DeGraw Street turns into Van Brunt Street.