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Exploring Brooklyn's waterfront neighborhoods

What to do, where to eat and drink in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo and Red Hook. 

Sunbathers cover the lawn at Domino Park on

Sunbathers cover the lawn at Domino Park on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

As the temperature rises, the borough of Brooklyn comes alive. Locals walk their dogs in the park, seasonal spots reopen, and new developments pop up. Far from the industrial no-man’s-land it once was, Brooklyn’s waterfront has been reborn as the city transformed once-abandoned stretches of land into public parks with enviable views of Manhattan. The ferry, too, has been expanded, with stops in Greenpoint, north and south Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Dumbo and Red Hook. Here are the best things to do in four must-visit neighborhoods on the waterfront.

GREENPOINT

At the northern tip of Brooklyn lies Greenpoint, a historically Polish enclave that’s become one of the borough’s hippest — yet still down-to-earth — neighborhoods. In summertime, residents flock to WNYC Transmitter Park (nycgovparks.org/parks/transmitter-park) on the waterfront to hang out and picnic on the lawn. At the park’s southern edge sits the Brooklyn Barge (thebrooklynbarge.com), a seasonal bar sitting on — you guessed it — an old barge jutting into the East River that reopens in May with craft beer and fast food like hot dogs and burgers. Near the park entrance, you’ll find the Grand Republic Cocktail Club (grandrepubliccock tailclub.com), which shakes up craft cocktails in a nautical-inspired space. Order a gin-and-grapefruit concoction called the Salty Dog and take it out to the backyard strung with lights.

When hunger strikes, you’ve got plenty of excellent options within just a few blocks. Paulie Gee — whose pizzeria on Greenpoint Avenue commands long lines for a table —recently opened the eponymous Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop on Franklin Street (pauliegee.com/slice-shop). For something more substantial, head to Oxomoco for tacos and margaritas (oxomoconyc.com). This Mexican restaurant by the team behind Speedy Romeo earned a Michelin star within a few months of opening. A couple of blocks away, Chez Ma Tante serves one of the best brunches in Brooklyn (chezmatantenyc.com). Don’t leave without ordering the pancakes.

WILLIAMSBURG

Just south of Greenpoint, you’ll find Williamsburg, the neighborhood that made Brooklyn cool again. When the long-awaited Domino Park (dominopark.com) debuted last summer, it became an instant hit, drawing locals and visitors from farther afield. Privately run but open to the public, the quarter-mile-long park was designed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm behind the High Line. They incorporated industrial elements that allude to the old Domino Sugar Refinery on the site, including an elevated walkway with sweeping vistas of Manhattan punctuated by salvaged factory machinery. There’s a playground for kids, two boccie courts, a 6,300-square-foot playing field, a full-size volleyball court and plenty of benches and lounge chairs. The park also is home to Tacocina (heytacocina.com), a casual taco stand by acclaimed restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Book in advance to score a hard-to-get reservation at Misi (misinewyork.com), the latest restaurant by uber-talented chef Missy Robbins, who formerly cooked at one of the Obamas’ favorite restaurants in Chicago. The sequel to her Italian hotspot Lilia (also in Williamsburg) has an even stronger focus on pasta. If you decide to spend the night in the neighborhood, check into The Hoxton, Williamsburg(thehoxton.com), a hip micro-hotel that opened last fall. Rooms average just 170 square feet, but some come with waterfront views. Even if you don’t stay over, head up to the rooftop bar, Summerly, for coastal fare like lobster rolls and Old Bay fries paired with a rosé-driven wine list.

DUMBO

Tourists flock to Washington Street between Front and Water Streets to snap that iconic shot of the Manhattan Bridge framed by brick buildings, but there’s lots more to do in Dumbo. The main draw, of course, is Brooklyn Bridge Park (brooklynbridgepark.org) with its jaw-dropping views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. Last year, the park opened Pier 3, the last pier to have been converted to parkland, with a large central lawn, an interactive labyrinth and a picnic grove dotted with Adirondack chairs. Every year the Public Art Fund installs a new large-scale sculpture, and this year it installed “Bridge Over Tree” by Iranian artist Siah Armajani, on view until Sept. 29. Pilot, a wildly popular oyster bar on a restored schooner, reopens in May (pilotbrooklyn.com). The brothers behind it, Alex and Miles Pincus, will open two more spots in Dumbo: a fully restored vintage fireboat and an open-air oyster bar, both at Fulton Ferry Landing.

Perhaps the neighborhood’s most exciting new development is Empire Stores (empirestores dumbo.com) inside a reclaimed brick warehouse on the waterfront. Inside, you’ll find Shinola, the FEED shop & Cafe, the members club Dumbo House and Cecconi’s Dumbo (Soho House’s signature Italian restaurant). The second Time Out Market (the first is in Lisbon) will be the final piece in the puzzle when it opens this spring with food stalls by the teams behind some of New York’s best restaurants.

RED HOOK

Once an industrial stronghold, Red Hook is the scrappiest neighborhood on Brooklyn’s waterfront. Though it’s now home to the city’s only Ikea, it’s still characterized by low-slung brick buildings and casual places to eat and drink. It also has the best views of the Statue of Liberty you’ll find anywhere in the city — unless, of course, you’re on a boat. Trek out to Louis Valentino Jr. Park & Pier (nycgovparks.org /parks/valentino-pier/history) to take in the vistas of Lady Liberty before heading to one of the neighborhood’s down-home bars or eateries. The vibe here is more about laid-back dives than Michelin-starred restaurants: food trucks, Hometown Barbecue (hometownbarbecue.com), Brooklyn Crab (brooklyncrab.com), Red Hook Lobster Pound (redhooklobster.com). After tucking into a lobster roll, head over to Sunny’s (sunnysredhook.com), an old longshoreman’s bar that doesn’t serve the craft cocktails the borough’s trendier neighborhoods are known for. Here, people drink bottles of beer and listen to live bluegrass. Of course, there’s also Seaborne (facebook.com/seaborneredhook), a small, unmarked cocktail bar that was the last project of the late, great bartender Sasha Petraske, who ushered in New York’s speakeasy craze. It’s also worth visiting Pioneer Works, a nonprofit art center that hosts rotating exhibits and events. 

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