Exploring East Williamsburg? What to do and eat in the Brooklyn nabe

By Colter Hettich

Veterans already know. For first-timers, a heads up: Roaming the streets of East Williamsburg can feel post-apocalyptic.

Depending on the time of day, you may be the only pedestrian in sight. And don't be frightened by the otherworldly sounds of metalwork and scraping steel screeching behind warehouse gates — fabrication and construction are alive and well here, especially in the nabe's northern half.

Many of the most intriguing, niche spots will offer no apparent entrance or signage. You’ll often wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn, and sometimes conclude your Google Maps must be out-of-date. But fear not, your persistence will be rewarded.

To help you maneuver your way through this insider-friendly terrain, we’ve identified almost a dozen nooks and crannies worth your while -- as well as essential navigation tips to get there.

Don’t be surprised if you happen upon your own gems, as the warehouses are littered with pleasant surprises.

Grab a cup at City of Saints Coffee Roasters

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You may have seen a City of Saints cafe in the East Village, Bryant Park, on Pier 76 or on the other side of the Hudson in Hoboken, New Jersey. The store at 297 Meserole St. is the coffee pros' roasting home base, and the perfect place to start your day in the 'Burg. The line between storage, seating and service is perfectly blurred as you enter beneath the rolling garage door. Saints partners with a host of organizations for its international beans, including Genuine Origin Coffee Project for Honduras, Onyx Green coffee Importers and K-Finos for Guatemala, and Royal New York and Pergamino Coffee for Columbia.

Skate over to Bushwick Avenue

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Consider snagging some skates at Five Stride Skate Shop at 178 Bushwick Ave. to help you get around in style. As New York City's only full-service skate shop, the store caters to derby-ers (you might now its owners as Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF) but has plenty to offer casual skaters, as well. The company, which has a second location in Portland, Oregon, moved from Astoria to Brooklyn in 2010 and to it's current East Williamsburg home in 2015. Rhythm skates (think couples-skate at the rink) for adults start at $99, while more "off road" recreational models start at $279. Toddlers can pick up "Zippy Skates" for $32 and a rink-appropriate pair for $69.95.

Hidden horticulture

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Exhibit A for unusual locales. Tula Plants & Design at 174 Bogart St., #304, is gracious enough to place a folding sign on the sidewalk, but you'll need to enter a nondescript door, climb two flights of stairs then make your way down a hallway of studios to find it. Once you arrive, you'll step into an oasis of palms, succulents, vines, trees and everything in between. The friendly staff is happy to answer any questions you have about what you see, as well as offer advice for caring for plants you already have at home. The green goods start as low as $35 and range into the hundreds for standing flora.


Photo Credit: Colter Hettich

Tula plans to open a new Greenpoint storefront in the next couple of months, and has a roaming truck that makes frequent appearances at markets around the city. Follow its Instagram accountfor the truck's next stop.

Neighborhood art

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A continuous mural on Vandervoort Place in East Williamsburg stretches almost the entire block between Thames Street and Flushing Avenue.

Nosh at Newtown

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Newtown, a vegetarian Israeli kitchen at 55 Waterbury St., has exactly what you need for an early-afternoon refuel. Fill your water bottle with a cold, housemade earl-grey-and-lavender or hibiscus tea ($3) and grab some Israeli pickles and olives ($3), grape leaves ($4) or tabuleh ($5) to tide you over 'til empanadas at Norwind's. For a more filling snack, try a hummus plate ($8-10) or one of their delectable sandwiches. We recommend the Halloumi ($12) which is made of pan-fried Halloumi cheese, roasted portobello and eggplant, tomato and herbed cream cheese on rosemary focaccia bread. Newton opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

Go virtual on Bushwick Avenue

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New Dimension Virtual Reality Gaming Club at 228 Bushwick Ave. is an arcade unlike any you've likely seen before. The Viruix Omni Arena is one of the premiere virtual reality experiences you can have. With goggles on and gun-style controllers in hand, you'll stand in a protected circle that allows you to run in place in all directions, guiding your virtual character with your actual movements. New Dimension also has a set of full-scale racing seats that create a peerless, immersive driving experience. Also try "Spider-Man: Homecoming" virtual reality that puts you in Spidey's suit and lets you swing high above the city's streets. One-hour passes run $29.99, and all-day passes $69.99. (Tip: The arcade shares its space with a medical office, so if a nurse answers the door don't be surprised.)

Get a street workout indoors

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Bring your workout gear and get a crash course in parkour at Brooklyn Zoo, a decked-out training facility at 230 Bogart St. Manager Will Maldonado kindly gave us a tour of the stylized place, which recreates city street scenes complete with graffiti by local artists. In addition to adult parkour classes, the Zoo offers training in Ninja Warrior (whether you're preparing to audition for the hit TV show or not), breakdancing, aerial silks, contortion and handstands, bar calisthenics and more. You can pay per-class at $25, or purchase a five-class pack at $100. Brooklyn Zoo also offers several kid-specific classes and camps.

Shop for deals

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Thrifters may want to skip everything else on this list and spend the day shopping. The neighborhood's southern border is rife with second-hand steals. Here are just a few spots we recommend: Dobbin Street Vintage Outpost (1033 Flushing Ave.), Le Point Value Thrift (1081 Flushing Ave.), Urban Jungle (118 Knickerbocker Ave.) and L Train Vintage (106 Kinckerbocker Ave.) If you're searching for larger-scale items such as chairs, mirrors, or picture frames, head straight to Dobbin Street. If you're up for scouring two floors for that overlooked value find, Le Point is the place. And if camouflage or denim overalls is what you're looking for, for whatever reason, Urban Jungle has an embarrassment of riches, all priced at a reasonable $8-10.

Empanadas and chill

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If we could award one East Williamsburg establishment the "friendliest and chillest," Norwind's would take the trophy hands-down. The Puerto Rican watering hole at 1043 Flushing Ave. not only has killer happy hour specials, but their food menu is on point. On a recent Thursday drink specials included a frozen rum punch ($5) and select craft beers in cans and on tap ($3). For a pre-dinner appetizer order the veggie empanadas ($6), or pastelillos ($6 for chicken or beef, $7 for shrimp).

Brush up on Human Relations

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There's nothing fancy at Human Relations at 1067 Flushing Ave. -- just an awfully charming book store with reads old and new packed from the floor to the ceiling. The discount rack outside is also worth a quick browse.

Collectors' paradise

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Serious collectors will probably get more out of Material World Records & Tapes (184 Noll St., #1) than casual listeners. While plenty of hitmakers are prominently displayed, the racks are packed with lesser known bands. The tape section will also interest cassette connoisseurs.

Finish your day with some dumplings

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After a full day of exploring, you've earned a full belly of delectable dumplings at Ozi Dumplings at 19 Bogart St. (if you make it before 7 p.m., beer and sake is buy-one-get-one-half-off). The housemade dumplings ($8.50 for six, $10.50 for nine) come with your choice of seaweed salad, french fries, edamame or a rice bowl. We recommend a table full of original pork/onion/cabbage, and blue and snow crab/creamy cheese sauce. Ozi also offers a hearty donburi ($13), which is katsu chicken or shrimp tempura over white rice and fried egg, as well as three types of ramen ($13). There are no bad choices here. If you've got room left, grab some Nutella dumplings ($8) for the road.