When it comes to contemplating how to spend a Saturday or Sunday in Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO tends to get all of the attention. But the neighborhood has a much broader identity with hidden gems that go far beyond chain stores.
The Department of City Planning defines Downtown Brooklyn’s borders as: Tillary Street to the north, Atlantic Avenue to the south, Clinton Street to the west and a less straight and definable eastern boundary including Ashland Place. Within these borders, one finds an eclectic mix of modern amenities, scrappy mom-and-pop operations and creative businesses.
Wind your way up from the southern tip to eat, drink and shop the best of the neighborhood.
Fuel your day at The Commons Cafe
More than just a cafe, the community hub that is The Commons Cafe really captures the spirit of the neighborhood, making it an essential first stop. Start your day early with a coffee or tea and grab a pastry if you’re hungry. Sit for a moment near the light-filled front or mingle with locals in the spacious back area. You’ll want to keep The Commons Cafe in mind for other outings, not just because they serve beer and wine, as well, but because the business supports Brooklyn with a roster of events like weekly theater and live music, lectures, political discussions and more. (388 Atlantic Ave., 347-987-4966)
Find your perfect scent at Twisted Lily
It’s hard to resist popping into Twisted Lily when you walk by and see the shelves filled with different colorful, pretty bottles, so go on in and be greeted by a lovely yet not overpowering mix of all scents floral, spicy, herbal and sweet. This fragrance boutique and apothecary stocks all the perfumes, colognes, body sprays, home sprays, candles, skin care and more that are hard to find, whether the brands are right from Brooklyn or from across the ocean. Track down your go-to or peruse the niche inventory for a new scent. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will help you with samples and answer all your questions. (360 Atlantic Ave., 347-529-4681)
Search for treasure at Sterling Place
Spoil yourself to any of the wonders inside the masterfully curated Sterling Place. The not-so-hidden gems — in fact, they’re beautifully displayed — here range from quite affordable to aspirational, including thoughtful coffee table books, locally crafted jewelry, maps and prints, objets d’art, tableware and drinkware, garden items and much more. You could spend quite some time browsing this museum-esque shop, or you could enlist the help of the staff to help you find the perfect gift for someone special. (363 Atlantic Ave., 718-797-5667)
Do brunch with beer at Circa Brewing Co.
By now, you’ve shopped up an appetite, so head over to Circa Brewing Co. It’s hard enough to excel at brunch or at craft beer alone, and Circa has the rare distinction of excelling at both. Here, you can drink creative spins and classic styles, like a pina colada porter, a double IPA made with three hop varieties, a fruity saison, or a crisp pilsner, in a retro-meets-modern space. There is also a wine, cider and cocktail list. As for the fare, Circa is known for its pizza, and they’ve got several brunch-ified pies, like an eggs Benedict version, a lox pie, and a bacon and eggs version. Alternatively, the chicken and waffles, avocado toast and roasted mushroom quiche make for more delicious options. (141 Lawrence St., 718-858-0055)
Remember better transportation times at the New York Transit Museum
When you think of transit now, it might remind you of the rage blackout you had when the C train made you late for work for the eighth time in a month last week. Take a breath and prepare to learn the unimaginable at the New York Transit Museum: that for the past century, transportation in New York City has been a pretty magical thing. This museum does a great job of illustrating this through artifacts and an actual fleet of vintage subway cars and buses. You’ll feel transported (pun intended) through time and, lo and behold, you’ll actually appreciate the fact that hurtling around the city underground is a feat of engineering, and that there have been some cool-looking ways to do just that throughout the subway’s lifetime. (99 Schermerhorn St., 718-694-5556)
Choose your own adventure at City Point
City Point is the answer to every “What are we going to do now?” question when it rains on a weekend, and there’s plenty to draw you in even on a nice day. Shop at HiO, a chic store selling lifestyle upgrades in the form of impossibly cool décor from Seletti, sunglasses from Hawkers, and other accessories for your closet, desk and bar cart. For a grab bag of items you can score for whatever loose cash you’ve got in your pocket, stroll through Danish favorite Flying Tiger and its aisles of quirky party supplies, office supplies, hair accessories and a ton of things you do not need but inexplicably want.
If you’re feeling peckish, a wonderland of New York’s finest street food, snacks and heavier fare await you in the basement of City Point, aka DeKalb Market Hall. Arepas from Arepa Lady, pastrami from Katz’s, tacos from DeKalb Taco, doughnuts from Cuzin’s Duzin, ice cream from Ample Hills, ribs from Fletcher’s BBQ, pierogies from Pierogi Boys, soup dumplings from Thank You Come Again, crab legs from Fulton Landing Seafood, bao buns from Bunsmith — you get the picture.
On the fourth floor, you’ll find Alamo Drafthouse, arguably one of the most fun places to see a movie in the city, thanks in no small part to the menu of craft beer, cocktails and yes, more snacks, that you can order right to your seat. In the lobby, House of Wax holds another distinction for City Point: one of the weirdest places to imbibe. Delightfully macabre, this bar is inspired by Victorian museum and roadside attractions. It’s lined with glass cases of wax anatomical models and death masks of famous people from history. While you indulge your own morbid curiosity, you can sip cocktails, wine or one of many craft beers from local and trendy breweries. (10 City Point, 718-673-8800)
Stroll to the Brooklyn War Memorial
Depending on how you spent your time at City Point, you may still have some hours of daylight left that could be peacefully spent on the lawn of the Brooklyn War Memorial, a lush little oasis of Cadman Plaza Park surrounded by some of Downtown Brooklyn’s stateliest buildings. Take a moment to reflect on the massive granite and limestone memorial that anchors the green, dedicated to the over 300,000 men and women of Brooklyn who served in World War II. The wall has 11,500 names of Brooklyn service members who died at war inscribed inside, and is flanked by sculptures of a male warrior and a woman with a child, symbolizing victory and family. (195 Cadman Plaza W.)
Dine on Caribbean and African fare at Amarachi
Amarachi’s sleek, urbane space has a stylish feel to it that’s up to the task of a special Saturday night. Get started with one of the restaurant’s expertly made cocktails and an order of spicy jerk or sweet chili wings. For dinner, order suya, or spicy skewers popular in West Africa, with chicken, shrimp, or beef; plantains with a red stew; curried channa — or chickpeas — with rice; oxtails; or jerk shrimp with pasta. There is also a prix fixe option if you want to dive in with multiple courses. Amarachi often has a DJ spinning tunes, so it’s easy to transition from a delicious meal to a party. (189 Bridge St., 718-222-1010)
Treat yourself to dessert at Junior’s
When it’s time for dessert, it’s time to loop back to Junior’s — how could you dine in Downtown Brooklyn without leaving room for the city’s most iconic cheesecake? This original location holds onto all of its 1950s flair, and still makes what we consider the world’s best cheesecake. Order it plain, with strawberries, a raspberry swirl, chocolate mousse or as a red velvet iteration. There’s also babka, pie, carrot cake and chocolate layer cake if you’re looking to branch out. (386 Flatbush Ave. Ext., 718-852-5257)
End your night at Livingston Manor
Unwind from your busy day at Livingston Manor, a Catskills-inspired bar with rustic charm and a sort of laid-back sophistication. One of the bar’s artfully crafted cocktails is a perfect way to round out an exploration of the best Downtown Brooklyn has to offer. Order the Love Like This, with Sagamore rye whiskey, ancho chile liqueur, house peach gomme syrup, fresh lemon and Peychaud’s bitters; the Chutes & Ladders, with Amburana Cachaça, cardamom-infused rum, cherry, pomegranate and fresh lime; or the Nightmare on Hoyt Street, with gin, mezcal, dry vermouth, Angostura bitters, spiced blackberry syrup and Côtes du Rhône. (42 Hoyt St., 347-987-3292)