Even though I've spent my whole life in New York City—having been born in Queens and raised in Manhattan—the borough of Brooklyn, for whatever reason, retained a sense of faraway romance for me until I finally moved there after college. But even then, when I lived in its Greenpoint neighborhood, Dumbo—a compact and curious little area tucked between the monumental Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges—was one part of town that still seemed very exotic.
Now I find myself living here with my girlfriend and our ridiculous dog and cat, and I could not be happier. Let me be clear up top: if you're looking for nightlife, this is not the place for you. However, if you're into vintage gear, fantastic bookshops, theater, river views, and the best pizza in town (yes, it's true), then you'll like Dumbo.
I love this little corner of the world and I'm thrilled to be penning this, the first in a new series of neighborhood guides by true locals, which we'll be bringing to you from all over the world. This one's informed by three years in the neighborhood and a lifetime spent in this great city, and I truly hope you come visit—when you do, you'll find me hanging out at one of these places.
Here's a quick history of pizza as we know it in America: legendary New York City restaurant Lombardi's receives a license to operate as a pizzeria in 1905, making it the very first licensed pizzeria in the United States (and, in case you're wondering: yes, the Pizza Hall of Fame itself recognizes it as such). One of its employees, Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri leaves to open Patsy's pizza in 1933, where he teaches his nephew Patsy Grimaldi how to make the perfect pie. Grimaldi himself goes on to open a place of his own—named Grimaldi's, naturally—in 1990. He eventually sells it, with plans to retire; but, much like Michael Jordan, Grimaldi can't deny his greatness, nor his urge to get back in the game. To the thrill of pizza aficionados the world over, he opens Juliana's in 2011, and takes back the crown as the Pizza King of New York City. If it's pizza perfected over the course of three generations that you seek, made by a man who can trace his recipes right back to the very first pizza made in America, consider this your Valhalla.
19 Old Fulton Street, julianaspizza.com.
Part gallery and part antiques warehouse, Sinotique is a two-level space within shouting distance of the East River. While it isn't much to look at from the outside, once within you'll feel as though you've stepped right into the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (if you haven't yet seen this, the best of the Indiana Jones franchise, go do so right now). Owner Jan Lee has spent the last 25 years traveling around the world collecting Asian antiques, and the massive warehouse space is filled with all manner of item, each of which he is more than happy to eloquently expound upon. Leave yourself time to visit his gallery space upstairs, in which Lee showcases work by various artists, along with furniture built in his on-site workshop (antique bamboo being the outfit's material of choice).
70 John Street, sinotique.com.
Powerhouse Arena is much more than just a bookstore—it's one of New York's literary hubs, home to readings, conversations, book parties, and a publishing imprint of its own. The 5,000-square-foot space has been hosting events with the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Spike Lee, Al Gore, Anthony Bourdain, and Carrie Brownstein, since 2005; with huge glass windows and views of the river, it's one fantastic place to spend an afternoon.
37 Main Street, powerhousebooks.com.
Brooklyn Roasting Company
Nutty, my six-year-old pit bull rescue, is quite popular with my friends—so much so that one of them even went so far as to pay homage by gifting me a tin of Brooklyn Roasting Company's delicious Rwanda blend, simply because the company describes it as "noble, nutty, sweet, & stout." I've been hooked ever since. The company specializes in fair trade, organic, Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee beans that they roast in-house, in small batches. Swing by—and please, feel free to raise your cup to Nutty, should you feel so inclined.
25 Jay Street, brooklynroasting.com.
Front General Store
I come here to buy wallets, candles, winter coats, keychains—anything I might ever need, really. Front General Store has a wonderfully defined sense of style, and is an expertly curated take on classic, mid-century American vibe. Varsity jackets, antique pins, military garb of all kinds—this is another place I regularly get lost in for hours.
143 Front Street, instagram.com/frontgeneralstore.
La Bagel Delight
Bagels are, of course, a hotly debated topic among New Yorkers. Here in Dumbo, we are lucky to have the finest the city has to offer. Walk into La Bagel Delight on any given morning, and just ask any employee which bagels have just come out of the oven. At the risk of stating the obvious: freshly cooked bagels require no toasting! Simply add the toppings of your choosing and enjoy. (I wholeheartedly recommend their Nova Spectacular, which comes loaded with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes, capers, and onions—it lives up to the billing, especially when served on a fresh everything bagel.)
104 Front Street, labageldelight.com.
Almondine is a classic French patisserie, and one step through its doors will trigger any and all wondrous sensory memories of Paris lingering in your mind. (I often can't resist the urge to pop my head in and breathe it all in when I'm walking by.) If you're in the market for a flaky croissant, delicious quiche, or exquisite sweet treat, grab something here and eat it while gazing out at the river on one of the park benches awaiting you a mere 30-second stroll away.
85 Water Street, almondinebakery.com.
Jane's Carousel/Brooklyn Bridge Park
This beautiful 48-horse carousel was built in 1922 for use in Idora Park, an amusement park in Youngstown, Ohio. When that park closed down, the carousel was sold at auction and promptly moved to Brooklyn for restoration. Since September 2011 it's lived in Brooklyn Bridge Park, encased in a rectangular glass structure designed by famed French architect Jean Nouvel. Take a look—or maybe even a ride—before strolling the glorious grounds of Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can spend an entire day walking on the banks of the East River. Also of note: It's the first carousel to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Off Old Dock Street, janescarousel.com.
St. Ann's Warehouse
Since 1980, St. Ann's Warehouse has been Brooklyn's home for all manner of forward-thinking performance, hosting productions by Lou Reed and John Cale, the Coen brothers, and the Globe theatre, to name just a few. It kicked off its first season in its new permanent home—in Dumbo's historic Tobacco Warehouse—just last year, and is currently staging a performance of the classic Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, and Vanessa Kirby.
45 Water Street, stannswarehouse.org.
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
Opened in 2001 in what used to be a fireboat house, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory sits right at the mouth of Brooklyn Bridge Park, just steps away from the East River, on Brooklyn's oldest ferry landing. (It was still known as "Brookland Ferry" when George Washington decamped there after the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War to occur after the U.S. declared independence that July) Grab a cone—you won't go wrong with their vanilla chocolate chunk—and walk out onto the pier, where you'll catch sight of the Manhattan skyline. It never gets old.
Fulton Ferry Landing Pier, brooklynicecreamfactory.com.