When author Rachel Felder started working on her book, Insider Brooklyn, she thought she already knew everything there was to know about the neighborhood. (Her family has lived in the borough for generations and she's written about it frequently.) But it turned out that she actually still had a thing or two to learn about Brooklyn—much of which she's sharing with us right now!
Here, read Felder's guide to exploring the best of Brooklyn like a pro.
1. (Safely) Leave Your Comfort Zone
When I was growing up, certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn were just out of my comfort zone. Crown Heights, for example, and Bedford-Stuyvesant (a.k.a. Bed-Stuy) were places I'd avoid—they were where you'd hear about murders on the news on a regular basis. Years later, I knew they'd become safer, and that some very cool spots had since opened, but I don't think I realized just how vibrant businesses like Butter & Scotch (a cocktail and dessert spot), Café Rue Dix (a French bistro), and Sincerely, Tommy (a forward-thinking boutique) are. All are definitely worth the trip.
2. Support Small Businesses!
Although I've always supported small businesses, getting to know the store- and restaurant-owners in the book drove home how hard it is to be an entrepreneur, and how important it is to keep these places busy and thriving. Small business owners are always working, often doing unglamorous jobs like unpacking boxes and schlepping heavy tubs of ice. The most dynamic establishments—like the quirky design shop Homebody in Park Slope or Kempton & Co. in Red Hook—exist as much to showcase the owner's unique point of view and curation of beautiful things as to make money. Working on the book has made me even more fervent about shopping small.
3. Explore the *Whole* Borough
Since it's so neighborhood-centric, sometimes I forget just how big Brooklyn is. It's huge! It would have been easy to get overwhelmed, but I aimed to plot my work days geographically, usually with a delicious lunch at places like the Middle Eastern restaurant Tanoreen in Bay Ridge or Ditmas Park's locavore staple The Farm on Adderly built into the schedule. Luckily, the subway can get you just about anywhere.
4. Be Culturally Curious
The multiculturalism of Brooklyn struck me constantly. In so many neighborhoods—Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge, parts of Williamsburg—there are incredible spots that showcase food and products from other countries. (One very colorful example: Fuego 718, a gift shop in Williamsburg that feels like an indoor bazaar in Mexico.) In Brooklyn, you can meet someone from just about anywhere in the world and get a sense of their local culture.
5. Wandering Is Always Rewarded
Although I knew most of the businesses I wanted to include in the book going in, I discovered a few of them along the way by asking around and turning onto unassuming little streets. That's how I, a self-confessed vintage junkie, found Circa Vintage House, a shop on a quiet side street in Bay Ridge that has gently worn Louis Vuitton and Emilio Pucci items for great prices.
6. Dress for Adventure
Working on the book was very fun but also extremely hard work, sometimes due simply to weather. For example, to get to one of the photo shoots I was most excited about—at Acme Smoked Fish in Greenpoint, where some of New York City's best lox is cured—I found myself traipsing through ice-covered streets, with a wind chill of around 0, at 7 a.m. The sturdy pair of boots I bought at Zoe in Dumbo early on was worth every penny.
7. Don't Forget Your Wallet
Speaking of investments, I did end up making a few while working on the book: some heavily discounted Lanvin suede brogues at the original Century 21 in Bay Ridge, pointy gold stud earrings from jewelry store Lady J +1, a heavy cotton jacket from trend-setting boutique Bird. I also, unavoidably, gained some weight working on the book, thanks to too many (delicious!) chocolate chip cookies from the bakery Ovenly and pizza at Roberta's. I did, I admit, enjoy every indulgent bite—and using Insider Brooklyn as easy justification.
Insider Brooklyn: A Curated Guide to New York City's Most Stylish Borough by Rachel Felder (Harper Design), $24, strandbooks.com.