The belt west of Prospect Park—Cobble Hill, Gowanus and Park Slope—is a hotbed of activity, known for its pre-war real estate and eclectic, ever-gentrifying scene. It’s in these neighborhoods—a fusion of stately brownstones, warehouses and Michelin-starred eateries—that the French term très Brooklyn (meaning ‘utterly cool’) takes a new form. To find out why, spend an afternoon eating, shopping, and exploring your way through this cozy nook of New York’s ever-changing borough.
Kick off your exploration with brunch at a neighborhood institution, La Vara (268 Clinton St.). Crowds are drawn to this unpretentious yet delicious eatery, known for its relaxed, elegant dining room and Spanish Basque–style menu. Here, mornings mean churros with dulce de leche and scrambled eggs with Catalan ratatouille. After brunch, stop next door at Tekoá (264 Clinton St) for a caffeine fix to go. This no-fuss coffee joint boasts great drinks (try the matcha latte) and Spanish pastries. It’s also a favorite of celebrity Brooklynites.
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Next, head towards Court Street, a quintessential Brooklyn avenue dotted with charming gift shops and family-run bistros, and stop into PasParTou (206 Court Street). Style mavens and vintage-lovers will be impressed with the chic, handmade clothing and housewares on offer, much of which is imported from Europe. Across the street, step into Papél (225 Court Street), the one-stop shop for whimsical greeting cards, stationary and darling trinkets.
Leaving Cobble Hill, walk west through Gowanus and watch the neighborhood transform from idyllic to industrial. Once a sleepy community of Italian social clubs and modest family eateries, Gowanus is now an up-and-coming locale rife with alfresco restaurants, cozy pubs and knick-knack shops found in curiously isolated locations (such as the neighborhood gem Gowanus Souvenir Shop, which sells funky, locally-made gifts (567 Union St)).
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On 5th Avenue, Gowanus transforms to Park Slope—otherwise known as strollerville—where coffee shops and hip cafés populate every corner. First, satisfy your sweet tooth at The Chocolate Room (51 5th Ave), the perfect place to recharge with a confection and warming drink. Visitors should try the signature spiced dark hot chocolate, the perfect remedy to a chilly day.
Head south on 5th Avenue to visit Items of Interest (60 5th Ave), a gorgeous design store full of one-of-a-kind furniture and handmade gifts. There, you’ll find everything from funky cocktail glasses and kitchen appliances to coffee table books and accessories. Those with children in tow should stop at Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store a few blocks away. Come for a wonderful assortment of paper products, games, toys and old-fashioned candy. For an afternoon culture moment, explore the nearby Brooklyn Museum, the beautiful Beaux-Arts style museum and the city’s second largest, with a staggering 1.8 million works in their collection. Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Academy of Music are also close by.
For dinner, don’t miss Al di Là. This welcoming neighborhood restaurant offers a menu crammed with fantastic northern Italian dishes such as trippa alla Toscana, homemade ravioli and braised rabbit with polenta.