My Kind of Place Move over, Manhattan – chic hotels and great shopping shift the attention to this atmospheric New York district.
Gentrification turns Williamsburg into the new hub of cool in New York
New York's centre of cool has moved from Manhattan to Williamsburg. Everyday the L train - nicknamed the "Love" train - carries carefully dishevelled types from downtown Manhattan to the Burg, an immigrant neighbourhood first staked out by rebellious hipsters and now flooded with models, Wall Streeters and luxury condos. Along with soaring prices, gentrification has brought a slew of artisanal or avant-garde boutiques selling handmade chocolate, design furniture, off-the radar fashion brands, used records and vintage fur jackets favoured by stylish women cycling to the area's many hip restaurants and music venues.
A comfortable bed
One issue with Williamsburg has been the absence of proper hotels. But now with the opening of the posh King and Grove Williamsburg (www.kingandgrove.com; 00 1 718 218 75 00) there is finally a full-service boutique hotel, complete with a pool, gym, valet and room service. The sheets are Frette, the amenities are Malin + Goetz, and the rooftop bar, which has a 360-view of the city and river, is the scene of parties right through the summer. A double room costs from US$273 (Dh1,003) per night, including taxes.
For smaller budgets, Hotel Le Jolie (www.hotellejolie.com; 00 1 866 526 40 97) is a convenient choice. Located right across the Williamsburg Bridge and close to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, it has double rooms from $159 (Dh584) per night, including breakfast and taxes.
Find your feet
Start on the South Williamsburg waterfront, where the view of the Manhattan skyline across the water is stunningly cinematic. Walk to Bedford Avenue and head north; after Metropolitan Avenue the street numbers will progress from N.1 to N.12. On your way you'll come across tattoo parlours, French cafes, food trucks, Sixties design stores, vintage boutiques, independent bookstores and street vendors – Williamsburg's creativity often spills out onto the sidewalks. Bedford Avenue ends at McCarren park, which separates Williamsburg from its even hipper sister, Greenpoint. On a balmy summer day the park is alive with musicians, groups of picnickers, youngsters playing baseball to blasting hip-hop beats and people reading, sprawled on the grass.
Book a table
Choosing only a few addresses is a challenge because Williamsburg is filled with trendsetting restaurants. Menu buzzwords are "local" "heritage" or "organic;" chefs experiment with seasonal produce to create new American dishes both hearty and refined. The decor is often rustic, and inspired by the parlours and saloons of yesteryear. Marlow & Sons (www.marlowandsons.com; 00 1 718 384 1441), a tiny eatery facing the Gretsch lofts, is renowned for its farm-to-table dishes - highlights include homemade scones, Devonshire cream and marmalade ($14; Dh51) and a lavish local oyster platter ($14). The dark chocolate caramel tart sprinkled with sea salt ($9; Dh31) has a cult following. On your way out, pick up a cookbook or artisanal jam from the general store.
Equally famous is Dressler (www.dresslernyc.com; 00 1 718 384 6343), where the Michelin-starred chef prepares delicate dishes such as ricotta ravioli ($14), rabbit pasta ($16; Dh58) and smoked duck breast ($30; Dh110). The cast iron decorations were crafted by Brooklyn Navy Yard artists.
Make the pilgrimage to Five Leaves (www.fiveleavesny.com; 00 1 718 383 5348) across from McCarren Park for classics such as truffle fries ($8: Dh29) and the Five Leaves burger with fried eggs and pineapple ($13; Dh47). On weekends there are long lines for the brunch; the ricotta pancakes ($12; Dh44) are memorable.
Meet the locals
For those who take their coffee brewing very seriously - including coffee scales and siphons- Blue Bottle (www.bluebottlecoffee.net; 00 1 718 387 41 60) is an essential stop. The Williamsburg outpost of this Oakland coffee house sells meticulously prepared drip brews, along with professional equipment and accessories. The coffee is ground in-house daily, and a divine, nutty scent fills the space. The staff will share advice and tips, but don't ask the barista for a pound of ground coffee - a true connoisseur grinds his whole beans every day.
On weekends the Brooklyn Flea (www.brooklynflea.com) is where locals shop, eat, contemplate the river and work on their tans. Artisanal food stands sell everything from fish tacos to hibiscus doughnuts. Vintage stalls offer maps, shoes, jewels, tables, mirrors and other scavenged finds.
Williamsburg is a haven for vintage lovers seeking unique finds away from chain brands. There are used clothes stores and indie boutiques everywhere, mostly concentrated around the Bedford L subway stop on N.7th. A great example of the local style is Catbird (www.catbirdnyc.com; 00 1 718 599 34 57), a little store that feels like a boudoir and sells elegant stationery, Tocca perfumes, handmade candles, mirrors and boxes. There is also a selection of jewels, including Elisa Solomon's majestic Ancienne Diamond ring, a wonderful atypical engagement band, and alphabet gold rings that can be stacked.
What to avoid
Many of the small cafes on Bedford Avenue cater for tourists and students on a budget; the quality of their food is merely passable. Restaurants off the main strip are usually better options.
The retro Nitehawk cinema (www.nitehawkcinema.com). Here, you can order food and drinks in the screening room while watching award-winning films. There are Cayenne popcorn bowls, fish tacos and burgers, stylish waitresses and an adjacent speak easy-style cafe for post- or pre-film discussions.