Get to know Williamsburg
Sitting along the East River just over the Williamsburg Bridge, this is the Brooklyn that comes to mind first for many. It’s the neighborhood that has long been the epicenter of the borough’s artisanal and local dining scene, which you experience in restaurants that have pressed-tin ceilings and are illuminated by Edison bulbs and where the dishes are served by bearded and tattooed waiters. For better or worse, Williamsburg’s time as an edgy neighborhood has drawn to a close. These days, Chipotle, Equinox, and Whole Foods all have locations on or near Bedford (the main drag). The new Domino Park, designed by James Corner Field Operations (collaborators on Manhattan’s High Line), provides the area with another much-needed green space. Williamsburg is huge. While the area roughly between Roebling and the river may have the vibe that looms largest in the public imagination, Williamsburg also has distinct pockets of Hasidic, Italian, Puerto Rican, and other cultural groups.
History & Culture
Williamsburg has passed through several incarnations in its roughly 200 years — from a village within Bushwick, to its own independent city, and then to being incorporated into the city of Brooklyn (which became a borough in 1898). It has also transitioned from a bucolic area — Cornelius Vanderbilt and others built waterfront mansions here — to a predominantly industrial area. After the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, it became the destination of recent immigrants, many overflowing from the Lower East Side. Traditionally Brooklyn’s Broadway marked an unofficial boundary between the Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Hasidic sections of Williamsburg to its south and the Italian and Polish ones to its north. In recent years, the Polish population has largely moved on (though Greenpoint still retains its Polish character), replaced by new residents drawn by, for lack of a better term, Williamsburg’s hipster reputation. There is still an Italian Williamsburg, bordered roughly by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Grand Avenue, and Humboldt.
Dine & Shop
Bedford is the bustling main strip of Williamsburg, the first stop on the L train for visitors from other parts of the city looking to explore the area’s bars and restaurants. Its nightlife spills over in both directions, however, as far as Roebling to the east and the East River on the west. In the northeast corner of Williamsburg, near McCarren Park, a number of new hotels — with restaurants and bars that are popular with locals as well — sit just to the south of Greenpoint. Williamsburg is large enough to boast several main streets. Metropolitan is another of the busy commercial strips; while the blocks closer to water are ritzier, the businesses tend to become more utilitarian as one heads inland. Upscale dining and drinking are making inroads on Grand Street and Broadway, though on both, for now, dollar stores, bodegas, and cheap restaurants still dominate.