NFT New York BoCoCa / Red Hook

BoCoCa / Red Hook

Sorry for the "BoCoCa" thing, but we just can't fit "Boerum Hill / Cobble Hill / Carroll Gardens" along with "Red Hook" on the header bar. Crusty oldtimers will say "I remember when this area was just called 'South Brooklyn.'" Well, Mr. Crusty Oldtimer, this is what happens when neighborhoods age, become economically stable, and are ravaged by hungry real estate agents.

Cobble Hill is like the bastard child of Brooklyn Heights--waterfront without the Promenade, nice-but-not-stunning brownstones, and slightly less convenient subway access. That said, Cobble Hill's dining, shopping, and nightlife are far and away superior to the Heights. Plus, it has one of the quaintest small parks in all of New York--if you've ever seen Cobble Hill Park right after a snowfall, you'll know what we're talking about.

Boerum Hill, immortalized in Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, has an unusual floor plan in that it's much wider east-west than north-south; Boerum Hill extends east all the way to 4th Avenue, and encompasses more retail along the Atlantic Avenue corridor, as well as Smith Street's northern half. Boerum Hill has come a long way, as evidenced by Smith Street's high commercial rents (say goodbye to porn video, furniture rental, and dollar stores) and the ongoing renovation of many brownstones.See more.

The image of Carroll Gardens is of hard-working immigrant Italian families tending to wide brownstones with those unusual garden frontages. Now many of these owners are either condo-izing or selling outright to Manhattanites who flock to Carroll Gardens for its schools, amenities, a 20-minute subway ride to Manhattan, and huge retail options on lower Court and Smith Streets. There are still old-school Italian shops and eateries that hold their own against the influx of hip restaurants on lower Court Street and the design shops of Smith Street. Somewhere east of Carroll Gardens lies/flows the Gowanus Canal, the notorious gonorrhea-breeding waterway/polluted vestigial nightmare that is home to various and sundry household refuse and alleged mafia dumping ground. All that aside, things are looking up for this low-lying stretch of "South Brooklyn," what with new remediation technologies and even a Whole Foods on 3rd Avenue.

And then there's Red Hook. Isolated, peppered with derelict industrial sites (re: the Red Hook Grain Terminal), and lacking high-quality housing, Red Hook still draws folks to the other side of the BQE. Even with the closest subway stop over a mile away, Fairway and IKEA have chosen to make Red Hook their Brooklyn home. Elsewhere, the vibrant sports-and-food-stall scene at the Red Hook Ball Fields during summer is not to be missed, and did we mention the view of New York Bay from Louis J Valentino Park? It rocks.

Each of the 'nabes here has their stalwarts. In Boerum Hill, it's classic Brooklyn Inn or the jukebox at The Boat. In Cobble Hill has several great places on Atlantic (Floyd, Montero's, Last Exit), or stick with old-tyme cocktails at Henry Public. In Carroll Gardens, it's Gowanus Yacht Club in summer and Brooklyn Social in winter, and in Red Hook, Bait and Tackle and Fort Defiance compete with classic dive Sunny's.

There's more good food here than in some entire states, trust us, from Michelin-noted Ki Sushi, Saul, and The Grocery to brick-oven goodness at Lucali (we're still waiting for a table), loud Thai at Joya, fried chicken at Buttermilk Channel, seasonal Italian at Frankies 457, Central European comfort food at Karloff, Middle Eastern haven Bedouin Tent, late-night French at Bar Tabac, or rooftop Mexican at Alma.

You can find anything on Atlantic, Smith, or Court Streets, especially food: Sahadi's, Staubitz, D'Amico's, Caputo's, Fish Tales, Smith & Vine, and Stinky are all great. Treat yourself at Swallow or Article&. Clayworks on Columbia's housewares are made by local artists, GRDN has lush plants, Idlewild Books is the spot for travel books, and all manner of kitchenware can be found at A Cook's Companion.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Chasing Andy Heidel

By Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Rebecca is the lifeblood of Not For Tourists. The lynchpin that holds the unit intact, the polestar that guides the destiny of its guides. She only has one weakness: The ones who serve her.
Slummer in the City 2005

By Cathleen Cueto
The Summer of 2005 was a one for the NFT books; hot, humid, swarming with insects, overcome with emotions and a ceaseless sense of hopeless anomie. Cathleen Cueto remembers that fateful summer. Voila, her slumming activities.

Five Beers in Five Boroughs + One Mugging

By Craig Nelson
Come on an epic journey across the five boroughs with NFT Managing Editor Craig Nelson and his drinking buddy Gabriel. From pure beer garden bliss to a late-night visit to the Bellevue ER, they experience the best and worst of New York City in a few short hours. The following is a true story...


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Sarah Enelow
Photo:  Courtesy Atlas Obscura

On Friday night, while everyone else was seeing Jay-Z, I went to the Proteus Gowanus Observatory to hear an Atlas Obscura lecture on 19th-century English executions and the handling of criminal corpses. Maybe the observatory was ever so slightly smaller than Barclays Center, but still, it was almost full! Did you know that for particularly heinous crimes, the English would not only execute you, but publicly hang your body in a metal cage called a gibbet? Proteus Gowanus was the perfect venue for this talk, reminding me of City Reliquary and the Coney Island Museum in its intimate size, quirkiness, and local focus. Look out for other Atlas Obscura events--they're not afraid to go head-to-head with Barbara Streisand.

Posted By:  Dawn Hoffman
Photo:  Dawn Hoffman

Sam's Restaurant
That's the sign that greets customers as they enter Sam's Restaurant Pizzeria. For a place that has existed for over 80 years (it opened in 1930), Sam's has remained surprisingly under-the-radar making it a great alternative should waits at near-by Lucali be too long. Dimly lit with vinyl, red booths, and red and white checkered tablecloths, Sam's attracts a mix of Cobble Hill originals and recently transplanted post grads. Pies are solid with a saucy, tomato base and a generous helping of cheese--a greasy alternative to the prosciutto-arugula Neapolitan pies that have dominated the New York pizza scene as of late. The restaurant also has an enormous menu dedicated to red sauce favorites like baked ziti and chicken cacciatore as well as a Mad Men-esque cocktail list (Rusty Nails, Sidecars, and Stingers are just a few of the drinks offered). Service moves at a leisurely pace and can be either friendly or gruff depending on whether Brooklyn Lou, the restaurant's owner/waiter/bartender, likes you. Those looking for a taste of old-school Brooklyn would be remiss to not pay a visit. As to be expected, this joint is cash only.

Posted By:  Andrew Savage
Photo:  Andrew Savage

Damascus Bread & Pastry Shop
If you're looking for a truly outstanding falafel sandwich, then why not go to the Syrian deli that has been making them for 80 years? Established in 1930, the family-owned Damascus Bread & Pastry churns out fresh middle eastern breads daily, as well as boasting a fabulous deli counter with all your favorites from hummus and baba ganouj to fresh olives and dates. The spinach pies are a customer favorite (try the one with feta). Service is fast and friendly, and the place has a great neighborhood feel, where regular customers can say "the usual." Why not ask for a sample taste before you buy? It's not a problem at Damascus.

Posted By:  Andrew Savage
Photo:  Andrew Savage

I don't need to tell you that the Banh mi is a beautiful and mysterious sandwich of Indochinese origin. Combining the traditional French baguette and native Vietnamese ingredients, the Banh mi has taken New York City by storm. Often just called Vietnamese sandwiches, its followers often posses a zealous loyalty to their favorite shop. For this reviewer, Boerum Hill's Hanco's is that shop. The dining room is microscopic, so if you want to go on your lunch break, better plan to wait a bit. Go at night and it will be a bit more relaxed. The staff is always friendly, and fairly expedient considering all sandwiches are made to order. For me, what puts Hanco's above most is the generous filling in their $5.50 Bánh mì. It's the kind of place where spicy truly means SPICY. Can't take the heat? Just get a bubble tea.

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Craig Nelson

Prime Meats
Living in New York can be hard. The people, the pollution, the smells...just read this Onion article and you'll get the idea. So it's very important to treat yourself well on occasion. Suggestion: try a Euro-style 2-hour lunch break at Prime Meats. While New Yorkers usually scarf down a crappy sandwich at their desk, our colleagues across the pond take their time eating real food and washing it down with a nice glass of  wine or beer. PM is the perfect place to pretend you're in Europe. It's a quiet, mellow scene before the sun goes down. Order a cold beer--the Captain Lawrence Kolsch is highly recommended--and a homemade pretzel to start. Then linger for awhile until your perfect pork schnitzel and potato salad appear in front of you. Your German friends would be proud. Order another beer, dig in, and savor every tasty bite. Remember, there's no rush. You're European for a few hours. Just without the free health care, free education, free child care, world class train system, cheap wine, 6 week vacations...

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Black Gold
Even though I don't drink coffee, I know a cool coffee shop when I see one. Especially when it's filled with records, a smattering of strange antiques, and the barista opens up a tin of baked goods to hand out, just for fun. It seems that for every new Starbucks, two indies open up, and we thank the God of Coffee for such a pattern. Plus, I believe Black Gold might be the first place in BoCoCa to actually sell music, in any form--astounding. As of this moment, they're opening at 10 am (a tad late for a coffee shop), but since an international school is moving there in the fall, we suspect various Spanish, French, and German parents will be banging on the door at 7:45 am. And so it goes.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

The Batmobile Garage
So, think you've seen everything, Mr. Jaded New Yorker? This is why we bike/walk/drive around Red Hook, and every other neighborhood in New York, because you NEVER KNOW WHAT THE F#*K YOU'RE GOING TO SEE. Like the day we were driving down Huntington Street after eating lunch at DeFonte's, and we saw four guys rolling the Batmobile back into a garage. What was the Batmobile doing in Red Hook, you ask? Who the hell knows? According to IMDB, a new Batman project is shooting starting April 2011, but then again, maybe it was just someone messin' around at (we think) Picture Cars East on Huntington Street. But don't quote us.

Posted By:  doug kim
Photo:  doug kim

Step into the museum attic space of Retrofret and you will be treated to a one of a kind, ever-changing collection of used, vintage stringed instruments. Guitars, fiddles, banjos, flamencos, hollow-body electrics, ouds, classicals, mandolins, etc...this is the kind of place that will have you crunching numbers in your head to see if you can really afford that five string banjo with the mother of pearl fretboard and Indian Head headstock. So many of the instruments are incredible finds, each with their own story and history, some coming from individual sellers, some from estate sales. This is no white glove collection encased behind glass as you can play any instrument as long as you ask and are respectful (and don't have any big belt buckles). Retrofret is a homey, comfortable space where the staff is as excited and geeked out as you are over these instruments. If you're lucky, you can get one of them to play one for you. You never know what you'll find here on any given visit so visit often. They also perform repairs and will do maintenance on your church's pipe organ.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Metal and Thread
Of the thousands of jewelry stores in NYC, there are a handful that I've walked into and been equally blown away by the vibe as well as the wares displayed. It doesn't happen very often, since I could really give a damn about jewelry (now, personal electronics...that's another matter). But Metal and Thread, in Red Hook, managed to fully pierce my crusty, myopic exterior. The shop is exquisitely designed, the proprietors are the cutest couple (at least, they SEEM like a couple) I've seen since Quebec in July, and the combination of jewelry and antique tools for sale has obviously been curated with a lot of care. Simply, a special, special place to buy something for your loved one. Or something for the person you're hot for. Or both.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Courtesy of

Gowanus Studio Space
Thank god for Gowanus. Just when you're afraid that every last abandoned industrial space is doomed to be condo-raped and half-filled with suited drones keen to flash their cash in poorer nabes, you remember that there are parts of Brooklyn that will be forever uninhabitable. For those people who would rather revel in industrial wreckage and find ways to use the refuse to make something useful, Brooklyn Skillshare at Gowanus Studio Space will be your bag. On October 10th, a savvy group of fixers, makers, artists, and all-around good people will hold workshops to share their specialty skills with anyone who wants to learn. Inspired by similar projects in Austin and Boston, the founders of the all-day event believe in reciprocal community learning and helping others to do for themselves. The B.S. crew just had a fundraiser concert and will hopefully have more before the big day, so check their website. And if you go to the Skillshare, give generously: this is the kind of growth Brooklyn desperately needs.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

The story of Red Hook retail reads like a Russian novel. Just when a brilliant place finally starts to get some mojo going--say, 360 or LeNell's--it's gone, to be replaced by an empty storefront for 6+ months. A few folks seem to have weathered the economic storms (Hope & Anchor, Good Fork, Bait & Tackle), and we can only hope Anselmo's is another. Both the white pizza and the margarita were brilliant, and while lovably doofus Yelpers complain that it's hit-or-miss, chances are I'm betting that when you go, it'll be a hit. It's top 20 NYC pizza, folks--go while you can still get in (or while it's still there!). And bring some Tolstoy while you're pizza is cooking.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

South Brooklyn Pizza
Do not go to South Brooklyn Pizza if you have any type of preconceived notions about what a restaurant is supposed to be. As far as I can tell, it's been open for 8 months or so (?) and they still don't even have menus ("next week!" the server said). Not that it matters; there were only two choices the night I went, a margarita pizza and a pizza with spinach, chopped onions, and tomatoes. The layout of the restaurant does not really make sense; it's mostly a bar in the front, a few high tables in the back, one regular table, and then another bar that surrounds the massive coal oven pizza. Then some construction going on near the open door to PJ Hanley's (remember, this place has been open for almost a year). The service was friendly if a bit take-it-or-leave-it. So basically it all boils down to whether the pizza was good. And it was good. Both were actually very, very good. Fresh, charred, good crust, yum. If the interior actually gets redesigned by someone who knows about interior design (maybe an interior designer?), if they add a few more menu items and perhaps print menus, and if they open during the day on weekends (you're selling pizza--why the hell not?), then we may have a serious contender here. In the meantime, just go and eat good pizza and soak in the weirdness of everything else that is South Brooklyn Pizza.

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Edwin Anglero

Louis Valentino Jr Park and Pier
The Red Hook Waterfront Arts Festival, June 5-6
Red Hook is home to an almost embarrassing number of businesses and services that are unique to the neighborhood, whether you're looking for fresh Maine lobster or a vegetable farm growing in Brooklyn (or, yes, a piece of un-assembled furniture whose name has more vowels than consonants). See the waterfront community come together for its annual summer kick-off at Dance Theatre Etcetera's 16th Annual Red Hook Waterfront Arts Festival in Valentino Park, June 5-6, 2009. Chow down on the best food from the area (think Jamaican jerk and Mexican tacos), take a free kayak ride in New York Harbor to take in the breathtaking views of Lady Liberty, and enjoy the Mainstage entertainment from a lineup jam-packed with enough of Brooklyn's best dance, music, and spoken word artists to fill a month of Sundays at Celebrate! Brooklyn's outdoor concert series. Progressive community building combined with an outdoor dance party? Of course it's in Red Hook.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Frankie's 457
As always, I fear to tread where the fabulous J. Slab hath tread before. But since J. Slab is primarily a sandwich guy, I'll take the other end of the spectrum here and mention that Frankie's is now my official destination for French Toast in NYC. Given the fact that it's made with bread from none other than Grandaisy Bakery, that should be enough to tell you it's going to be pretty special. And it is crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, with a little cup of maple syrup that you can just dunk bits of the French Toast into...ah, what goodness. Also good on the brunch menu: the BLT. And the Shaved Brussel Sprouts. And the Ricotta Crostini. And the Side of Thick-Cut Bacon. And the Beets. And...

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Ferdinando's Focacceria
As much as I hate to plow already-trampled ground (since Famous Fat Dave already reviewed Ferdinando's back in 2006), I feel the need in these recessive times to again make sure that all NFT-ers know that you can absolutely stuff yourself silly on ridiculously fabulous food at Ferdinando's Focacceria on Union Street in Carroll Gardens for, like, $10. Simple: order the fabulous potato croquettes (around $4) and either the panelle sandwich or the veal cutlet parm sandwich, of course with the ricotta and cheese on top ($6). The veal sandwich is pictured. I'm still digesting it. The panelle (a Sicilian fritter made of chick-pea flour) is equally good. For you rice fanatics/vegetarians, the arancina special (rice ball with ricotta and cheese) will fill you up equally well. But you probably don't eat cheese, do you? Ah well, thank god I'm married to a carnivore from Texas.

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Boat Bar
Boat is a secret bar patronized by secretive sorts who stare seething into their drinkin' bowls, chortle, cough and then castigate their fellows violently, intelligibly and with much ado. Boat is the kind of bar that bears no sign; its location is a mystery. Its primary wall-bedecked color is red. Its je ne sais quoi is messy, not dirty (dust, not dirt). I've been drinkin' in the front, I've been drinkin' in the back. I've been appreciative of the moderately-priced well liquor, but less appreciative of the sassy barmaids. But aren't they always sassy, those life-impoverished barmaids with their bars and their power and their dirndls? I have had enough of those wenches, but I have not had enough of Boat. It will not sink, so long as I am in it. For my patronage is airy and free.

Posted By:  J. Slab
Photo:  J. Slab

The Brooklyn Circus
A circus... why a circus? "If you think about it, Brooklyn is kinda a circus." Thus spake BKC's resident DJ and man-of-many-trades, Kohey, and he had a point: the borough of Kings is pretty wild. Hence the clientele, a mix from around the way and the world both. You can spot their graphic tees on everyone from kids in the Wyckoff Houses to Japanese tourists, hipsters in Nike SBs to real lovely ladies. Their steady growth in the crowded field of young high-end streetwear is a tribute to founder and head designer Ouigi's hard work and unique vision. Since launch, he has steadily developed a clothing and accessories line that is equal parts fresh and eclectic: they fit whether you're on the corner or at a gallery opening. So if you've ever thought about joining up with a circus, start here; the experience, as they say, is everything.

Posted By:  Andy Heidel
Photo:  Andy Heidel

Montero's Bar and Grill
Some places fail miserably in their attempts to create the cluttered kitschy charm of too many knickknacks and tchotchkes (I'm looking at you TGIF), some succeed (kudos to you Bait & Tackle) and then there's the real deal--Montero's. Over the past sixty years Montero's has perfected this look as only the old school dive bar can. Being just a few blocks from the water on Atlantic Ave they've gone nuts for all things nautical. I hope I'm lucky enough to be drinking there if Brooklyn ever gets flooded, then I can grab a bottle of rum, one of the life savers from the rafters, and set sail for black-out island.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Jalopy Tavern
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a... performance space! Art gallery! Banjo store! Classroom! It's Jalopy, and it's about as cool a place as there is on this planet Earth. And until today, it wasn't in our database, which shows you that we're not as cool as you think we are, but…well, we do the best we can. Just caught a show last month with a bunch of avant-jazzers, will be going back for the standing Thursday night Country Blues Jam shortly, I'm sure. It's got a similar feel to the dearly-departed Tonic on the Lower East Side, but, since it's in Brooklyn, in the "Carroll Gardens West Waterfront District," it's got a more laid-back feel and even better seating than Tonic. Plus, banjos (pictured). Oh yes, they serve beer, and lattes. It really doesn't get any better than this, folks. Check it out.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Like any place in NYC worth its salt, the Fairway Market on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook can get hellishly crowded. And while it's in an absolutely beautiful old warehouse building, the Fairway space itself on the first floor has low ceilings and not too many architectural details of note. However, who cares? The prices are great, and the selection of, well, everything IS AN ACTUAL SELECTION OF EVERYTHING. Almost all other grocery stores in New York--your C-Towns, your Met Foods, your Pioneers, even your Gristede's--are a pale shadow of what a grocery store could actually be (the king of all kings in this category is of course the brilliant Upstate New York chain Wegman's). But Fairway, by a large margin, wins hands-down, at least in Brooklyn--large organic selection, great cheese counter, good fish counter, excellent aged meat selection, a little cafe, outdoor tables on the water with a view of the Statue of Liberty, and, of course, more olive oil than you can possibly consume in one lifetime (pictured). The only (real) downside: it's about fourteen miles as the crow flies from a subway stop. But that's Red Hook...

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