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Brooklyn: Cobbled together

From happening brunch spots to key streets to explore, this is the definitive guide to Brooklyn's family-friendly neighbourhood of Cobble Hill

Brooklyn: Cobbled together
Brooklyn Museum. Image: Slawek Kozdras

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Tell us about Cobble Hill
It’s often said that if Brooklyn was its own city, it would be the country’s fourth-largest. Much of the Brooklyn focus is on Williamsburg, but I love where I live — Cobble Hill, with Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill a short walk away. The people here are typical New Yorkers. This area is very family-friendly, but it’s home to many types of people — and I love that fellow editors, writers, and DINKs (Double Income/No Kids) live nearby. You’ll see a few tourists, but it is primarily locals.

How does it compare to other neighbourhoods?
Brooklyn Heights has that sense of old New York, but a lack of hip restaurants and new openings. Bed-Stuy and Greenpoint still have gritty edges and there’s a sense of gentrification in process. Cobble Hill strikes a great balance of the Brooklyn we all want to experience — brownstone streets and neighbourhood spots — with a palpable sense of energy and innovation inspired by, but also separate from, Manhattan, just across the river.

Is it experiencing a Williamsburg-ification?
Because it’s very family-friendly and removed from major subway lines, it will never have the bar and restaurant scene that Williamsburg has. But there are definitely new gourmet food shops, yoga and Pilates studios and, of course, preppy mass-market chains like J Crew moving in — which will continue to alter the character of the neighbourhood. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘bourgeois bohemian’ or BoBo — that’s what Cobble Hill attracts: successful, creative professionals.

Where are the key streets?
Court Street and Smith Street, plus Atlantic Avenue — a big thoroughfare that’s seen its many antique and vintage furniture shops slowly being replaced by stores like Barneys and Urban Outfitters. On Court Street, there’s a very definitive sense of upscale Brooklyn charm, and there are places like Cafe Pedlar, a very Brooklyn-y coffee shop. On Smith Street, you should check out Exit 9 Gift Emporium, where you could easily lose an hour.

Where is the happening brunch spot?
Ever since Jay Z and Beyoncé showed up at Buttermilk Channel, in Carroll Gardens, it’s been a brunch hotspot. The food is great, but go right when it opens to beat the crowds. My favourites are Bar Tabac for a great French bistro vibe, live music, and eggs any time of day, and Café Luluc, where you simply cannot miss the pancakes. Both are located on Smith Street.

Whats your favourite place to eat out?
Frankies Spuntino, in Carroll Gardens — if you can snag a garden seat in the spring, there’s no better place to be having brunch or dinner; La Cigogne — affordable, with great food — it serves Alsatian cuisine and plays old French movies with no sound during dinner; Hanco’s — I have cravings for the shredded chicken báhn mi; Ki Sushi — delicious food flown in from the famous Tsukiji fish market; Layla Jones — my favourite pizza in Cobble Hill (it also does a great Greek chopped salad); and Rucola — located on a quintessential Brooklyn corner, it’s small in a charming, not cramped, kind of way, and serves really great food.

What do you recommend for a weekend in Brooklyn?
I tell visitors they can’t miss seeing Brooklyn Bridge Park with its incredible view over to Lower Manhattan and of the Brooklyn Bridge. Don’t miss Ample Hills Creamery’s ice cream in the summer.

I might wander over to Prospect Park for off-leash time before 9am with my dog, and in the spring, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is lovely, and, for art, the Brooklyn Museum is just as good at the Met.

I’ll see a movie at rickety Cobble Hill Cinemas. Stopping in at BookCourt is a must for me, as I love independent bookstores, and One Girl Cookies is a nostalgic dessert parlour with nice two-bite cookies.

I’ll buy hummus and yogurt plus nuts, rice, and chocolate from the bulk bins at Sahadi’s, a Brooklyn market specialising in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. I might buy olive bread at Mazzola Bakery, in Carroll Gardens, where it feels like time has stopped.

It’s worth noting that there aren’t many great hotel options here — but the Nu Hotel, on Smith Street, is a nice boutique option. Alternatively, you can find some fabulous apartments on the rental sites.

Read more of the New York cover story in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)