A day in…Downtown Brooklyn

Brooklyn Borough Hall, formerly Brooklyn City Hall was built between 1834-1848, and did not include the ornate cupola until 1898. The architect, Gamaliel King was listed as a grocer until 1830 when he became a carpenter and architect. Quite the career change! 

Small businesses sandwiched amid older landmarked buildings, as new luxury developments outpace each other in this once gritty and tired neighborhood. Downtown Brooklyn is now a thriving neighborhood while still holding true to its original bustling community. 

Timing: I love downtown Brooklyn during the annual Atlantic Antic festival which is a street fair run by the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation the first Sunday of October. Unfortunately it was cancelled this year because of COVID.

I would recommend reading or watching the movie, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, which is set in Brooklyn in general and not specifically Downtown Brooklyn and centers on a female Irish Immigrant in the 1950’s. 

Morning: 

Start your morning with a coffee or specialty tea from Devoción (276 Livingston St), the high ceiling and lush plant life creates the perfect oasis from bustling Livingston St and surrounding Downtown Brooklyn. 

Saunter the 4.5 blocks to Brooklyn Tabernacle (17 Smith St), a megachurch with a Grammy Award winning Choir. The 250-voice choir even sang at Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration! The 1918 edifice started as a vaudeville Metropolitan Theater. Converted in 1978 into Loew’s movie theater which was defunct from 1996- 2000, and reopened in its current use (after extensive renovations) in 2002 as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. The euphonious Sunday services are at 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Expect the service to go at least an hour and a half. 

After church (or those that forgo the service) head to the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket or farmer’s market. Brooklyn Borough Hall was originally called “Brooklyn City Hall” before Brooklyn was annexed into the greater New York City. The land for Borough Hall and encompassing Cadman Plaza was donated by the prominent Pierrepont and Remsen families. Sample and buy some of the fresh cheese, produce and artisan breads. 

New York Transit Museum (99 Schermerhorn St), which tells the history of public transit in New York City. Nearby you will find Junior’s Cheesecake. The orange seats and tiled floors will take you back to the 1950’s when the restaurant was founded by Harry Rosen. For those not familiar with Junior’s, it’s praised as the best cheesecake in New York. 

Take a walk down the thriving Fulton Mall, a transit mall that was built in 1985. The area transitioned from stores selling fur coats to such stores as Footlocker, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s Rack. A couple architecture gems to look at on this stroll:

  • The Dime Savings Bank of New York (9 DeKalb Ave). The Greco-Roman architecture reminds me of our own Parthenon in Rome, tucked away at an angle on Dekalb Avenue. Built in 1908 by Mowbray and Uffinger,  the interior is even more awe inspiring than the exterior with Greek quarried marble. The site is currently in redevelopment for a 73-story residential tower. 
  • Abraham and Straus, started by Abraham Abraham (yes real name!) and Isidor Straus, who owned Macy’s with his brother. In 1885 Abraham and business partner at the time, Joseph Wechsler chose this site for their store. The store eventually merged with Straus Brothers owned R.H. Macy’s in 1895, although the name did not change until 1995. Straus and his wife also went down with the Titanic (along with another rich New Yorker, John Astor IV.) Eight buildings create this one block, while externally it shows the development of Downtown Brooklyn, internally the buildings connect with fluidity. In 2016 the top floors were sold to be used as co-working spaces.

Enjoy a stroll through the Brooklyn Civic Center, Cadman Plaza Park and Walt Whitman Park. Don’t miss the statue of Henry Ward Beecher, a famous abolitionist preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Abraham Lincoln were among those who heard this preacher speak at nearby Plymouth Church. 

Take a brief walk to the right to MetroTech Center, a business and technology section in Downtown Brooklyn. The late 20th century/early 21 century renewal project combined public-private partnership that resulted in a great deal of privately owned public space including the nation’s largest urban academic-industrial research park. 

NYU’s Wunsch Building (9 MetroTech Center), formerly the Bridge Street Methodist Church, dates back to 1847. Bridge Street Methodist Church was the first independent black church in Brooklyn, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now it’s an office of undergraduate admissions for NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The building has been a historic landmark since 1981. Famous historical figures who orated at the Bridge Street Methodist Church include Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass!

For those who like to contrast old with new, take a quick look at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James (250 Cathedral Pl).

Head to DeKalb Market for dinner. The food reflects the diversity of the borough. There are fan favorites from Manhattan and some famous outposts of Brooklyn’s diverse culinary scene. Brooklyn staples such as Ample Hills Creamery (Prospect Heights ice cream establishment known for rich ice cream with unique flavors), Bunsmith (Crown Heights Korean style steamed bun restaurant), and BK Jani (Bushwick Pakistani kebab restaurant). You truly cannot go wrong with any of the vendors.

A fun alternative would be to get dinner and a movie at Alamo Drafthouse. They also have an adjacent speakeasy, The House of Wax (445 Albee Square W #4410). 

For those who want a nightcap, you will find The Circa Brewing Company (141 Lawrence St) and those looking for views will enjoy Kimoto Rooftop Restaurant and Garden Lounge (228 Duffield St), which offers some city views.

If you enjoy learning more about Brooklyn, consider checking out some of my A Day In itineraries in Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Red Hook.

3 thoughts on “A day in…Downtown Brooklyn

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