Get Cultured: Williamsburg – A Local Guide to this Inspiring Brooklyn Neighborhood

You may know him as The Expeditioner, but to us he’s a great friend and colleague. We caught up with Matt Stabile to get the scoop on his very hip, yet oh-so-chill neighborhood of Williamsburg. 

On your first day here, seeing this is a must: To get a real sense of Williamsburg for the first time, you need to get off at the Bedford stop on the L train, pick a side of the street and head south on Bedford until you get to the Williamsburg bridge. Cross the street and make your way back up until you get to McCarren Park. When people think of Williamsburg, this is what they are really thinking about. Coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars, specialty kitchen shops, organic dumpling shops and rockabilly tattoo shops all make up the tapestry of this once eclectic, quickly gentrifying neighborhood.

Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”… you need to “leave” Williamsburg. The neighborhood is made up of much more than the aforesaid stretch of Bedford Avenue and McCarren Park. Stay on the L train and get off at either the Lorimer Street or Graham Avenue stops, which are the next two stations along the L. Given their distance away from the high rents and new residents around Bedford, it’s here where you’re likely going to find yourself amongst the locals shopping, eating, drinking or strolling along the quiet side streets.

For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: Grab yourself a fixed gear/single speed reconstructed bike built from scratch and tour the neighborhood like a local. In all seriousness, Williamsburg is ground zero for the serious bike aficionado, and given its spread-out location and the many must-see spots spread out in distant corners of the ‘hood,’ a bike is the best way to see, feel and get around Williamsburg.

I had my best night’s sleep at: Williamsburg is thankfully devoid of many hotels, though there are quite a few new, trendy boutique hotels sprouting up every couple of months. Much more so than many other parts of New York, Williamsburg would be perfect for a homestay/Airbnb rental given its high population of young, and therefore mobile, population. You’re likely to land some great short-term rentals in unique properties that give you a chance to experience what it’s like to live here like a local.

The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: Williamsburg has taken the BBQ trend and put its own spin on it, with nowhere else showing this off as well as Fette Sau BBQ on Metropolitan Avenue. The site of a former auto repair shop, Fette Sau is decked out inside with cement floors, exposed beams, a deli-style counter where you order and retrieve your freshly carved food, and a gas-and-wood-fired smoker capable of slow-cooking 500 pounds of meat at a time. Add on top of that beer that can be ordered by the gallon, and you’ve got yourself an afternoon full of antacids and regret. But wake up the next day and I guarantee you’ll be craving some more pork belly and beef shoulder for lunch.

Best place to find artisan handicrafts: The Brooklyn Flea, which originated in South Brooklyn, recently opened up a Sunday edition along the Williamsburg waterfront. And don’t worry, you’re not going to find old coffee machines and hand-me-down t-shirts here. This massive flea market is home to more artisanal doorknobs and vintage maps than you ever though you’d need in your life.

Local celebration not to be missed: Before the young and tattooed moved in, Williamsburg was home to a large Italian population. Head over to North 8th Street and Havemeyer beginning July 5th for the Feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, a massive street fair/celebration that dates back to 1903. Every year large stages with entire bands and elaborate decorations on them are lifted by church members and are paraded through the crowded streets, while sausage is grilled and zeppoli fried at nearby food stands.

For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here: McCarren Park has been a favorite of the locals for years, and on any given night and weekend expect to find many Williamsburgers out playing kickball, sunning themselves, walking their dogs, or shopping at the park’s farmers market. Though the Manhattan skyline is visible from here, you’ll feel more like you’re out in a distant neighborhood rather than only one stop from the East Village.

Where the locals get tipsy: Union Pool is to Williamsburg what Cheers is to Boston — but with more facial hair. Union Pool was an old pool accessory store that was converted into one of the neighborhood’s oldest and most loved bars. On the weekend the main bar turns into a big dance floor, and during the summer the backyard is one of the best places to drink outside with its fire pit, taco truck and multitude of picnic tables. Of course, there’s also live music here in the second bar in the back.

Most ludicrous stereotype about the people here: The most ludicrous stereotype of the people in the neighborhood is that they are all trust-fund hipsters with art degrees. There may be a few of them around, and certainly more there now than a few years ago, but Williamsburg has been and will likely continue to be one of the city’s most fertile ground for bands, artists, designers, writers and entrepreneurs. Every day I’m impressed and inspired by the people that choose to live here over Manhattan, and the things they are doing with their life and hope to achieve.

If I had only 24 hours to explore Williamsburg I would: If I only had 24 hours in Williamsburg I would start with brunch at Le Barricou, stroll through McCarren Park and down Bedford Avenue, wander among the side-streets between the water and Bedford, grab lunch at the Smorgasborg on Saturday (weekend food fair) and bring the food to the waterfront park and have a picnic. I’d then grab beers on the rooftop at Berry Park, check out a movie at Nitehawk Cinema, stroll over to Zebulon afterward for some live world music, then finish up the night Sambaing at Miss Favela.


About the Writer:
Matt Stabile runs the online travel magazine You can read his writings, see his videos, or purchase the book he co-edited at, and follow him on Twitter at: @TheExpeditioner.


Can’t get enough culture? Check out last week’s Get Cultured: Reykjavik and be on the lookout for the next installment in the series.

Featured photo by Kev Gilmour/flickr

Brooklyn flea photo by kthread/flickr

McCarren Park photo by imsorrybrendan/flickr

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