No other neighborhood in Brooklyn evokes such strong sentiment – good or bad – as Williamsburg. You either love the buzz of Brooklyn's hippest 'hood, or you stay as far away from the L train as possible. But there's no denying that the neighborhood is jam-packed with fun things to do on any given day. From free shows to outdoor movies, chic galleries to hip hair salons, and old-school Italian trattorias to the borough's hottest gay bar, it's options overload when it comes to hanging out in Billyburg. To keep your head from spinning, we've selected some spots to check out, but fair warning, restaurants come and go in these hotspots and things change often.
Nearly every eatery in the neighborhood serves weekend brunch, but get out there early as the wait times can be brutal. Cafe Argentino serves up tasty Argentinean fare, along with damn good bloody marys and sangria. Try the spinach fritatta, stuffed to the max with creme fresh and leafy greens. Another great place is Miranda, which serves a mix of Latin American and Italian flavors. The torta de poll, a chicken sandwich with cilantro avocado and fresh mozzarella, is packed with flavor, while their Pan Frances, custard soaked brioche with maple syrup macerated raisins and crisp pancetta, upped our standards for French toast.
Or start the day with lunch. The nautical-themed sandwich shop Saltie offers creations by the former chef of Diner. The Scuttlebutt won New York Magazine's award for the city's best vegetarian sandwich. Two pieces of focaccia stuffed with beets, radishes, hard-boiled egg, butternut squash, feta, black olives, capers, pickled onions, parsley, and spicy aïoli, they described it as a "a sprawling kitchen-sink sandwich designed for the vegetarian whose appetite yields to no one." Just down the road, the General Store in Lodge lets you create your own sandwich on a form. Choose your favorite type of bread — they have them all — and make it a meaty meal with proteins ranging from prosciutto to turkey to tempeh bacon. This is highly recommended for a post-shopping pit stop.
It's no secret that Williamsburg is a great place to take in the borough's best art galleries, so take some time to visit a few. Causey Contemporary consistently puts out interesting shows of blossoming contemporary artists. You should also check out Cinders Gallery; and K&K Gallery is a great place to see photography. Galleries here focus on new and emerging artists so forget about status and check out the avant garde ideas presented.
Call ahead of time if you find yourself on Bedford Avenue in need of a manicure or a new hairstyle and the lovely ladies at Hello Beautiful won't hesitate to make you over on the spot. Don't be fooled by the uber-playful decor — hot pink walls and a leopard print couch — these stylists are some of the best in town, making everyone from the local musicians to the hipsters to Jordan Sparks look good. Owner Rebecca Faye expanded her beauty business last year with Glamour Garage a tattoo/beauty parlor combo, just a few blocks away on Havemeyer Street and named best tattoo parlor of 2009 by the Village Voice. Cuts start at $50 for women (same at Hello Beautiful) and tattoos are priced at the discretion of the artist.
Once you've got a new style to flaunt, you'll be searching for cheap things to do, and Williamsburg is a hotspot for free events. SummerScreen and the Pool Parties are two free events happening every weekend during the summer. Get there before the gates open, or risk a long wait and no guarantee of entry. Or, if you're completely over these scenes, take a picnic to McCarren Park or the waterfront at Grand Street for a peaceful afternoon outdoors.
For a fancy dinner, Le Barricou, a quiet French bistro on Grand Street that takes us back to Paris, is one of our most favorite places. The basket of fresh bread and plate of garlic-stuffed olives that immediately find their way to your table could easily be a meal of their own, but save room. The onion gratinee soup, covered with bubbly gruyere, is the best we've ever had, and the mussels are divine. Try the Provencale style, served in a chunky white wine tomato sauce spiced with chipotle peppers and garlic. Of course, no French restaurant would be complete without a carefully selected wine list and a selection of absinthe cocktails.
If you're in the mood for Italian food, stop in at Kenny's Trattoria near Union Avenue on Withers Street. Owner Kenny Perroni formerly operated the much-loved Brick Oven Gallery, and he continues to deliver the same delicious, old-school Italian cuisine. The ravioli du jour never disappoints, and the brick oven pizzas rival the best in Brooklyn. Our favorites: the traditional margherita, and the "pizzamakers," a pie topped with fresh tomato, roasted eggplant, gaeta olives and goat cheese. Enjoy your food in the quite backyard garden.
After dinner, catch some live music at one of the 'burg's many venues. Brooklyn Bowl, is more than just a venue: it's a 16-lane, high-class bowling alley with plump leather couches and a full service restaurant that serves top-notch meals like French bread pizza and blackened salmon. Stop in on Thursdays at 11PM to hear DJ ?uestlove of Roots fame. If you actually just want to bowl, old-school style, head to the Gutter for a more vintage — and cheaper — place to throw some strikes.
For live music head to Glasslands Gallery, for the DIY feel, Public Assembly for the medium sized live music and bar combo or the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the big night out to see a headlining act. There are a million places to see music, so you can also stumble into a place and hear good shit. Or terrible shit, depending on the night.
If you just want to spend the night downing good liquor, Williamsburg has no shortage of drinking establishments. On the high end, Hotel Delmano serves up any cocktail you can imagine, while across the hood sits the great half-dive bar Ontario with plenty of seating for groups or the casual lonely drinking time at the bar. This spot is brought to us by the same folks at Lake, Buttermilk, and Boat, where most brew and whiskey shots are only five bucks a pop. If you're looking to make some new friends, hit up Metropolitan. The clientele at this spacious gay bar are ultra amicable, always inviting you to dance, share a cheap drink, or have a smoke on the backyard patio.
Again, Williamsburg is a crawl around kind of neighborhood, so go on an adventure and hop to different spots. If you start at the Commodore, you'll find a good hipster train to get on; should you be looking for metal heads and punks, head to the Second Chance Saloon, or if you're into ironically misogynist tattooed dudes (or are one) head to Barcade. Be nice, make friends, or make scenes, whatever you do, don't get on your bike drunk and/or without a helmet. PSA people. PSA.
A good place to end your stupor is the Hana Food Corp at Metropolitan and Lorimer, serving delicious freshly made deli sandwiches 24-hours a day. While the hilarious sandwich names — "My Girlfriend Is a Whore" and "Monkey's Ass" just to name a few — will probably stand out the most, don't let your inebriation blind you to the fabulous ingredients like prosciutto, avocado and Cajun roast beef. Trust us, you'll feel better in the morning after a late night snack here.
This post was updated Spring 2012.