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Brooklyn Food and Drink in Hip Williamsburg

by BETH J. HARPAZ
Friday Jul 29, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has long been known as a working-class neighborhood with a gritty industrial waterfront and an ethnically diverse population ranging from Hispanic to Hasidic. Today the neighborhood's demographics include a third group that begins with H, for Hipster, and along with those trendy 20-somethings wearing porkpie hats and Chuck Taylor sneakers have come a slew of unique diversions that are starting to attract tourists.

But the attractions are not merely cute cafes and art galleries. There are offbeat thrift shops, specialty food stores selling coffee and chocolate, a retro bowling alley with a bar, and restaurants ranging from the famous Peter Luger steakhouse (178 Broadway), established in 1887, to Diner, which serves high-end bistro fare like duck and polenta in a 1927 steel diner (85 Broadway).

Brooklyn Brewery, at 79 N. 11th St., located in a former matzoh factory, gets 1,500 to 2,000 people weekend sipping suds in the shadow of their towering vats, and the brewery's tours are also popular; details at http://www.brooklynbrewery.com.

Through Nov. 19-20, two of Williamsburg's biggest draws are being held weekends on a waterfront lot with spectacular views of Manhattan across the way. On Saturdays, crowds come out for Smorgasburg, a food festival, and on Sundays, they jam it in for Brooklyn Flea, a flea market that also includes a number of food vendors.

Brooklyn Flea has been around for a few years in other locations but this is its first season in Williamsburg. Smorgasburg was created just this year. Food vendors sell everything from lobster rolls to frozen bananas, while finds at the flea market range from your very own Statue of Liberty to used bikes; details at http://www.brooklynflea.com/smorgasburg/.

"Every weekend that our market exists, it shifts more and more from the 95 percent local folks we started out with toward what's getting closer to half Brooklynites and the other half a mix of people from other boroughs, regional, national and international tourists," said co-founder Eric Demby.

It's easy to reach Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea by subway - just take the L from Manhattan to the Bedford Avenue stop in Brooklyn and walk a few blocks to the East River between North Sixth and North Seventh streets. The waterfront location, Demby says, "is beautiful, as close to Manhattan as you can get with this incredible view of the skyline, seabreezes and parks on either side of the market."

Josh Evans, 21, likes the two events so much that he can't stay away. "One weekend, I went to Smorgasburg on Saturday and then went back to Brooklyn Flea on Sunday," said Evans, who's living in Williamsburg for the summer while juggling several food-related internships.

Even before moving to the area, Evans had been visiting on weekends from New Haven, Conn., where he attends Yale University, and he's been blogging about his food finds at http://hearthstrung.wordpress.com/. His favorites from Smorgasburg include Latin American vendors offering grilled corn on the cob and stuffed tortillas called pupusas, but he also likes the neighborhood's brick-and-mortar establishments, from Blue Bottle Coffee (160 Berry St.) to Maison Premiere, an oyster bar (298 Bedford Ave.).

On Saturdays, crowds come out for Smorgasburg, a food festival, and on Sundays, they jam it in for Brooklyn Flea, a flea market that also includes a number of food vendors.

"People like to meet around food in this neighborhood," he said.

And 20-somethings aren't the only ones who feel that way. Howard Kogan, 66, comes in from Hoboken, N.J., to enjoy the Williamsburg scene. He's a fan of Blue Bottle Coffee too, along with the barbecue at Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Ave., and Mast Brothers Chocolate, 105 N. Third St.

"What they do there is phenomenal," Kogan said of Mast Brothers Chocolate. "On weekends, there are tours where you can watch them do their thing, and they'll have little plates out you can taste."

The tours show various stages of the chocolate-making process, "from bean to bar," as co-owner Rick Mast put it. The tours are $10, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.; reservations at http://www.mastbrotherschocolate.com/.

Kogan, who often visits the area with his son and daughter-in-law, says the neighborhood "makes a nice day trip. It's an adventure. It has unique things that are interesting." He's even walked across the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Other spots in Williamsburg beloved by locals and visitors alike include vintage clothing shops like Buffalo Exchange, part of a chain that buys, sells and trades clothing with customers, at 504 Driggs Ave., and Beacon's Closet, 88 N. 11th St., whose devotees rave about the fact that its clothes are organized by color, not by size.

A great place to hang out after dinner is The Gutter, 200 N. 14th St., an old-school bowling alley and bar located in what was once a manufacturing warehouse for comforters. The lanes were brought in from a defunct 1970s-era alley, and the bar is lit up by cool old signs for retro brands like Schlitz, but the draft beer includes trendy selections like Chelsea Checker Cab Blonde and Smuttynose Robust Porter. At $6 a game, the bowling is affordable by New York standards. Just don't expect a digital overhead display blinking your name when you get a spare; amenities here are way more basic than that. And P.S., you can't bring the kids; 21 and over only, http://thegutterbrooklyn.com/.

Willie B, as locals sometimes half-jokingly call the area, even has its own boutique lodging, Hotel Le Jolie at 235 Meeker Ave. Rates vary by date but start at around $189; http://www.hotellejolie.com/. The hotel's eclectic clientele includes international travelers, who make up 25 percent of the guests; bands playing in Manhattan and Brooklyn (they love the bus parking among other things), and not surprisingly, parents of young people who live in the neighborhood.

Hotel spokesman Dev Dugal says "so many kids live in Williamsburg and have no space for guests in their apartments that a lot of our repeat visitors are people visiting family."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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