A Day in Downtown

Once downtrodden, and as though seeking (and as of late finding) its meaning in the sky-scraping heights it could reach, Downtown Brooklyn is Brooklyn’s take on the “Sky’s the Limit” phrase. Acronym prone (with a name too long for any New Yorker to want to be bothered pronouncing from beginning to end), the recent years have seen this Brooklyn’s business district re-branded as DoBro. In my boss’ native language, “Dobro” means “Good,” or “Okay.” In my book, DoBro is okay, with office spaces being reinvigorated, and residential buildings rising up to a new skyline, to reflect their Manhattan counterparts.

Cadman Plaza Park - Brooklyn War Memorial

The Brooklyn Bridge looks mighty glorious when you peak out of your window. As you walk through the Cadman Plaza Park, you discover the equally impressive Brooklyn War Memorial. The gigantic limestone wall was erected in 1951 to honor the 300,000 Brooklynites who served in WWII. Two giant statues flank the space: a male warrior and a female with a child. Google search on your phone reveals they are symbols of victory and family. The memorial also lists the 11,000 Brooklyn residents that perished during the war.


Fulton Mall

The thing with Downtown Brooklyn is that it's riddled with history, and has a distinctly business appeal of the Manhattan bustle & hustle kind. There sure are moments you may feel like you are Manhattan, with all the old stores, bumper-to-bumper traffic and high-rises (don't tell that to any homegrown Brooklynite!) But as you walk down Fulton Mall, you begin to see the old Brooklyn, with a long line of vintage storefronts and buildings. The area was Brooklyn’s first successful commercial district in the late 19th century, as result of the completion of the Fulton Street Elevated Rail Line in 1888. Today, you see all of the original buildings and magnificent architecture of the old department stores such as Abraham & Strauss (400 Fulton Street), Al Namm & Son (1 Hoyt Street), Weschler Brothers (505 Fulton Street and Loeser’s Department Store (Fulton between Elm Place and Bond Street). The area continues to be a retailer magnet with its pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall and stores like Macy’s, Banana Republic, Adidas and American Eagles. 

New York Transit Museum

Rejuvenated and rested, you jump out of you seat when you realize that the New York Transit Museum is closing in less than two hours. You race back to Boerum Place to make into one of the city’s hottest museum excursions. The  New York Transit Museum is pretty darn cool. You get a chance to see and walkthrough the old subway and trolley cars that date back nearly 100 years ago. There’s even the progression of the turnstile and a look at the history of the MTA worker. Now that you travel the subway on a daily basis you have gained an appreciation for the country’s largest and oldest transit system.


Old Downtown Brooklyn District

As you begin to learn your new home, you really want to delve deeper into the history of the area. You already know that this is the city’s third largest commercial district. But there’s a long history here to dig up. You’ll find an Old Downtown Brooklyn District hidden within the MetroTech campus. As you start patching together landmarks, you start with the NYU-Poly building. The building was once the Bridge Street AWME – African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal – Brooklyn’s first African American Church. Numerous historic events took place at the AWME, including Harriet Tubman’s 1865 speech. Not too far away down the Myrtle Promenade, you uncover the Duffield Street Houses, a collection of four 19th century townhouses (182-188 Duffield Street). The story has it that these houses had once been transported from Johnson Street, and preserved to highlight the legacy of Brooklyn’s middle class of the time. You continue down to Bridge and Willoughby Streets, and as if in a sudden twist of time, you find yourself in the epicenter of 20th century technology. This corner was the former Long Island Headquarters of the New York Telephone Company (365 Bridge Street), an Art Deco building since dubbed the BellTel Lofts. Your self-guided tour ends at 85 Willoughby, which is where the Beaux-Art home once housed the New York and New Jersey Telephone Building in 1898. And in the distance you could get a glimpse of one of Brooklyn’s most iconic buildings: the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, a true architectural wonder.


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Casella Bagel Coffee Shop

After taking in the magnificent architecture and greenery, you belly reminds you that you need to get some grub in there. Best spot to get some morning nourishment in? Casella Bagel Coffee Shop. The shop’s pancakes rival any of the better known brunch spots in the borough. That said, it would be just awesome if you could keep this secret gem to yourself.


The Little Sweet Cafe

All the shopping and walking has surely awakened your hunger. Travel just a handful of blocks south of the Fulton Mall to find a seat at The Little Sweet Cafe. The organic food and coffee place is undoubtedly the lunch spot you wouldn't want to miss. The eatery gets pretty crowded at peak lunch hours, but it’s surprisingly worth it, besides, you need to rest your ache-y legs. The white vintage tin covers the interior, while colonial white awnings dominate the exterior. It’s all a breath of fresh air amongst the abundant high-rises, and the food is just as inviting. The highlight? Savory crepes the sort of curry chicken ones, crowned of course with the queen of sweet crepes – banana Nutella. Delight in the caffeine and pastries… before the next leg of your day in the Downtown.


MetroTech Center

After going back in time for a couple of hours, you decide to explore some of the newer additions to Downtown Brooklyn. One of the hottest and burgeoning areas in the city is the MetroTech Center, NYC’s version of Silicon Valley. The high-tech campus boasts nearly 3.7 million square feet that surrounds three landscaped common spaces. First developed in the 1970’s as way to boost business in the area, the zone continues to grow. Nowadays, the 12-building strong campus houses NYU-Poly, Brooklyn Nets offices, Marker Bot, National Grid, JPMorgan Chase, FDNY Headquarters, Uniworld Group, Slate Magazine and El Diario/La Prensa. Go on, hover around the common areas and people watch for a bit.

A Night in Downtown


Issue Project Room

You can’t go a day in any part of Brooklyn without experiencing your neighborhood’s local performing arts scene. And here you wiggle you way into the superbly gorgeous Issue Project Room. Besides hosting wondrous performances, the room itself is a work of art. Originally built in 1926, you will of course have views of Renaissance-revival appeals like the endless Corinthian columns and the 40-foot vaulted ceilings. But tonight you may be here to witness the soothing sounds of a master harpist and composer.


Junior’s Cheesecake

If you’re at all thinking desert, there’s absolutely no better candidate than Junior’s Cheesecake. A Brooklyn institution, the restaurant is known for its cheesecake. Yes, you’ve been hearing and seeing this place in pretty much every Jay-Z music video. After the first bite, you’ll instantly understand the fascination. The cheesecake is hands-down the best in the WORLD. Naturally, there are many types to choose from - the raspberry swirl, the strawberry, the pumpkin, apple crumb and chocolate swirl come to mind first. Tonight just take the NY plain route.


W XYZ Bar Aloft Hotel Brooklyn

One or two drinks in, it’s time to elevate your night. Hands down the best late-night spot for a little bit of everything is W XYZ Bar Aloft Hotel Brooklyn. Live music, great drinks and pretty cool pool tables to unwind… what more could one’s heart desire at this hour? The decor is a marvel that speaks modern with a touch of Miami appeal. The outdoor patio has plenty of lounge chairs, simply calling for you to lay back and set yourself free.

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With all of the high-class endeavors of the day, you cannot pass up the chance to experience a meal at the newly-minted Bijan’s. Still flying under the radar after opening in 2013, the Persian-American restaurant is becoming a staple of the growing restaurant row in Downtown Brooklyn. The inviting, artsy setting will allow you to nibble on delightful bites the likes of a perfectly-cooked pistachio-encrusted salmon. Also of note? The lamb burger. Simply divine.

Livingston Manor

All the food and sweets have you thinking cocktails. The best around are at Livingston Manor. The atmosphere here is chic yet relaxing enough to enjoy your drink. And there are so many original concoctions to choose from, but tonight make your poison of choice the “Playlist for the Hemmies,” a mixture of rum, Batavia Arrack, kumquat cordial, lime, gum syrup, absinthe rinse and bitters. Even reading the menu is pure joy, given how the craft bar has the best drinks names around (try: Buzzville Filp, Take Your Time, Moon Lason and Manic Pixie Dream Girl.)

Words by Arte Vincent

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Erik Serras
Erik Serras
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