This week, Here editors are paying homage to the New York City neighborhoods they call home. Print Editor Emma Glassman-Hughes shares her guide to Crown Heights in the heart of Brooklyn.
It’s a Sunday morning at 9 a.m. and I’m gently waking up to the caress of sun streaming in through my north-facing bedroom window. Also through my window, I admire the view of Brower Park and the friendly woodland creatures using my fire escape to procreate. I remind myself to make those pigeons useful and train them to comb my hair someday.
Since this is supposed to be a day where I’m being productive and leaving the apartment before 2 p.m., I won’t say that next, I get up to pee and then crawl back into bed until noon—but just know that my typical weekend schedule includes some extra padding for exactly that.
No—today’s a day dedicated to exploring my beautiful slice of central Brooklyn. Amidst all the babies in strollers, dogs on leashes, and landmarked brownstones with drool-worthy stoops is a neighborhood with a lot of heart that often gets passed over in favor of nearby Park Slope or Bed-Stuy. Welcome to Crown Heights, where the challah’s always fluffy, the jerk chicken’s always spicy, and the pigeons are always getting freaky.
Emma Glassman-Hughes’s Perfect Day in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
9:00 a.m. – Get your buzz on
Ok, so I don’t drink coffee (a New Yorker’s cardinal sin) but I still appreciate the art of a great cafe—and Crown Heights has got a bunch of ‘em. To start my day, favorites include Bakerie on Albany and Cafe Cotton Bean on Bergen. The former is a kosher bakery awash in natural light that sells fresh challah and raspberry almond croissants, while the latter is a tiny Japanese cafe with an all-white interior and delicious matcha.
11:00 a.m. – Brunch or DIE
Crown Heights brunch is a sensitive topic for me. Ever since Butter & Scotch announced that they were discontinuing their brunch menu earlier this year, I’ve struggled to find a decent Bloody Mary within walking distance of my apartment. Mayfield on Franklin is as close as I’ve been able to get, though fair warning: They don’t give you butter for your toast—as in, you have to specifically ask for butter for your toast—and sometimes they take so long to bring it to you that your toast goes cold! Other great (unfortunately Mary-less) brunch options include the Instagram-friendly Hunky Dory for inventive breakfast sandwiches, queer-owned Babydudes for stunning avocado toasts, and cozy little Lula Bagel. Take a wild guess what their specialty is.
1:00 p.m. – Culture, ever heard of it?
I concede that the Prospect Park/Brooklyn Botanical Gardens/Brooklyn Museum trifecta isn’t technically in Crown Heights, but it’s right on the line so it’s going on the list. My favorite weekend activity includes a stroll down Eastern Parkway to the museum (bring back the Frida exhibit!) before bopping to Prospect Park for a leisurely afternoon grass-sit. However, if you insist on being strictly technical, true Crown Heights institutions include the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Weeksville Heritage Center, commemorating one of the country’s first free black communities in the 19th century.
3:00 p.m. – New outfit who dis
Need a haircut and a slick new ‘fit? Suite V on Nostrand is a hair salon and vintage store all in one, run by Miami-born Vanessa Vargas-McKenna. Continue down Nostrand to streetwear brand Miles Culture, which features graphic tees and hoodies that are way too cool for me. A few blocks away, Marche Rue Dix will fulfill all your home goods needs, plus stop into the adjoining Senegalese restaurant Cafe Rue Dix for a quick fataya (spicy empanada) served with Senegalese hot sauce.
5:00 p.m. – There’s no “I” in tea
Of all the all-in-one shops that I’m now realizing my neighborhood has, Cafe con Libros is perhaps my favorite. This feminist bookstore doubles as a cafe—and though it’s truly micro, it’s got a lot to offer. Who wouldn’t want to snag a copy of The Bluest Eye along with their blueberry scone? But if your zen takes a different form—like, say, a garden, some vegan bubble tea, and an earl grey cupcake—then nearby Namas Tea, tucked away on an unassuming residential street, is your go-to.
7:30 p.m. – Curry, grits, pizza, or buns?
I first went to the French/Caribbean Ital Kitchen on a date with a now-ex of mine (it didn’t end well) (the relationship, not the dinner) but in spite of those tainted memories, I’d go back to this vegetarian cafe in a heartbeat—and I’d reorder the veggie jerk “chicken.” For Thai, my roommate and I both love Misc (I’m a sucker for their green curry). Other Crown Heights classics are Catfish (Creole), Barbancino (pizza), and Bunsmith (inventive steamed buns). At this last place, you might see the spam and cookie butter bun on the menu and bolt (and who could blame you, really), but do yourself a favor and stick it out for the soy-ginger Korean fried chicken.
9:30 p.m. – Wild and cozy guys
Now, I should tell you: Crown Heights is not where most folks come to “party” per se. It’s a pretty low-key scene—some might even say cozy—especially when compared to a Bushwick or a Williamsburg. Those kids are going all night, whereas we’re more of a dimly-lit-bar, hanging-with-a-few-of-your-closest-friends, we-should-probably-turn-in-I-have-to-feed-my-cat kind of crowd. It’s still fun, I promise. The best of the best: Superpower tiki bar, divey and old-school Nostrand Avenue Pub, and my personal favorite, neon-accented cocktail haven King Tai. There’s also bakery and cocktail bar Butter & Scotch, mentioned above, which often hosts feminist fundraisers and donates a portion of their proceeds to Planned Parenthood (even though a REAL feminist wouldn’t cancel brunch). And if you do feel like dancing, bustling Franklin Park has a dancefloor—and the burgers at adjoining Dutch Boy Burgers are extra delicious after a few drinks.
Crown Heights Essentials
The cross-section of Crown Heights that I inhabit is culturally complex, and was most recently the center of an alleged whitewashing controversy between the Caribbean community just north of me and the Hasidic community just south of me. In spite of the tension, the sense of community here is strong. It’s a place defined by its contrasts: There are soul food cafes and full Judaica shops; many businesses are closed for Shabbat and the annual West Indian Day Parade shuts down entire sections of the neighborhood.
Get here on the A/C or 2/3/4/5 trains, or the B43, B45, or B46 buses. The closer you get to Franklin Ave (basically our 5th Ave) the more lively the vibe. It’s a very walkable neighborhood.
Architecture buffs will go gaga for all the understated 19th and 20th century brownstones!