Reasons to visit Williamsburg
Aerial cocktails ... the terrace bar at Williamsburg's Wythe Hotel. Photo: New York Times
Alex Hawgood joins the party in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighbourhood stealing some of Manhattan's shine.
On a balmy Saturday evening, an eclectic mix of partygoers gathers at the terrace bar atop the Wythe Hotel, a new resort in Williamsburg, a neighbourhood in the borough of Brooklyn. Alongside the predictable ripped denim and thrift-store T-shirts, the guys don an unkempt preppy uniform of crumpled button-ups from Steven Alan and frayed cutoffs from J.Crew. The hipper girls wear Alexander Wang tops and Isabel Marant dresses, while some women show up with Coach bags and kitten heels, fashion choices more commonly associated with Midtown than Bedford Avenue.
A symphony of foreign tongues can be overheard, too: tourists from Portugal, Japan, France, Spain and, yes, Manhattan, all seeking the idealised Williamsburg je ne sais quoi. The dazzling hotel and nightlife complex, a staple of the Manhattan circuit, has finally washed up on Brooklyn's hype-friendly shores, bringing with it the kind of crowds eager to explore the "next big thing". And what are they finding across the river from Manhattan? Communal tables, artisanal beer, saltwater pools and a cast of characters straight from the HBO TV series Girls.
The pool scene at the King & Grove "urban retreat". Photo: New York Times
Since its recent opening in a restored factory building, the Wythe has helped spiff up a once-desolate corner of Williamsburg - North 11th Street and Wythe Avenue - into an artisanal-food-and-drink playpen.
Bored with the hotel's commanding view of Manhattan? Pop over to the Kinfolk Studios, an experimental emporium that houses a design studio, gallery, cafe, bar and a popular Scandinavian restaurant.
Craving live music with a side of smoked-trout salad? Cross the street to the Brooklyn Bowl, for live acts, a DJ on Thursdays and nibbles. Here, bowling is an ironic (or would that be unironic?) pastime for twentysomethings.
The Brooklyn Brewery. Photo: Alamy
Turn the corner and find the Brooklyn Brewery, a fabled beer manufacturer that offers tours and opens its industrial red doors as a beer garden at weekends. Or stumble on a few blocks to Berry Park, a two-level sports bar that plays house music and screens soccer games. Nearby is a newly sanitised waterfront and another boutique hotel — this one with a South Beach-in-Brooklyn poolside ambience.
The city's after-dark cognoscenti have taken note. To see Brooklyn's sparkly nightlife zone unfold, start at the Wythe Hotel around sunset. Upstairs, a DJ plays dub reggae and when the sun creeps below the jaw-dropping Manhattan skyline, it seems to activate everyone's internal Instagram clock. A sea of iPhones shoots up to capture the blazing pink hues.
The sunset gives the harried bartenders a momentary reprieve. Since Wythe refuses to do bottle service, determined drinkers are forced to bring their own ice buckets to the outdoor tables. This is what passes for VIP in the land of DIY. By 9pm, the action has moved downstairs to Reynards, the hotel's handsome restaurant with art deco lamps and a splintered wood-beamed ceiling. Meanwhile, another line has formed for the Wythe terrace bar, this time stretching 15-deep onto the footpath. But no worries, patrons are told. This will be an egalitarian process. "I mean, we try to weed out the drunks but I have no problem letting in Jersey Shore types," says Sara Moffatt, who is on hosting duties.
Penn Badgley is seen near the Williamsburg Bridge on August 7, 2012 in New York City.
There's little chance of that happening. Of course, Williamsburg still has the usual hipster staples (yes, covered in tattoos and with beard), along with the uppity professionals and the young families with one child in a stroller and another on the way. But now they share air with an influx of tourists in search of the "tres Brooklyn" experience (a phrase so twee that it is now routinely mocked), along with a swell of Manhattanites drawn to the neighbourhood's new-found cachet.
At 9am, the only sign of life is at Reynards, where the tables are filled by couples in their 40s and older. They are out-of-town parents and they, too, have found their slice of Williamsburg, a nice-enough hotel to spend the night at while they visit their children living nearby.
"These people have got to be the parents of the locals," a waiter with a woodsy moustache says. "We're really looking at a post-post-post-gentrification neighbourhood, aren't we?"
A brunch scene, he says, kicks in about 11.30am. But the real action, at least on this summer Sunday, is two blocks away at the King & Grove Williamsburg, a new 64-room hotel overlooking McCarren Park rebranded as an "urban retreat". There is a small penthouse bar, imported pastries from Balthazar in the lobby and an outdoor saltwater pool.
To get past the floral board shorts-wearing doorman, one must be either a hotel guest or a resident of the adjacent six-storey apartments, the Residences at the Williamsburg. Everyone else has to book a reservation at online reservation site OpenTable and pay $US45 ($43) to swim there between Friday and Sunday. (It's $US30 Monday to Thursday.) Guests tan on wooden benches and flip lazily through magazines on their iPads. A small army of sneaker-wearing waiters serves rum-soaked slushies and pork sliders with caramelised onions and salsa verde as throwback tunes such as Aretha Franklin's Rock Steady play softly.
Seated on two of the coveted lounge chairs are Michael and Mary Swanhaus, television producers in their 30s who live in one of the adjacent apartments. "Every day feels like a vacation but with artistic touches," Swanhaus says as his nine-month-old daughter, Daisy, splashes in the pool with a family friend. They make full use of the area's newly opened places, nibbling on crab cakes and truffle fries at Rosarito Fish Shack or playing tennis at the renovated courts nearby. "I call this area the 'magic block'," Swanhaus says. "It reminds me of the old SoHo before it got out of control. But with insane, un-Manhattan amenities."
Qantas has a fare to New York from Sydney and Melbourne for about $1750 low-season return, including tax. Fly non-stop from Sydney to Los Angeles (about 14hr), then to New York (4hr 50min); see qantas.com. Australians must apply for travel authorisation before departure; see https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Wythe Hotel at 80 Wythe Avenue and North 11th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has 72 rooms, many with floor-to-ceiling views of the Manhattan skyline. Baby Queen rooms cost from $US189 ($180) a night; Manhattan View King rooms from $295. See wythehotel.com.
The King & Grove Williamsburg, 160 North 12th Street, has rooms from $US255 a night. The rooftop pool is open daily (spring, summer and autumn). See kingandgrove.com.
The Brooklyn Brewery hosts "small batch" tasting tours on Monday-Thursday at 5pm for $US8 a person. Reservations essential. Free tours take place each Saturday and Sunday afternoon. See brooklynbrewery.com.
Berry Park, 4 Berry Street (between Nassau Avenue and 14th Street) has up to 15 beers on tap, a rooftop beer garden and screens international soccer games. See berryparkbk.com.
Rosarito Fish Stack, at 168 Wythe Avenue at North 7th Street, is open daily for dinner, and from 11am at weekends. See rosaritofish.com.
The 236-hectare Prospect Park has lakes, nature trails, picnic areas, playgrounds and concert areas. There are twilight tours each Thursday from 6.30-8.45pm. See prospectpark.org.
- The New York Times