The gentrification of Williamsburg, which was once the epitome of quirky-hip Brooklyn, gives it much more of a polished Manhattan feel these days – with Michelin-star restaurants, expensive boutiques and shiny high-rise condos populating the riverside blocks. Our recommendations for 24 hours in Brooklyn’s most tourist-friendly neighborhood are guaranteed to be a good time.
If you’re coming from Manhattan, you’ll most likely take the L train to Bedford Avenue. This neighborhood thoroughfare (and the surrounding streets) is the best place to begin your day in Williamsburg.
Kick things off like you’re a local and it’s the weekend – with a big brunch and possibly an early cocktail. Try a healthy and indulgent mix of dishes at Cafe Colette, farm-to-table staples at Egg, or Moroccan-themed breakfasts at Cafe Mogador.
Restaurant, American, $$$
The farm-to-table menu at Egg includes brunch staples like biscuits and gravy, pancakes drizzled with Vermont maple syrup, and organic grits and eggs served with a choice of meat or kale. The restaurant’s farm, which utilizes organic- and permaculture-growing methods in the Catskills area of upstate New York, produces the ingredients used at Egg.
Cafe Colette is known for its brunch menu, which is extensive and diverse with a good ratio of healthy and indulgent dishes. Opt for the salmon bowl with farro and kale if you’re feeling virtuous, or the legendary burger and fries if you’re famished. Finish by splitting something from the “sweet little things” – like the warm chocolate toast – to top off the meal.
Cafe Mogador has been serving award-winning Moroccan cuisine to patrons since the early ’80s and offers one of the more interesting brunches in the city (when you’re bored of avo toast, try eggs with hummus, tabouli, arabic salad and zahatar pita). The tagines – lamb or chicken stewed with apricots, prunes, chickpeas, raisins, preserved lemon, olives and spicy green herbs – are particularly memorable.
This part of Williamsburg is also home to the coolest boutiques you’ve ogled on Pinterest and Instagram. Shop delicate jewelry from local designers at Catbird, ridiculously hip indie labels at Swords-Smith, and masterfully curated retro clothing at Awoke Vintage.
Catbird, New York
Catbird has been leading the charge when it comes to dainty, stackable jewelry since its opening in 2004. Its eponymous line is created in a local studio using ethically sourced stones and recycled fine metals – think teeny initial lockets and diamond ear climbers. The store also stocks a selection of jewelry pieces from New York-based designers, as well as sweet lifestyle items such as scented candles and illustrated cards that fit the hip vibe of their aesthetic.
Awoke is the brainchild of the Australian transplant Liz Power, who sensed a unique opening in the market upon moving to New York several years ago. Although Brooklyn has many vintage stores, most were either very cheap or very expensive, leaving little room in the middle of non-designer but exquisitely made garments and accessories. Awoke fills that niche, so come prepared to walk away with a well-priced treasure you’ve never seen the likes of before.
If the sun is out, stroll north along Bedford until you reach McCarren Park. This green space has a ton of amenities that make it a community favorite, including an outdoor public pool, communal barbecue grills, expansive sports fields and a running track. Grab a to-go coffee from The Bean and splay out on the grass for people- and puppy-watching. Alternatively, if the weather isn’t cooperating, catch a movie with table service at Nitehawk Cinema, enjoy bowling at The Gutter dive bar, or take a tour of Brooklyn Brewery.
The appeal of Nitehawk isn’t just the movies it shows – a mix of acclaimed box-office hits and cult favorites from the archives; it’s also the novelty of table service. Waitstaff tip-toe back and forth along the rows delivering meals, snacks and booze to patrons, then stealthy leave a check before the end credits roll. Look out for specials themed to your particular movie, including mains and fancy cocktails.
Booze and a fun activity is a winning combination, so it’s little wonder that The Gutter – a dive bar with an attached bowling alley – is such a popular Williamsburg spot. Grab a number, order a craft beer and shoot some pool while you wait (it can get pretty busy). When your group finally gets called, head through to the bowling lanes and continue the fun with snacks and more drinks while you play.
Come evening, and you’ll find dinner options abound. Get oysters, champagne and Louisiana specialties at Maison Premiere, Detroit-style deep-dish pizza at Emmy Squared or (arguably) the best steak in the city at Peter Luger. Arrive early and you might even be lucky enough to snag a table at Lilia for Michelin-recommended Italian food.
Bar, Restaurant, American, Seafood, Gluten-free, $$$
Maison Premiere’s cozy, inviting interior features a horseshoe bar and leather booths, and in the back, there is a trellised patio. Its ambience will make you want to dress up for the evening. Start your meal with an absinthe cocktail and a tray of oysters; for the main course, the seafood gumbo with blue crab, gulf shrimp, oysters and andouille sausage is must-try.
Anyone who knows steak knows the name Peter Luger. Located just east of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, Peter Luger Steak House opened in 1887. This world-renowned steakhouse has a storied tradition of meat selection, preparation, as well as a sauce available for purchase. The atmosphere is old-fashioned with vintage chandeliers and classic wooden chairs and tables. As one of the top steakhouses in New York, it can take weeks to get a reservation, so call well in advance.
The after-dark scene in Williamsburg has something for everybody. Catch one of New York’s bubblegum-hued sunsets from the roof of the William Vale or The Williamsburg Hotel while sipping cocktails, and then go to Bembe for salsa dancing or Kinfolk 94 for EDM DJs.
The William Vale
The William Vale Hotel offers picturesque panoramas | Courtesy of The William Vale Hotel / Hotels.com
Residents adore this Williamsburg hotel for its panoramic rooftop view, while guests get to experience the beauty tucked inside. Not only is contemporary art found in all of the guest rooms, but the hotel also regularly hosts cross-disciplinary artistic events, including musical performances and conversations with authors.
Dance the night away to global tunes at Bembe. Music pumping throughout the place includes salsa, merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop and much more. Once you work up a sweat on the dance floor, cool off with mojitos and caipirinhas.
If you make it to the small hours and still have energy to burn, book a late-night karaoke slot at Lion’s Roar Karaoke Lounge. One Williamsburg couple opens their apartment for hosted, private singing sessions until 4am on weekends. Bring a large pizza and take turns “serenading” the group until your voice turns husky and your eyelids grow heavy.
When you’re ready for bed, make sure your room is booked at the Urban Cowboy – a boutique hotel with a Wild West feel, and by far the coolest accommodation option in the neighborhood. After a few hours of rest, you’ll be ready and raring for your next New York adventure.
Boutique Hotel, Bed and Breakfast
You have to fill out a kind of application form to stay at the Urban Cowboy, complete with your Instagram handle. Don’t let that put you off, though – this boutique B&B is so cool that you’ll want to linger and chat with the owners, who have created a Wild West feel complete with giant dreamcatchers, thick woolen throws and copper, free-standing tubs.