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Crown Heights, Brooklyn Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

Crown Heights, Brooklyn Neighborhood Guide

I’ve been to New York exactly twice: once for the Society of Illustrators show and again for a wedding. Each time, I’ve only been able to spend a day or two in the city, so I’ve barely scratched the surface of seeing everything New York has to offer. When Taylor Swaim, who works in J. Crew’s Creative department, offered to do a Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood guide, I was totally on-board. Inexperienced though I may be with NYC, the differences in culture and personality from one block to the next in this city is palpable, so it seemed a natural fit to share a neighborhood guide of this gorgeous borough, bursting at this time of year with cherry blossoms.

On top of working as a self-described “librarian of clothes” by day, Taylor is a photojournalist by night who lives in a great apartment in the diverse and beautiful Crown Heights neighborhood. Like any other community in NYC, it would be impossible to list every awesome spot to check out, but today, Taylor is here to take us through her tried and true Crown Heights favorites, from morning coffee to late-night grub. –Sabrina

Botanic Garden 4

When I moved to New York City just two years ago without a place to live or a clue as to where I should look for an apartment, most of my friends advised me to settle in neighborhoods like Bushwick, Williamsburg or Fort Greene (if I could either find a deal or was willing to shell out a little more for rent), but I found my home in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and I’m so glad I did. I thought I might be one of those people who eventually says they’ve lived in every neighborhood in the city. However, I have such strong affection for it here, I can honestly say that as long as I’m living in New York, you can find me at home in Crown Heights.

This is a diverse neighborhood so rich in history and culture, from the colorful and vibrant West Indies influences to the more private Hasidic population. Everyone here has a story to tell, which I love — whether it’s the woman at the laundromat giving you change who’s lived here her whole life, the guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop who runs an artists’ studio around the corner, or the neighbor who offers to bring you fresh-baked bread on the weekends. I guess it makes sense as someone with a journalism and history background that I’d feel right at home here.

Just like any other community in the greater NYC area, it would take me a lifetime to find and explore all of the wonderful attractions, restaurants, bars, and coffee spots Crown Heights has to offer. The list below, in no particular order, holds some of my tried and true favorites, though I’m sure if you asked me again in another two years (or two weeks) it could look entirely different. Such is the nature (and fun) of living in an ever-changing city though, right?

 

FIRST, COFFEE

Because if you’re anything like me, you have an unrelenting caffeine addiction.

Crosby Coffee | 667 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Crosby Coffee 1

Crosby Coffee is not only my favorite neighborhood coffee spot, but perhaps my most favorite in all of Brooklyn. It’s not necessarily because the coffee is better than anywhere else (don’t get me wrong, it’s great), but you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else as aesthetically pleasing. With giant picture windows and whitewash paint, Crosby is bright, airy, and calming on even the greyest of winter days. They also always have a copy of the day’s New York Times sitting out for customers to read at their leisure, which is a much-appreciated extra. I stop in almost every Saturday and Sunday when I’m out running errands (or if I’m too lazy at home to make a pot of coffee for myself…which happens a lot).

Little Zelda | 728 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Little Zelda Coffee

This coffee shop may be tiny, but it is a big hit with locals in the neighborhood. It’s one of my favorite spots to sit outside with a cup of coffee and either chat with a friend or people-watch in the summertime.  They brew Toby’s Estate, and have some of the best pastries around.

Breukelen Coffee House | 764 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

A great coffee house if you’ve got work to do on your computer and need a little space to spread out. With plenty of table space, outlets, free Wi-Fi, and Stumptown coffee, what more could you need? They also serve sandwiches and other lunch fair to fuel you while you work on that novel you’ve been meaning to write.

Tinto | 715 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216

A few blocks up from the bustling Franklin Avenue on Nostrand is Tinto, another great spot for coffee, pastries, and breakfast items. Everyone who works there is extraordinarily friendly, and they definitely strive to give all customers who walk through the door a great experience. BONUS: THEY ALSO HAVE ICE CREAM!

 

TO DO / SHOP

Brooklyn Botanical Garden | 990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225

Botanic Garden 1 Botanic Garden 2    Botanic Garden 5

Some may consider this Prospect Heights, but their Washington Ave. entrance is so close to the shops and restaurants on Franklin Ave., it’d be a shame not to stop by on your visit. While most may think of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens as a place to check out in only the warmer months, it’s actually one of my favorite places to visit year-round. I’ve been visiting their greenhouses a lot this winter to escape the cold. Hey, if you can’t afford a tropical vacation, you can at least pretend you’re on one while standing underneath a palm tree. Also be sure to stop by in April when the cherry blossoms are in full-bloom. It’s a beautiful, pink explosion of color everywhere you look… a welcome sight for sore winter eyes.

Sidenote: It’s also one of my favorite spots to bring and photograph friends, the light there is glorious.

And while not technically in Crown Heights but just a stone’s throw away from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, be sure to check out The Brooklyn Museum, The Brooklyn Public Library, and Prospect Park for other fun options to explore while in the area!

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Brooklyn Children’s Museum | 145 Brooklyn Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11213

While I’ve never actually been to the Children’s Museum, I live right around the corner from it. Guessing from all the happy faces I pass while walking by, I’ll venture to bet it’s a pretty great place to check out if you have little ones with you.

Brooklyn Flea | 1000 Dean St., Brooklyn, NY 11238

BK Flea 1 BK Flea 3 BK Flea 4 BK Flea 6

Between the months of November and March, the Brooklyn Flea sets up shop indoors in Crown Heights.  If you’ve been to any of the other Flea locations, you’ll recognize many of the same vendors, but if you’re new, get ready. I like to show up right when it opens at 10 am to avoid some of the crowd, and make it easier on myself to spot some good finds. I’ve picked up everything from frames, books and records, to handmade gifts and jewelry, and always lust after the beautiful furniture that I have absolutely no room for in my apartment.

Hullabaloo Books | 711 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Hullabaloo Books 1 Hullabaloo Books 2

A truly impressive curation of both new and used books for such a little shop, you might miss this place entirely if not paying close attention while walking by (be sure to be aware of its slightly-off Franklin Ave. location).  I always find books here that I never knew I needed, but now can’t fathom living without, and the shopkeepers never seem to mind me lingering a little too long to flip over almost every single title in the store.

Installation NYC | 733 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Installation NYC 1 Installation NYC 2

Installation NYC is a gem of a shop located on Franklin Avenue. From vintage Ralph Lauren to unique clothing and jewelry made by designers and artists right here in NYC, you can find many a great gift for a friend or yourself here. The friendly and charming owner, Israel David, is a longtime resident of the neighborhood and will be more than happy to help you find what it is you’re looking for and give you great recommendations in the area.

Wino(t) | 796 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Conveniently located right near the 2 and 3 subway line, this is the place to stop and pick up a bottle of wine for a dinner party, should that be your reason for coming to Crown Heights. If you know what’s being served, or if you’re doing the cooking (but aren’t so savvy in the world of wine pairings, like me), the knowledgeable staff can help you pick out something based on the evening’s menu.

Brower Park | St. Mark’s Ave., Park Pl. between Brooklyn Ave. and Kingston Ave.

A small but picturesque park next to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. A spot I’m guilty of hanging around just to watch all of the neighborhood dogs run and play.  

West Indian Labor Day Parade | Eastern Parkway from Utica Avenue, ending at Grand Army Plaza

Eastern Parkway

One of the most colorful and vibrant events I’ve ever witnessed, this parade and celebration happens every year over Labor Day weekend. From steel drum bands and dancing, to elaborate costumes and classic Caribbean food, expect to hear, see, and taste all things related to Caribbean-American culture. This is something everyone living in the area should see at least once.

 

TAKE A WALK

One of my favorite things to do in my neighborhood isn’t anything fancy, it just requires a comfortable pair of shoes and a great playlist to listen to (here are a few songs I’ve been listening to on my walks lately). Walking around Crown Heights is something I find endlessly inspiring. There’s so much diversity and beautiful architecture, everything from 19th-century brownstones and churches to murals by artist Mike Perry (think Broad City Intro., his studio is also in Crown Heights!). I usually make it a point to walk down a different street every time I go out, and I always find something new.

Mike Perry Mural

LET’S EAT

Glady’s | 788 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Glady’s pays homage to the neighborhood’s West-Indies influence with a menu full of traditional Caribbean dishes, and it is one of Crown Heights’ most beloved restaurants. It’s hard not to feel transported in this place with its colorful decor and food. They also serve something called a “Dark N Slushie” which, as you may have guessed, is a dark and stormy (ginger beer and rum) in the ingenious form of a frozen beverage. Heaven in a glass? Most definitely.

Elsie’s Donuts | 1031 Bergen St, Brooklyn, NY 11216

Elsie's Donuts 1 Elsie's Donuts 2

Elsie’s popped up just a few short months ago in Crown Heights, but it’s already a neighborhood staple. My roommate and I both frequently thank and curse the gods that such an incredible little donut shop would open up just two blocks from where we wake up hungry for breakfast every morning. There are so many delicious options, I’d suggest taking your roommate, S.O., best friend, or stranger off the street so you can justify picking up a variety and sharing a bit of each.

Barboncino | 781 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Barboncino 1 Barboncino 2 Barboncino 4

What’s a Brooklyn neighborhood without a great pizza joint? Barboncino is ours, and you have to know you’re in for something special when you walk in and are greeted by a beautiful wood-burning oven and the heavenly aroma of tomato and basil. Great for brunch or dinner, there’s a pizza there for everyone.  My personal favorites are cremini and fennel sausage at dinnertime, or the pancetta, egg, and cheese at brunch. They also make killer cocktails and have free live jazz music on Tuesday evenings. A great spot to bring friends, family or a date.

The Crabby Shack | 613 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Crabby Shack

One of the most charming restaurants in Crown Heights, The Crabby Shack is the go-to for seafood in the neighborhood. Opened by two women who have a passion for what they serve, you can bet that anything you order here will be superb.

Chavela’s | 736 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

One of the first restaurants I checked out in the neighborhood, I’ve yet to find a better place for great Mexican food in this neck of the woods. Their pescado tacos are some of the best I’ve ever had, but they’re served individually, so there’s room to try a variety of all the different ones they serve. This place is a personal weakness for both myself and my roommate — they’ll deliver to us at home when we can’t face changing out of our pajamas, but nothing but their guacamole will do.

Dutch Boy Burger | 766 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Crown Heights’ best spot to get a burger and shake, plain and simple. Sometimes nothing else will do, and there’s no place else you should go if a burger is what you crave while you’re visiting (and yes, they also have a vegetarian option!).

Mayfield | 688 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

A casual, seasonal American-style restaurant that’s great for brunch, lunch, dinner, drinks, and dessert… basically any meal, any time. They have everything from shredded kale salad and a raw bar, to burgers and rabbit confit. There’s something here for everyone in your party, from the un-pickiest of eaters, to those with more distinguished tastebuds.

Cafe Rue Dix | 1451 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216

Situated in a bright, corner building with wraparound windows that open up in summertime, is Cafe Rue Dix, one of my favorite little spots when I’m in the mood for delicious food that has a twist. With French-Senegalese-inspired cuisine, I especially love going for breakfast and ordering either their ratatouille and goat cheese omelette, or their french toast with caramelized bananas and vanilla-crème sauce.

Berg’n | 899 Bergen St, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Relatively new to Crown Heights is Berg’n, a beer and food hall from the team behind the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. Here you can get your Smorgasburg favorites, such as Ramen Burger, Asia Dog, Mighty Quinn’s, and Pizza Moto. They also have a coffee bar complete with Dough Donuts for the morning crowd. A great place to meet friends for a meal before or after checking out the indoor Brooklyn Flea, which is conveniently located directly behind Berg’n. Also, in the warmer months, spend an afternoon trying different beers in their outdoor seating area.

Brownstones

DRINK

Crown Inn | 724 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Easily one of the more popular places around to grab a cocktail, the clientele also come here for their variety of beers (many of which are local) and great atmosphere. Enjoy their backyard in the summer, or one of their cozy booths in chillier months.

King Tai Bar |1095 Bergen St, Brooklyn, NY 11216

King Tai Bar

A brand new bar to Crown Heights, this place has a 40s-era Miami Beach feel complete with chrome bar stools, bright windows, and soft pastels with views of the Bergen Street Community Garden. In keeping with the theme, they serve piña coladas, daiquiris, and a signature cocktail called the Palo Chino — consisting of tequila, grapefruit, lime, and honey vinegar. You can also enjoy a selection of beer and wine, plus tempting hand pies as bar food.

Franklin Park | 618 St Johns Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11238

This is the area go-to bar come summertime. Enjoy a drink in their truly massive outdoor area, and grab a late-night snack from Dutch Boy Burger (mentioned above), who partners with Franklin Park to serve food to patrons of this watering hole.

Nostrand Ave Pub | 658 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216

A no-frills bar that has a great beer selection and cozy backyard away from some of the action on Franklin Avenue.

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Comments

  • I am in love with this post! It makes me so so excited to travel and see places! These pictures are amazing and I love how you give us your own personal experience on a ton of different topics.

    Emily x

  • Yay, Crown Heights! I’ve lived here for about 5 years and love the neighborhood more each year – great guide to some of this highlights on Franklin. Sadly Crosby coffee closed a little while ago – it was a fantastic spot. Little Zelda and Hullabaloo (and the newly opened Two Saints bar on Nostrand oh and Nagel’s Bagels too!) are all owned by the same person and are all enjoyable. Guero’s has great margaritas and tacos, Docklands has great mixed drinks, and Veggies has wonderful juices and healthier stuff. I’ve also enjoyed hitting up Catfish on Bedford for brunch. I’ve heard good things about Butter & Scotch (a dessert bar) on the other side of Eastern Parkway, but haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. Covenhoven, on Classon, is great if you’re a beer far. There is so much to explore just on Franklin, but things are really growing further east as well!

  • I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost three years, and I’m a little disappointed Taylor didn’t mention any of the businesses that have been around for longer (most mentioned in this post are only a couple years old). Places such as Punch Line, Gloria’s, The Islands, Bunches of Bagels, Gombo’s Bakery, etc. I encourage anyone visiting this neighborhood to venture out of their comfort zone and visit those spots run by the West Indian or Orthodox residents.

    • I agree with Sam, there are so many good places that are beyond the recently developed Franklin Ave- Gloria’s and Ali’s are neighborhood gems for traditional West Indian food.

  • Thanks so much everyone for the comments, I know there are so many places in the neighborhood I have yet to explore! Sam and Gracie – I personally love Gloria’s and agree with you that it’s one of the very best in the neighborhood, however I didn’t include it in this guide due to the fact that there’s very little room for dining in. I figured most visitors to our wonderful neighborhood wouldn’t be looking to take their food to go during their visit, which is why I included Glady’s as a West Indian option instead. Thank you so much for your suggestions, though!

  • A correction to the intro: Brooklyn is NOT a suburb of NYC! It’s a borough! There’s a major difference, and I’m really surprised the editors didn’t catch that.

  • I wish I didn’t live so far away. The Crown Heights that Taylor describes seems alluring. Having watched Taylor grow up next door it’s a delight to see her enjoying her new life in Brooklyn.

  • I’m a long time resident of Crown Heights and I’m a little disappointed in this review. Instead of mentioning several neighborhood mainstays (Owl & Thistle General Store for Brooklyn made gifts, Gloria’s for Caribbean food, Basil for Kosher pizza and wine, etc) it mentions businesses that aren’t even around anymore (Crosby, Installation, & The BK Flea which is off season now). As a neighborhood, Crown Heights is big and diverse! Get off the beaten path and explore.

    • Hi Carrie! (and any other Crown Heights residents who might be reading this)

      I’m sorry that my guide isn’t what you’d hoped it would be! I did put a lot of effort and consideration into choosing spots for this guide, so maybe I should explain. For the sake of not composing a novel, I only tried to include one restaurant per category (one pizza, one burger spot, one seafood spot, etc.) I appreciate you mentioning the above, they’re all great as well, but it was my thought process that the ones I listed would be most convenient for a visitor to the neighborhood. And again, while Glady’s is a neighborhood staple, you can’t dine in their restaurant easily which I think would be difficult to manage for someone visiting to have to take their food to go. I’d absolutely include it and other more “off the beaten path” spots for someone moving to our neighborhood, though! As stated above, it would be impossible to try and include all of the incredible places available in Crown Heights (or any neighborhood in NYC) in a single guide!

      While Crosby is temporarily closed, it is reopening by the same owners with similar fare under the name “Elsie’s Parlor” this spring in the same location (It was still open when I put together this guide back in February)

      Also, I think it would be a shame not to include the flea even if it’s only open half the year.

  • Awwww…Taylor, you are making me miss my old ‘hood. Would have loved to have met another Taylor in the neighborhood.

    Thanks for profiling one of BK’s most underprofiled neighborhoods…for now.

  • Loved this!! Currently living in Brooklyn Heights but lived in Crown Heights when I first moved here but only for a month. Looks like I need to go back and do some more exploring :)

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