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
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?
Because if you’re anything like me, you have an unrelenting caffeine addiction.
Crosby Coffee | 667 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
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
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
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!
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
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
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 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
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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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.