A Day in Prospect Heights

Jonathan Zeller


You're most likely to visit Prospect Heights because of the major attractions bracketing the neighborhood: Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum near its southern boundary, and Barclays Center—home of basketball's Brooklyn Nets and hockey's New York Islanders—to the northwest. Once you've made the subway ride out, though, don't miss the subtler charms in between: historic brownstone architecture, mom-and-pop shops and a thriving restaurant and bar scene.

Brooklyn Nets forward Thaddeus Young is certainly a fan. The first member of the team to actually live in the Nets' home borough (he resides in nearby Brooklyn Heights) loves to explore near the arena. “It's been a great experience for me, my wife and my kids,” he says, citing Tom's Restaurant and the Brooklyn Museum as two spots to visit, along with Shake Shack—right across from Barclays—where he recommends the root beer float.

For more on those spots, and what else to see during a day in the neighborhood, read on.

Where it is
Three of Brooklyn's major thoroughfares—Atlantic Avenue, Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue—serve as borders for Prospect Heights; Washington Avenue completes the quadrangle on the neighborhood's eastern side.  

How to get there
The easiest way to get to Prospect Heights is via mass transit: the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, and R trains all stop in the neighborhood, as do public buses. As a general rule, it'll take you about 10 minutes to get there from Lower Manhattan and less than a half hour from Midtown. Visit mta.info to plan a specific itinerary.

What to see
Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is New York City's most visited museum outside of Manhattan, with more than 500,000 art seekers passing through its galleries each year. Its permanent collection features pieces from every corner of the globe, spanning millennia. A good place to start your tour is with the Connecting Cultures exhibition downstairs in the Great Hall; the display is an introduction to the museum's far-reaching offerings.

Among the other major highlights are the Egyptian Galleries, on the third floor. There you can see the Mummy Chamber—a favorite with kids—which, yes, includes an actual mummy along with tons of other fascinating artifacts and information about how Egyptians viewed the afterlife. The galleries also contain stone reliefs, thousands of years old, brought to Brooklyn from the Middle East. Check out an inscription touting the merits of Assyrian King Ashur-nasir-pal II for a reminder that building one's “personal brand” is not an exclusively 21st-century pursuit. Equally fascinating, though seemingly more mundane: a very old receipt for a grain loan, plus tons of cat-themed art (yes, even before the Internet, people were rather enamored with felines).

Bottom line: you could easily spend an entire day at the Brooklyn Museum and not run out of things to see.

Barclays Center.
Barclays Center. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Barclays Center
This arena, where the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders play their home games, is a relatively new addition to the neighborhood: it opened in 2012, bringing something of a “big city” feel to the area. The venue often hosts concerts by top artists like Jay Z and the Rolling Stones.

Its concessions are au courant and Brooklyn based (Habana Outpost and Williamsburg Pizza, for example); it's loaded with upscale club areas; and its air is redolent with a Calvin Klein fragrance pumped in through the ventilation system.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo: Keith Telfeyan

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's indoor tropical gardens are an especially appealing proposition during the winter months, but there are still some attractive plants to see outside—and, through mid-December, sculptures by Isamu Noguchi. You can also sign on for bird-spotting walks and garden tours around the 52-acre grounds.

Grand Army Plaza.
Grand Army Plaza. Photo: Will Steacy

Grand Army Plaza
Located at the northern entrance of Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza is distinguished by its fountain and the majestic Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch, a monument to Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War. On Saturdays, check out the farmers’ market on the edge of the plaza.

“Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Brooklyn Public Library
The exterior of the Brooklyn Public Library is striking: its curved facade centers on a gold-encrusted entrance that's intended to resemble an open book. Inside, take advantage of the Brooklyn Collection, a trove of research materials for the borough on which a library expert can offer guidance. (Have relatives who used to live in Sheepshead Bay and want to know what it was like in their day? The staff can help). And, in keeping with the borough's literary character, the library hosts frequent readings and conversations with notable authors. Visit bklynlibrary.org for upcoming events.

What to eat and drink

Tom's Restaurant.
Tom's Restaurant. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Tom's Restaurant
The morning wait at Tom's Restaurant may sometimes reach “Brunch Village” proportions, but it's not a new, trendy spot—the old-school diner has been in Prospect Heights, operated by the same family, since 1936. One of the first signs of the restaurant's friendly spirit is that, if there is a wait, they'll bring you coffee and orange slices while you're in line.

There's almost always 1940s or '50s music playing—like big band or jazz—and the waiters serve lime rickeys and egg creams, a reminder of NYC's bygone soda-fountain culture. Tom's is particularly famous for its flavored pancakes (lemon ricotta, for example) and butters to go with them. But current owner Jimmy Kokotas says the true test of a pancake's greatness is how it tastes without toppings, so take a bite before you add butter or syrup.

The Islands
This tiny restaurant serves Jamaican staples like jerk chicken, oxtail and something called “calypso shrimp.” The limited space means you may need to wait for a table, but there's a reason the eatery is so popular.

Ample Hills
New York City's proverbial cone is overflowing with gourmet ice cream options, but Ample Hills has practically etched itself into legend: on its fourth day of existence the shop ran out of ice cream, so great was demand. The high butterfat content and creative flavors like ooey gooey butter cake and salted crack caramel make the shop an essential destination for anyone with a sweet tooth.

And don't forget these
Chuko There's always a line at this ramen place, and the savory fare inside leaves little doubt why.
El Atoradero This Poblano Mexican joint, which originally operated in the Bronx, is set to open in its new Prospect Heights location later this month; it includes an outdoor space and a frozen margarita machine.
Lincoln Station The kitchen at this rustic café turns braised kale into a masterpiece of a sandwich while serving up more conventional fare like a cheeseburger and a soup of the day. 
Zaytoons This popular Middle Eastern outpost is great for those in search of hummus, falafel and baba ghanoush.

Where to go out
Tooker Alley
This speakeasy-style bar (don't worry, you won't need a password to get in) strives to emulate the bohemian spirit of Chicago's old Dil Pickle Club—which was located on a street named Tooker Alley—and prides itself on what its menu calls “serious cocktails.”

The Way Station
If you need further proof that nerd culture has ascended to become the new cool, this bar's got it: a “TARDIS,” the time machine from Dr. Who; live music (among the genres recently listed: “beardy alternative folk”) and comedy; and “nerdeoke,” where the sing-along songs are by the likes of They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Coulton.

Weather Up
Get fancy cocktails galore at this bar, which features a cozy backyard and additional locations in Manhattan's TriBeCa and Austin, Texas. There's no sign out front, so keep an eye out for the white-brick frontage at 589 Vanderbilt Ave.

The Vanderbilt
Saul Bolton—the gentleman behind Saul and Brooklyn Bangers—runs this gastropub, so the food is no afterthought. Have some cocktails and nosh on dishes like duck wings, fried brussels sprouts and grilled pork chops.

What to buy:

Unnameable Books.
Unnameable Books. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Unnameable Books
“Please do not steal the books” is the humble request on a small sign within this neighborhood bookstore. It sets the tone for the rest of the cozy, friendly shop. During a visit on a recent Sunday, the familiar smell of old tomes permeated the premises as a father read Dr. Seuss to his children and shoppers browsed semi-organized piles of literature: used copies of Edward Albee's The Goat and Allen Ginsberg's Howl sitting within shouting distance of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side. For a certain kind of visitor, local bookstores are a must on any itinerary—and this one does not disappoint.

Bklyn Larder
Consider Bklyn Larder a small, very selective grocery store: packed with thoughtfully sourced provisions and staffed by knowledgeable folks who can talk at length about every ingredient in every product. The prepared food is pretty great too. Try the thick hot chocolate, made with milk and cream, on a chilly day.

Bitter and Esters
Beer lovers may be interested in this home-brew supply store, which is also a school that will teach you the ins and outs of producing your own suds. Their “Brew On Premises” area is a place where you can do so within the store.

Empire Mayonnaise 
If you don't understand the appeal of a store that serves nothing but specialty mayonnaise—in white truffle and bacon varieties, for example—then we're not sure what we can do to convey it. You'll just have to taste it for yourself.

And don't forget these:
Color BKLYN This gift shop sells wares that are emphatically Brooklyn branded and fall closer to “handmade” than “mass produced” on the Mohs scale of manufacturing bigness.
O.N.A This boutique features bold, modern women's clothing and accessories from local designers.
One of a Find Vintage What, you were going to leave Brooklyn without buying a vintage wardrobe?

To explore more, book a Brooklyn hotel so you can stay close to the action.


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