With its spectacular waterfront access, thriving art scene and an architectural grandeur that's at once raw and charming, it's easy to see why DUMBO has become one of Brooklyn's most buzz-worthy neighborhoods. Less than two decades ago, the former manufacturing district (whose name stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was largely deserted, inhabited by a few artists who had colonized its lofts; today the area is awash with art studios, technology companies and luxury residences, as well as the kinds of amenities—stellar French bakery, edgy independent bookstore, designer boutiques—that typically follow.
DUMBO is easily accessible by land or water. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge puts you in the heart of the 'hood; Citi Bike (a terrific way to get to the neighboring piers of Brooklyn Bridge Park) has kiosks in the area; and train options abound. The F train stops a block from the Manhattan Bridge overpass (get off at York Street), and the Clark Street stop on the 2 and 3 trains and the High Street stop on the A and C are just a short walk away. Still, the most glamorous way to arrive is via the East River Ferry, which departs from Pier 11 in downtown Manhattan. The journey takes just five minutes.
This relatively small, walkable neighborhood is a joy to explore on foot (wear comfortable shoes, however, as the streets are largely paved in cobblestone). If you ever get lost here, just remember that the neighborhood slopes downhill toward the river; head in the direction of the shore, or look for the towering Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge for orientation. The good news is that no matter where you wander, you're bound to stumble upon amazing places to eat, shop and play. Here are a few worth making the trip for.
The neighborhood has long played a key role in the City’s food scene. Take pizza, a food dear to every New Yorker's heart. On the corner of Old Fulton and Front Streets stands the new home of Grimaldi's, the borough’s former undisputed king of the coal-oven pie (and now a national chain). But just next door, Grimaldi’s founder—Patsy Grimaldi himself—opened another pizza joint, Juliana's, where the lines are shorter, the atmosphere a bit less frenetic and, according to some pizza aficionados, the pies superior. A short walk around the block, you'll find outposts of two Manhattan fixtures: Luke's Lobster and No. 7 Sub, which share a cute little brick building under the shadow of the bridge; the operations are seasonal (they're closed during winter). Luke's does lobster rolls in their purest form: a lightly toasted, decidedly not-fancy hot dog bun stuffed with a quarter pound of knuckle and claw meat. All of the lobsters served here are caught off the coast of Maine and then steamed, packed and shipped to the City. On the other side of the building, No. 7 Sub fixes superlative sandwiches, usually with a twist. The club sandwich, for instance, comes topped with jalapeño mayo and barbecue potato chips.
Sweets and Snacks
If you're looking for sweet treats, you've come to the right neighborhood. Way back in 2000, master chocolatier Jacques Torres established his first shop and chocolate factory in DUMBO. The factory has since moved to a larger space, but you can still purchase all manner of Torres' confections here, including those in liquid form. Try his renowned—and incredibly rich—hot chocolates; one type, called “wicked,” comes spiked with ancho and chipotle chili peppers. Next door, Torres’ ice cream shop, open seasonally, offers a range of flavors beyond chocolate as well as ice cream sandwiches made with Torres' famous cookies. To get your ice cream fix year-round, visit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory for locally made Philadelphia-style (in other words, egg-free) scoops—among the City's best. The sauces for its sundaes, like hot fudge and butterscotch, are prepared by the pastry chef at the nearby River Café. The brightly decorated One Girl Cookies has a wide assortment of mini cookies and dainty whoopie pies. But the bakery that absolutely should not be missed is Almondine, where owner and pastry chef Hervé Poussot (formerly of Payard and Le Bernardin) does all the baking on the premises. Almondine serves some of the best croissants, tarts and macarons in the city. Buy one of the near-perfect baguettes to take home.
Of course, there's more to DUMBO's food scene than amazing pizza and chocolate. Neighborhood favorite Superfine, opened more than a decade ago in a former feather factory, sports an exposed-brick interior and sprawling bar. The menu changes regularly, but starters might include a red lentil soup, jumbo shrimp and grits or grilled calamari. The mains run along the lines of seared pork chops, steak au poivre and pasta with homemade sausage. Superfine sometimes hosts live music on the weekends, though the popular Sunday bluegrass brunch is a fixture. About four blocks away, at Atrium Dumbo, former DB Bistro Moderne chef Laurent Kalkotour serves market-driven, French-inflected fare in an open, airy space. The main seating area has an expansive vertical garden on one wall; the mezzanine level features a span of windows with views of the water. The food here gives French cooking a subtle jolt: potato wedges are served with dill crème fraîche; the Icelandic cod comes dressed in black garlic consommé. Desserts include brioche doughnuts and a PB&J—peanut-butter ice cream and berry sorbet topped with a cookie.
Clothing and Decor
Serious shoppers delight in DUMBO's eclectic stores, many of which are housed in huge, loftlike spaces. Zoë, for example, offers one-stop shopping for high-end brands like Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney and Lanvin in its unadorned 3,500 square feet. It's where Brooklyn fashionistas go to get a Proenza Schouler bag and Jimmy Choo heels without having to cross the river. The more affordable Trunk sources its fashion and accessories from closer by, stocking clothing, jewelry, bags, wallets and even furniture exclusively by local designers. Dapper gentlemen should check out the meticulously curated Modern Anthology, purveyor of man-friendly furniture and home accessories (think distressed leather sofas and decorative sheep shears) as well as some casual clothing and very refined takes on traditional men's accessories, like pewter flasks and bone-handled hunting knives. The store is also a hipster's dream apothecary. Where else can you find a bottle of “beard oil” infused with the scents of eucalyptus, cedarwood and pinewood? For well-appointed tykes (and their parents), Half Pint Citizens stocks earth-friendly products for young children, like natural rubber pacifiers and “I [Scoot] Brooklyn” T-shirts.
Books and Curiosities
For its size, the neighborhood has a disproportionate number of one-of-a-kind shops. You'll find two excellent independent bookstores nearby. PowerHouse Arena, which is affiliated with the art-photography publisher powerHouse Books, is an airy, spacious bookstore and event space with a smartly curated general-interest collection (not to mention a terrific kids section). P.S. Bookshop's chief focus is on art and design titles, though it also features strong kids and local-interest sections. When the shop recently faced rough financial waters, crowdfunding helped keep it open. But for the genuine Brooklyn retail experience, you're going to have to make it yourself: Etsy Labs, housed in the headquarters of the e-commerce marketplace for DIYers, hosts free Church of Craft meetings once a month, during which visitors are invited to use the lab's sewing machine and other supplies free of charge.
Arts and Culture
Floating in the East River near the Fulton Ferry Landing is one of the city's most unlikely of classical music venues: Bargemusic. This chamber-music concert series is held in a decommissioned coffee barge, which sways gently with the waters. Exposed beams, wood-paneled walls and a brick fireplace give the 100-foot-long vessel the cozy feel (and scent) of a ski lodge, while an expanse of windows behind the stage looks out onto the river and South Street Seaport on the opposite shore. A majority of the concerts at this intimate venue cost $35 (with discounts for seniors and students); the shorter, one-hour recitals on Saturday afternoons are free. More eclectic programming takes place at neighborhood stalwart St. Ann's Warehouse, which kicked off its first season in its new home, the historic Tobacco Warehouse, with a slate of daring theatrical productions.
DUMBO also has a distinguished roster of art galleries. Masters Projects, down on Water Street, lends a spotlight to relatively unknown artists, both local and international. Around the corner you'll find A.I.R., dedicated since 1972 to showing women artists working in a variety of mediums. Another neighborhood entry, United Photo Industries, organizes the popular Photoville exhibition-cum-celebration each September.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Although technically just beyond the boundaries of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges that define DUMBO's borders, Brooklyn Bridge Park flows so seamlessly into the neighborhood that you'd be remiss not to explore it while here. Pier 5 is home to a number of sports fields for soccer, lacrosse, rugby and Frisbee. The pier closest to DUMBO—Pier 1—also happens to be the largest, with three open lawns, a promenade and a granite seating area with amazing views of the water and beyond. (More on the piers' specific offerings can be found in slides 9 and 10.)
Walking DUMBO's sloped cobblestone streets probably provides more of a workout than other neighborhoods, but if you're looking for something more rigorous, the area has plenty to offer. Start by breaking a sweat near the storied ring at Gleason's Gym, said to be the country's oldest boxing gym. Back in the day, greats like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson trained at Gleason's (then located in the Bronx), but you don't have to be a contender to schedule a session there. The bulk of its clients these days just aspire to stay fit. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, located between Piers 1 and 2 in nearby Brooklyn Heights, offers free 20-minute kayaking sessions on Thursday evenings and Saturdays during warmer months (check the boathouse's Twitter feed in the event of inclement weather). Get there early to avoid lines. You could also simply take advantage of the many free athletic facilities at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Pier 2 has basketball and handball courts, spots to play bocce and shuffleboard, and a covered roller rink. Or just head to the matted fitness area stocked with outdoor exercise equipment.
Just For Kids
No child's visit to DUMBO would be complete without a visit to Jane's Carousel, a 1922 merry-go-round that was moved from Ohio and painstakingly restored. Its 48 horses prance near the East River year-round, protected from the elements by a jewel-box structure designed by architect Jean Nouvel. Rides are just $2. And while New York City may not have designated an official flagship playground, the sprawling campus of climbing, sliding, swinging, digging and splashing areas at nearby Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights would easily make the shortlist. Sections are devoted to specific types of play: Swing Valley, for example, has traditional two-chain swings to accommodate younger riders, as well as free-whirling single-chain swings for older ones. Sandbox Village, meanwhile, is among the city's largest—and most awesome—sandboxes, with a log train to clamber on and small houses in which to hide. Slide Mountain has a two-story tall slide (don't worry; the incline isn't too steep), and the Waterlab is a rock-filled wonderland dotted with jet sprayers, waterways and various water-driven mechanisms.