Fort Greene, named after Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene, is steeped in history. The Brooklyn neighborhood is distinguished by its hilly eponymous park—which, yes, once held an actual fort—and by its architecture, including impeccable 19th-century brownstones. It’s also a must-visit for many other reasons, including its importance to African-American culture, its vibrant restaurant scene and its status as an enduring creative center. And it’s just a 10-minute subway ride from Lower Manhattan.
1. Fort Greene Park
Walk up the stepped slopes of 30-acre Fort Greene Park, which was the site of a fort built for the Battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War, to its summit, where a majestic column rises another 150 feet into the sky. That’s the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, dedicated to the roughly 11,500 prisoners who died on British prison ships during the revolution, around twice the number of Americans who fell in battle. It’s still sacred ground, with some prisoners’ remains buried in a crypt at its base. From the top of the stairs, there’s a breathtaking view of One World Trade Center and the Lower Manhattan skyline.
2. BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) – Peter Jay Sharp Building
The neighborhood’s cultural and architectural anchor is the 150-year-old Brooklyn Academy of Music, known as a home for pioneering avant-garde dance, music, film and art. The main building itself is a destination: the marble, granite and terra-cotta exterior is a classic, and the opera house inside, designed by Herts and Tallant in 1908, is a stunning beaux-arts space that serves as a stage for many of the world’s most talented performers. It’s also home to one of the City’s more picturesque movie theaters.
3. The “Best Brownstone Street in New York”
Brooklyn has no shortage of brownstones, but architectural historian Francis Morrone, who wrote a book on the neighborhood’s history, says Fort Greene’s take the cake. Its tree-lined streets feature brownstones and mansions in pristine condition; some of the Italianate and Greek Revival architecture dates back to the mid-1800s. In particular, South Oxford Street between Lafayette and DeKalb Avenues is what Morrone calls the “best brownstone street in the five boroughs. Period.”
4. Spike Lee’s Brooklyn
Though the neighborhood was already a cultural beacon—Richard Wright wrote much of Native Son here, and jazz artists used to jam at the Carlton Avenue home of Grammy-winning arranger and musician Slide Hampton—filmmaker Spike Lee (himself the son of a jazz artist) introduced Fort Greene to a broader audience. His first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, was filmed in less than two weeks on these streets in 1985 (he’s working on a series-length reboot for Netflix that is set to premiere over Thanksgiving). He still operates his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, in the neighborhood (the headquarters are at 75 S. Elliott Pl.), and brings the community together with events like this epic 2016 block party that honored Prince.
5. Coffee Breaks
For a quick coffee (and a tasty ham-and-cheese croissant) pop in to Bittersweet, steps from the park. Your pooch may also appreciate their homemade dog treats. If you’d rather linger with a coffee (from excellent Brooklyn roaster Devoción) while enjoying a cured salmon or ricotta tartine, stroll instead to the bright, homey restaurant Maison May Vanderbilt.
6. Good Eats on Dekalb Avenue
Fort Greene has emerged as one of the City’s top culinary neighborhoods. As you walk east on DeKalb Avenue, you’ll find brunch, dinner and cocktails, and a restaurant within a restaurant, at Walter’s; the warm spices and freshness of modern Middle Eastern cooking (try the homemade hummus or pickled herring crostini) at Miss Ada; what looks like a Latin American colonial courtyard at Colonia Verde; distinctly new-school Italian cuisine at Roman’s; and lots of vegetarian-friendly dishes, plus a great mango lassi, at Indian spot Dosa Royale.
If you want to eat, drink and lounge at a tried-and-true neighborhood favorite, head to South African restaurant Madiba, also on Dekalb. The space is filled with tributes to Nelson Mandela, who sometimes went by the nickname Madiba. The restaurant maintains a DIY feel (it’s a converted bodega and garage); the servers are friendly, the cocktails are strong and the food—including bobotie (a spiced meatloaf with raisins) and Mozambican prawns—is a delight. Chill inside or on the patio, which is frequently bustling during the warmer months.
8. Habana Outpost
When the weather’s nice, enjoy the colorful decorations and shaded patio at the seasonal Habana Outpost. The spot serves up what some say is the best Cuban sandwich in New York, great elote (Mexican-style grilled corn) and on-point tacos; it also hosts outdoor movie nights. Bonus: across the street, on the side of the building that holds Habana’s takeout spot, there’s an awesome mural of Notorious B.I.G. (who was born nearby).
9. Local Shops
Fort Greene’s shopping scene rewards those who seek independent businesses with character. Get the human touch and a world of interesting new books at the expertly curated Greenlight Bookstore; browse handcrafted jewelry and hand-woven textiles at Feliz; and visit fashionable Jill Lindsey for artisanal clothing, home goods and wellness products that will have you feeling, smelling and looking good. Jill Lindsey also has an in-house café.
10. The Brooklyn Masonic Temple and the Queen of All Saints Church
Behind the trees on Lafayette Avenue loom two impressive buildings, side by side, that take up a whole block. One is the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, built in 1906 and now often used as a filming location for shows like Boardwalk Empire thanks to its glazed terra-cotta columns and the vibrant mix of colors along its top. Beside it is the imposing Queen of All Saints Church, a Gothic structure completed in 1913. The 24 life-size statues on the building’s exterior help make it one of the most striking houses of worship in an area with more than its share.
11. Pratt Institute’s Sculpture Park
While it technically means crossing into Clinton Hill, a great way to round out your trip to Fort Greene is by visiting the Pratt Institute. Some of the world’s most renowned artists, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Jacob Lawrence, went to class here—and the campus doubles as a spectacular sculpture garden with work by Beverly Pepper (also an alumna), Donald Lipski and other greats.