Must-See Brooklyn Heights

Peter Terzian, Harrison Peck and Andrew Rosenberg

(Updated 02/17/2016)

Whether arriving by bike over John A. Roebling's storied 130-year-old suspension bridge or meandering over after enjoying a bite to eat at Smorgasburg in nearby DUMBO, visitors to Brooklyn Heights will undoubtedly be drawn first to its photo-op-friendly streets of impeccably restored row houses. Indeed, the area is unquestionably lovely, neither overly trendy nor commercialized. But scratch the surface and you'll find a vibrant neighborhood with thoughtfully curated stores, innovative restaurants and such energetic cultural institutions as the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Heights Players. The Heights wears its rich history on its sleeve, with the area a showcase of stately architectural styles, august churches and schools and literary landmarks. A lamplit stroll through the neighborhood after dark can take you along the hum of Montague Street to the peace and quiet—and majestic views—of the Promenade, capturing all the appeal of New York City's first suburb. —Peter Terzian

Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Columbia Heights (above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), between Remsen and Orange Streets
It's all about the view, of course: a panoramic take on the Lower Manhattan skyline, with Brooklyn's newly developed piers of Brooklyn Bridge Park in the foreground. But the Promenade is also a great place to savor a few moments of quiet, observing the the human (and canine) parade. The strip of pedestrian parkland, built over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, was opened to the public in 1950, after Robert Moses' plan to construct a highway through the center of Brooklyn Heights was shot down. Today, the Promenade is beloved by locals and visitors alike. And once you're done taking in the scenery, turn around and ogle the backs of the handsome townhouses along Columbia Heights, wondering what it must be like to wake up with one of the world's greatest views every single morning. —PT

Photo: Ann Althouse

New York Transit Museum
Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, 718-694-1600
For enthusiasts of old-time New York City, or of the fascinating complexities of any urban infrastructure, the New York Transit Museum is an essential experience. Housed in a 60,000-square-foot former subway station, the institution explores the history of subterranean NYC. Highlights include Steel, Stone & Backbone, an exhibition detailing the building of the City's century-old subway system, and On the Streets, an interactive display of buses and trolleys that invites visitors to experience surface transportation from the early 1800s to the 21st century. —Harrison Peck

Courtesy, Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn Historical Society
126 Pierrepont St., 718-222-4111
Founded in 1863, the Brooklyn Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and encouraging the study of the borough's 400-year history. The rust-colored brick building, designed by George Post and opened in 1881, sits on the corner of Pierrepont and Clinton Streets; its terra-cotta ornamentation and stained-glass skylight are but a few details that make the place a neighborhood—as well as a national—architectural landmark. But this is not just a building with its relevance only in the past; BHS remains an active cultural hub for civic dialogue, thoughtful engagement and community outreach. Tour the array of short- and long-term exhibitions that explore Brooklyn’s art, culture and influence, or just spend some contemplative hours in the quiet, wood-columned library, perusing local maps and historical volumes. —Andrew Rosenberg

Two for the Pot
200 Clinton St., 718-855-8173
Though chain coffee and tea emporiums today dominate much of the City's caffeine culture, Two for the Pot, a cozy boutique on the Brooklyn Heights–Cobble Hill border, continues to provide a refreshing dose of mom-and-pop service, convenience and selection after four decades in business. The diminutive shop packs a diverse inventory of dozens of coffees and loose-leaf teas (many of which, including a Moroccan mint and a smoky Earl Grey, are blended in-house), as well as candies, exotic spices and a panoply of brewing accessories. Much of the customer base is drawn from a neighborhood cast of longtime devotees, but the warmly attentive owner will treat you like a regular even on your first visit. —HP

Hotel St. George
51 Clark St.
The St. George is no longer a hotel—it's now partly a college dormitory—but because of its rich history and proximity to literary landmarks, it's a site worth a pause during any tour of the neighborhood. In its heyday in the early 20th century, it was the largest hotel in New York City. Not only that, but it boasted the largest indoor saltwater swimming pool in the country, replete with a waterfall supplied by a spring that was discovered during an excavation for the hotel's tower. Scenes from The Godfather were filmed at the St. George, and Leonard Bernstein once conducted a recording of the New York Philharmonic here. For a further taste of the area's cultural legacy, take a stroll along the nearby streets. Truman Capote lived in an apartment at 70 Willow St., where he wrote his paean to the neighborhood, the essay "A House on the Heights." And Norman Mailer lived for decades in an apartment at 142 Columbia Heights, overlooking the Promenade. —PT

Fulton Ferry Landing, 718-624-4924
Docked beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Bargemusic is a floating chamber-music venue, an old coffee barge converted into a homey den with a thrilling view of the Manhattan skyline. Concerts celebrate European composers of the classical period (and often jazz, Latin and 20th-century musicians as well) and are typically performed four days a week, 52 weeks a year. To make first-rate performances available to anyone with an ear for classical chamber music, Bargemusic hosts a free-admission Neighborhood Family Concert on Saturday afternoons at 4pm (see for a schedule). The room accommodates only 170 or so people, so get there early—the most rewarding views of both the musicians and Manhattan are in the front rows. And don't forget to slap on a seasickness patch. —PT

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Montero’s Bar and Grill
73 Atlantic Ave., 718-624-9799
Perhaps you missed the saga of the life preserver stolen from this gritty bar, once a longshoreman’s hangout and still full of nautical accouterments. Maybe, for some reason, you haven't shown up for a spirited karaoke session on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. We'll forgive you, but you still should find the time to visit the family-run spot, started back in 1945. The facade is marked by a classic neon sign overhead and a curved glass wall (which echoes the shape of the glass bar inside) fronting the sidewalk. The ambience is completed by a crowd of regulars, beers served in bottles, a cheap pool table and no grill to speak of; they just don’t make 'em like this anymore. —AR

Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims
75 Hicks St., 718-624-4743
Legendary abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher was the first pastor of this Congregational church, founded in 1847, and it's likely that the building was a stop on the Underground Railroad. A star-studded lineup of great Americans has lectured here, including Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Martin Luther King Jr. A tour of the building—available by appointment weekdays and Sundays after the service (although those attending the service may get a tour without making arrangements beforehand)—includes a look at the pew where Abraham Lincoln once sat, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and remarkable Tiffany stained-glass windows, located in the social hall. —PT

Henry's End
44 Henry St., 718-834-1776
This much-loved, cozy Brooklyn Heights stalwart has been around since 1973, and the dinner menu features a well-executed selection of New American standards including mustard-seed-crusted tuna, steak au poivre and blackened lamb sirloin. The vibe at Henry's End is refreshingly low-key, and the place attracts a laid-back crowd of neighborhood residents and hungry Manhattanites in search of superb, hearty food and a refined dining experience. —PT

Noodle Pudding
38 Henry St., 718-625-3737
Kugel isn't on the menu, making the name something of a puzzle, but noodles are greatly in evidence. This neighborhood restaurant—a first-date favorite, with eminently reasonable prices (but cash only)—serves handsomely prepared traditional Italian fare, with such sure-to-please pasta dishes as gnocchi with butter and sage, linguine alla puttanesca and large slabs of lasagna. The bread alone—fresh loaves of ciabatta dipped in olive oil with tomatoes and parsley—is a worthy draw in itself. Arrive early (the spot opens at 5:30pm, except Sundays, when it opens at 5pm, and Mondays, when it's closed), because Noodle Pudding doesn't take reservations (unless your party includes at least six people); at 7pm, the place begins to get crowded, and the noise level can rise precipitously. If you can, sit by the window, with its view of busy Henry Street. —PT

187 Atlantic Ave., 718-624-4550
Weekdays are the best days to investigate every closely packed corner of this specialty food store, an NYC foodie institution that offers fresh, bulk and packaged fine foods from around the world, including the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe. The staff will help you choose among the bulk nuts, seeds, grains, spices, olives, chocolates, rice, coffee, cheeses and dried fruits—samples are readily available!—though you should be prepared to take a number and wait. The real treasure is at the deli counter in the back, where you can pick up delicious prepared foods: tasty spinach pies and eggplant Parmesan; mujadara, a cold salad made with lentils, rice and fried onions; tzatziki, a tangy cucumber-garlic yogurt dip; and some of the best hummus in the City. —PT

Photo: Stefano Giovannini

The "Fruit Streets"
In the northern reaches of the Heights you'll come across some unusually named streets (at least for this area): Pineapple, Orange and Cranberry. The origins of the appellations are not entirely clear: One theory goes that in the mid-19th century a Miss Middagh, enraged by the practice of prominent families naming streets for themselves, ripped down street signs and replaced them with the fruit names (ironically, there's a Middagh Street nearby); another goes that the early owners of this land sold exotic fruits. Whatever the case, these peaceful, tree-lined blocks have some of the most attractive homes—deco, Greek Revival and otherwise—in the neighborhood. Closer to the Promenade find the recently carved out Fruit Street Sitting Area, a small circular space great for taking a break from walking and taking in the views of the City. —AR