Today, cozy Brooklyn enclave Cobble Hill could pass for "Little SoHo." It's a nice place to raise a family, stroll the sidewalks for a day of leisurely shopping and hit the bars or an art gallery at night. Time was, though, that the place was a war zone. Forts stood there during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and the British leveled Cobleshill—the elevation that gave the area its name—during the former conflict. In the years since, the neighborhood acquired its current, more placid character. Long home to a thriving Italian community, these days the nabe—a third of the mega-neighborhood BoCoCa (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens)—is teeming with French expats. Read on to find out about the places you shouldn't miss if you decide to take the F or the G train out to the Bergen Street stop.
128 Smith St., 718-923-0918
Bar Tabac is an ideal place to soak up Cobble Hill's considerable French flavor. The restaurant aims to replicate the spirit of tabacs—the French storefronts and annexes to bars where people buy lottery tickets, chewing gum and, yes, tobacco. Bar Tabac hosts one of America's largest Bastille Day celebrations—during which Smith Street is covered in sand and revelers play plenty of pétanque (a French boules game). Francophiles who can't make it here for July 14 needn't fret; the venerable watering hole always serves a robust selection of French wines alongside such dishes as salmon basquaise and daube de boeuf Provençale.
163 Court St., 718-875-3677
Don't tell the loyal clientele at this brick-and-mortar bookstore that it's the age of the Kindle. The mom-and-pop shop is going strong; in fact, it recently expanded. BookCourt is beloved for frequent readings and other features that come only with the human touch—like "hot topic" tables that staff members frequently update with relevant books, and reading groups that bring customers together for rewarding discussions. Whether you're looking for a new hardcover mystery or a rare children's book, the exceptionally knowledgeable staff will be eager to help (and if they don't have your desired book on hand, they'll be glad to make a special order); it's their good work that's allowed the place to thrive for more than three decades.
132 Kane St., 718-834-1330
220 Court St., 718-237-1838
Brooklyn vintage shopping isn't all Williamsburg, all the time—Cobble Hill has a pair of shops overflowing with fantastic finds. Little Luna is a wonderful place to look not just for clothes, but also for home furnishings, candles and plenty of offbeat items. Denise Tao, a Cobble Hill native and former clothing designer for Madison Avenue and SoHo stores, started the shop in the space formerly occupied by her grandfather's decades-old butcher shop and her grandmother's gift shop. Brownstone Treasures, meanwhile, offers a highly curated selection from owner J.P. Ferraioli, including furniture, vinyl, jewelry and virtually every type of knickknack imaginable.
220 Smith St., 718-797-3774
198 Smith St., 718-852-3620
185 Smith St., 718-834-8423
Cobble Hill has its fair share of shops selling new duds, too. Exhibit A: Bird, a boutique with collections for men and women from the likes of 3.1 Phillip Lim, A.P.C., Alexander Wang and Echo. The shop also peddles accessories, bags, jewelry and even baby clothes. Fashion-forward outpost Article& (formerly known as Dear Fieldbinder) sells women's apparel from cutting-edge designers. Soula Shoes, meanwhile, dispenses trendy footwear and accessories for men, women and children. Owner Rick Lee—who spent years as a buyer at various established stores—prides himself on having an eye for style and a feel for comfort to match.
64 Bergen St., 718-596-1511
It's easy to see why skateboarders and snowboarders are flipping (sorry, we couldn't resist) over Homage. In addition to a massive selection of boards and apparel, the place is home to a knowledgeable staff that's glad to share its board-bound sports acumen with pros and novices alike. Even if you're not Tony Hawk or Shaun White, the salespeople will engage with you and patiently answer your questions about the sports and their accompanying equipment. In accordance with its mission to grow the skateboarding and snowboarding communities, the shop offers lessons and even organizes skiing and snowboarding outings during the winter.
The Invisible Dog Art Center
51 Bergen St., 347-560-3641
This once-abandoned factory has come a long way since its industrial days, transforming over the past three years into a multimedia arts center housing a performance space, gallery and artist residence. (The name is a tribute to days when the building manufactured belts—the 1960s implement of choice used in the old "invisible dog" party trick.) This fall, The Invisible Dog will present several new projects to the public, among them Shaboygen, an installation by Brooklynite brothers Steven and William Ladd inspired by a near-death experience in their youth. A discussion with renowned guitarist Bill Frisell and monthly art-house film screenings add to the lineup, but the center hosts all manners of arts and entertainment throughout the year. For more information, visit theinvisibledog.org.
Last Exit Bar and Lounge
136 Atlantic Ave., 718-222-9198
The laid-back vibe of Last Exit will make you feel like you're relaxing at home with friends—that is, if your apartment had a Michael Jackson shrine and regular game nights. This local favorite has all the ingredients for a successful night out: bargain brews and cocktails, comfy couches, a small backyard garden and an energetic playlist. The first and third Mondays of every month bring quirky, alcohol-fueled trivia challenges, while DJs take over on Friday and Saturday nights.
329 Henry St., 718-852-8630
210 Smith St., 718-855-7939
282 Smith St., 347-599-0294
Cobble Hill is an excellent place to time travel—at least when it comes to alcohol. The old-school cocktail is king at the dimly lit Henry Public, a smartly appointed space with bookshelves lining the walls, along with portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass. Jazz plays over the speakers while guests dine on fare like turkey-leg sandwiches, oysters on the half shell and marrowbones. The neighborhood's retro charm continues at Clover Club, a Victorian-style cocktail parlor named for an 1882 Philadelphia social club. Mixologist Julie Reiner doles out pre-Prohibition-style cocktails, among them punches, cobblers and swizzles. Meanwhile, the timeless pairing of wine and cheese reigns supreme at The JakeWalk, an elegant spot with a mahogany bar that was named for imbibers' unfortunate reactions to a poisonous batch of Prohibition-era medicine—which was legal, alcoholic and, therefore, extremely popular—called Jamaica Ginger. (Those who drank the doctored stuff suffered nerve damage, which caused some to walk oddly.) Connoisseurs will find 50 wines and 40 cheeses available, plus 130 whiskeys, bourbons and scotches.
268 Clinton St., 718-422-0065
333 Henry St., 718-260-8052
Burger on Smith
209 Smith St., 718-694-2277
The neighborhood also offers a wealth of inventive international dining options. At La Vara, husband-and-wife restaurateurs Eder Montero and Alexandra Raij explore Spanish cuisine, as they have at their Chelsea spots Txikito (pronounced chic-KEE-toe) and El Quinto Pino. The menu here is infused with the Jewish and Moorish cuisines that shaped Spanish cuisine centuries ago. Try the molletes, pita-type bread filled with bacon paprika stew; or gurullos, a handmade pasta dish served with goat butter and, if you're so inclined, ground goat meat.
Meanwhile, at Hibino, a Japanese-fusion restaurant, specialties range from the usual rounds of fresh sushi to home-cooked Kyoto-style tapas plates called obanzai. Enjoy meals like the tekka don—soy-marinated tuna sashimi over a bowl of rice, topped with a shredded egg omelet—or sample delicacies like the fresh house-made tofu.
But for a taste of home, be sure to visit Burger on Smith. Its menu is full of locally grown grub—with a twist. The burgers are made with grass-fed beef from nearby butcher Paisanos and are grilled to order on a cast-iron pan. The restaurant's popular "Trademark" beef burger is topped with tomato, Bibb lettuce and horseradish-chive aioli, all on a Portuguese muffin. The not-so-traditional veggie burger, fittingly titled "The Nutty Professor," is made up of nuts, vegetables and quinoa and topped with creamy herb sauce and avocado.
Blue Marble Ice Cream
196 Court St., 718-858-0408
The Chocolate Room
269 Court St., 718-246-2600
Cool off with a chocolate-caramel swirl in a pretzel cone at Blue Marble Ice Cream. The shop offers classic flavors like strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, as well as more experimental options like cinnamon and root beer—but the focus is on organic ingredients, and there are unconventional toppings available for the adventurous (balsamic vinegar or espresso shot, anyone?). Those who prefer their treats semisweet, however, can satisfy their cravings at The Chocolate Room. This deliciously indulgent boutique and dessert café is dripping with everything chocolate, from fondue meals served with pineapple and pound cake to brownies, puddings, sorbets and chocolate-covered marshmallows. Enjoy a moist slice of the decadent triple-layer blackout cake, or slowly sip on the signature hot chocolate, infused with Madagascar vanilla. And don't worry about feeling guilty afterward (or too guilty, anyway): the pastry chefs use only all-natural ingredients.