Must-See Park Slope

by Staff

(Updated 02/22/2016)

If Williamsburg is the face of the "new" hipster Brooklyn, Park Slope is the leading light of the borough's classic incarnation—the brownstone-populated, tree-lined version. The neighborhood's residents give it a literary, socially conscious feel. They shop at their own food co-op. They patronize independent book and record shops and sip coffee at local java joints. And the constant stream of strollers on the sidewalks makes it clear that this is a place where many choose to raise families. It's those features that keep landing Park Slope on lists of the "best" neighborhoods in New York City, even the nation. To find some of our favorite spots in the area, read on.—Jonathan Zeller

Where it is:
Adjacent to expansive Prospect Park and otherwise bounded by Flatbush, Fourth Avenue and a drifting southern line (around Prospect Avenue).

How to get there:
Take the F or G train to 7th Ave. There are many other subway stops around Park Slope on various lines (check a site like Google Maps for details), but this is the most central station.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Prospect Park
This green space puts the "park" in "Park Slope," and was designed by the same Olmsted and Vaux team behind Manhattan's Central Park. Among the park's main attractions: the Prospect Park Zoo, Brooklyn's only natural forest, the breathtaking Long Meadow, Lakeside (a year-round skating facility) and a "dog beach," where four-legged New Yorkers swim. During the summer the park is the site of Celebrate Brooklyn!, a popular series of (mostly free) outdoor concerts that brings the likes of David Byrne, Chaka Khan and Talib Kweli to Park Slope. If your interest is piqued, check out our complete guide to the park.— staff

The Rock Shop. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Concert Venues
Though Park Slope is known for its tree-lined streets and family-friendly essence, the neighborhood has its fair share of music venues, which generally boast a more refined vibe than those you'd find, say, in Williamsburg or on the Lower East Side. The Rock Shop has hosted performances by such bands as Urge Overkill, Wye Oak and Jukebox the Ghost, and has a sports bar upstairs. Area institution Union Hall, meanwhile, is beloved for hosting Karaoke Killed the Cat, comedy from the likes of John Hodgman and rock shows by up-and-coming acts. It was also the center of a controversy a while back when it banned strollers. Barbès hosts the Slavic Soul Party on Tuesday nights, getting crowds dancing with a nine-piece brass band. And while it's a bit of a walk from the center of Park Slope, Gowanus' spacious Bell House features acts like Brand New, Yo La Tengo and comedian Louis CK. The venue gets points for the shape of its main room—it's wider than it is long, allowing more audience members a choice view of the stage. All of these concert halls tend to be freer of the fist-pumping, pushing-and-shoving crowd that may invade some other rock 'n' roll spaces—you'll usually find yourself surrounded by adults who want to enjoy the show.—JZ

Freddy's. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Drinking Spots
Park Slope is packed with pleasant places to enjoy an adult beverage. The Gate is a longstanding neighborhood institution, where patrons favor the outdoor patio in the warmer months. High Dive offers free popcorn, not to mention such amusements as assorted board games and pinball. Speaking of pinball, it's among the draws at Mission Dolores, whose extensive drinks menu includes a rotating cast of drafts from around the world, and Skylark, where you can plop yourself down on a piece of the comfortable, mismatched furniture. In South Slope, there's Freddy's, whose Prospect Heights version was feted as one of the best bars in America. Though it moved here a few years back to make way for the Nets' arena, it has retained its divey charm and still hosts live music and showcases work by up-and-coming artists on its walls. Prospect Bar & Grill isn't trendy but is notable for its good beer menu and friendly Irish bartenders who are always up for a chat. For wine, there's Brookvin, where you can pair vino with small plates, and Slope Cellars, whose knowledgeable staff will help you choose the right bottle to bring home or give as a gift to a lucky drinker.—JZ

Gorrilla Coffee. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Visitors to Park Slope needn't limit themselves to Starbucks when they're looking for a java fix. The neighborhood is loaded with independent coffee shops, each with its own flavor. Gorilla Coffee serves organic, fair-trade coffee roasted in Brooklyn, and its tables are often occupied by local writers and other freelancers taking advantage of the WiFi. Café Regular (with two locations in the neighborhood) pours cold-brewed La Colombe coffee and, in accordance with its name, celebrates shop regulars in newsletter articles. Finally, mini-chain Café Grumpy has earned respect from hard-core coffee drinkers with beans roasted at its Greenpoint location.—JZ

Franny's. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Sit-Down Dining
Park Slope's sit-down dining scene starts with Al di Là, which opened in 1998—back when Brooklyn was still a place characters in You've Got Mail and Sex and the City decried for being so uncool cabs wouldn't go there—and still managed to snag a glowing Frank Bruni review and draw diners from far and wide. Now the neighborhood is a destination in and of itself, and the trattoria remains a reliable source of Northern Italian fare like ravioli with red beets and ricotta and braised rabbit with polenta. Another Park Slope mainstay, the pizza joint Franny's, finally moved across Flatbush to a bigger space in 2013, having outgrown its tiny digs almost instantaneously after its 2004 opening. Diners flock here to enjoy wood-fired pizzas and wine on tap. Also of note in the neighborhood: Benchmark, which features a New American menu focused on pasture-raised animals and locally grown produce; Rose Water, which also specializes in local organic fare; Fonda, a very classy Mexican joint (neither the portion sizes nor the flavors on the seasonal menu evoke Chipotle); and a Brooklyn outpost of Grand Central Oyster Bar, whose extensive raw bar serves oysters from both coasts. Finish off at the Chocolate Room, which combines romantic mood lighting with desserts built around the ingredient that gives the place its name.— staff

Brooklyn Larder. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Quick Eats
Park Slope also offers plenty of food for those who just want a bite while sightseeing. Bagel Hole serves up chewy, fist-size bagels that recall a more innocent time in New York City bagel history, before the breadstuffs grew to steroid-aided (if still delicious) proportions. Brooklyn Larder, owned by the folks behind Franny's, peddles specialty meats and cheeses, not to mention ricotta cake, chocolate sorbet and other assorted treats. Other notable spots include Culture which vends Greek yogurt (both frozen and not) strained on-site and Meltkraft where grilled cheese is elevated to an art. There's also old-school sandwich (and Italian provisions) shop Russo's and new import L'Albero dei Gelati, a gelato chain from Italy.—JZ

Two Lovers. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Vintage Stores
There's something of a vintage district along Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. On the northern stretch, well-curated boutiques sell Pucci minidresses, Frye campus boots and wide-leg Levi's at a fraction of the prices charged at similar SoHo and Lower East Side outlets. You'll find a mix of vintage and contemporary designer women’s wear at the pretty Two Lovers. Continue south to the teen-numbered streets to hit a concentration of spots: Life Boutique Thrift (with another newish location back near the top of Fifth Avenue), Monk and Vice Versa.— staff

Community Bookstore. Photo: Photo: Julienne Schaer

More Shopping
As might be expected of the neighborhood that's given us Paul Auster and Jonathan Safran Foer, Park Slope is home to its share of welcoming book shops. Among them: Community Bookstore, which has been a neighborhood institution for more than four decades. In addition to finding a selection of tomes from independent presses and local writers, you may also encounter some of the store's pets—including a cat and two turtles—while you shop. PowerHouse on 8th, an offshoot of PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO, recently opened on a quiet stretch of Eighth Avenue. It sells stationery along with cookbooks, fashion titles, YA novels and other Slope-appropriate material. Music fans will love Music Matters, which stocks its small space with inventory based on "neighborhood demand" and offers a buy-15-get-1-free vinyl punch card, and Fifth Avenue Records and Tapes, helmed by charming, funny owner Anthony Mignone. If you're patient enough to deal with a cramped space and a relative lack of organization, you can unearth gems hidden in the crates of $1 and $2 used LPs. Finally, there's Premium Goods, where sneakerheads will find an extensive selection of collectible footwear and street wear, some designed in-house.—JZ

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. Photo: Julienne Schaer

For Kids
Among Park Slope's most recognized (and most mocked) qualities is its welcoming climate for kids. Strollers are a constant presence on the neighborhood's sidewalks, and sometimes even in its bars. Fittingly, the area is also home to notable institutions that cater to children. The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.—where customers are asked at the register to affirm the superhero creed, promising to use purchases only for the forces of good—sells such practical goods as capes, cloning fluid and even canned intelligence. The shop raises funds for 826NYC, Dave Eggers' nonprofit that teaches writing to kids. At Puppetworks, meanwhile, Nicolas Coppola—who's been a puppeteer since the 1950s—puts on spectacular shows. The venue also hosts birthday parties.—JZ

The Old Stone House. Photo: Julienne Schaer

The small, unassuming Old Stone House brims with Brooklyn history. The museum—a reconstruction of a 1699 Dutch farmhouse—often hosts musical and literary events. Among the highlights is a permanent exhibit about the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place in August of 1776. One more fun fact about the Old Stone House: it once served as a clubhouse for an early incarnation of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Other Park Slope cultural highlights include the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, which was founded in 1897 and hosts choral, classical and jazz concerts, and BAX (Brooklyn Arts Exchange), which showcases dancers, filmmakers, dramatists and other artists. Both organizations also offer classes.— staff