Williamsburg, which sits across the East River from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, remains synonymous with the rise of fashionable Brooklyn. Though the neighborhood’s gritty, industrial vibe might be largely gone, Williamsburg still has an edge; you just have to look for it. Our guide runs down the area’s hip spots as well as restaurants, bars and galleries that have stood the test of time. Read on for everything you need to know about where to eat, drink and shop in the area.
Over the past decade a raft of trendy and Michelin-starred restaurants has hit Williamsburg, making it buzz like a Soho or Tribeca. Those hot spots sit side by side with iconic institutions that have been around since well before the neighborhood’s status as a dining destination.
This classic Italian spot has been around since 1900. Credit can be given in part to the mouthwatering Bolognese sauce, which can be draped over tortellini, gnocchi or, of course, spaghetti.
The menu at this cozy restaurant is inspired by the southern Italian island of Ischia, from which chef-owner Al Di Meglio’s grandmother hails. In a nod to the island (and Grandma), dishes can include the likes of fresh tacconi pasta with braised rabbit and tomatoes.
Though its vibe is no frills, this pizzeria soars way above your typical slice joint thanks to a century-old wood-fired oven that turns out crisp pies. A classic cheese slice is always a good choice, as is the white pizza topped with creamy ricotta.
This restaurant was part of the first wave of change in the neighborhood when it opened just before the turn of this century. The cozy dining room is in a 1920s Pullman car, a vibe continued by the menu of rustic comfort food. Try the burger; it won’t disappoint.
Kings County Imperial
Upscale Chinese food takes center stage at this stylish spot, where both soy sauce and cocktails are on tap. Choose from dim sum bites like shrimp toast and Berkshire pork dumplings before diving into the beef and Chinese broccoli stir-fry or tea-smoked moo shu duck.
Head to this unpretentious Cal-Mex joint if you need a legit taco fix; try one filled with lengua (beef tongue) or carne asada (grilled skirt steak). Gorditas, quesadillas and esquites round out the street-food menu.
This Italian restaurant has been a hot reservation since 2016, thanks to chef Missy Robbins’ Michelin-starred pedigree. If your table isn’t ready, head to the small back bar where the well-crafted cocktails will make any wait worth it, as will the grilled clams and mafaldini pasta.
Elevated Peruvian food is the specialty of this dimly lit restaurant in the shadow of the BQE. Head here for fluke ceviche mixed with plantains and habanero, pork belly skewers and the house version of lomo saltado: a beef tenderloin stir-fry topped with french fries that’s enough to feed four.
Peter Luger Steak House
Not much has changed at this iconic neighborhood staple since 1887. The interconnected dining rooms and dressy waitstaff feel like a time warp. The bacon appetizer and porterhouse (for two, three or four) continue to be top of the line.
Pies ‘n’ Thighs
This Southern restaurant is famous for its crunchy, tender fried chicken, as well as its pies, of course (bourbon pecan is a reliable favorite). You’ll find lots of other favorites from below the Mason-Dixon line such as pulled pork, fried catfish, and chicken and waffles.
The line forms before the doors open at 5pm for this no-reservations steakhouse. The rustic vibe is heightened by the open kitchen’s sizzling grill, on which the bulk of the menu is cooked. The hanger steak and axe handle for two are top sellers, as are the grilled clams.
Sunday in Brooklyn
Sunday brunch is served here every day of the week, as alluded to by the name. Hearty fare includes steak and eggs, chia bowls, avocado toast and the Instagram-worthy malted pancakes.
Cafés and bakeries
Williamsburg is well caffeinated, evidenced by the many independent roasters serving coffee at cafés in every corner of the neighborhood. You’ll also find plenty of sweet storefronts dishing out home-baked treats to accompany your single-origin, sustainably sourced pour-over cup of coffee.
The Blue Stove
Get a mug of fair-trade George Howell coffee while you scan the plentiful pie options at this homey Graham Avenue bakery. The selection leans toward classics such as pecan, apple and strawberry rhubarb, but you can’t go wrong with any.
You can watch the coffee being roasted at this warehouse-like café, known for its cold brew. If you want to get in on the action, take a class from their brew school; home brew methods and latte art are among the offerings.
Only single-origin coffees are served at this spot, which has been brewing in Brooklyn since 2008—and has branched out to Manhattan as well. Variety is also a roaster, with sustainably sourced beans from Ethiopia, El Salvador and Mexico. The benches outside are ideal for people-watching while munching on a scone or muffin.
Williamsburg is always fashionable, whether it’s the eclectic styles on the street or the in-store experience. Streetwear and vintage dominate the shopping scene, though the recent influx of international brands and local indie designers have helped create a raft of shopping options found only on these blocks.
This is where the neighborhood cool kids go to sell their unwanted finery. The buying team has a keen eye and an aversion to mall brands, so don’t expect average clothes.
You’ll find glass cases filled with delicate pieces at this jewel-box-like shop, a staple in the neighborhood since 2004. Find wares made by hand from Catbird as well as a well-curated selection of international designers. Many pieces are under $100, and Catbird’s stackable rings are a perennial favorite.
Concrete & Water
Both men and women can find pieces at this boutique, which specializes in trendy and under-the-radar brands. There is also a selection of housewares such as bold-patterned blankets and throw pillows. The back opens to a patio, a good place to relax after (or during) shopping.
You never know what you are going to find at this overstuffed thrift store—which is the way vintage shopping should be. Take a deep breath and dive into the racks, and don’t miss the piles of costume jewelry.
Vinyl has been on the rise since 2006, and it’s showing no signs of stopping in Williamsburg. Get your fix at this emporium (an import of the UK location), which is stacked with albums covering every imaginable genre. It also holds a concert space, where you can catch up-and-coming bands before they break.
It was big news when skate-wear juggernaut Supreme opened up shop here in 2017. The central feature of the industrial space is an enormous skate bowl, which attracts as many skaters as those who line up for coveted clothing and sneaker drops.
Like in the restaurant scene, you’ll find both high and low options when looking for an evening—or afternoon—tipple. Classic dives with wooden bars and perfectly creaky stools are prevalent, as are polished lounges serving creative cocktails. There are also ample opportunities to sip locally made beer, wine and whiskey.
Soccer fans flock here to watch games on the many jumbo screens inside, where you can raise steins of German beers either in triumph or to drown sorrows. But it’s the rooftop bar and stunning views of Manhattan that really attract a crowd. Get there in advance if you want to watch the sunset over the skyline.
Things were a little different in Williamsburg when this brewery opened in the mid-1990s, but the popularity of its beers has remained steadfast. Take a tour (free on weekend afternoons) or venture straight for the airy tasting room.
You can book a tour to see the innerworkings of this urban winery, or just head to the onsite bar to try small-batch wines (made on premises-site from grapes grown in New York State and California.) Standouts include the cab franc and unoaked chardonnay.
Mixologists take their cocktails seriously at this Grand Street bar, rotating them seasonally. The back garden is the place to be when the weather turns warm.
The jukebox is bumping and the (reasonably priced) beers flow freely at this rock ’n’ roll dive bar on Metropolitan Avenue. The pinball machines and scorpion bowls add to the chill vibe.
This bar, attached to the New York Distilling Company, is a comfortable spot to sip cocktails with spirits made on-site, such as Dorothy Parker Gin and Ragtime Rye.
Williamsburg might be on the water, but the East River isn’t exactly known for its waves. Nevertheless, this surf-themed bar is a popular place to grab a beer and order beachy food like shrimp tacos and mahi-mahi burgers.
Turkey’s Nest Tavern
If it’s a dive bar you seek, this old-school spot near McCarren Park should fit the bill. It’s known for its large and cheap beers and margaritas served in Styrofoam cups. Pretentions are checked at the door, with the crowd harmoniously reflecting both old and new Williamsburg.
Williamsburg’s green spaces provide welcome breathing room from the urban blocks. During the warmer seasons, McCarren Park buzzes with picnickers, ball players and sunbathers; East River Park is a great place to observe the skyline at night; and the new Domino Park offers a family-friendly break.
Brooklyn Greenway Bike Lane
If you prefer to see the neighborhood on two wheels, you can hook up with the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway that links Domino Park with East River Park along the Kent Avenue bike lane.
Opened in 2018 on the grounds of the old Domino Sugar Refinery, this waterfront park has a playground inspired by features from the original factory. All ages will love the cantilevered walkway with stunning Manhattan views. A bocce ball and volleyball court round out the activities, while Danny Meyer’s Tacocina provides the food.
East River State Park
You won’t find much more than open space for relaxing and taking in the views at this waterfront park. That is, unless you go on Saturdays from spring through fall when the popular Smorgasburg food market and its 100-plus vendors take over.
Separating Williamsburg and Greenpoint, this park is the area’s main recreational space, with a jogging track, baseball field and seasonal pool. If you’re around on Saturdays, visit the year-round Greenmarket (at Driggs Avenue and North 12th Street). In the summer, an outdoor movie series takes place on the Bedford Avenue side of the park.
Like in other trendy neighborhoods, the art scene was an integral part of Williamsburg’s resurgence thanks in part to the work of Colossal Media, whose hand-painted murals are all over buildings in the neighborhood. In galleries, see shows by both long-established and new artists pushing the boundaries.
The tastefully graffitied exterior of a former garage marks the entranceway to this gallery that has been hosting film, theater and art events since 2006.
The Journal Gallery
This gallery was founded in the East Village but moved across the river into a sprawling space on North 1st Street more than a decade ago. Since then, partners Michael Nevin and Julia Dippelhofer have focused on bolstering mid-career artists as well as those new to the scene.
Equal parts coffee shop, bar, music venue, men’s boutique, art space and, naturally, bike maker, Kinfolk is more of a compound than one single storefront. Kinfolk 90 and Kinfolk 94 host a variety of events from art openings to DJ sets.
Whether you want to check out that hyped indie band, let loose on the dance floor or even bowl a few frames, you’ll find something to do after the sun goes down in Williamsburg.
Baby’s All Right
There are three distinct rooms at this music venue (a lounge for eating and drinking; a restaurant; and the place to watch bands play). Move between them to hit the bar, snag plates of Korean fried chicken and bibimbap, and—presuming you’ve got a ticket for the show—to see who’s on stage.
This bowling alley cum concert hall also has a bar-restaurant, all spread out over 20,000 square feet. You’ll find mainstream acts, DJ sets, tribute bands and themed nights that get everyone singing and dancing.
An eight-lane bowling alley is paired with an adjacent wood-paneled dive bar, where the beers are all American and the decor is pure rec hall. There is also an event space that hosts open-mic nights.
The Knitting Factory has been a New York institution for decades and made the move from Manhattan to Metropolitan Avenue in 2009. There are live shows just about every night of the week, including a special comedy night on Sunday.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Indie darlings and bands on the way up pack in the crowds at this three-level venue known for its impeccable acoustics.
No need to grab a meal before heading to the movies; here you can order dinner and drinks right from your seat. Flicks include both new blockbusters and classic films. Theme nights, brunch movies and Q&As round out the calendar of events.
An outdoor patio (open year-round), concert space and photo booth help make this old-school spot a hipster mainstay. The El Diablo taco truck that’s parked out back is great for late-night eats.
Yes, you can still rent movies here, but the screenings are the real draw. Settle in for classic flicks and recent releases, paired with a corresponding cocktail or treat. The truly brave can attend midnight film showings that double as drinking games.
This sprawling venue serves up large tiki drinks and boisterous DJ sets that bring in the crowds. The enormous patio and backyard-barbecue-style food menu add extra incentive to make a night of it.