This semi-industrial Brooklyn neighborhood is home to a diverse citizenry—musicians, restaurateurs, shopkeepers and the like—whose inventive endeavors continue to expand the area's sense of community. Kick off your jaunt with a low-key breakfast at El Beit(158 Bedford Ave between North 8th and 9th Sts, 718-302-1810). Fuel up with a latte ($3.50--$4) and a massive slice of the caf's addictive ginger-pear loaf ($3) or an apple-oat muffin ($2.50). If the weather's nice, park yourself in prime people-watching territory at a communal wooden table on the backyard patio.
Round the corner and head east to the original NYC outpost of Buffalo Exchange(504 Driggs Ave at North 9th St; 718-384-6901, buffaloexchange.com). The thrift-store chain carries new and gently worn duds for men and women of all aesthetic preferences. Focus on the plentiful assortment of on-trend styles (tribal dresses, boldly colored jackets) and affordable vintage garments: On a recent visit, we spotted a color-block Tahari dress ($16) and quilted-leather Delman flats ($28) for women and an Original Penguin peacoat ($28) for dudes.
Sex shops in New York tend toward one of two extremes: porntastic holes-in-the-wall or mildly intimidating high-end parlors. Shag Brooklyn(108 Roebling St at North 6th St; 347-721-3302, weloveshag.com) achieves a happy medium, catering equally well to ladies and gents—whether they're straight, gay or bi. You'll find the usual items (vibrators, massage candles), along with more novel trinkets, like customized naughty nesting dolls ($130).
By this point, you've probably worked up an appetite of the nonsexual variety. Veer off the main drag and pop into Saltie(378 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St; 718-387-4777, saltieny.com), a nautically inspired storefront serving expertly prepared sandwiches. We're partial to the Scuttlebutt (hard-boiled egg, feta, capers, black olives, pickled seasonal vegetables and pimentn-aioli--smeared focaccia; $9). Fair warning: Seating is limited, so you'll have to be patient for a spot. Just down the block, The City Reliquary(370 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St; 718-782-4842, cityreliquary.org) boasts an offbeat permanent collection of New York ephemera including terra-cotta fragments of landmark buildings.
If it's a weekend, hit Mast Brothers Chocolate(105 North 3rd St between Berry and Wythe Sts; 718-388-2625, mastbrothers.com). Rick and Michael Mast, the siblings behind this retail store, handcraft specialty bars using organic beans from Madagascar, the Dominican Republic and other far-flung countries known for their quality cacao crops. Hopefully sated with a belly full of chocolate, head to your next stop, Catbird(219 Bedford Ave between North 4th and 5th Sts; 718-599-3457, catbirdnyc.com), you'll find eye-catching jewelry from local independent designers, including Julie Nolan and Elisa Solomon, plus an array of gift items selected by owner Rony Vardi, who lives in the nabe. Then, pop into Earwax Records(218 Bedford Ave at North 5th St, 718-486-3771), known for its carefully curated but wide-spanning selection of CDs and vinyl. It's better to go without a specific album or artist in mind; the primo finds are LPs from bands you haven't listened to—until now.
You'll want to keep going strong once the sun begins to set, as this part of town really hits its stride in the evenings. Refuel at gastrodive The Commodore(366 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St, 718-218-7632), which serves comfort classics like perfectly crisp-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside fried chicken thighs paired with flaky biscuits ($11) and the "adult cheese" sandwich ($6), a gooey amalgam of pimento, cheddar and cream cheeses spiked with poblanos.
There's no shortage of places to hear quality tunes in the surrounding blocks, but the Music Hall of Williamsburg(66 North 6th St between Kent and Wythe Aves; 718-486-5400, musichallofwilliamsburg.com) tends to have the best bookings, featuring big names and a slew of talented rising stars. Crowds pack the standing-room-only main floor, spilling onto second-floor balconies that offer stellar sight lines sans the mosh-pit feel.
If you prefer flicks to Fenders, end your day by catching a movie at the recently opened Nitehawk Cinema(136 Metropolitan Ave between Berry St and Wythe Ave, 718-462-8370), which screens first-run independent films. Try the house popcorn—fluffy kernels topped with garlic, butter, cracked pepper and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($6)—or satisfy your sweet tooth with the Nitehawk sundae ($8), a fudgy brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel, praline and whipped cream.
Why I love Williamsburg
Owner, Honey & Hazel and Honey & Hazel Kids
"My newest find is Waffle & Wolf(413 Graham Ave at Withers St; 374-889-6240). It has Dutch-style waffles that are made to order and topped with sweet or savory ingredients. It also has great coffee."
"People don't realize it, but Harefield Road(769 Metropolitan Ave between Graham and Humboldt Aves; 718-388-6870) has a really good, family-friendly brunch. I customarily get the Eggs Benedict."
"Mesa Coyoacn(372 Graham Ave between Conselyea St and Skillman Ave; 718-782-8171, mesacoyoacan.com) has amazing atmosphere and these ridiculous margaritas that'll knock you on your ass. I love the enchiladas verdes with chicken and guac."
Co-owner, Beaner Bar
"In our part of the neighborhood, you get a sense of the old style and new style coming together. There's still charm and romance; things are done and made with love. I wanted to give people that feeling [with our coffee bar], and I learned how to do it from the guys at Caffe Capri(427 Graham Ave between Frost and Withers Sts; 718-383-5744)."
"The Richardson(451 Graham Ave at Herbert St; 718-389-0839) is one of the best places to get a Manhattan, and Five Stride Skate Shop(455 Graham Ave at Herbert St; 347-529-6787) is where all the roller derby girls get their gear."
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