Gowanus, Brooklyn: New developments and the best things to do

Despite its proximity to the Gowanus Canal—a designated Superfund site—this Brooklyn neighborhood is growing. Find out more and see our picks for the best Gowanus spots.

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Gowanus Canal

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Gowanus Canal

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Bell House

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Bell House

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    The Green Building

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    The Green Building

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Gowanus Canal

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As you walk through the industrial area that surrounds the Gowanus Canal, it can seem baffling that anyone would want to build glitzy condos or big retail shops near the polluted waterway. But that’s precisely what might happen over the next few years: In August, real-estate developer the Lightstone Group proposed a 700-unit apartment building along the banks of the canal, and construction on the long-planned Whole Foods at the corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street began this past summer. Community activists have raised concerns about these developments, since the waterway is fearsomely contaminated with a combination of industrial waste (thanks to the canal’s manufacturing history) and raw sewage, a by-product of the city’s outdated combined-sewer system. "How am I supposed to understand why a company like Whole Foods—or any company—would want to build next to a toxic waterway, clearly knowing that this is not healthy for man, woman, or child?" says Linda Mariano, co-founder of the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (froggbrooklyn.org). The canal was named a Superfund site in 2010, and the city and the EPA are expected to work on cleanup for at least the next decade.


But that hasn’t stopped businesses from moving in: The Bell House, which opened in 2007, was among the first nightlife locales in the area. Other trendy spots, such as live-music venue Littlefield and recently opened bar Lavender Lake (383 Carroll St between Bond and Nevins Sts, 718-799-2154)—the name of which is an old sobriquet for the canal—have followed suit. "It's really wonderful to be able to live here, work here, and play here," explains Ben Aufill, who runs the neighborhood-centric blog Gowanus Your Face Off (gowanusyourfaceoff.com). "Developers obviously will take notice of the boom in the area—that's kind of what they do when looking for new space." According to Jim Carden, co-owner of the Bell House, the area’s low rents and industrial aesthetic help explain why creative business owners have flocked here. “There’s a great feeling in the neighborhood when you walk around. I call it ‘big sky country,’ because without nearby high-rises, you get this immense, unobstructed view of the sky,” he says. “It’s a unique feeling to have in NYC. My office is in the neighborhood, and I don’t think there’s anywhere else I’d rather be.”


Where to go

The Bell House

The pioneering venue offers a plethora of cool events each week, including concerts, nerdy lectures and dance parties. Its comedy offerings are especially tight: Louis C.K. took to its stage in August to work on new material, and Julie Klausner occasionally hosts live versions of her How Was Your Week? podcast here. • 718-643-6510, thebellhouseny.com

  1. 149 7th St, (between Second and Third Aves)
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Littlefield

Located on a mostly industrial block, this large, eco-friendly spot (it’s powered by wind energy, and reclaimed-rubber tires and bowling-alley lanes are used in the decor) boasts an eclectic lineup. Its best-known offering is Hot Tub, a weekly comedy show hosted by Kurt Braunohler (who occasionally welcomes his old cohost, Kristen Schaal, along with other guests). • littlefieldnyc.com

  1. 622 DeGraw St, (between Third and Fourth Aves)
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Brooklyn Boulders

This climbing gym is the largest in New York City, featuring more than 18,000 square feet of bouldering and climbing walls. Classes for all skill levels, as well as yoga and Pilates instruction, are also available. • 347-834-9066, brooklynboulders.com

  1. 575 Degraw St, (at Third Ave)
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Littleneck

New England–inspired offerings are on the menu at this seafood joint, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign. We especially like the Maine-style lobster roll ($18), barely dressed with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, lemon juice and bits of diced celery. • 718-522-1921, littleneckbrooklyn.com

  1. 288 Third Ave, (between Carroll and President Sts)
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Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Settle in at one of this homey space’s communal tables and chow down on a slice of excellent house-made pie. Sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen offer creative takes on nostalgia-inducing classics, such as apple and lemon chess varieties. • 718-499-2917, birdsblack.com

  1. 439 Third Ave, (at 8th St), 11215
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