Every New York neighborhood is steeped in history, but there isn’t one that wears its past on its tweedy, tweedy sleeve quite like Brooklyn Heights. It was the Continental Army’s HQ after its defeat at the Battle of Long Island in 1776; an urban suburb for the 19th-century mercantile elite; an enclave for early-20th-century artists and writers fleeing Manhattan rents; and now, the picture of old-world metropolitan opulence. But there’s more to the Heights than a stroll on the Promenade and a dinner that’s way the hell out of your price range.
RECOMMENDED: Great days out in New York
Hop off at the High St A/C station and walk to Walt Whitman Park (Cadman Plaza East, Adams St between Red Cross Pl and Tillary St; nyc.gov/parks), a 2.9-acre spot dedicated to Brooklyn’s exuberant bard. Wander around the edge of the ground-level fountain to read the Leaves of Grass quotes etched into the concrete (“I dream’d in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the / whole of the rest of the earth”). Caffeinate for the rest of your stroll at Vineapple (71 Pineapple St between Henry and Hicks Sts; 347-799-1701, vineapple.com), a cozy coffeeshop that doubles as a mellowed-out bar. Order a Stumptown latte ($3.50–$4.25) and kick back on a cushy sofa with a book from the café’s well-stocked shelves.
It’s history time! Amble northwest to Middagh Street, home to No. 24, a.k.a. the “Queen of Brooklyn Heights,” a Federal-style house built in the 1820s that’s a reminder of the borough’s bucolic past. The street now dead-ends at the BQE (one of Robert Moses’s more brutal projects); but it was once the site of the February House, a crumbling Victorian manse where, in the early 1940s, poet W.H. Auden, burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, novelist Carson McCullers, composer Benjamin Britten and others all lived—improbably and fabulously—under one roof.
Ride that old-time wave south to the Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St at Clinton St; 718-222-4111, brooklynhistory.org; suggested donation $10), a 150-year-old institution that, after a yearlong renovation, reopens fully to the public October 16 with expanded exhibition and event spaces. Check out “Inventing Brooklyn: People, Places, Progress,” which burrows 400 years deep into Kings County’s timeline.
Want evidence that the Men in Black probably have a base in the ’hood? Have a real good squint at 58 Joralemon Street (between Hicks St and Willow Pl). Just a regular ol’ brownstone, right? Then why are all the windows blacked out? Cool your jets, Will Smith; the building is actually a cleverly camouflaged air vent and emergency exit for the 4/5 train, which passes underneath. Then why do I feel cold all over?
Jeez, relax—with a drink! The Roebling Inn (97 Atlantic Ave between Henry and Hicks Sts; 718-488-0040, theroeblinginn.com) beckons with a throwback vibe and affordable pints. Grab a local brew like a Sixpoint Brownstone ($5) and dig into a hearty DUB Pies steak-mincemeat pie ($7). In case you tire of regaling the bartender with the anecdotes you picked up on your walk, there’s Skee-Ball in the back.