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Cool things to do in Downtown Brooklyn

Situated between Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Fort Greene, Downtown Brooklyn has plenty of its own hidden hot spots

By Joseph Alexiou and Leah Butterfield
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Brooklyn has a rep as being NYC's bastion borough of cool—but what about its lesser-known areas? Despite being near the worst Macy's out of all the Macy's (expect to get heckled by locals if you walk by) Downtown Brooklyn is also home to one of the best ramen places in the whole city, as well as some of the most delicious tacos and the fantastic sibling restaurants to some of New York's finest barbecue joints.

We consider it our civic duty to explore the city's unsung nabes (take a look at our guides to cool spots in Herald Square and Times Square), so we spoke to local resident Jade del Castillo Vara to get her opinion. After fruitless searches for a pad in the West Village, Gramercy and the Lower East Side, the 31-year-old Barclays employee found herself just off MetroTech Center. Del Castillo Vara found a luxury building that provided the “best bang for [her] buck,” with amenities like a roof deck, gym and doorman. Mostly, though,  it was the “gorgeous view of Manhattan from the 29th floor” that drew her in. Plus, MetroTech is at the nexus of super cool Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Fort Greene, not to mention almost every train imaginable.

Best spots in Downtown Brooklyn

La Défense

Restaurants French Downtown Brooklyn

On the ground floor of skyscraper condo behemoth the Brooklyner, you’ll find a surprisingly good combination bistro and bakery with huge windows, a chill vibe and authentic French flair. Skip the weekly happy hour, when it’s packed with J.P. Morgan suits, and instead head here on weekends to rub elbows with the locals. • (718-855-4200), ladefensenyc.com

Dining Room

“Camouflaged by its surroundings,” including an African hair-braiding salon and a nondescript Chinese takeout spot, this recently renovated former hip-hop lounge is now a bar-restaurant owned by a husband-and-wife team. Outfitted with a dark-stained, 40-foot-long wooden bar, del Castillo Vara thinks it has “potential to be that cozy neighborhood spot where everybody knows your name.” Norm! • (718-488-8902) diningroombrooklyn.com

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Hill Country Barbecue Market

Restaurants Barbecue Downtown Brooklyn

Situated right across from Shake Shack (and next door to Hill Country Chicken), this microchain BBQ joint slings out dry-rub style meats, as well as classic Southern fixins’. Bonus: There are free live tunes (country, yes, but also Americana and bluegrass) almost every night of the week. • (718-885-4608) hillcountrybk.com

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Michael Sorgatz

Walt Whitman Park

This under-the-radar park is approximately 100 times less crowded than nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park, providing the peace and quiet needed to relax and read some poetry. If you forgot to bring a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with you, take a stroll around the fountain and read the excerpt engraved in the stone. • (212-639-9675) nyc.gov/parks

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Photograph: Courtesy Liz Ligon

Sam Falls: "Light Over Time"

MetroTech Commons just got a whole lot trippier. On display through next year, a new public-art exhibit by Sam Falls features human-size wind chimes, a giant maze-like sculpture and a bench that changes color with the body heat of those seated on it. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the artwork, including the seesaw. Yep, there’s a real seesaw. • (212-223-7800) publicartfund.org

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