Start: 540 President St between Third and Fourth Aves End: 149 7th St between Second and Third Aves Time: 2.5 hours Distance: 1.5 miles
1 Kick off your exploration of this industrial 'hood (often overshadowed by its more refined—and pricey—neighbors Carroll Gardens and Park Slope) by learning about its history. At multipurpose space Proteus Gowanus(543 Union St between Bond and Nevins Sts; 718-243-1572, proteusgowanus.org), you can duck into "The Hall of Gowanus," a permanent exhibit detailing the Gowanus Canal's past as a shipping center (in the 1920s, 6 million tons of cargo passed through the waterway each year). Peruse old photos and detritus found at now-defunct factories lining the water.
2 Make a pit stop at the nonprofit Film Biz Prop Shop(540 President St between Third and Fourth Aves; 347-384-2336, filmbizrecycling.org). You'll find a slew of cool items used in commercials, films and plays that would otherwise be trashed after a shoot (acquisitions include set pieces from Julie Taymor's The Tempest). Recently, we've spotted a five-foot-tall illuminated Chinese restaurant sign ($475), a Tiffany hanging lamp from Roundabout Theatre Company ($450) and a gorgeous baby-blue brocade Victorian-era couch ($350). The shop also rents out its more bizarre goodies—check out the electric chair, which goes for $150 per week.
3 You'll see longtime neighborhood residents lingering outside Glory Social Club(282 Third Ave between Carroll and President Sts), a members-only Italian fixture since 1927 that looks like it came straight out of Goodfellas. Then, cross the Carroll Street Bridge(Carroll St between Bond and Nevins Sts), a retractable passageway that was built circa 1880 and straddles the canal. Pause for a moment and marvel at the scenery—the setting is pretty idyllic, provided the waterway's notorious stench isn't too pungent.
4 As you wander south on Third Avenue in search of a much-needed snack, you'll pass the construction site for the highly anticipated Whole Foods(southwest corner of Third Ave and 3rd St); much like the opening of Ikea in Red Hook, bloggers and locals are buzzing that this will change the neighborhood forever. For now, you can peep the creepy Hitchcockian house on the site. Then, prepare to wait patiently at Four & Twenty Blackbirds(439 Third Ave at 8th St; 718-499-2917, birdsblack.com), an inviting pie shop (and 2011 Food & Drink Award winner) that bakes its goods on-site. Enjoy a flaky, sweet slice of the salted-caramel apple pie ($4.75) or a hearty rosemary-garlic scone ($3).
5 Settle in with a drink at The Bell House(149 7th St between Second and Third Aves; 718-643-6510, thebellhouseny.com), a neighborhood fixture since it opened in 2008. (Tom Scharpling recently filmed his celeb-studded video for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' "Bottle and Cork" here.) Sip a pint of Sixpoint Sweet Action ($6) or one of the venue's music-inspired drinks (try the Tighten Up, which mixes bourbon and ginger ale; $8) on the small outdoor patio. On July 17, the space hosts the Ice Cream Takedown (4pm; $15), where you can taste up to 30 samples of frozen creamy goodness. You'll savor each bite knowing firsthand just how sweet this neighborhood is.