Tacos, vodka distilleries, and stellar outdoor dance parties
This lovely South Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood is home to all sorts of wonders, including some of the best Mexican food in town, Brooklyn Chinatown, a stunningly beautiful (massive!) cemetery, and some of the coolest industrial spaces in the midst of transformation. All very exciting, indeed, and certainly reason enough to spend a day here.
Once the center of New York's 19th century dominance as a shipping and manufacturing hub, Sunset Park grew rapidly through World War II, attracting immigrants from all around the world with the promise of jobs and opportunity. During wartime production, one of the neighborhood's largest industrial complexes, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, employed more than 10,000 people and shipped over 80% of all American supplies and troops.
The combination of post-war decline, loss of heavy manufacturing advantage, suburban flight, and the rise of truck freight alternatives meant the end of this area's war time boom. To add to the stress, the construction of the elevated Gowanus Expressway in 1941 by famed power-broker Robert Moses meant a community divided between two halves: an industrial waterfront and a residential inland area.
By the 80's and 90's, a large population of Chinese, Mexican, and Puerto Rican immigrants had settled in the area and begun a period of re-birth. Today, innovative new businesses are moving into the many acres of historic industrial spaces, redefining the future of urban industrial advantage and paving the way for the City's manufacturing future. All this and a beautiful new waterfront park about to be opened, bringing the community and the industrial waterfront back together again.
And with that, time to start exploring!
Tacos for breakfast? Ok.
Most California transplants in New York (like myself) will tell you that the Mexican food in this town is just not that great. BUT since Mr. Kevin Huynh's (highly welcome) intro to Sunset Park, I've decided to redact the current party line on the subject. Tacos El Bronco and Tacos Matamoros have such phenomenal Mexican food that I somehow wound up eating Mole Poblano three weekends in a row. A must visit for anyone craving the real deal.
Groceries, dumplings, and other delights in Brooklyn China Town
Wander the more than 20 blocks of 8th Avenue exotic fruit markets, hot pot spots, dim sum restaurants, Chinese bakeries, and dumpling shops and it'll be near impossible to leave without at least grabbing an egg tart, some green tea KitKats, and a fried scallion pancake or two. Don't say I didn't warn you.
I love Michael Vito's photos of this lovely hood, especially his series from the 2014 Lunar New Year celebrations. Beautiful photo below and many more over on his Flickr. Can't wait to check out this day of streamers, food, and dragon costumes next year.
If you've ever been to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, you'll have a sense of what this beautiful place is about. Tucked away behind these Gothic gates off 5th Avenue (which, by the way, have green parrots living in them!?), Greenwood straddles the border between Sunset Park and South Park Slope, or Windsor Terrace as its now called. Buried here among the bucolic rolling hills, lakes, and gorgeous wooded areas are most of the Roosevelt family, the Steinway brothers, Boss Tweed, and all sorts of other famous New York folk.
Take a stroll at any time of year for some of the most beautiful views around and a shockingly quiet, serene bit of natural setting. One of my favorite parks in NYC to be sure, and a privately run one at that.
Vodka Tasting and Factory Tour at Industry City Distillery
Sunset Park is known for its many revitalized industrial spaces, formerly used for heavy manufacturing but now home to many of our favorite Brooklyn makers, artists, and technologists. Bush Terminal, now re-branded as Industry City, is one of these locations and was America's first fully integrated facility of its kind, home to manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, and rail connections all in one place. At its peak in the industrial prime of the early 20th century, this massive 200 acre complex employed over 25,000 people. Post-war decline and the loss of the American manufacturing advantage changed the story and presented the challenge that is being grappled with today: how to re-purpose the spaces of our former advantage to catalyze the growth of the future?
Tons of visionary, creative people are tackling the question of what's next for New York's industrial future, but some of them may just offer you a taste of super premium vodka while they're at it. Zack, Max, Dave, Peter, and Rich (named Forbes' 30 under 30) are the masterminds behind Industry City Distillery and are on a mission to create the most scientifically smooth vodka, all out of beet sugar and all 100% made in Brooklyn.
Every urban manufacturing business has its challenges, and this one is no exception. Thanks to space constraints, the high cost of transporting grain, and all sorts of other factors, these guys have developed custom machinery and chemical processes to be able to distill their delicious bottles of Industry Standard Vodka.
Stop by for a truly excellent tour of the place and you can expect a full rundown of all the beautiful new and vintage machinery, a vodka tasting straight from what else but beaker shot glasses (yours to keep!), and the infectious curiosity that comes from hanging out with a bunch of guys who love their jobs and are fascinated by the chemical puzzle of what they do. Can not say enough good things about this place. Book a tour here.
Did I mention the beautiful machines (above)?! Check out that vintage type. I mean seriously. Let us also not forget that they have a fully operating vintage letterpress in the studio for all those beautiful labels.
Can't get enough of these industrial spaces? Check out the Brooklyn Army Terminal
BAT, as its called, is a sprawling 95 acre complex of seemingly abandoned warehouses, piers, loading docks, and smoke stacks located ~20 blocks south of Industry City at 58th street. During World War II, it was the largest military supply base in America, but today it is home to a broad variety of small businesses and local makers. If you can, I'd suggest visiting on one of the two weekend days per month when (the totally awesome) Turnstile Tours leads a 2 hour walking tour of of the terminal. This way you can get access to the inside of the buildings as well as learn the history of the rise and fall of the Port of New York.
Mister Sunday at Industry City
The Mister Saturdays are the kings of Sunday. What better way to kick those Sunday blues than an evening of dancing with some of the best tunes I've heard in a long while. Plus, sangria, industrial chic (for real this time), and string lights. Yes please. Here's a live recording of the tunes from a June Mister Sunday and stay tuned for the summer mix coming out in November 2014. Can't wait. Join in the fun every Summer Sunday 3-9pm through October.
Mapping your trip