Shuffleboard, lumberyard treasures, and the Gowanus whale
Gowanus has been in the news quite a bit lately, thanks to the grand opening of Brooklyn's first Whole Foods. And thus, an area that used to be known primarily for the stinking, polluted, bane of its existence - the Gowanus Canal - will now be known for its 27 varieties of locally produced humus.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Whole Foods and I do like humus. But, I'm also here to say that Gowanus is an awesome place to visit independent of all the recent changes that the high end grocer is bringing to the neighborhood. Think quirky art galleries, delicious maple pie, secondhand furniture yards, shuffleboard (yes, shuffleboard), etc etc.
The Gowanus Canal
No discussion of Gowanus is complete without a conversation about its namesake - the sparkling blue, highly polluted waters of the Gowanus Canal. Used as an active center for the shipping industry since the mid 1800s, this place has been contaminated by industrial chemicals for about the past 150 years. In fact, some say even the Mafia used the canal as dumping grounds and that its early use was to function as a communal latrine (yuck). Luckily, even the locals of the 1800's had a good sense of humor, referring to the canal as "perfume creek" or "lavender lake".
Unfortunately, the Gowanus Canal is now considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the US and qualifies for superfund status, with 100s of millions of dollars being allocated to cleanup. Lets just hope it happens soon, because there are some lovely bridges with beautiful views. Hold your noses, folks, and enjoy!
Lumberyards and second hand treasures
Get off at the Smith - 9th Street stop on the F or the G and this is what you're met with: wide streets and scaffolding towering high. But don't turn back just yet, there are a ton of great finds just around the corner.
Build it Green! NYC is a lumberyard and warehouse of salvaged materials, with treasures ranging from old light fixtures to comic books to wood siding from whiskey crates. And my favorite of all, there is an entire room full of antique doors, a forest of blues, whites, greens and glass all propped up against each other in a massive warehouse. Stop by if you're re-doing your apt and need some stuff that is both super cheap and full of character, or just wander in and get lost in the aisles of people's old treasures.
FIND home furnishings is the slightly more upscale, curated version of Build it Green and it is right next door. Here you'll find some beautiful antique pieces with quirky colors, patterns, and prints. I'm definitely heading here when I'm ready to move to my next apartment.
Maple Pie at Four & Twenty Blackbirds
This place is most definitely one of my favorite spots in Gowanus. All the pies I've tried are delicious and the spring menu is looking pretty darn phenomenal: Salty Honey, Maple Lime, Sweet Potato Apple Crumble, Black Bottom Oat, etc etc. Not to mention the wonderful atmosphere of locals and other New Yorkers on their Saturday pie pilgrimage. Be sure to save some room for Four & Twenty on any future trip to Gowanus.
This place just opened a few months ago and it may just be succeeding in making Shuffleboard cool again (was it ever cool?) Decked out in hanging lights and the beach bungalow style seating you'd more likely see at a resort in the Caribbean, the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club certainly has the effect of transporting you some place else, especially when the entrance is a nondescript metal warehouse door. Rent your gear, grab a drink at one of the 4 or 5 bars inside, and even get a snack to fuel your shuffleboard game at one of the food trucks pulled up at the dedicated food truck window inside -- talk about a Brooklyn caricature of itself.
This charming little gallery, accessed by walking through the below jungle of rusted steel and tangled fire escapes, has all sorts of weird and wonderful things behind its doors. This year's theme is water, and boy is there a lot to talk about given the neighborhood's history.
Inside, you'll find cool local art, a "Reanimation Library" of outdated/obsolete/discontinued books (of course), and even the bones of the baby Minke Whale, Sludgie, that was found swimming in the murky waters of the canal.
Right next to Proteus Gowanus is this lovely little pottery shop, full of bowls, mugs, and plates in beautiful patterns and hues. Everything here is hand made by the woman who owns the shop -- you can even see her painting a little blue bowl in the photo below. This is definitely a spot for gifts of the Brooklyn made variety.
This fun little shop is full of all sorts of whimsical terrarium worlds, the latest trend in Brooklyn botanicals. Come for a class or whorkshop to learn to build your own or just stop by to grab one of their beautiful plants and hanging bulbs pots.
Latin American / Carribean dinner at Palo Santo
Depending on what map you look at, this spot may be about half a block out of the traditional bounds of Gowanus, but I had to include it here because its just too good. Dinner here is like stepping into the home of a family member. The space is small and cozy with excellent service and delicious Latin American eats. We had the Chile Relleno with pomegranate seeds and can't wait to go back to eat more of these arepas below.
Drinks at Lavender Lake
This place embraces the irony of being situated on a canal / lake that is most certainly not lavender scented. Stop by this lively spot for drinks or a small bite at night, especially in the summer when you can sit out back on the patio. Come early to snag a spot though, because it fills up fast!
Mapping your trip
Gowanus is a relatively small neighborhood sandwiched in between Red Hook, Carrol Gardens, Coble Hill, and Park Slope - four other awesome neighborhoods that you can easily stop by on your trip. Below are all the Gowanus favorites as of yet, a good amount of exploring for 4-6 hours on a Saturday afternoon!