City Guide: Columbia Street Waterfront District, Brooklyn
Popina, Cafe Spaghetti, The House of Pizza & Calzone, Ferdinando's Focacceria...
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City Guide: Columbia Street Waterfront District, Brooklyn
Since moving to Brooklyn in 2010, all three of the apartments I’ve lived in have had southern-facing views, and each one has been located directly on neighborhood borders.
My first place on the corner of Washington and Atlantic Avenue was technically in Clinton Hill, but if I crossed the four busy lanes of Atlantic, depending on what side of Washington I was on, I would either be in Prospect Heights (to the west) or Crown Heights (to the east).
I lived in my second apartment on the corner of Union and Hicks Streets in what is technically the Columbia Street Waterfront District but to many locals will always be Carroll Gardens (and that’s what neighborhood the broker had listed the address as well as what was on my actual lease). I was there eight years before the building was sold and, in the classic NYC story of gut/renovate/triple the rent, the new owners unceremoniously invited me to no longer be a tenant.
And now I’m about eight blocks north of that last apartment, on the corner (it seems I have a thing for corners) of Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street on the southern border of Brooklyn Heights and the shared northern borders of Cobble Hill and the Columbia Street Waterfront District.
I love my new apartment. I live above a bar steps away from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway so it’s a cacophony of unwanted street noise day and night. But it’s a good-sized apartment with a nice kitchen and I live less than a block away from The Long Island Bar.
The apartment on Union and Hicks was small and the floors weren’t even and bedroom didn’t have a window (real estate agents call this a half-bedroom apparently). But I loved my historic block with a bodega and a laundromat and a decent coffee shop and an excellent pizza parlor. I loved the view from my kitchen of the nearby steeple of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church. And I even convinced myself that the steady noise coming from the cars traveling along the depressed (and depressing) alignment of the BQE that runs below Hicks Street cast more of a beachside white noise than an urban nuisance. And while it will be saved for my Carroll Gardens City Guide, my beloved Mazzola Bakery was just a couple blocks away and I began most mornings sitting on the future home of the BTP Memorial Bench with a cappuccino and a pastry as a mediative way to start my day/procrastinate from the writing deadlines I was staring down.
The Columbia Street Waterfront District is bordered by Atlantic Avenue to the north and Hamilton Avenue and the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel entrance to the south. Its western border is the Upper New York Bay waterfront and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway/Hicks Street to the east.
The Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhood was essentially born in 1957 after the construction of Robert Moses’ Brooklyn-Queens Expressway created a new border by excavating a deep trench that bisected Hicks Street, physically (and psychologically) separating Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill from Red Hook.
The lowland strip of 22 blocks is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and despite being a waterfront with views of golden hour sunsets and the Lower Manhattan skyline, it remains landlocked due to the fenced-off Red Hook Container Terminal and the Manhattan Beer Brooklyn Warehouse beverage distributor on Pier 7.
And like Red Hook, the primary source of public transportation is the B61 bus with the nearest subway station around a 15-20 minute walk away.
Despite the lack of the type of foot traffic that helped transform nearby Smith Street and Court Street, the neighborhood had experienced a restaurant revival of sorts in the 2000s. But when celebrated Portland chef Andy Ricker opened a New York outpost of his popular Thai restaurant Pok Pok (followed by two other Pok Pok establishments; Ricker closed all of his Pok Pok businesses in 2020 and moved to Thailand) on Columbia Street, the block-long line of want-to-be diners proved that people will find a way to get to the Columbia Street Waterfront District.
Guest Correspondent: David Kaplan
And while I lived in this neighborhood for eight years and still spend a lot of time there, I invited my friend and bon vivant David Kaplan, Editor-in-Chief of the Brand Newsroom, to share his insights on a few of his own favorite spots in the neighborhood.
While the Brooklyn-born David and his wife, writer Cat Weaver, live in Sunset Park he spends a lot of time in the neighborhood and is a regular at several places. And during his college years in the early 1990s as an intern for the Sheepshead Bay-based Courier Life/Bay News, he was often assigned to cover places in neighborhoods the other reporters didn’t want to go to, including Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill.
My mom was sure I was either going to get myself killed or lost walking around there, as this was the period before Ubers and Google Maps. Spoiler alert: I not only survived, but loved walking around the comparatively ‘barren’ places that was only then starting to attract a wave of pioneers who would change this area dramatically over the next several years. Like those other early visitors, Red Hook and the Columbia Waterfront District were like walking into history. So much was untouched. But so much was changing. So being able to experience that evolution, feeling the ghosts (and the soon-to-be ghosts) was a source of fascination and warmth.
My thanks to David—who seems to always be eating at a great restaurant, having a cocktail at a stylish bar, and cooking or attending fabulous dinner parties—for taking the time to share his expertise and passion for a few of his own favorite places in the Columbia Street Waterfront District. When I finally make to The Jalopy Tavern with him, drinks are on me.