Recently I got this email from a reader named Melissa.
You’re a tourist in NYC for 24 hours and you don’t want to spend it doing all the typical Manhattan stuff. What part of Brooklyn is your favorite? What places (shops, parks, cafes, people-watching thoroughfares) within that part of Brooklyn are your faves?
Or should I skip Brooklyn and do a groovy neighborhood in Queens or The Bronx? Is Coney Island interesting, in your opinion?
As far as interests go…hmm. Maybe I’m just the typical Emily Magazine reader? I like to read, write, observe. Love to eat. Love nature. Not concerned about the hippest & hottest places. Just trying to make this a truly memorable trip.
First of all I love the idea that there is a typical Emily Magazine reader. Whenever I look at StatPress it seems like people are primarily coming here because they googled “fuck on train” — haha, got you again, train-fuckers! Boobs! Milf boobs! Jeffrey Sebelia! Santigold lyrics! Sorry — so it’s good to be reminded that there are actual readers, who like to read and write and observe and eat. I also like these things, and nature. I think you’ve come to the right place for advice, Melissa.
I haven’t been to Coney Island in quite some time, but once, about three years ago when she was visiting from New Zealand, Ruth and I went to Brighton Beach in the winter. This was actually quite a good tourist excursion. Back then I had no expertise in Russian candy but if I went to Brighton Beach now I would be focused primarily on getting a sirok or five, and also some cheap kasha. Ruth and I had no idea what we were doing so we just went to the first restaurant that seemed okay and while we ate we watched a televised singing and dancing competition held in an enormous stadium. Halfway through a promising contestant’s performance her dress slipped, revealing one of her perfect, enormous breasts. She continued singing, seemingly unaware. No one in the restaurant seemed to notice either! Ruth and I however were mesmerized; even now I can remember exactly what the breast looked like, but not what we ate. Afterwards we went and walked on the beach in the rain past a bunch of boardwalk restaurants with outdoor seating that all were called some variation of “Baltic” or “Odessa.” Melissa, I know you’re planning your trip for November so I don’t know if Coney Island or Brighton Beach would really be the outerborough excursion of choice, and also I can’t guarantee that you’d get to see any televised nip slips. (Have at it, Google pervs! NIPPLE BREAST!) But it’s something to consider.
Right before Ruth and I went to Brighton Beach that day we went to PS1, which I think might be a better plan for you since you can plan a whole Greenpoint- Long Island City excursion day around it. PS 1 is the MoMA-adjunct museum in Long Island City. You’ve probably been there before. It’s my favorite museum in the city, not just because admission is $5, but also because it’s located in such a gorgeous, insane old school building that is clearly haunted by the ghosts of teachers and students from a bygone era. They show a lot of installation art and sculpture by young artists, and they really use space well everywhere in the building, from the big former-gymnasium-type spaces to the small classroom-sized galleries. They even show work down in the basement among the boilers and mechanical equipment, like, in niches between pipes and vents. One time Normandy and I were standing in the middle of a folk art-inflected installation down there that was all sparkle and maximalist detail, things glued to other things and odd shrines to nonexistent gods, and we realized simultaneously that we felt exactly as though we were on hallucinogenic drugs, except it was more fun because we didn’t feel paranoid or nauseated. But it was that same feeling of “What is real? Is it what I thought was real? Who cares!”
You could start your day around lunchtime at the Nassau stop of the G train (or take the L from the city and walk to the intersection of Nassau and Manhattan, just past McCarren park). People-watch the NYU students as you make your way up Nassau and get a sandwich at Brooklyn Standard deli and eat it in Monsignor McGolrick park. This is an exceptionally pretty and little-known park that has the feeling of an Eastern European park, owing to its design and huge old trees and the elderly Polish men who line its benches. From there, you could walk (or bike — this would be extra fun with a bike) through Greenpoint to the Pulaski bridge, cross it, and arrive at PS1. If time permits, eschew the direct routes — walking or biking on Manhattan or McGuinness Boulevard is no fun — and take a scenic one. There are some epsecially pretty sidestreets in Greenpoint — Kent, Java, that weird cul de sac of Oak Street with the crazy mansion that’s a veteran’s home at the end of it — in fact, it might even be a good idea to stop by Word Bookstore at the corner of Franklin and Milton (Milton between Franklin and Manhattan is another great block for ogling cool, strange old houses) to pick up the Big Onion Guide, This book of Brooklyn walking tours is full of cool trivia about things you might not glance at twice otherwise.
After you’re done at the museum you could stay in L.I.C. to see Alice do improv and standup at the Creek, or you could head back to Greenpoint for a cheap, delicious dinner. You have a choice of cheap, delicious Polish food at Lomzynianka or cheap, delicious Mexican/diner food at Acapulco.
If that doesn’t sound good, or if it does sound good but you just want more options, let me know and I will plot out a similar path through South Brooklyn for you …