Monday, November 19, 2007

WSJ: With a spate of new hotels, Brooklyn bets on tourism

Sorry Brooklyn, the gentrification is in full swing and appears that there's no stopping the freight train now (see y'all in Staten Island??):

And Maybe a Side Trip to Manhattan? --- With a spate of new hotels, Brooklyn bets on tourism
By Candace Jackson
17 November 2007
The Wall Street Journal

Brooklyn, N.Y. -- At Hotel Le Bleu, rooms have 42-inch plasma-screen TVs with Bose speakers and showers with views of the Statue of Liberty. But the hotel is in an unlikely spot: sandwiched between a taxicab depot and a Pep Boys auto shop, in a former plumbing-supply building in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus.
In recent years, New York's borough of Brooklyn has been luring top chefs, celebrity residents and high-end retailers away from Manhattan. Now, with a spate of new hotel openings, it's trying to take the tourists, too.
Not far from Hotel Le Bleu, the 93-room Smith Hotel is scheduled to open early next year, complete with cork floors (said to be eco-friendly) and a yoga studio. Starwood has plans to open a hotel under its aloft brand in the artsy neighborhood of Dumbo by 2009; next door will be a Sheraton. And downtown, the Brooklyn Marriott recently added 280 rooms, nearly doubling its size.
It helps that Manhattan hotels have only gotten more crowded -- running at almost 90% capacity last year, according to industry researcher PKF Consulting -- and expensive, at an average nightly rate of nearly $280.
Visiting Brooklyn right now is a chance to watch a place very much in transition. Gowanus, for example, is an industrial area sandwiched between posh Park Slope and trendy Carroll Gardens. The neighborhood is still home to blocks of abandoned old textile factories, vast truck parking lots and areas that most locals avoid after dark. The Gowanus Canal, for which the neighborhood is named, breaks up the grim landscape, but its surface is still slick and shiny with oil.
In the past few months, several high-rise condos have cropped up here. A Whole Foods Market is coming. Artists have begun renting studio space in old factories neaby. The Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour, which happens in October, started 11 years ago with just 15 artist lofts as stops -- this year, there were 140.
For travelers who've never crossed the Hudson River or been further east than Manhattan's South Street Seaport, a weekend in Brooklyn might seem like an odd vacation. But it's now possible to do just that. Below, a three-day itinerary.

CHECK INTO Hotel Le Bleu. Don't be deterred by the gritty surroundings -- it's pretty calm inside and centrally located.
START YOUR DAY by wandering the shops of Fifth Avenue -- the one locals like to call New York's "other" Fifth Avenue, albeit without the Bergdorf's and Bendel's. Once considered scary to walk at night, the street, roughly between Flatbush Avenue to the north and 12th Street to the south, is now lined with high-end restaurants, day spas and boutiques.
Brooklyn Mercantile, opened last summer by Tamara Lee, an independent film producer and longtime resident, sells quirky items for the home like vintage spools that could double as candlestick holders and handmade silhouette cut-outs in glass frames. Some of the best shops include Eidolon for shoes and jewelry, Area Kids for hip infant and children's clothing and Cog & Pearl for unusual gifts like iPod cases made out of old vinyl records.
FOR LUNCH, grab a lobster roll and fresh oysters at Brooklyn Fish Camp, an outpost of the Manhattan restaurant Mary's Fish Camp.
IN THE AFTERNOON, take a walking tour of the neighborhood with Norman Oder, who runs the tour company New York Like a Native. Mr. Oder has an encyclopedic knowledge of the borough and can point out lesser-known sights like the corner in Park Slope where a plane crashed in 1960, killing 135 people, and the empty field in Gowanus that's destined to be a Whole Foods Market (
In warm-weather months, more adventurous types can hop on a canoe and take a "discovery tour" of the Gowanus Canal with the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, a volunteer organization working to revitalize the area (
SINCE MANY of the most popular spots for dinner are small, they tend to fill up quickly, so make reservations. One of the newest, Palo Santo, serves Caribbean and Latin food with an extensive wine list from South America. (The chef-owner lives upstairs.) Or head to a restaurant called Two Toms, a holdover from the days when Gowanus was primarily a neighborhood of Italian immigrants. It's been serving juicy pork chops, lasagna and antipasto in a no-frills wood-paneled dining room since 1948.
FOR A DRINK after dinner, go to Union Hall, a cavernous bar with fireplaces and indoor bocce courts.

TAKE A SHORT cab ride (or a 30-minute walk) to Tom's Restaurant in Prospect Heights (no relation to Two Toms). Don't worry if there's a line -- it moves quickly and the waiters will bring you cookies and orange slices as you wait. The place feels like a relic from the 1930s, with an old-fashioned soda fountain vibe.
WALK A FEW BLOCKS southeast to the Brooklyn Museum, one of the borough's biggest cultural institutions. Through mid-January, a watercolor exhibit includes works by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper.
SATURDAY MORNINGS, a farmer's market that rivals Manhattan's biggest one sets up a few blocks from the museum on Grand Army Plaza. Warm up with a cup of hot apple cider and take a walk through Prospect Park, Brooklyn's answer to Central Park, which has two-thirds the acreage and a slightly woodsier feel.
WALK ALONG the side streets leading to Prospect Park West to check out some of the neighborhood's famous tree-lined brownstone streets, most built more than 100 years ago. Montgomery Place and Carroll Street between the park and Eighth Avenue are two especially picturesque blocks.
FOR DINNER, Franny's on Flatbush Avenue serves thin-crust pizzas out of a wood-fired oven. Most have fashionable toppings like ricotta and pork sausage supplied by nearby farms.
LATE-NIGHT, Southpaw is one of Brooklyn's hippest concert venues, and on most Saturday nights a DJ collective called the Rub spins old-school hip-hop and newer hits. (Family-friendly alternative: some Saturday afternoons, the same venue hosts "Baby Loves Disco," where many local parents bring their toddlers for a few hours of socializing.)

ON SUNDAY MORNING, walk a few blocks east to Carroll Gardens, a leafy neighborhood that used to be known for Italian groceries and social clubs. In recent years it has become known for high-end restaurants and boutique shopping along Smith and Court streets from roughly Atlantic Avenue to Ninth Street.
EAT BRUNCH at Israeli restaurant Miriam in Cobble Hill on Court Street. Try the burekas, puffed pastries stuffed with olives and feta served with organic eggs.
SMITH STREET'S boutiques rival Fifth Avenue's for both quirky home goods and high-end apparel. When you hit Atlantic Avenue, make a right, and you'll find rows of antiques stores (many more affordable than those in Manhattan's Garment District) and Middle Eastern groceries selling scented oils, incense and robes.
FOR DINNER, try Saul, a Michelin-starred restaurant on Smith Street that offers seasonal dishes such as spiced crusted loin of venison with ginger pear chutney and desserts like spiced pumpkin souffle.
IN THE EVENING, head toward Fourth Avenue to Brooklyn Lyceum, a former bathhouse that's been converted into an event space with live jazz Sunday nights.
Along the Route
Hotel Le Bleu
370 Fourth Ave., 718-625-1500
Brooklyn Mercantile
335 Fifth Ave., 718-788-1233
Cog & Pearl
190 Fifth Ave., 718-623-8200
233 Fifth Ave., 718-638-8194
Area Kids
45 Fifth Ave., 718-230-7495
Brooklyn Fish Camp
162 Fifth Ave., 718-783-3264
Palo Santo
652 Union St., 718-636-6311
Two Toms Restaurant
255 Third Ave., 718-875-8689
Union Hall
702 Union St., 718-638-4400
Tom's Restaurant
782 Washington Ave., 718-636-9738
Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Pkwy., 718-638-5000
295 Flatbush Ave., 718-230-0331
125 Fifth Ave., 718-230-0236
Miriam Restaurant
229 Court St., 718-522-2220
40 Smith St., 718-935-9844
Brooklyn Lyceum
227 Fourth Ave., 718-857-4816

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