As mentioned early on in this blog, one of the guiding lights of this publication — in its effort to highlight touring the great cities like a local — is the project by Eric Fischer, which uses geodata in images posted to Twitter to differentiate locals from tourists. In his visualization of NYC, possibly the largest disparity in the presence of of local versus tourist is the Williamsburg region of Brooklyn, with locals beating tourists about 1,000 to one. So of course, that’s where I had to go.
To understand the abiding appeal of Williamsburg, you need to understand the history.
Williamsburg experienced its first true burst of growth immediately after World War II, as it became home to large numbers of Hacidic Jews fleeing the devastation left by the war and the Holocaust. They went to Williamsburg primarily because of its close proximity to Manhattan and for its low rents. Thanks to the Williamsburg bridge, one can get to the lower east village in about 15 minutes.
Beginning in the mid 2000s, artist-types unable to pay the exorbitant rents of Manhattan began moving to Williamsburg. But unlike most waves of gentrification, this one hasn’t done much to displace the original occupants, thanks to rent vouchers provided to the original residents. for everyone else, Williamsburg rents have skyrocketed. Still, the hipsters come. As such, on the streets of Williamsburg you’ll find a fascinating cultural fusion of the new and the old.
Bedford Avenue is the center of Williamsburg’s eclecticism. There, you’ll find a heavy concentration of boutiques, coffee shops, consignment clothing stores and independent book sellers.
You’re not going to find a McDonald’s.
My Williamsburg trip began on the M Train from Manhattan. The train crosses the Williamsburg Bridge and takes you to the Marcy Avenue station. Emerging on Broadway, I walked four blocks west Bedford Avenue, turning right (north) onto Bedford and walking nine very short blocks to 4th Street. Though not very far, it took a long time to walk those nine blocks, as each step toward the center of town becomes increasingly fascinating.
At the corner of 4th and Bedford, you’ll find the Bedford Cheese Shop, where you absolutely must stop, if only to admire their astounding collection of exotic cheeses. I settled on the cabri cafe, which is a belgian cheese coated on the rind by espresso dust. I also picked up an elderflower and rose lemonade and a few castelvetrano olives.
Up the block a little is the closest thing you’ll find to a mall in this neighborhood: the Williamsburg Mini Mall (though it’s more of a hipster enclave than a mall). It’s at 218 Bedford. Inside, you’ll find more boutique shops, bookstores, and (most notably) Handsome Dan’s Candy Store. Visit Dan and treat yourself to some classic candy from your youth. On a warm day, one of Dan’s snow cones is perfect.
From there, amble up another two blocks to 7th Street, where you’ll find the Bedford Avenue Station, which will take you back to Manhattan on the L train.