Brooklyn’s Authentic Gold Coast: Our Neighborhood Guide to Bay Ridge
Technically speaking, Bay Ridge, where I’ve lived for most of my life, is not a suburb like you find on Long Island or New Jersey. It isn’t in the middle of nowhere, you don’t need a car to get around, and there is no mall. But if you find yourself in the more cloistered and tranquil parts of the neighborhood, particularly the beautiful older homes near the water on Shore Road, you can’t help but feel like you’re worlds away from Manhattan. Despite the condo-fication of New York, Bay Ridge has maintained a solid working and middle-class vibe.
“I’d played with the idea of moving out of Bay Ridge to go to Manhattan or something like that,” says Allison Robicelli, the co-owner of the renowned cupcake bakery Robicelli’s and a longtime resident of the neighborhood, “but as I’ve watched Brooklyn change, Bay Ridge became more and more appealing. It still feels authentic, and there’s no inevitable feeling of doom that eventually your rent will triple and all the businesses you love will disappear. We’re a great mix of the old New York that’s quickly disappearing, and the new. I can’t think of another place in Brooklyn I’d rather live.”
While geographically it might seem tucked away from the rest of the city, Bay Ridge has links to a broader pop culture, first and foremost thanks to the 1977 blockbuster disco movie Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta. On TV, Mad Men‘s Peggy Olson (played by Elisabeth Moss) hails from the neighborhood (“I’m from Bay Ridge. We have manners!”). Other famous folks from the area include Poison guitarist CC Deville, Brooklyn Dodgers players Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider, financial journalist Maria Bartiromo, and author Hubert Selby. “Of course, I’d heard about Bay Ridge for years—it was home to the legendary metal club L’Amour!” says writer Katherine Turman. “I moved here for metal as well. I was deep in the middle of working with my co-author Jon Wiederhorn on our book Louder Than Hell…so I ended up renting an apartment from him in the Ridge. Now, although our book has been out (and successful!) since May 2013, I’m still in the hood!”
Bay Ridge has been a distinct settlement since 1652, when the land was purchased by the Dutch West India Company from the Nyack Indians. The neighborhood, nicknamed “the gold coast,” though mostly by realtors, has been long known for being predominantly Italian, Irish and Norwegian, but in the last 25 to 30 years, it has experienced an influx of Asian, Eastern European, Hispanic and Arabic people as well.
“What I love most is the balance of this diverse melting pot of cultures, but with a small town feeling, in close proximity to the big city,” says Rawia Bishara, the owner of the popular Middle Eastern restaurant Tanoreen and author of the cookbook Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home. She’s been a Bay Ridge resident since her arrival in America in 1974. “You start to frequent the same businesses, people begin to learn your name, friends drop in for coffee. My children were both born and raised here so through their schooling and our businesses and work we came to know a lot of the faces and places of the neighborhood.”
Unlike some other neighborhoods, Bay Ridge has been immune to significant gentrification, so far, although there has been a growth of specialty shops and eateries that line Third and Fifth avenues. Friends and colleagues who are in in their 30s and 40s are now taking up residency here. “I had grown up in Park Slope, and watched the neighborhood change and rise out of our price range,” says recently-transplanted resident Alex Damashek, the executive director of Move Forward Music, an artist management and concert promotions company in Brooklyn, “but also the fact that my wife is from New Jersey, because we were looking for a rare New York compromise where we could have some space but still live in Brooklyn. Bay Ridge seemed to have the goods. And once we started exploring the neighborhood and all the different restaurants and shops, we really felt like we’d found the right place for us.”
It’s no surprise that the high quality of life, low crime and neighborliness in Bay Ridge have resulted in longtime residents and businesses. As rents grow pricier around the city it seems like only a matter of time before young professionals looking for an inexpensive place to live in or raise a family will flock here. I wouldn’t call it the “next Williamsburg,” as one recent article speculated, but who knows in 10 to 20 years from now. Here’s what to check out when you visit:
Where to Eat
There are plenty of different restaurants of all stripes in Bay Ridge: Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Eastern European–there’s even a place that sells schnitzel. Naturally there are also several diners like Hinsch’s (now called Mike’s Hinsch’s, 8518 5th Ave., 855-446-7247), which I vividly remember visiting with my family for BLTs and milkshakes, back in the day. A recent discovery I’ve made is the Eastern European restaurant Polonica, (7214 3rd Ave. # A, 718-630-5805), which has been around for over 20 years. It may look small on the inside, but the combination platter of kielbasa, stuffed cabbage and pierogies is large on the stomach. And of course, there’s Tanoreen (7523 3rd Ave., 718-748-5600), the jewel of Middle Eastern restaurants. As for pizza, I always gravitate towards Vesuvio (7305 3rd Ave., 718-745-0222), especially for a Sicilian slice fresh out of the oven.
Allison’s pick: Tuscany Grill (8620 3rd Ave., 718-921-5633), hands down my favorite date-night restaurant. The only place I know of to get grilled pizza (yes, it’s excellent). It’s rustic Italian at its most comforting.
Katherine’s pick: If I’m missing California, Ho’Brah (8618 3rd Ave., 718-680-8226) is the perfect food and drink antidote. An authentic taco joint, I dig the Classic Cali taco (goes without saying!) with panko-crusted cod and chile-lime sour cream and a jalapeño margarita.
Alex’s picks: Grand Sichuan House (8701 5th Ave., 718-680-8887): best Chinese, string beans with minced pork, beef with cumin, pretty much anything. Leo’s Casa Calamari (8602 3rd Ave., 718-921-1900): best (you guessed it) fried calamari, also maybe tied for best pizza. Anopoli Ice Cream Parlor and Family Restaurant (6920 3rd Ave., 718-748-3863): vanilla egg creams, cherry lime rickies, homemade ice cream, and great diner food.
Rawia’s picks: Lately I have been going to Ponte Vecchio (8810 4th Ave., 718-238-6449) for Italian and enjoy it. My daughter is a fan of the baked spaghetti at Areo (8424 3rd Ave., 718-238-0079 ) and anything at Petit Oven (276 Bay Ridge Ave., 718-833-3443), especially the fried oysters when they’re on the menu.
Where to Get Caffeinated
Unlike Williamsburg or Greenpoint, you’re not going to find many niche cafes in Bay Ridge, although some have sprouted up, like the newly-opened Coffee Lab (6903 3rd Ave., 646-801-8321). Another place that stands out for me is Caffe Cafe (401 3rd Ave., 718-748-8700), where it’s nice to sit outside during warmer days.
Allison’s pick: We (Robicelli’s) brought Stumptown to the neighborhood last November, and still we only serve drip. Paneantico (9124 3rd Ave, 718-680-2347) makes a pretty nice latte if you’re up on Third Avenue.
Katherine’s pick: My favorite latte is at Jean Danet Pastry (7526 5th Ave., 718-836-7566)…with cinnamon on top. To go on the way to the subway on weekdays, to stay on weekends and read The New York Times. They also have a brick oven pizza that’s thin and delicious. So I can start with coffee and maybe a fudgy rocky road brownie, then if I linger there long enough, I can move into beer and pizza.
Alex’s pick: Chai chargers at Caffe Cafe
Rawia’s picks: Robicelli’s bakery (9009 5th Ave., 917-509-6048) is off the hook for cupcakes and treats, and they serve Stumptown coffee which is really good. Also, the Greek-style frappe at Omonia (7612 3rd Ave., 718-491-1435) is great–a chilled coffee usually made with instant coffee in a shaker with water and ice with a thick foam top. It’s big in Greek coffee culture.
Where to Drink
A friend at work who lived in Connecticut once remarked that there’s a bar on every block in Bay Ridge. She’s totally right: it’s impossible to stay dry in the neighborhood, though from my observations, the bar scene caters more to the old-timers, working class and professional folks than a young, singles crowd. Three Jolly Pigeons (6802 3rd Ave., 718-745-9350), reportedly one of the oldest drinking establishments in the neighborhood, has a cozy vibe a la Cheers. And Longbow Pub & Pantry (7316 3rd Ave., 718-238-7468) has a very extensive beer menu and serves traditional English foods like fish and chips and Welsh rarebit.
Allison’s pick: Lock Yard (9221 5th Ave,. 718-333-5282): This beer garden/hot dog joint has become “our” bar– everything about it is spectacular, from the rotating beer list, to the ’90s playlist, to the exceptional lobster rolls and fried pickles.
Katherine’s pick: The Owl’s Head (479 74th St., 718-680-2436) wine bar is my go-to place, and I bring every visitor to the Ridge there. Owner John Avelluto went to high school in Bay Ridge, and is super invested in bringing great wine, food and art into the neighborhood.
Rawia’s pick: We are partial to our neighbors at the Salty Dog (7509 3rd Ave., 718-238-0030). It’s a great venue to watch sports being that they have 20 TVs. It’s our favorite neighborhood bar.
Where to Shop
For as long as I have lived in Bay Ridge, the Century 21 department store (472 86th St., 718-748-3266) in the 86th street commercial district has dominated the entire block.
As far as food shopping goes, I recently discovered the new Brooklyn Market (8102 3rd Ave., 718-567-8600) which is a cross between Whole Foods and the Park Slope Co-op in that its offerings are very wide and eclectic, from organic foods to imported Italian items. Nordic Delicacies (6909 3rd Ave., 718- 748-1874) keeps the neighborhood’s old Norwegian roots alive with its Scandinavian foods. And it’s comforting to know that Leske’s Bakery (7612 5th Ave., 718-680-2323) is still around, bringing back memories of butter cookies from my youth.
Allison’s pick: Circa Vintage Boutique (276 88th St., 917-674-9631) is where I do all my gift shopping, and the owner is amazing. She knows I collect old cookbooks and kitchen equipment, so any time she comes across something she thinks I’ll like, I get a FB note. How sweet is that?
Katherine’s picks: Lola’s Boutique (8503 3rd Ave., 718-745-4300) on 3rd is good for cute, trendy and not-too-expensive gifts of jewelry and accessories. For gourmet Italian foodstuffs, ALC Italian Grocery(8613 3rd Ave, 718-836-3200) is the bomb, and free wine-tastings at Long’s Liquors (7917 5th Ave., 718-748-6505) have encouraged purchases!
Alex’s pick: We call it Century’s out here.
Rawia’s picks: We shop at Century 21 all the time because, let’s face it, they have good deals and you can almost always find something. Plus we get a lot of overseas house guests and they love it there for a one-stop shop. We also buy our books local. The BookMark Shoppe (8415 3rd Ave., 718-833-5115) can order any title you want.
Where to Stroll
Hands down the best place to take a walk in the neighborhood is Shore Road Park and Parkway. In addition to the park itself, there’s a pedestrian/bike path nearby where you take in the view of the water and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. While you’re there, you can also see all the beautiful and very expensive homes along the way–and don’t forget to take a glimpse the famous “gingerbread house” on 82nd Street and Narrows Avenue.
Allison’s pick: Shore Road is probably the best place to go running if you’re looking for a challenge, since it’s all hills. But if you’re looking for something flat and beautiful, try the path directly next to the water.
Katherine’s pick: I enjoy a weekend stroll down both Third and Fifth avenues, but a walk along the water to view the Verrazano and passing boats is exhilarating and mandatory.
Alex’s picks: I love to stroll down 3rd Avenue on a Sunday and do some food shopping. First, I’ll get a canoli and a cappuccino from Monaco’s (8511 3rd Ave, 347-497-4409), then continue to Artisan Food Valley (9204 3rd Ave., 718-513-0071) to buy some prosciutto and sopressata. Maybe on the way back I’ll pick up a 1/2 pound of imported feta from A&S Greek specialty store (7918 5th Ave. 718-833-1307), or a shoulder of freshly butchered lamb at Bay Root Meats (7813 5th Ave., 718-238-7900).
Rawia’s pick: Anywhere along Third Avenue, and of course the beautiful promenade that we are so lucky to have on Shore Road. My children jog and cycle on the bike path often when the weather is nice.
How to Get There
The R train is the only line that runs through Bay Ridge along Fourth Avenue–from the Bay Ridge Ave. station on 69th, to Bay Ridge-95th Street, the last stop of the R. The commute to midtown Manhattan from Bay Ridge by subway is about 45-50 minutes. It’s the tradeoff for living in such a perfect corner of New York City.