The Last Time I Saw Brooklyn


….was on Sunday, when I began my search for a pied-a-terre (I think I’ve already found something, but it’s not a done deal so I’m not going to jinx it by blabbing). It had been many months since I really looked and walked around the old nabe, and in my whirlwind half-day visit, I found that much has changed. Some things for the better. Some for the worse.

As I strolled around Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Brooklyn Heights with my friend Nancy, I was reminded of how my daughter would return from summer camp and run around the house to make sure everything was as she remembered it and take note of anything new.

First, the bad news. On the corner of Smith and Pacific, there once was a funky restaurant that went through a rapid series of playful name and menu changes, including Trout Shack, Gravy, and many more. (Prior to all that, it was a produce market that sold gigantic, unfamiliar root vegetables.) Whatever the restaurant’s incarnation, there was always a lively bar and a cheering fireplace in winter. Now the original, diner-like structure has been torn down, and there’s an ugly brick shoebox on that corner, as if someone asked, What’s the cheapest thing we can possibly build here? It’s soon to become a chain store selling stationery, wrapping papers, and the like. Vital addition to the neighborhood NOT, especially since there’s at least one independently-owned such business nearby.


On the plus side, there’s the newly opened Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Finally, access to the waterfront, 20 years in the making. There are several acres of state-of-the-art playgrounds, above, billowing grasses, and happy children, where once all was bleak and industrial — a vast improvement over the days when you had to crawl through a hole in a chain-link fence if you wanted to get near the water. And Pier 1, near the Brooklyn Bridge, is now spectacular rolling lawn, though I didn’t make it that far on Sunday.


Instead, we walked along Columbia Place, which used to be isolated and deserted. Now — a direct result of the new park — there’s a cute cafe called Iris, above, packed with young people (to me, the whole world seems packed with young people these days).


I wanted to check out Willow Place and an extraordinary row of Greek Revival houses, above and top, joined by a colonnade of columns, unlike any in Brooklyn. The row had been dilapidated, but now all is uniformly spit and polish, with fresh paint on columns and porches, and gleaming front doors.


We stepped into a year-old shop called Holler & Squall on lower Atlantic, above, where taxidermied bulls’ heads, rusted metal objects, and trendily distressed wares of the early industrial age are artfully arrayed. It’s on the last block before the water, next to the famously old-school bar Montero’s, no doubt soon to be joined by other upscale shops as work on the park continues.

This part of Brooklyn thrived in the 19th century when there was a ferry landing at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, then sat moribund for decades, with many empty storefronts (blame it on Robert Moses, who cut off the waterfront in the 1950s with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). New signs of life are all to the good.

About cara

I blog for fun at, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here:
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7 Responses to The Last Time I Saw Brooklyn

  1. Nancy says:

    Leave it to an out of towner to show you something about your own neighborhood! Okay, Cara is not quite an out of towner, but she does call East Hampton home. Although I probably had walked past that row in Brooklyn Heights, I had never really seen it. What a gem!

  2. Astor C says:

    The Colonnade is amazingly stately, now that’s it’s been tidied up. The remnants of its famous brother are across from the Public Theater near Astor Place.

  3. delftblue says:

    I TOLD you — it’s all about Brooklyn Heights! (altho Iris pre-dates the opening of Pier 6)

  4. nick says:

    columbia place is wonderful. it’s bustling on the weekends. there’s the great public garden, playground, and dog run at the lower end of the block, and iris is always packed.

    that end of atlantic is really shaping up. there’s a lot of foot traffic. a lot of empty storefronts, but i think in a few years it will be completely different.

  5. Mary-Liz says:

    Great post, Cara. Makes me want to explore the area. Hurry up & find some digs! Good luck!

  6. Robin Horton says:

    I left my heart in Brooklyn…lived in the Slope years ago and our son just moved to Williamsburg and is excited about buying local at Brooklyn Kitchen (who sells produce grown at Ben Flanner’s Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm.) You have captured some wonderful Brooklyn scenes. I recommend foraging in Prospect Park with Leda Meredith, buying some produce from Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, and visiting Atlantic Avenue garden shop Dig–owners Chuck and Maggie are wonderful.

  7. cara says:

    Welcome, Robin. I know about Dig, but not the other resources you mentioned. Thanks for the tips – look forward to checking them out!

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