Brooklyn Date Spots (and Other Reasons for a Weekend Getaway in New York City’s Hipster Borough)

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Labeled the “Love” train for its infamous Missed Connections, the “L” line is the uber pick up place – especially between the two stops separating hipsters from Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. But when you step off the train, the coolest places for a date are in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Visitors Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Visitor Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Signs of the borough’s renaissance are everywhere.  Brooklyn boasts a new (in 2012) impressive visitor’s center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a $4.9 billion sports arena, and surprisingly, even venerable institutions are alive with a nightlife buzz.

Rock Concert - Brooklyn Academy of Music
Friday night concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

You might expect a line out the door at a nightclub or rooftop bar. Less predictable is the scene at the 150-year-old Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) where weekend nights finds throngs of young creative types sporting vintage fashion and androgynous hairstyles, milling around stages hosting indie-rock bands like The Antlers and Buke and Gase.

Water fountain lights at Brooklyn Museum.

Even more surprising is the lively night scene at the Brooklyn Museum: Target First Saturdays finds galleries crowded long past midnight with an exuberant celebration of for-the-people culture.

Keith Haring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

Previous exhibits included a one-man showing of Keith Haring’s early work exploring the emergence of one of America’s best loved street artists, while a current exhibits puts the focus on sports photography in Who Shot Sports: a Photographic History, 1843 to the Present.

Mark Levy, tour guide with Levy's Unique New York, poses in front of graffiti wall on tour of Brooklyn.
Mark Levy, tour guide with Levy’s Unique New York, poses in front of graffiti wall on tour of Brooklyn.

It’s an interesting irony to view graffiti in a museum, but not according to Matt Levy of Levy’s Unique New York Tours, who explains that this is part of the natural progression of changing city dynamics from working class and street art to tourists and museums. Brooklyn is so big – the fourth largest American city, if it were an independent city – that it encompasses all kinds of neighborhoods and all kinds of people.

Mural of a young couple biting into a bar of chocolate in front of Cacao Prieto in Brooklyn.

One way to get a sense of its rich diversity is to join Dom Gervasi on his Made In Brooklyn Tours. Visitors learn about Brooklyn’s architecture and manufacturing history while meeting some of its best artisans and sampling their wares. Perhaps the tastiest stop is at Cacao Prieto, the brainchild of Dan Preston, former aeronautical engineer and tech genuis, who transformed a $22 million buyout and the production from his family’s cacao plantation in the Dominican Republic into the most scientifically delicious chocolate empire. The Brooklyn location offers tours, tastings, and the cocktail bar, Botanica.

Chocolate Spirits - Cacao Prieto - Brooklyn NY

It’s a fine line between urban grit and gallery-quality street art. Walking Brooklyn streets you’ll certainly see examples of both, but you might also come to agree with Matt Levy that street art revitalizes urban blight.

The herb garden at Roberta's Garden takes farm-to-table to the next level.
The herb garden at Roberta’s Garden takes farm-to-table to the next level.

Such a transformation is epitomized by Roberta’s pizzeria/garden/radio station. Levy describes it as a “DIY, locavore, adaptive reuse, multicultural, multiethnic, rustic Americana restaurant where they grow their own herbs for the salad, and they built it themselves by hand out of an abandoned industrial-era ball bearing factory.” Or, as Sam Sifton of The New York Times puts it, “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States.”

A date in Brooklyn is not just about great art, cuisine, and culture; it’s also about an amazing urban renaissance.

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Article updated from a post originally published on on May 20, 2012.

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