Apartments Roommates Neighborhoods

Walk around the Block: South Williamsburg

By Jay Sterkel · Oct 4, 2018 · ·

Willmap

The corner of Wythe and South 3rd boasts elements of Williamsburg’s history — the single family homes on the block to the east, the shell of the Domino Sugar Refinery at the end of the block on 3rd, and in little details here and there. The long blocks between the Bedford stop and Broadway, with the river on one side and the BQE on the other, have been a consistent locus for Williamsburg’s creative output. Walking around the block today, there are no less than five active construction sites in view, demonstrating the neighborhood’s evolution. Areas like this can sometimes be lacking in culture, but today’s stroll around the block offers a distinct, energetic atmosphere.

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Mid-block on Wythe, walking north, is the pronounced 321 Wythe, recently opened for leasing. At 19 stories, it peeks over the top of the other developments within walking distance for views of Manhattan and the bridge that couldn’t have been imagined a generation ago.

By contrast, next door is the small and charming Cobalt Salon, offering all the services you might expect to find at a larger salon in Manhattan. The contrast serves as a reminder that this area and its residents are hip to a culture that’s creative, first and foremost. Tastemakers here operate indifferently to scale it seems, from corporate developments to small businesses. To this point: next to the salon is a colorful mural by Detroit artist Ghostbeard.

Turning around to look west, you get a direct view of Sundays in Brooklyn, a restaurant named in hopes of providing everyday patrons with the comforts of the easiest day of the week. There is almost always food available, and the menu changes three to four times a day. Want to eat in the greenhouse balcony? Or perhaps the intimacy of the third floor private room? The brunch is unstoppable, from malted pancakes to biscuits and gravy. Sure, there are salads and a quinoa and lentil bowl, if that’s your preference. And there are certainly vegetarian options, but you might have to ask for vegan modifications.

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I’m not sure what I expected walking in between lunch and dinner. New jack swing gives way to zydeco, then to the Le Tigre cover of “I’m So Excited”. The rustic ceiling counterpoints smooth tables and chairs, the cocked geometry of old construction and reclaimed wood offset by minimalism. There’s no knowing what drew me to it, but I have to recommend the brilliant spicy cauliflower sandwich — it has plenty of kick, sauerkraut, and molten Swiss cheese. The dinner menu changes frequently enough to suggest you just check it out here. Its discontinuities are very much by design.

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This is hardly the only thoughtful eatery on the block — across the street on South 2nd is 12 Chairs. Like Sundays, the establishment offers walk-up windows for takeaway ordering. 12 Chairs is committed to the role that food plays in Israeli culture (and a big chunk of the menu is characterized by imported goods). I recommend grabbing a bunch of side plates if the sandwiches or around-the-clock omelettes seem like too much. Never doubt the power of shakshuka to fortify the shakiest of mornings (or evenings, for that matter).

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Next door to Sundays in Brooklyn is 1 or 8, the renowned Japanese sushi joint perfectly happy to serve you sashimi as soon as a shrimp bun. Tuna alongside a taco. The owners share the cuisine of the world, seen and served through a Japanese lens. The results exhibit both a foundation in traditional preparations and an eager participation in the new. Want a gamble? Try sitting at the counter.

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Passing the first construction site on the walk leads to the Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery School, a progressive preschool working with children ages two to four. They emphasize their values of diversity in a human community. It’s worth noting in an area with high rises and fancy restaurants that there is an acknowledgement of a family community as well. WNNS has been providing affordable education to that community for almost 20 years, encouraging creative development influenced by the school’s vibrant surroundings. But I can’t say if the kids prefer oat milk in their lattes.

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VICE moved into 285 Kent in 2014 and has been a notable presence since. Local businesses know it well — if there’s a organization that has best demonstrated the culture that Williamsburg exports, it’s this massive media force that started as a skateboarding magazine in Montreal in the late 90s. The front of the building holds what seems like hundreds of bicycles.

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Fornino! I had forgotten this was here. 14 years of crisp crust pizza and a bunch of seasonal sides worth checking out. It takes some bravery to open a joint that makes a distinct style of pizza in a city known for the foot-long-original-plain-slice. They are working the waterfront with three locations. I’ve taken my parents here.

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Turning the corner onto Kent brings you face to face with the enormous Domino Sugar Refinery development. There’s no access from this intersection to the park that’s farther up the river, but there will be soon. The Refinery itself is under renovation for the time being. But where its headed suggests a whole new way of thinking about the neighborhood.

Construction takes up most of the block on Kent between South 2nd and South 3rd. There’s a loading dock for Villain, an event space/photo studio for almost anything that needs to be done indoors.

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Rounding the corner of Kent and South 3rd, both sides of this corner have commercial mural space available — three weeks ago it was an advertisement for DoorDash, and now they are penciling in an enormous piece for the most recent installment of the Call of Duty franchise.

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Across the street is the site of the first rentals associated with the Domino Sugar Refinery development — 325 Kent, the doughnut building you’ll recognize from across the river. The copper and zinc facade is consistent all the way up the block, across a wide variety of small businesses that provide locals with their necessities; from parking to market to bottle shop.

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Continuing up, South 3rd is a little quieter and more residential. About halfway up the block there is a freestanding building for small offices with a startup atmosphere. I see little details everywhere — someone writing a name, slapping a sticker, making a small change their surroundings.

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Between here and the end of the block is Freehold, which I have
written about previously. It’s been almost a block and a half since I’ve passed a place that serves coffee, so I stop in.

After that, there are a few new townhouses and more construction. More apartments, more businesses — anything that will fit. Back where I started, looking at the Cobalt Salon crouched next to the luxury tower, it seems like anything can fit here, as long as it brings something to the neighborhood.

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All photos by author.