We were back in New York City for a little holiday last week. We had such a good time on our last trip that we basically booked almost the exact same trip to do it all again. We got an Airbnb a few streets down, re-hit some favourite spots, did the same old walk-eat-shop daily schedule. I didn’t take many photos (lots of Instagrams though) but here are a few snippets.
Pretty late in posting about this – took so many photos there that it was a bit of a task editing them! We visited the New York Transit Museum on our last day in town, a roasting hot day where we took the ferry down to Brooklyn Bridge, walked some of the riverside promenade (sadly under construction so not particularly attractive at the moment), admired the pretty streets around Brooklyn Heights then trundled to the museum.
The museum itself is housed in 1930s subway station. It’s a little claustrophobic (says this general Tube-phobe) and the exhibition itself is kind of dull and geared towards children with lots of interactive exhibits, but wonder awaits downstairs…
One of the more unusual things we did in Brooklyn was a visit to New York’s first new whiskey distillery since the Prohibition era, Kings County. Tucked away in the paymasters’ building at DUMBO’s Navy Yard, the distillery has only been open since 2010. It’s starting to get a reputation for small-batch quality and the product is now stocked in many of Brooklyn’s bars and restaurants.
The tour began at the imposing entrance to their premises. Cofounder of the business, Colin Spoelman, started by giving us a fascinating potted history of distilling in the USA and explained how he came to set up the business. He was essentially a home-moonshiner from Kentucky who was moved to set up officially when state laws dropped the previously huge taxes and setup fees for a new distillery.
We wandered to the tiny ‘corn field’ to the side of their building. This corn isn’t really used for their everyday production: there’s nowhere near enough space to grow what they need, but they just requested to use the land for fun. They may brew a special edition whiskey with this year’s harvest.
Our next stop was the distillery itself. Here the corn (several tons a month come from an upstate farm) is cooked up with barley and yeast, then left a little while so the yeast can eat up the natural sugars in the corn, creating alcohol. Then it’s distilled twice in the ‘stills’: they are currently in the process of upgrading their production from the smaller metal tanks to the much larger copper kettles in the middle of the space.
Helper kitty keeps the mice away.
Colin then led us upstairs to the barrel room, which drew collective oohs from the small tour group. Ageing in oak barrels is what gives the clear alcohol its amber colour and depth of flavour. Colin explained that a longer ageing doesn’t necessarily result in a better whiskey and that the temperature fluctuations in the barn mean the liquid can absorb better from the wood. They constantly taste from the barrels until the required flavour profile – a balance of spice and caramel tones – has been reached.
At the end back in the tasting room, there’s a small exhibit of the history of the area and whiskey in NYC – hilariously dubbed the Boozeum – and shelves of the lingering remains of experimental batches. The hand-typed labels and small-batch approach remind me of London’s very own Kernel brewery. We also got to sample the final product in its unaged (moonshine) and aged forms. Now I’m not a whiskey fan but I really did like the ‘chocolate’ version, with Mast Brothers cocoa nibs thrown into the barrel. They imparted just a hint of sweetness and warmth. Josh bought a couple of bottles to bring home. It was a great tour and fascinating to learn the history and processes of distilling. Tours run informally every Saturday afternoon and are well worth a visit.
We went to the famous Brooklyn Flea, but to the Saturday one at Fort Greene, not the main Williamsburg one. It was pretty good – quite small (I guess the main one is bigger) and a lot of vendors selling new stuff but a few gem stalls with that awesome Americana I was hoping to find. Sadly the crates at $25-40 each were never going fit into my suitcase home…
But I did pick up a little 50s wooden K from a guy with a fantastic stall with little collections of just about everything: shoe lasts, baseball cards, gumball toys and so on. I fancied one of the big metal letters too, but again with the suitcase space.
Back in Williamsburg near our apartment on Driggs & Bedford was a big old emporium full of wonderful old junk – I think the store actually is called Junk from a bit of google research, and most reviews I found say it’s overpriced tat. It actually seemed fairly reasonably priced to me given that mason jars were selling at the flea for $25 each and they were $5 a go here. Old soda bottles and medicine bottles were $3-4 each too. I made away with a sweet grey and yellow bowl and some old cotton reels. Very sad the amazing huge lamp at the left of the last photo couldn’t come home with me too.
Bit of a tangential story here, but I love the NYC weekend stoop/yard sale culture so very much and this explains why. Sunday was a 30-degree day where we’d walked a hell of a lot and my poor swollen feet were completely clapped out from my shoes rubbing like crazy. I sat on a bench to recover a bit opposite a lady doing a yard sale, and she offered me some sandals she was selling for $3. Turns out they were nearly new Aerosoles and when I slipped my foot in it was like the heavens opened. No pain any more! I skipped down the street and that’s when I found some free mason jars.
They were laying outside someone’s house in a box on the street saying FREE on it, so I helped myself to a few. I guess they were used for someone’s wedding since they had ribbons on and a little candle wax left in the bottom. Love me some free street treasure. Best Day Ever.
It wasn’t all cheapskatery. I had a proper shop over in Manhattan at Madwell. Damn I love that store, please come to the UK? The aesthetic’s so very me and the clothes really feel very nicely made. I got a colourblocked sweater, nice rust-coloured trousers and a speckle grey cardigan – good autumn basics. I also bought a knit biker jacket from Anthropologie: it’s a bit cheaper over there.
The hipster grocery stores are a real treat to browse. Who knew $26 artisanal bitters could be so enticing?
Did a bit of interior store window shopping too: CB2, Jonathan Adler, West Elm (who I’m excited are opening up in London very soon), Paper Source. Sadly I didn’t make it to a Williams Sonoma this time, perhaps my favourite store discovery in San Francisco, but as they own West Elm too I am hopeful they might make an appearance on these shores sometime too.
This was always going to be an indulgent foody holiday. I’d saved about 200 places to my Foursquare list and Google map and was determined to plough through as many as possible, waistline be damned. I think we did pretty well! I don’t know if it was the exchange rate or being in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, but prices everywhere seemed really reasonable, and it was a delight to have so many places on our doorstep in Williamsburg.
We just got back from an awesome week in Brooklyn. It was basically the antithesis to our last holiday to Barbados: concrete instead of beaches, cocktails and beer instead of rum punch, brunches and Mexican and Chinese food, walking until my feet quite literally gave out…
We stayed in yet another great Airbnb rental, a stylish apartment in a modern 4th storey block right next to the Williamsburg Bridge. Here’s the link to the listing with more photos. It was the perfect size for relaxing in, with cool decor and – omg – a built-in catty roommate buddy. Fluffy giant Mitt was so sweet!
The best part about it though – perhaps even better than Mitt – were the incredible views. We had the bridge bearing down from one side and a panoramic view of Manhattan, emcompassing the Empire State Building and the Chysler Building, from the balcony. The sights were amazing at every time of day, from the golden light just after sunrise (hi jetlag) to the dusky sunset. I didn’t really think I was a views type of person – I’ve always preferred ground floor flats in London – but I really miss it.
Oh yeah, the apartment also had a rooftop terrace for extra amazingness, though we didn’t have time to use it much.
The location of the apartment was great for exploring Williamsburg and further afield. We had loads of amazing things in the neighbourhood from superb foody joints to cool bars and shops – I’ll write separately about all those next. It was only a few stops on the subway into Manhattan (mostly ahem, for fabric shopping, which I’ve written up on my sewing blog) but we also did the trip via the East River Ferry.
The boat was an awesome way to see the Manhattan riverfront from a different angle and only four bucks. We caught it downtown to DUMBO as well for another day out. More to show soon!