I have an older friend who still gets tears in his eyes whenever Brooklyn is mentioned, as he can't forgive the politicians who merged it into New York City back in 1898 (before even he was born), making it impossible for him to live in that town's imagined glory days. Founded way back in 1642, it claims many historic firsts on its list: "Baseball gets its real start (when) the National Association of Baseball Players was formed" in 1858, the borough brochure states, "the opening of the world's first six-lane parkway in 1868," and "the birth of the Coney Island hot dog in 1874," to mention only three stellar achievements. As an adolescent, I spent a summer holiday in Brooklyn when the Dodgers were just around the corner and stickball was still allowed on the street when traffic was light. I don't get teary eyed about that experience, in any case.
After you've seen Manhattan, give Brooklyn some of your time. It's far more than an ordinary residential quarter, and definitely superior in cultural amenities to the other three boroughs (Queens, Richmond/Staten Island and The Bronx.) The official name for Brooklyn is Kings County, in case you're wondering why that "K" word crops up so often here.
Brooklyn's Cultural Big Four
Although Borough President Marty Markowitz has his own idea of a Brooklyn Cultural Circuit (www.brooklynculturalcircuit.org), I have a shorter version, involving what I consider the best the borough has to offer, and three of the four right next to each other:
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, just across the street from Prospect Park, is one of America's best places for flowers and plants, its 52 acres including such wonders as the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and Cherry Esplanade (best in April), the Lily Pool Terrace (July/August), Cranford Rose Garden (June), Discovery Garden, the Steinhardt Conservatory, and the Starr Bonsai Museum. Since 1985, a Brooklyn Celebrity Path here has honored favorite sons and daughters, ranging from Woody Allen through Shelly Winters and including the likes of Rita Hayworth and Neil Sedaka, for instance, plus about 150 others. Garden admission is $8, less for seniors and students, free every Tuesday, on Saturdays until noon and for some special occasions. Closed Mondays. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, tel. 718/623-72000, website www.bbg.org.
Prospect Park (585 acres) got started in 1866 under the supervision of Central Park creators Olmsted and Vaux. It has many attractions, but I like best the Audubon Center (and Café), the Lefferts Historic House (1783), old Carousel (1912) and Zoo. The Audubon Center is free and features interactive exhibits, birdwatching and nature tours, and the like. (Try the Electric Boats April through October). Lefferts House is also free, open April through November. At the Zoo, you can see about 400 animals (over 80 species) and there's a petting zoo section, too. Admission $6, children and seniors less. Prospect Park, tel. 718/965-8999, website www.prospectpark.org.
The Brooklyn Museum is one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive art museums, with a snazzy new entrance porch that is a big mistake, in my opinion, but nonetheless gives the institution a lot more lobby space. Highlights include outstanding displays of ancient Egyptian art, the arts of Africa, American painting and sculpture, the arts of Asia and the Islamic World, European paintings and sculpture, decorative arts, and more. Unique is the Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the first public place of its kind in the USA. Admission $8, less for seniors and students. Located in a corner of Prospect Park. Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, tel. 718/638-5000, website www.brooklynmuseum.org.
Down in Brooklyn Heights is the New York Transit Museum, which is great fun for lovers of trains, trolleys, buses and other vehicles. They say it's the largest museum devoted to urban public transport in the US, and it's located in a 1936 IND subway station There's an annual Bus Festival at a borough street fair every September, as well as a culinary tour and a Jackie Gleason Bus Depot Tour. If you can't get to Brooklyn, there's a gallery annex in Grand Central Terminal, off the Main Concourse in the Shuttle Passage next to the Station Master's Office there, as well as a gift shop. Museum admission $5, less for children and seniors. NY Transit Museum, 130 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, tel. 718/694-1600, website www.mta.info.
The Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment offers organized walking tours on Saturdays and Sundays, costing $13 (less for members and seniors/students). Areas covered include Red Hook, Vinegar Hill, DUMBO, Victorian Flatbush, Astoria, Newtown Creek (by bike), Sunset Park, Park Slope, Coney Island, Brooklyn Heights and more. Details at BCUE, tel. 718/788-8500, website www.bcue.org.
The Brooklyn Pass is a 2-day card that gives you free admission or discounts to 16 destinations, including BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Museum, New York Aquarium, New York Transit Museum, Prospect Park Zoo (and Carousel, Electric Boat and Lakeside Snack Bar), and more. You can buy it at the Brooklyn Tourism & Visitors Center, 209 Joralemon Street; the NY Marriott at Brooklyn Bridge and at Manhattan's South Street Seaport. It's $25 for adults, $15 for children. Details at Brooklyn Pass, tel. 877/714-1999, website www.brooklynpass.com.
Good hotels are rare in Brooklyn, so you may as well stay in Manhattan, especially if you plan to see more of the city than Brooklyn alone. You could try the new (late 2007) Hotel Le Bleu, but it's as pricey as many establishments in Manhattan and offers no great benefits that I am aware of. Rooms start at $300. Hotel Le Bleu, 370 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn, tel. 718/625-1500, website www.hotellebleu.com.
The newish (1998) Marriott New York at the Brooklyn Bridge has a great location for almost anything you want to do in this borough, with all the amenities you expect from this chain. Room rates from $299 and up. Marriott, 333 Adams Street, Brooklyn, tel. 718/246-7000, website www.marriott.com.
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