Hook, Line and Sinker: Falling for Brooklyn by Citi Bike

The area that was once known as “South Brooklyn” has suffered many indignities over the past century: the departure of the shipping industry; Hurricane Sandy; and, perhaps most devastatingly, an attempt by the real estate industry to rebrand the neighborhood as “BoCoCa,” which sounds like something you’d say if you had the hiccups.

Guest post by Bike Snob NYC

At the same time, as New York City continues to remake itself for the 21st century, few places have come to reflect this new age of inner-city prosperity more (for better or for worse) than this part of Brooklyn, a fact which owes as much to its proximity to Manhattan as it does to its innate charms as an waterfront district comprised of revitalized warehouses, industrial ruins, stately brownstones, and charming old wooden row houses and situated against the backdrop of the greatest natural harbors the world has ever seen.

But while the neighborhoods that comprise this area share much in common, the one thing they lack is a convenient way to move among them. It’s a sprawling zone, so to cover the breadth of it on foot is a time-consuming proposition. Furthermore, during the last century, Robert Moses sliced it right down the middle with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which can make it feel somewhat disjointed. The subway of course makes it a commuter’s dream (if you can call riding the subway “dreamy”), but it’s of limited use for local travel and does not reach great swaths of the area. Then there’s the bus, which is great for short trips, but if you’re in a hurry you’re probably better off on foot. And sure,you can always get a taxi, or a car service, or an Uber. But that’s expensive, plus you’ve got to sit in traffic with all the freeloaders cutting through the neighborhood to avoid the toll on the Battery Tunnel, so you might as well just take the bus.

No, for getting around this part of Brooklyn nothing beats a bike. It’s pancake flat, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s criss-crossed with plenty of bike lanes. Plus, thanks to the latest expansion, it’s positively blanketed by Citi Bikes, so you don’t even need to own one:

These are new Citi Bike stations, sprouting all over South Brooklyn like the buttercups of spring. So let’s take a spin through Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Gowanus to revel in this new bumper crop of convenience:

I began my journey at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6:

Where I emerged at the end of Atlantic Avenue:

And picked up the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway:

This is a significant spot, because not only does it represent the southern frontier of Citi Bike’s pre-expansion Brooklyn service, but it also marks the beginning of what remains of Brooklyn’s working waterfront:

I followed this south along the Red Hook Container Terminal:

On my left were the businesses and residences of the neighborhood that’s considered either Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, or the “Columbia Waterfront District,” depending on who you ask:

And on my right were the stevedoring cranes of the container terminal and the Manhattan skyline beyond:

As you travel south, the greenway makes its way over to Van Brunt Street:

You keep the container terminal on your right:

And the buildings (well, building) on your left:

And from here it’s a straight run-in to Red Hook:

In the last century Red Hook was the world’s busiest port and the neighborhood that helped inspire the film “On the Waterfront:”

Originally, Kazan had hired playwright Arthur Miller in 1950 to research the world of longshoremen in Brooklyn’s Red Hook area (and use material from Johnson’s articles), and craft a script for a film to be titled The Hook.

By the 1990s, Life magazine had dubbed it “the crack capital of America.”

Those days are over, and now you know you’re entering Red Hook proper when you pass the Tesla dealership:

This being Brooklyn, they really should have given it an appropriately artisanal name, such as “Elon’s Muskery.”

Nevertheless, Red Hook still retains the feeling of a remote outpost. This is because it’s “far” from the nearest subway station and on the “other” side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. But it’s readily accessible by bike, and as you continue along the greenway you leave the container terminal behind:

And enter a time capsule full of Civil War-era warehouses:

Which are home to businesses new and old, as well as businesses that make new stuff out of old stuff:

And which are often emblazoned with art:

Finally, the greenway will deposit you at Valentino Pier, located in one of New York City’s least conspicuous and most pleasant parks:

Which consists of a patch of green nestled between some warehouses:

A pocket-sized beach (I’d wear shoes if I were you) ideal for launching your small watercraft:

And of course the pier:

Which extends into the harbor:

And affords you views of the Statue of Liberty in one direction:

And the Verrazano Bridge in the other:

It’s also a popular fishing spot:

And a reminder that this is still very much a maritime city, which is why the spots most worth visiting are often covered in fish guts:

After taking in the sea air I headed onto Coffey Street:

Along with the warehouses it’s the cobblestoned side streets that define Red Hook, and if you’re getting too bounced around on your Citi Bike there’s nothing wrong with walking it for a bit and admiring the architecture:

Or even just docking the thing altogether and stopping for a drink, which is the best way to take the sting out of those cobbles. There’s no shortage of places to do this in Red Hook. Some of them date back to the days of the longshoremen:

While others are of a more recent vintage:

Though even the new establishments do their best to blend into their surroundings and take on the neighborhood’s nautical character:

The place on the left has been there forever, and the place on the right has been there for just a few years, but unlike some other neighborhoods they still make it work.

Even the Fairway supermarket has café with a view of the Statue of Liberty:

Best of all, I paid for my lunch by undercutting the coin-operated binoculars and letting people use mine for a dime.

Hey, it’s not like Citi Bike is covering my dining expenses.

From here, my spirits buoyed by the view and my pockets jingling with loose change, I continued along Van Brunt Street, which is Red Hook’s main drag:

Here, you can procure all manner of necessities–everything from vintage jewelry:

To gigantic sheet metal dinosaurs:

Though you might have a hard time transporting the latter by Citi Bike.

Leaving Red Hook, I turned onto Union Street and into Carroll Gardens. Whereas Red Hook was the inspiration for “On the Waterfront,” Carroll Gardens was the setting for “Moonstruck,” and once you cross over the BQE that’s more the movie you’re streaming:

Here, the warehouses give way to brownstones:

And Brooklyn finally begins earning its “City of Churches” nickname:

“Carroll Gardens” becomes true to its own name as well:

And the gardens run the horticultural spectrum from formal:

To informal:

Of course, amid all this verdant beauty you’d never know you’re just a few pedal strokes away from one of America’s most fetid waterways, the Gowanus Canal. Indeed, even as you head down Carroll Street you’re so beguiled by the Carroll Street Bridge that it’s easy to forget the sludge flowing beneath it:

Built in 1889, the Carroll Street Bridge is the oldest retractable bridge in the United States:

And it certainly feels like it:

Some of the signage could also use some updating:

I demanded the driver of this SUV fork over the five bucks for speeding, but he couldn’t hear me over the clattering of the wooden boards:

Under the right circumstances the Gowanus Canal can be rather pungent, but on this day there was nary a scent to offend my olfactory senses, so I was able to linger and enjoy the view:

All it needs are some gondolas:

In fact, the longer I looked the more convinced I was that I could actually see gondolas, which was a sure sign the fumes were causing me to hallucinate and that I should get moving again.

In addition to the canal the name “Gowanus” also extends to the surrounding neighborhood, which is beginning to rival its neighbors in terms of development:

It’s also home to the much-heralded Brooklyn Whole Foods:

Which means the people of Brooklyn no longer need all the neighborhood delis, butchers, and produce stands that attracted them to the borough in the first place:

Oh well.

From here it’s a quick ride on 3rd Street over to Smith Street:

As the “new Brooklyn” began to take shape, Smith Street was arguably its first “restaurant row,” though some of these restaurants reflect the erstwhile character of the neighborhood more so than others:

Smith Street is also well-served by the F train, and it will also take you into the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, where you can catch pretty much every other subway line as well:

Though there’s so much here and it’s so easy to get around now that there’s not much reason to leave.