The staycation has taken on new meaning in the past year as travel plans eschewed airplanes, trains, buses, and sometimes cars. Luckily, New York City has plenty to offer for those of us stuck in our tiny apartments (and yet another Zoom meeting). A little vacation within the five boroughs can be just as relaxing as one that requires a passport. So please join the Eater New York staff in spending a weekend in trendy Williamsburg. We have two days completely planned out for you, including accommodations, meals, attractions, and even a place for a nightcap. We promise you’ll return home completely rested and relaxed.
Let’s begin our visit with a little bourbon and barbecue. Williamsburg was a cradle for the city’s barbecue movement that heated up in the first decade of this century, and Fette Sau (354 Metropolitan Avenue) was a pioneer when it opened in 2007, later to be joined by Mable’s Smokehouse and Arrogant Swine. In addition to the expected brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork, Fette Sau sometimes goes wild with things like beef tongue pastrami and pig tail. It also mounts one of the city’s most interesting and affordable collections of bourbons. So grab a shot or two (or a beer, glass of wine, or soft drink) and a plate of Fette Sau’s celebrated barbecued wings, and kick back before you check into your hotel.
If you’re an Airbnb type of person, there are numerous apartments available in Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Clinton Hill, and Bed-Stuy, but pay special attention to the actual location, since the website will show you residences perhaps too far away from the attractions and activities mentioned here.
For a bit of luxury, check out the William Vale (111 North 12th Street), a high-rise hotel steps from the East River with a pool and restaurants. The Wythe Hotel (80 Wythe Avenue) is a little cheaper, with a popular rooftop bar that provides great views of the sunsets over Manhattan. Further south amid bars and boutiques on Metropolitan Avenue, the Pod Brooklyn Hotel (247 Metropolitan Avenue) is a budget choice with well-designed if small rooms, but how much time were you planning on spending in there, anyway?
Relax in Domino Park
Begin your Saturday by admiring some of the city’s most breathtaking views. Spend an hour or two at the quarter-mile-long Domino Park, the site of the old namesake sugar factory. A promenade affords spectacular vistas of the kaleidoscopic Midtown skyline, the East River, and the Williamsburg Bridge. Play some bocce ball or volleyball on one of the courts, stroll along the elevated crane walkway, or simply sit down on the grass and stare at the bridge as two trains rumble across it in opposite directions. If you have a Frisbee and a dog, this is a good place to put both into action.
Lunch in Philadelphia
Williamsburg presents a bewildering array of dining choices for all three meals. It’s justly famous for its fried chicken, farm-to-table bistros, Asian fusion, and old-guard Italian restaurants. But for lunch today, we’ve decided to figuratively send you to Philadelphia. Just steps from the southern end of McCarren Park, Fedoroff’s (178 North 10th Street) makes an amazing facsimile of the South Philly cheesesteak hero, but real Philadelphians prefer the pork and broccoli rabe sandwich, reflecting the city’s southern Italian roots. The roast meat is unctuous and garlicky, with the green, tree-like vegetable adding just the right bitterness, redolent of an unrequited love from long ago.
A Shopping Spree Along Bedford Avenue
Williamsburg’s main drag of Bedford Avenue is one of the city’s most exciting shopping strips, like Madison Avenue, only cheaper and more innovative, with merchandise that goes from gag to glam. In addition, it is also full of vintage shops, where nearly any look from previous decades can be put together. There are bookstores, gift shops, perfumeries, CBD dispensaries, card shops, art galleries, and milliners, to name a few of the places worth popping into and taking a look.
From the Williamsburg Bridge to McCarren Park is a distance of about a mile, and in case you want to refresh yourself along the way, there are numerous coffee bars, bakeries, and food trucks. Going from south to north, here are some browsing suggestions: Begin at Broadway and Bedford, noting the landmarks that, until 120 years ago, made this the downtown of a separate city, then spelled “Williamsburgh.”
As you walk northward, scope out the rollicking mural of Williamsburg on the side of a convenience store by tattoo artist Woodz at South Second Street. Le Grand Strip Vintage Fashion (197 Grand Street) sells high-end vintage fashions, lingerie, jewelry, and handbags, some of it in a couture vein, while nearby there’s Puerh Brooklyn Teashop (174 Grand Street), specializing in loose teas, teapots, and other tea-related merchandise.
At North Fifth Street, step inside the makeshift mall called simply “Mall” (218 Bedford Avenue), where a dozen stores sell counter-culture merchandise, and artisans stand ready to create tattoos and piercings, which might make a nice commemoration of your visit. The anchor is bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown, where one can also find soaps, vintage duds, and Tibetan goods. Slightly to the north, Brooklyn Fox Lingerie (200 Bedford Avenue) sells bathing suits and intimates, while Incas Collection (197 Bedford Avenue) specializes in Ecuadorian crafts and apparel.
Happy Socks (193 Bedford Avenue) pretty much only flogs socks, while Goorin Bros. (181 Bedford Avenue) sells the broadest range of jaunty hats imaginable. Stone Flower (158 Bedford Avenue) specializes in aprons, knit caps, jewelry, and other women’s clothing and accessories at discount prices. By now, possibly footsore and in need of public facilities, you may stray into sprawling McCarren Park at North 12th Street, where the bathrooms are found at the north end of the park, on the border of Greenpoint.
Wine at Winona’s
Establishments like the Four Horsemen, Leo, Sauced, and Stranger Wines (restaurateur Andrew Tarlow’s shop) have put Williamsburg on the map as a natural-wine destination. For an afternoon glass of refreshing pét-nat or an esoteric orange wine, check out the new restaurant and wine bar Winona’s (676 Flushing Avenue). The plant-filled room is an idyllic spot to clink a few glasses and open a bottle (or two) between friends. For those who want to linger a bit longer, the dinner menu features everything from Scotch eggs to a wood-fired pork chop — all with suggested wine pairings.
Dinner at the New Roberta’s
For dinner, consider the new Williamsburg pizza outpost Roberta’s Domino (6 Grand Street), where the sumptuous, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Domino Park. Grab a handsome leather barstool, or take a seat in the plant-studded dining room, and order from the all-day menu of charcuterie, pizzas, and mains. A smart way to start off the evening is with a pairing of creamy stracciatella and incendiary ’nduja (“fire and ice,” as chef-owner Carlo Mirarchi once called it), or with the ultra-heady duck prosciutto. Then finish off with one or two of the excellent brick-oven pizzas; Ursula’s Parade, a hat tip to The Little Mermaid, is a proper clam pie, mixing bivalves with cream and Calabrian chile, while the Bee Sting is a reliable classic, a study in using honey to counter the rampant salts of spicy soppressata.
If a day of eating has left you still thirsty, head to Aldama (91 South 6th Street), an under-the-radar cocktail bar with after-hours bites that aren’t just an afterthought. The bar comes from owner Christopher Reyes, who previously mixed cocktails at restaurants including Cosme, the NoMad, and Maison Premiere. A stacked resume doesn’t guarantee a hit, but it helps when there’s a solid lineup of mezcals behind the bar and all of the restaurant’s tortillas are made from masa milled in-house. Order from the menu of carne cecina and other regional Mexican dishes, available until midnight, and ask the bartender for a mezcal recommendation, served here with slices of orange sprinkled with chile powder. Saturday night, the action goes from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., and there’s a live DJ.
Breakfast at 7 Grain Army
The ideal time to arrive at 7 Grain Army (88 Roebling Street) is the second it opens at 8 a.m., when the team is sliding out trays of fragrant muffins from the oven. The gluten-free, grain-obsessive shop, from baker Matthew Tilden of Scratchbread fame, is aiming to avoid the cakey, sugary stereotypes that are usually attached to the breakfast pastry. Make sure to grab at least one lemon millet muffin, infused with lemon zest and crusted with toasted millet, and a blueberry oat number that comes loaded up in the middle with juicy, jammy blueberries. Also, get a cup of coffee sourced from Brooklyn roastery Parlor.
People-Watching in McCarren Park
With coffee and pastries in hand, grab a bench at one of the neighborhood’s most popular gathering spots, McCarren Park, for some quality morning time spent people-watching on the lawn. The sprawling, 35-acre park is a hub of activity — especially on warm summer weekends — and attracts plenty of crowds with tennis, basketball, and bocce courts, a skate park, and a gigantic outdoor swimming pool.
Lunch at Sobre Masa
Lunch is often the main meal in Mexico, and that’s the best time to visit Sobre Masa (53 Broadway), especially on a weekend. Start your meal with a coffee and a concha, before ordering a few plates to share, including chilaquiles and Oaxacan-style empanadas. Meat eaters might consider splitting a pound of carnitas, a Sunday-only special that comes with tortillas and should be pre-ordered ahead of time.
If there’s such a thing as too much masa, we’ve never heard of it. The tortillas here are made using corn imported from Mexico, and are available for purchase to take home ($9 for a dozen). Salsa macha is also worth stocking up on, a cousin to chile crisp that the New York Times correctly dubbed the most value condiment of 2020. A $12 jar makes a worthy addition to tacos, vanilla ice cream, or just about anything else.
Sample Trend-Setting Craft Beers in the Afternoon
One upside of a staycation: Cans of beer, which typically can’t be packed into checked bags after a vacation abroad, are found in steady supply in Williamsburg.
Craft beer obsessives know that Brooklyn is the best borough for trend-setting craft beers, perhaps rivaled only by Queens. In Williamsburg, the local brewing scene has been anchored by Brooklyn Brewery (79 North 11th Street), which has a tasting room that opens at noon on Sunday, since the late ’90s, but the neighborhood received some welcome new blood this year in the form of Talea Beer Co (87 Richardson Street), near McCarren Park, and Other Half Brewing Company (34 River Street) across from Domino Park.
Those newer to craft beer will feel right at home at Talea, an all-day brewery that also sells cold brew in the mornings and hosts yoga classes on weekends. The menu of fruit-forward sours and low-alcohol IPAs makes for perfect daytime sipping, which is helpful when there’s a second stop on the agenda. A short distance from the East River waterfront, Other Half serves small-batch releases, sugary dessert beers, and the borough-beloved Green City IPA. There’s seating outdoors with views of the Manhattan skyline, along with tables inside, which may be the perfect way to end your staycation.