A Walking Tour of Brooklyn Heights, the Borough's Most Historic Enclave

A Walking Tour of Brooklyn Heights, the Borough's Most Historic Enclave

Top photo: @karabgrams

Brooklyn Heights is not representative of the “Brooklyn” brand we’ve come to expect with hipsters on unicycles, chic boutiques selling unicorn treats and secret foodie restaurants. Instead, this historic neighborhood remains an untouched enclave of carriage houses and cobblestones nestled between Atlantic Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge. Tucked away restaurants like Iris Cafe (20 Columbia Pl.) serve house-made ricotta and avocado toast and Jack the Horse Tavern (66 Hicks St.), which is less ‘tavern’ and more farm-to-table, churns out duck hash and Maine mussels to the locals who line up for brunch. Even its buzziest eatery, Pilot, a new boat-slash-oyster restaurant, is aboard a 100-year-old schooner docked at the piers, where you can enjoy a Fisher’s Country Club cocktail before shopping at Collyer’s Mansion (179 Atlantic) for upscale home wares, or the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange (55 Pierrepont), founded in 1854, for its vast selection of homemade goods. As notable as these may be, the real beauty of the neighborhood lies in its cultural legacy, architecture and landmarks, with curving streets upon which Abe Lincoln and Norman Mailer walked, taking in the same billion dollar view from the promenade. Here are 13 sights to immerse yourself in the history of “New York’s first suburb” and first landmark district.  


Photo: @justinpedickk

    1. Brooklyn Promenade (Above the BQE between Joralemon and Grace Court): This is arguably the best view of the Manhattan skyline. A nighttime stroll, with the lit up skyscrapers twinkling across the river, is particularly breathtaking. It’s no wonder this has been the backdrop of so many famous cinematic scenes from classics like “Prizzi’s Honor” and “She’s Gotta Have It” to the Showtime’s “Billions.” Don’t sit and ogle for too long though, because there is so much else to see!

Photo: @gregchopp

  1.  Moonstruck House (19 Cranberry at Willow St.): This four-story Federal-style brownstone, which is currently completely covered by scaffolding, was immortalized in the classic 1987 film, “Moonstruck." Loretta Castorini, played by Cher, who won an Oscar for the role, lived here with her family, and fell in love with a young, strapping Nicholas Cage. The magic of Hollywood cast a rosy glow on the neighborhood, since a plumber’s salary probably wouldn’t pay the mortgage!

  1. Truman Capote's Apartment (70 Willow St.): Truman Capote lived in the basement apartment of this 1839 Greek revival townhouse, famously saying “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” The house was owned by a Broadway set designer, who rented to Capote for ten years. It proved to be a great writer’s room, as he penned In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s during his time here. The house was known for its eye-catching yellow facade, but the new owners have stripped it down to red brick. (To throw off the scent of tourists, perhaps?)

  1. H.P. Lovecraft’s Apartment (169 Clinton St.): In 1925, H.P. Lovecraft lived in a first-floor apartment of 169 Clinton Street, after separating from his wife. Although now, this block is considered beautiful, back then he described the place as "something unwholesome—something furtive—something vast lying subterrenely [sic] in obnoxious slumber—that was the soul of 169 Clinton Street at the edge of Red Hook, and in my great northwest corner room." Although the great building has peeling paint and creeping vines, he seems to be exaggerating.

  1. Norman Mailer's Apartment (142 Columbia Heights): For 40 years, Norman Mailer lived in a three-level nautical themed apartment in this building, complete with a view of the Manhattan skyline. It was here, in 1979, that he wrote Executioner’s Song, which won the Pulitzer Prize. This apartment was a unique place that, according to the New York Times, “requires one to climb nautical ladders, brave narrow parapets high above the living room and walk a gangplank to view Mailer’s writing “crow’s nest.”


  1. Björk’s apartment (160 Henry St.): Brooklyn Heights isn’t just for the dead literati. Modern day celebrities like Paul Giamatti, Dan Stevens and Keri Russell all live in the neighborhood. The iconic Icelandic singer, Björk, has a four-bedroom penthouse in this building, which she bought in 2009 with her then partner, artist Matthew Barney. Photo: The Standish 
  2. Matt Damon's apartment (171 Clinton St.). The contract hasn't been signed yet, but word has it that Matt Damon and his wife Luciana Barroso tried enrolling their kids in St. Ann's last year, so his intent to purchase and live in the penthouse apartment at the newly renovated Beaux Arts building, The Standish, may be legit. Originally called The Standish Arms, the building is famous in its own right, too. Clark Kent was described as living in here, in apartment 5H, and Arthur Miller, a former Heights resident, named the hotel where Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" has an affair after the original 1903 building as well.


8. Lena Dunham’s apartment (30 Henry St.): Girls creator, author and founder of Lenny Letter, Lena Dunham, is no stranger to Brooklyn Heights, as she attended high school at St. Ann’s School on Pierrepont St. Now she lives in this tasteful low-rise building with her boyfriend, Jack Antonoff, frontman for the band Bleachers. Fun fact: This building used to be the site of The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper.


9. Hotel St. George (100 Henry St.): This behemoth building used to be the largest hotel in New York City. Although it’s hard to believe now, since it is literally the entrance to the Clark Street 2/3 Subway Station, in 1930 it was the locale of glittering ballrooms, one of which was used to record albums including Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue," as well as an ornate saltwater pool and a rooftop Egyptian nightclub. In 1995, a massive fire destroyed much of the complex. Today the building is split into condos on one side, and dormitory housing on the other for students who probably know little of the legendary history.


10. Fruit Streets and Carriage houses (Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple Streets): Wandering these streets and all the little alleys (Love Lane wins the cute name award!) you’ll notice the carriage houses that the neighborhood is known for. Adding to the curb appeal of Brooklyn Heights are the so called “fruit streets” of Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple Streets. At the end of the streets is the restful Fruit Street Sitting Area, where you can gaze at the skyline and the new construction at Brooklyn Bridge Park.


Photo: @alijg27

11. Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St.:  This “urban history center” is part museum, part preservation center of Brooklyn’s rich history. Founded in 1863, the institution's home is a beautiful, landmarked building complete with carved heads of luminaries such as Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Beethoven around the perimeter. Beyond exhibits and education, BHS houses the Othmer library which looks right out of Hogwarts, and boasts the most extensive collection on the history of the borough. BHS now also has a second location at 55 Water St. in Dumbo. Hours: Wed- Sun, 12pm-5pm. Adults: $10, Children under 12: free.


Photo: @vittlesvamp

12. Plymouth Church (57 Orange St.): This historic church, founded in 1847, was a key stop on the underground railroad. The founding pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, was the sibling to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln gave a speech here speaking out against slavery, and in 1963 MLK gave a speech here called “The American Dream.” If that’s not enough, the church also displays a chunk of the original Plymouth Rock. Guided tours are available on Sundays by appointment, and mostly for school students, non-profits, and research institutions.

Photo: @da.be.sh
13. Adam Yauch Park (State St. & Columbia Pl.): Adam Yauch, better known as “MCA” of the Beastie Boys, is another legend who grew up in the Heights. This is the park that he actually learned to ride his bike, and in 2013 it was renamed in his honor. Take in the playground, the basketball courts, and ponder how the Beastie Boys all started right here in this neighborhood. As young teens fighting for their right to party, MCA was at school at Brooklyn Friends School while Mike D was down the street at St. Ann’s. The rest, as they say, is history.


Photo: @girasoul01 

14. The Subway “House” (58 Joralemon St.): One of the wackiest things in Brooklyn Heights, or all of Brooklyn, is this house at 58 Joralemon Street. It may look like a six-million dollar brownstone, but on closer examinatio, you can see the blackened windows, which should clue you in that something is amiss. This building is actually a facade for an MTA emergency staircase and electrical equipment storage. Only in New York!

Unless otherwise noted, all photos taken by Meredith Craig de Pietro.


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