New York on foot: Bedford Avenue

Already walking the streets of New York is an experience in itself. Mondo picked three streets leading to the best places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each worth experiencing. Bedford Avenue, which runs through trendy Williamsburg, is one of the best shopping streets in the city.

New York on foot: Bedford Avenue
A walk in Williamsburg offers great views of Manhattan.

NEW YORK’S BOROUGH Brooklyn is known around the world, and it is the most iconic place in the eyes of trendy young people. Moreover, the north end of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg is perhaps the most hipster street section in Brooklyn – which is why it is so fascinating. Williamsburg is a textbook example of the gentrification brought about by prosperity. The residents who were there first have had to move deeper into Brooklyn as the rents have increased. Now the neighborhood is inhabited by well-off young adults, and new, shiny luxury apartment buildings and hotels keep rising on the banks of the East River.

The buildings on Bedford Avenue are one of the oldest in the area, residential buildings built in the late 1800s. On weekends, the street becomes congested with tourists and vendors. Locals complain about how the whole place has been ruined. They feel that the street is already too famous.

But that’s exactly why there’s so much to see on Bedford Avenue. It’s one of the best shopping streets in New York and a great place for people watching.

It’s also worth taking little detours from Bedford Avenue to neighboring blocks to see everything Williamsburg has to offer. In total, Bedford Avenue is over 16 kilometers long. If you walk all the way to its southernmost end through numerous residential areas, you end up on the shores of the Atlantic.

New York on foot: Irene Menard on Bedford Avenue
Jewelry designer Irena Menard and her dog Stella on a morning walk on their way to McCarren Park.
New York on foot: street art on Bedford Avenue
Brazilian street artist Kobra has recently made many paintings in New York. The painting in the picture depicts Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A good place to start the exploration is the intersection of five streets, where the neighborhood of Greenpoint with a large Polish population changes to Williamsburg.

The restaurant Five Leaves opens already at eight in the morning. If the weather is fine, grab a chair from the terrace and watch the neighborhood wake up to a new day while enjoying the rays of the morning sun. Five Leaves is a popular brunch spot, so you may have to queue for a table on weekends. Especially the restaurant’s ricotta pancakes are popular with locals.

You can continue the people watching in the adjacent McCarren Park. On weekends, it gets packed with sports enthusiasts, dog walkers as well as groups of people having a picnic or celebrating someone’s birthday.

Every Saturday, in the south corner of the park, there’s a market where farmers from the state of New York sell their produce. McCarren Park also features the largest public swimming pool in the city. The pool can be used for free, but it is only open in the summer. A few blocks from McCarren Park, there’s a local specialty, the radio station The Lot Radio. It streams live 24/7 from a shipping container in the middle of a small, empty lot. The same lot also houses a café that turns into an open-air bar at sunset.

New York on foot: Five Leaves on Bedford Avenue
Lovely morning sun shines on the terrace of the Five Leaves restaurant.

You can reach Bedford Avenue by taking the L train from Manhattan. Already upon arriving on the platform of the L train in Williamsburg, you can see that there’s something special about the neighborhood. Fun, colorful clothing is easy to spot.

The best vintage shopping areas in New York are located along the route of the L train and include Bedford Avenue. Swedish Malin Landaeus opened her boutique on the corner of Bedford Avenue 12 years ago. The store, also called Malin Landaeus, is famous for its extensive shoe selection and trendy designer vintage.

The best vintage shopping areas in New York are located along the route of the L train and include Bedford Avenue.

More valuable vintage is available in the store Amarcord, run by Italian couple Patti Bordoni and Marco Liotta. More affordable vintage, on the other hand, is sold by stores such as Awoke Vintage and Arbor Vitae.

At the corner of Bedford Avenue and North Fifth Street, there is a small shopping mall called The Mini Mall, which is easy to miss if you don’t know that the place is interesting. Tucked away in The Mini Mall, there’s a men’s vintage clothing store called Rugged Road & Co. It offers a carefully curated selection of American vintage, old workwear and high-quality denim. The mall also hosts one of the best bookstores in Williamsburg, Spoonbill & Sugartown Books. It specializes in art and design books and offers a wide selection of magazines.

New York on foot: Bedford Avenue
It takes three painters about a week to paint a movie ad on the wall of a building. The painter working in the picture is Edward Kim.
New York on foot: the Malin Landaeus store on Bedford Avenue
Brooke Yallop found a pair of blue leather pants in the vintage store of Malin Landaeus.

If you continue walking Bedford Avenue even further south, you cannot help but notice the newcomers in the neighborhood. Apple Store glows with light and Whole Foods serves the hungry.

The residents of Williamsburg are already accustomed to these stores, although their opening was protested at first. The latest mega store to land in Williamsburg is Supreme, which sells skateboards as well as related accessories and clothing. On Thursdays, when new products are launched, a queue forms at the door. What makes the store special is that it features a skate bowl.

The Williamsburg Bridge is located five blocks south from there. Its completion in 1903 accelerated the development of the area, as it enabled making the trip from Manhattan across the East River more quickly. Now the bridge divides Bedford Avenue into the northern part of hipsters and the southern part of Orthodox Jews.

Many Jews came to Brooklyn as refugees during World War II. Today, there are over 57,000 Jews living in the area. That’s why taking a walk in southern Williamsburg feels like traveling back in time. The contrast to the Williamsburg of hipsters could not be greater.

Read also:

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue >
New York on foot: Mott Street >

Text: Liisa Jokinen Photos: Lina Tegman

This story was first published in Mondo's issue 3/20.

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