Photo Of The Day: Hurricane Sandy In Red Hook

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City on Monday night, Red Hook, a vibrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, was hit badly. Red Hook is a Zone A neighborhood in NYC and thereby was under mandatory evacuation before the storm hit. It’s a good thing Red Hook was evacuated because Hurricane Sandy flooded the neighborhood with 5 feet of water. Those who don’t live or own businesses in Red Hook still frequently make the trip to visit Brooklyn‘s Ikea or Fairway. In fact, I go there for groceries every few days. As you can see in the background of this photo, taken by photographer Ben Britz, the Ikea is just a backdrop now to a littered harbor where the pictured boat was one of many tossed astray by the storm. Stay tuned for more photos of the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]

Five Brooklyn cafes with free wi-fi

Brooklyn is full of cafés offering their patrons free wi-fi. Here are five particularly distinctive cafés with free wi-fi, strewn across Brooklyn, from neighborhoods ranging from Fort Greene (Smooch) to Ditmas Park (Vox Pop) to Red Hook (Baked).

Are you more of a Manhattan girl or a Queens boy than a Brooklynite? Don’t worry. I’ll come up with some great café picks for other NYC boroughs later this week.

Smooch. 264 Carlton Avenue, Fort Greene.

What makes Smooch so lovely? Is it the smiling antipodean barista slowly pulling your flat white? Is it bare bones interior, seen not long ago in scenes of HBO’s contemporary noir Bored to Death? Is it the creative menu or the perfect coffee drinks? Actually, it’s all of these things as well as its outdoor benches, which make for a friendly alfresco social scene.

Glass Shop. 766 Classon, Crown Heights.

Glass Shop has a fabulous, unfinished look and feel. It’s a stylish, minimalist spot that gives New York City’s other Australian cafés (Smooch above, Ruby’s, and Milk Bar) a run for their money. The espresso drinks are perfect and there are often ANZAC biscuits on offer as well. The atmosphere in the interior is sedate and studious, with most patrons bent over their laptops. There is a back garden, which is also unfinished and scrappy.

Tillie’s of Brooklyn. 248 Dekalb, Clinton Hill.

The most traditional American coffeehouse among the five, Tillie’s of Brooklyn feels like a college town café. The proximity of Pratt Institute no doubt feeds this impression. All the coffee on offer is organic, and wi-fi is free with purchase. Thursdays witness a 7:30 pm open mic event. Many of the café’s guests are here to work. Located at the corner of Dekalb and Vanderbilt, Tillie’s straddles the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene border.

Vox Pop. 1022 Cortelyou Road, Ditmas Park.

The collectively run Vox Pop (café slogan: “Books, Coffee, Democracy”) is a Brooklyn landmark, a cooperative-run cafe with over 200 owners. Vox Pop is a hell raising hotbed of political passion, often with three scheduled events a day. Sing-a-longs, movie nights, blues nights, jam sessions, and story hours fill up the calendar. Vox Pop’s late hours are another plus.

Baked. 369 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook.

Baked, Red Hook’s outstanding baked goods emporium, may have spawned a quiet industry (a cookbook, accolades from Oprah, and a Charleston, South Carolina spin-off) but it’s also a downright pleasant and poppy place to have a coffee and get to work. And don’t forget that, as unquestionably tasty as the in-house pastries may be, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies sells its very delicious swingles (chocolate-dipped frozen key lime pies on sticks) just a few blocks away.

(Image: Flickr/Global Jet)

Undiscovered New York: Bike tour of Governor’s Island

New York is a city dominated by islands. Most of these islands, like Manhattan and Staten Island, are easily accessible and fairly well traversed. Yet in a city this densely populated, so well-known and discussed, there still remain pockets of isolation; islands of mysterious calm and forgotten charm that make a visitor feel as though they’ve stumbled upon the ruins of some grandiose civilization. One of the most iconic examples of this phenomenon is Governor’s Island, a tiny droplet of land in New York Harbor situated teasingly close to the hustle and bustle of New York proper but worlds-away in pace and temperament.

Governor’s Island began its history as the exclusive province of the British colony’s royal governors. It was an isolated piece of land off-limits to commoners, reserved for those of privilege. Soon after American Independence in the late 18th Century the site became home to a U.S. Army base and later a Coast Guard installation. It wasn’t until more than 200 years later, in 2003, that control was transferred back to the City of New York and the Governor’s Island National Monument was established.

It’s now 2009 and Governor’s Island is a radically different place, free of its shroud of off-limits secrecy. The island is today a free five-minute ferry ride from downtown New York, a seasonal retreat that offers visitors a wealth of unique activities, beautiful vistas and fascinating history. Best of all, Governor’s Island is tailor-made for bike riding. The site boasts over five miles of car-free bike trails winding past opulent mansions, jaw dropping vistas of New York Harbor and quiet green spaces sparsely populated with visitors.

Ready to take a look? Join Undiscovered New York as we explore Governor’s Island by bike…click below for more.
Getting There and Getting a Bike
Separated as it is from the rest of New York proper, it seems difficult to get to Governor’s Island. In truth it’s a surprisingly easy trip. Pick up a free ferry at the Battery Maritime Building in downtown Manhattan. After a quick ten minute jaunt across New York Harbor you’ve arrived at the Island’s main loading dock. All visitors are invited to bring their own bikes along on the ferry for the ride.

Once you’re off the ferry, jump on your bike and off you go to explore the island! Didn’t bring your own bike? Fear not – just left of the main ferry landing is a bike rental station, where bikes can be rented on Friday-Sunday. New York has also implemented a special Free Bike Fridays system, allowing cyclists to rent a bike for up to one hour at no charge.

Let’s Bike – Heading South
We begin our biking tour of Governor’s Island by heading left down the road out from the bike rental station. This area is one of the more densely developed part of the island, housing most of the facilities used by the U.S. Coast Guard during the Island’s stint as central command for the organization’s Eastern Seaboard activities. At its peak, the Island was home to around 3,500 full-time residents. Don’t worry, we’ll return to this area for a look before the end of our biking trip.

Along your right you’ll be able to see the elegant facades of Nolan Park peeking through the foliage, including the Commanding Officer’s House. The residences were once home to some of the Island’s high-ranking officials. They are now largely uninhabited though still retain many of their beautiful architectural details like colonnades and gabled roofs.

Off to your left, across the channel, is Red Hook, a shipping port that is now home to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. If you’re lucky you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of a massive cruise ship like the Queen Mary 2 docked at the station.

After about 10-15 minutes of biking we’ve come to the island’s southernmost tip, also called Picnic Point. The southern end of Governor’s Island is actually man-made, composed of the land dug up during the construction of the Lexington Avenue Subway line. It’s a great place to relax and chill out, offering green grass and sweeping views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

More Biking – Heading North
As we head back up the Island’s other side, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of New York Harbor. As you bike along, you’re likely to gaze out at teetering sailboats, meandering their way through the Harbor. To the north lie the twin peaks of glass and steel, with New Jersey off to your left and Manhattan off to the right, split in half by the coursing Hudson River.

Just before completing the Island’s outer bike loop we’ll cycle past the imposing bulk of Castle Williams. Erected in the early 1800’s, this hulking stone fortress one stood as the main line of defense for New York Harbor, menacing would-be attackers with heavy artillery. It later served time as a prison in the early 20th Century.

With that, you’ve made it all the way back to the starting point. Return your bike or continue on and explore some of the Island’s lesser known side streets and back roads.

Other Activities
By now you’ve returned to the ferry landing. Nearby lie a whole range of monuments and activities to keep you occupied until that next ferry arrives. Just up the hill from the main landing is Fort Jay, one of the Island’s oldest forts.

Behind Fort Jay is a former military parade ground. These days its a beautiful open green space dotted with trees. At one point it even harbored a 9-hole golf course, now demolished. Off the parade grounds is Nolan Park, home to the Commanding Officer’s House as well as Colonels Row, another area of beautifully preserved mansions. The area is dotted with tables and benches, making it the perfect spot for a lazy Summer picnic.

If you’ve had your fill of forts and mansions, make sure to stick around for one Governor’s Island’s many planned summer activities including Jazz concerts, film festivals and polo matches.

Undiscovered New York: Rambling Red Hook

Welcome back to Gadling’s weekly series, Undiscovered New York. Being the global metropolis that it is, criss-crossed with highways, cargo ships and landing airplanes, you may find it hard to believe that any part of New York City could be considered isolated. But the fact of the matter is that there are still some parts of the city that could easily be labeled “the place that time forgot.”

One neighborhood that holds such a distinction is Brooklyn’s Red Hook, a charmingly disheveled waterfront district cut off from the rest of the city by the BQE Expressway. Red Hook’s reputation as a working-class, hardscrabble industrial port area is well earned. From the mid 1800’s until the middle of the 20th Century, this was a thriving hub of marine-based commerce in New York City and home to around 20,000 residents, primarily longshoremen.

But by the mid 1960’s, a changing shipping industry had moved many dockworking jobs to New Jersey. The departure of these jobs from Red Hook, along with the completion of the BQE, sent the neighborhood into a period of decline. The 1970’s through the 1990’s saw the area ravaged by crime – LIFE Magazine even went so far as to declare it the “crack capital of America.”

Yet by the end of the 90’s Red Hook was taking a turn for the better. An influx of new residents, attracted by the neighborhoods cheap rents and gorgeous views of the New York Harbor were opening new businesses at a record pace. Recent years have seen further development, including a huge Fairway grocery store, the recent arrival of furniture behemoth IKEA, and a house for castmembers of MTV’s popular reality show The Real World.

Still, despite these changes, Red Hook maintains a unique charm unlike any other part of New York. Want to eat a chocolate covered Key Lime pie on a stick? How about taking in sweeping views of New York harbor and aging industrial relics? Click through for Undiscovered New York’s guide to Red Hook.
Red Hook Food
If there’s one thing that has New Yorkers talking about Red Hook, it’s the many unsung food spots. If you’re anywhere north of Key West, Red Hook is ground zero for some of the country’s best Key Lime pie at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. This unassuming shop is nothing more than a small counter and a refrigerator with some freshly made slices of citrus-y heaven. If you simply can’t wait to try it, get yourself a swingle, which is a personal-size key lime pie on a stick covered in chocolate. Enjoy it outside on a picnic table while you take in some of New York’s best harbor views.

The other amazing food spot in Red Hook is the Red Hook ball fields, home to what is arguably New York’s most authentic collection of Central and South American cuisine. On weekends during the warmer months, the fields host lively soccer matches, and the competition is ringed on all sides by food vendors offering everything from mouth-watering ceviche to milky Horchata drinks to cheesy pupusas.

Van Brunt Street Strip
If lonely Red Hook could be said to have a main strip, it’s probably Van Brunt Street. A range of quirky and eclectic businesses crowd both sides of this thoroughfare, reinforcing Red Hook’s shifting reputation as a home for artists and artisans. LeNell’s is Red Hook’s liquor store and then some, stocking a diverse range of small-batch liquor and exotic mixers for the cocktail enthusiast. Meanwhile dessert specialist Baked offers a mouth-watering array of muffins, cakes and cookies. Those looking to discover their inner longshoreman should stop off for a pint at Sunny’s Bar, a proudly old-school local watering hole since 1890.

Urban Exploring
One of New York’s greatest forgotten pleasures is urban exploring. While there have been great benefits to the city’s gentrification, it’s also stripped away some of the quirky buildings and spaces that once gave the city its character. Red Hook still retains an essence of this “gritty” charm, and it can be amusing to get lost on its many deserted side streets and alleyways, revealing a number of deserted architectural relics. You might stumble upon the imposing Red Hook Grain Terminal, which looms ominously along the area’s waterfront. Or you may meander past the ancient Clay Retort and Fire Brick Works Storehouse, a well-preserved Civil War-era factory that dates to 1859. Meanwhile, massive cruise ships drift by like lumbering giants as they inch their way into the nearby Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. It is perhaps bittersweet to note that one of Red Hook’s most iconic wrecks, the Revere Sugar Refinery, met the wrecking ball in 2007.