A tour inside Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

Gadling’s Undiscovered New York series first told you about Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue Tunnel earlier this year. This past weekend, we headed down inside for a first-hand look. This subterranean tunnel, first constructed in the 1840’s, is perhaps the world’s first subway, pre-dating the system in London by more than 20 years. Each month, the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association runs tours of this forgotten wonder, taking visitors into the depths of a pitch-black tunnel that runs over 2,000 feet beneath busy Atlantic Avenue.

After paying $15 dollars, visitors are escorted to the middle of a busy Brooklyn intersection, where they descend through an open manhole. You creep under a support beam and through a concrete wall and suddenly you’re standing inside a huge underground cave, with ceilings 14 feet high and running the length of eight football fields. Bob Diamond, the explorer who re-discovered the tunnel back in the 80’s, regales you with the amazing story of its construction and use. Along the way you’ll learn about WWI German spies, Cornelius Vanderbilt and the notorious Murder, Inc. gangsters. Bob is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, and you’ll find yourself taken in by his vivid descriptions of the tunnel’s construction and the strange history of Brooklyn that created it.

Like so many the world’s great stories, the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel spent many years hidden in plain view, neglected and forgotten until a dedicated individual brought it to light. If you have a chance, make sure to stop by for one of Bob’s monthly tours: it’s a one-of-a-kind New York experience.

Undiscovered New York: Sunset Park

You don’t just stumble upon Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood by casually walking around New York City. It takes effort. And you’re also not going to find any world famous buildings or iconic parks while you’re there – those are elsewhere. But for all the things Sunset Park lacks (like tourists), it still manages to have plenty to offer. This little neighborhood-that-could has been surprising visitors and residents alike with its outstanding city views, rich immigrant communities and unique architecture.

Sunset Park was first founded as a shipping port, set conveniently along New York Harbor in the far Southwestern edge of Brooklyn. By World War II, the area was shipping out more than 80% of all American supplies and equipment destined for the fronts overseas. It was also a neighborhood of surprising diversity, housing one of New York’s largest communities of Scandinavian immigrants. As the shipping industry began to decline after the War, the area began to house a new wave of residents, today composed of a rich swath of Latino communities and one of New York’s three different Chinatowns.

The effects of Sunset Park’s distinct geography, history and immigration have combined to give the area a unique mixture of off-the-beaten path attractions. Want to have some of New York’s most authentic tacos and Chinese food on the same day? What about a visit to a park that might have one of the city’s best views? And why in the world did Elvis make this tiny neighborhood his only visit to New York City? Get ready to step off the beaten path as Undiscovered New York investigates Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. Click below for more.
New York’s best view?

In addition to its location along the Brooklyn waterfront, Sunset Park is blessed with some pleasant green space at the neighborhood’s namesake park. As luck would have it, Sunset Park is also among the highest points in all of Brooklyn – meaning on most days you can see the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, the Empire State Building, Staten Island and New Jersey. They don’t call it “Sunset” Park for nothing – make sure to stop by one evening at dusk for a truly outstanding view. Aside from the heart-stopping vistas, Sunset Park also boasts a swimming pool, volleyball court and plenty of walking paths.

Melting pot of authentic food
Manhattan’s Chinatown might have the best soup dumplings. And Roosevelt Avenue in Queens might have some of the best Latin American food. But Sunset Park has them both beat. It is, after all, hard to compete with a ‘hood where within a few blocks you can eat so well, for so cheap from such diverse immigrant cuisines. Start your trip with one of Sunset Park’s many taco trucks along Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Not full yet? Head a few blocks over to Eighth Avenue, where you’ll find one of New York’s three Chinatown districts. Take a walk past buckets of still squirming fish at the seafood market, have some freshly made noodles, or bite down on a fresh Banh Mi sandwich.

Iconic buildings
As we mentioned earlier, Sunset Park played a pivotal role as a key shipping port during World War II, providing thousands of jobs for the area’s residents. Though not much remains of Sunset Park’s illustrious maritime history, there is one hugely obvious reminder at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. This massive 95 acre complex, located between 53rd and 66th Streets, once served as a staging center for goods and men on their way to battlegrounds in Europe. It is also, through a strange twist of fate, the only place legendary rocker Elvis ever set foot in New York. The King swaggered through Brooklyn Army Terminal in 1958 on his way to his military service in Germany.

Undiscovered New York: Handmade in Brooklyn

Brooklyn remains one of the more fiercely independent places in all of New York City. Although the Borough was officially incorporated into the greater city in 1898, it has long-rivaled its more popular neighbor Manhattan across the river for the tallest buildings, the most impressive parks and museums and for the ingenuity of its residents.

One of the more visible artifacts of this competitive spirit and creativity is Brooklyn’s love affair with all things handcrafted, artisanal and one-of-a-kind. What is it about Brooklyn that makes it so creative exactly? Call it a symptom of the pride Brooklyn’s residents have for their unique brownstone neighborhoods. Or chalk it up to the high creativity of the area’s many transplants from around the world. But whether it’s made-from-scratch pickles, chocolate or beer, a lovingly crafted musical instrument or quirky piece of jewelry or hooded sweatshirt, the labors of Brooklyn refuse to be homogeneous.

And what about you, dear reader – are you looking for a one-of-a-kind gift or souvenir from your visit to the Big Apple? Does the prospect of some handcrafted beer make you thirsty? Perhaps some custom-made cologne, perfume or clothing is more your style? Grab the next subway out of Manhattan: this week’s edition of Undiscovered New York is handmade, straight from Brooklyn. Click below to read more.
Handmade Gifts
They say smell is the sense most closely associated with memory – Brooklyn scent-makers at D.S. & Durga seem to have taken the idea to heart. The pair of budding smell-smiths have been producing small batch handmade colognes and perfumes since 2007, sourcing plant extracts, resins and oils from around the world. Stop by one of their Brooklyn retail outlets and pick up a custom made bottle for yourself.

While D.S. & Durga are playing around with notes of scent like citrus and ginger, the craftsmen at Sadowsky Guitars have a very different kind of note-making in mind. Though New York has a long history as a center for guitar-making companies, the team at Sadowsky operates out of a small store in Brooklyn. They have produced custom guitars, basses and audio products for such musicians as Adam Clayton from U2 and Lenny Kravitz. If it’s good enough for these accomplished axe-handlers, guitarists everywhere can bet there’s a custom guitar there waiting to built just for you.

Independent Fashion
When it comes to clothing, Brooklyn’s got a style all its own. Men and women alike swear by local clothing chain Brooklyn Industries. They stock a wide range of quirky bags, outerwear, t-shirts and dresses to suit the most discerning fashion-lovers. It’s gotten so popular you can now find retail outlets well beyond the chain’s Brooklyn home in locations as far away as Chicago and Portland.

If customization is your thing, look no further than Brooklyn favorite Neighborhoodies. The clothing chain, which lets customers design one-of-a-kind hooded sweatshirts and t-shirts emblazoned with personal messages and imagery, first got its start in this most creative of Boroughs. This isn’t your boring old iron-on we’re talking about here – the letters can be hand-stitched onto any clothing item and can include graphics like guns, monkeys and thunderbolts.

Free-form Food
As was noted in a recent article by the New York Times, Brooklyn has become ground zero for one of the country’s most interesting and creative artisanal food scenes. Passionate foodies and chefs are making just about every kind of foodstuff imaginable from scratch, including items like chocolate, cheese and pickles.

But it doesn’t stop there – beer lovers should make sure to try out one of the Borough’s several local brews. Local favorites include Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery, where visitors can take a tour and to sample a few of their recent specialities, or the Brooklyn brewers at Sixpoint Craft Ales. Meanwhile, the small-batch pickle makers of Wheelhouse crank out seasonal experimental pickle flavors like Champagne Vinegar Spears as well as standbys including Big Bang Okra and Top Shelf Beets.

Undiscovered New York: All the way to Coney Island

Coney Island is New York City’s very own magical land of Oz. Just about everyone has heard about it – a derelict Brooklyn resort and amusement park stacked with ramshackle rides, Nathan’s hot dogs, sashaying mermaids and Vaudevillian freak shows – a seaside Gomorrah of fading glories and sandy cigarette butts. It is a place that is at once alluring and repulsive…drawing you in with its mysterious and nostalgic charms but never leaving you fully satisfied with what you’ve seen.

Unless you live in New York, there’s a good chance you’ve never made the trip out to the very last stop in Brooklyn at Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue. There’s a good reason why – Coney Island tends to be a polarizing place to visit. Some people hate it – stacked with second rate fried clam shops, indigestion and bad carnival rides. Other people visit and can’t get enough – it’s an area steeped in quirky history, unique stories and amusement park nostalgia. Love it or hate it, word has it that Coney Island, a seaside resort that has persisted since the 1860’s, may be on its last legs. The property was purchased in 2006 and the developers have plans to turn the area into a giant Vegas-style shopping mall.

If there was ever a time to go and visit one of New York’s more offbeat attractions, this would be that time. While each year has brought another 11th-hour reprieve, the strange sights of Coney Island are not destined to last forever. Where else can you gawk at contortionists and sword swallowers at one of the country’s last remaining circus sideshows? Or get tossed around on a rickety old roller coaster? Or eat some of New York’s best pizza? Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, Undiscovered New York is going all the way to Coney Island…
Getting Freaky
Coney Island is among the last places in the U.S. to see a real circus sideshow, complete with a man who hammers spikes into his skull, a fire and glass eater, and a snake charmer and contortionist, among others. It’s a bizarre show that somehow manages to be strangely beautiful in its oddity. Entrance fee is $7.50 for adults and just $5 for children.

Perhaps though you’re not satisfied just looking at circus curiosities? Perhaps you would actually like to try swallowing a sword or two yourself? Never fear, the Coney Island Sideshow School is here to help. Sideshow “professors” Donny Vomit and Adam Rinn teach eager students the fundamentals of fire eating, glass walking and “sticking foreign objects up their noses.” Grab your preferred foreign object and $600 and sign yourself up today.

Old-School Amusements
If old wooden roller coasters are your thing, consider the Coney Island Cyclone to be the grand dame of them all. It’s by no means a large coaster – in fact it’s dwarfed in size by wooden giants like The Beast or American Eagle, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up in sheer exhilarating surprise. The tiny coaster cars creak and groan, whipping around hairpin turns and threatening to splinter and shatter apart at any moment. If you have no other reason to come to Coney Island, this alone will make a trip worthwhile.

The other great amusement worth noting is Coney Island’s iconic Wonder Wheel. The wheel has become something of a celebrity having appeared in a number of movies and commercials, including The Warriors, First constructed in 1920, the iron giant has managed to weather more than 80 years of harsh New York weather, coming through with a perfect safety record.

Classic Charm
Clearly if you’re still reading by now, you’re interested in coming to Coney Island not for its modern conveniences, but instead for its creaky, dilapidated old glories. There’s a couple key spots for drinking and for relaxing that truly bring this point home.

Boardwalk regulars like to stop by Cha Cha’s, one of the many al fresco restaurants dishing up drinks and fried foods along Coney Island’s fabled boardwalk. But unlike the others, which can seem a bit mediocre, Cha Cha’s boasts its own stripper pole, neon day-glo murals of Coney Island and a collection of old junk that would make any landfill proud. Just the spot to down a few fried shrimp or a frozen margarita.

If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, then dust off those old roller skates. It’s time for an retro roller disco party at Dreamland Roller Rink. The rink makes its temporary home inside the majestic 1920’s era Childs Building, where skaters of all ages can come on Friday nights, gliding along to retro funk and soul music. The club will be reopening for the 2009 summer season on May 23rd.

[Thanks, Kendra]

Undiscovered New York: Satisfying your sweet tooth

New York is under attack by cupcakes. Giant, fluffy cupcakes, gobbed with sickeningly sweet frosting and dumptruck-sized helpings of candy on top. One moment, Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City is chowing down on one, and the next, our fair city is awash in an unstoppable tidal wave of buttercream and sprinkles – it almost makes you want to go into a sugar coma.

Like cupcakes or loathe them, they’re a symptom of a much larger fact – New York is and always has been a sugar lover’s paradise. From the moment William Frederick Havemeyer founded what was to become the Domino Sugar Company in 1799, the city’s tastes were inextricably linked to this sweet, grainy substance. But even though Domino closed it doors in 2001 and Red Hook’s Revere Sugar Refinery met the wrecking ball in 2007, New York is still very much a sugar lover’s city.

And though we find ourselves in the midst of “cupcake craziness,” it would be a shame to forget the many other divine desserts, sublime sweet shops and bountiful bakeries that New Yorkers are spoiled with every day. Does chocolate make you weak at the knees? Looking for a candy “blast from the past?” Want to try some quirkier sweet fare like Belgian Waffles? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to “Satisfying your sweet tooth.”
In New York, Dessert Comes to You!
Forget getting in a taxi or strenuous activities like walking – sweets are a food best consumed while relaxing. Perhaps that’s why one of New York’s many mobile “dessert trucks” can be a godsend. OK – they don’t literally come to you, but they do move around, offering dessert lovers across the city a chance to sample some first-rate goodies while they’re out and about.

Anyone who’s craving a Liege or Brussels-style Belgian waffle should search out the Wafles and Dinges truck. This roving truck serves some of the most authentic Belgian treats anywhere in the city. They come topped off with a range of awesome toppings, or “dinges,” ranging from fresh fruit, whipped cream and nutella. You can find the truck’s next location by checking out their website or on Twitter.

Another strong contender for best sweet-serving truck is the Dessert Truck. Not only do you get to enjoy your dessert al fresco, their selection is ever-changing and totally delicious. How about some Molten Dark Chocolate Cake, Brioche Doughnuts or Coffee Mousse? And all for only $5-6. Yes please.

Getting Your Sweets Old-School
Candy is a food that is inevitably associated with the carefree days of childhood. If you’re looking to relive those days of old (if even for just an hour), head to Economy Candy on New York’s Lower East Side. The store is one of the last holdouts of the old neighborhood, first opening its doors to sugar-lovers everywhere in 1937. In addition to a huge selection of bulk candy, licorice and chocolate, Economy also stocks quite a few old-school candy favorites, including candy buttons and Big League Chew. How’s that for sweet nostalgia?

And did you know Brooklyn also has its own brand of gum? OK, it was actually created in Italy in the 1950’s – but you’ve got to admit there’s something pretty neat about a city with its own brand of chewing gum. The tiny packs bearing the iconic bridge logo have become a cult favorite among Borough residents. Head to Brooklyn and see if you can find a pack.

Ice Cream Lovers, Unite
Who doesn’t love ice cream? Alright, maybe the lactose-intolerant. But truth be told, New York is a great city for frozen treats, whether you like the good old-fashioned American stuff or something a bit more international. Chinatown visitors will want to stop by the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory where they can sample exotic flavors like Wasabi, Durian and Zen Butter (?!). Italian gelato fans are in the right place too. Discriminating customers of Italian stuff swear by Ciao Bella, and straight from Rome upstart Grom.

If you’re looking for something more “All-American,” head to the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge for the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory which specializes in classic all-natural flavors. Last but not least, for a TRUE New York ice cream experience, grab a cone from Mister Softee – their chocolate-dip soft serve is a favorite summer treat.