New York For One: Williamsburg

The Williamsburg Bridge leads to a deli, a popular food court, an art library, and a hidden gem café.

Brooklyn Art Library
Brooklyn Art Library. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

If I’m in Williamsburg, it’s always for a reason. Despite living in Brooklyn (the southern part of it), getting to Williamsburg—by train, at least; I can’t drive—is more of a trek for me than getting to various parts of Manhattan (a little over an hour, two transfers). In other words, it’s a slight pain in the ass, and the L train has never been one I liked very much. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school when I visited a salon by Bedford Avenue to get my hair bleached for the first time that I ventured to the northern part of the borough, to Williamsburg, and since then, I’ve been going periodically—usually in line with when I return to get my roots touched up, with some time to spare before my appointment—and sometimes, lately, for the neighborhood itself. 

If I rise early enough, I like to go to the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects the Lower East Side of Manhattan with South Williamsburg, stretching over the East River. It features a pink-railed path on which you can walk, bike, drive, or take the subway across. And certainly, the cityscape is a bit obstructed by the bridge and the trains that come and go, but it’s much less crowded than the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges (almost as though a little secret), while still offering a great walk with a view, infrastructure and iconic graffiti alike. Some connoisseurs—oftentimes Brooklynites—even argue it’s the best of the city, given the bridge’s vintage, low-key charm, and I’m almost inclined to agree. I’d start at the Lower East Side, potentially stop by Katz’s Delicatessen while I’m at it for a pastrami sandwich, and make my way gradually across the bridge. 

Williamsburg Bridge.
Williamsburg Bridge. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

A bonus: Visit Williamsburg on a Saturday before the weather gets too cold and you’ll stumble across Smorgasburg, a seasonal open-air food market—the largest in America—located in East River State Park, including over 75 different vendors. Soufflé pancakes, kombucha pops, lobster nachos, and Japanese fried chicken are just a few of the many delicacies sold, and whenever I’m in the area I keep my stomach empty for all the things I plan to eat and even save for later.

After basking in the brisk air and blues of the river, I walk off lunch with a stroll to the Brooklyn Art Library, which is a combination of something like an art store and gallery, housing over 41,000 sketchbooks that people from all around the world have donated. It’s an inviting, endearing space. The walls are lined endlessly with shelves upon shelves of these sketchbooks, and you’re free—with the help of the librarian—to peruse them for hours in the quiet of the library. The process, which involves selecting the sketchbooks via catalog and having the librarian search and then hand them to you, feels something like receiving gifts. It’s a wonderfully intimate act, too, viewing the artwork and stories of a stranger, and I’ve come across quite a few unsuspecting sketchbooks, some with covers even blank, only to open them and discover the most intricate sketches and introspective musings. Residing in a quieter part of hip Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Art Library surely occupies a spot in my heart. 

Brooklyn Art Library.
Brooklyn Art Library. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

I found Vittoria on a quest for a cafe that wasn’t fully occupied during the early afternoon, during which everyone else in the neighborhood thought similarly that it was a good time for coffee. If you don’t look closely enough, you’ll miss it. The place is evidently family-owned, with its no-frills menu handwritten in chalk, by no means ostentatious, customers coming in and out who seemed to know the owners with their big hellos and warm greetings. A better place to do some thinking and writing than most in Williamsburg, it’s charmingly modest (no avocado toast here) and refreshingly simple. I’ve got my cup of coffee to my left, a pen to my right, and away the afternoon goes as I contemplate the day. 

Vittoria. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

Sylvia Yu


Sylvia is likely wearing a black beret. She's a fan of ruminating, admiring everyday design, and shopping at the dried fruit aisle in Trader Joe's (in no particular order) - sometimes all three at once.

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