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Borough with a view: Brooklyn beckons with new hotels, other perks

Elaine Glusac, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Travel News

We found great value, compared with Manhattan quarters, in both the recently renovated New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (rates from around $200) and the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (from $350). The latter's views of the iconic bridge and the more distant Statue of Liberty warrant room-service dinner.

When it comes to actually meeting the locals, Brooklyn, a bedroom community for New York's business districts, is friendliest. And a mini-boom of entrepreneurial guide services has made finding them easier than ever.

I joined the Brooklyn startup Local Expeditions on one of its locals-led neighborhood itineraries, a three-hour bike tour of DUMBO ($40), the historic area Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass where viaducts shelter weekly flea markets and historic warehouses frame distant skyscrapers in Instagram-popular images.

Ironically, I had to meet my guide on the Manhattan side of the bridge.

"I like to start over here because the biking across the bridge is spectacular, and there are always Citi Bikes (a bicycle-sharing program) available on this side," said Nancy Blaine, a former textbook editor, nearly lifelong Brooklynite and founder of Local Expeditions, as we pedaled over the scenic span.

Based on guides' interests and expertise, Local Expeditions itineraries explore the multifaceted borough from Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn to the murals of Bushwick, but they always include a snack stop. Ours was at the petite Almondine Bakery where Nancy bought us creamy almond croissants to share.

"We want to get to know people, and around food, it goes so well," she said.

During our Manhattan detour, we stopped for a $21 tostada at Cosme in the Flatiron District. Granted, it came from Mexico's Michelin-starred chef Enrique Olvera and contained sea urchin, but it was certainly an only-in-New-York indulgence.

The next night we ate at Leuca, chef Andrew Carmellini's new restaurant in the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, where the line to get to the hotel's rooftop bar, in full thrall of the Manhattan skyline, started around 4 p.m. The ground floor restaurant wasn't an easy reservation either, but the menu was equally exciting -- two words: goat fazzoletti -- and a full meal came in around $50 a person.


Brooklyn has its own cadre of celebrity chefs lured across the river by lower rents. But it's not a mini-Manhattan for the budget-minded. It's its own animal, somehow more inviting and accessible to the 99 percent. Here, the singer Iggy Pop was posing nude for a drawing class when we visited the art-filled Brooklyn Museum and jazz great Ramsey Lewis was performing a free concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard, an expansive, 300-acre patch of waterfront established in 1801 and the birthplace of the USS Maine, now serves as an incubator for startups. We visited the center of green entrepreneurship, hosting everything from a film studio to an eco-manufacturing center and artist studios, on Turnstile Tours' two-hour trip around the docks ($30) that drew both history buffs and hipsters.

We closed our Brooklyn spree in the aural company of filmmaker Ken Burns, who narrates a new Detour walking tour atop the Brooklyn Bridge ($4.99). He calls it "one of the greatest achievements in human history." The handsome 1883 suspension bridge was the first to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn by something other than a boat.

The span helped pave the way for Brooklyn's loss of independence, 15 years later, when it became a part of the larger city. Still, more than a century later, its indie identity is alive and well -- and more hospitable than ever.

(Elaine Glusac is a freelance writer.)

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