Our Neighborhood Insider series takes you on a tour of the coolest up-and-coming areas around the country.
By Steve Dollar
Now home to its own newly consecrated sports arena and seemingly as celebrity-riddled as Soho, Brooklyn isn’t quite the downhome borough it once was. Major attractions such as Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Green-Wood Cemetery, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the hipster boîtes of Williamsburg are as appealing as ever. But more curious travelers may want to look deeper and get away from the weekend crowds. If that’s your goal, then Ditmas Park is a gem.
The historic district sits south of Prospect Park between Ocean and Coney Island avenues, roughly divided by the B and Q subway lines. It’s immediately distinguished from so-called Brownstone Brooklyn by its architecture and layout: classic Victorian homes, sitting on generous parcels of land (for Brooklyn, at least) with yards, garages and sweeping front porches. The homes lend themselves naturally to use as bed and breakfast lodgings, making for a charming alternative to the noise and bustle of Manhattan—which still is only 20 minutes away by the regular Q train. Those Victorians, often painted in extravagant colors, also make Ditmas one of the city’s most enjoyable spots for walking tours, which can be easily improvised. Websites such as Ditmas Park Corner offer tips, such as where to find patches of tulips in bloom and the secrets behind the nabe’s grandioise Anglophilic street names (like Argyle and Marlborough).
Cortelyou Road is the name you’ll want to remember. (It’s named after George B. Cortelyou, [1862-1940], who was Secretary of the Treasury under Teddy Roosevelt.) Fittingly, the 12-block strip is the commercial heart of Ditmas Park. Most of the neighborhood’s notable food, drink and nightlife draws can be found on or near it. Now that less expensive rents have made the once-thought-remote area a magnet for young creative types fleeing Williamsburg and Park Slope, traditional dining options (West Indian, Middle Eastern, Central American) share the spotlight with contemporary arrivals. The Farm on Adderley, 1108 Cortelyou Rd., actually marked its sixth anniversary this summer, with a menu of hearty American favorites made with localvores in mind. Nearby, The Costello Plan, 1213 Cortelyou Rd., serves flavor-rich entrees (everything from rabbit to scallops) and small plates to accompany its wine selections, in a rustic, casual bar with patio seating. The name was inspired by another Cortelyou, the 17th century map maker Jacques, who called his first blueprint for Manhattan, “The Costello Plan.” Sycamore Bar and Flowershop, 1118 Cortelyou Rd., may be best-known of all these spots, as each evening the floral business concludes and the retail space becomes a performance gallery. Bookings include a lot of new jazz and avant-garde sounds, as well as acoustic songwriter fare (neighbors and patrons include rising star Sharon Van Etten and rock band The National). Meanwhile, don’t overlook The Purple Yam, 1314 Cortelyou Rd., with its imaginative Filipino cuisine, and Cafe Tibet, 1510 Cortelyou Rd., whose budget-conscious Himalayan fare has won an ardent following.