One of the great things about Atlantic Avenue is the variety of businesses, from antique shops and high end clothing boutiques to perfumeries and Islamic bookstores. Whether you’re shopping for something specific or want to spend a leisurely afternoon popping in and out of stores, it offers a dizzying range of options.
One of the longest streets in Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue goes all the way from Brooklyn Heights to the Long Island Railroad Station in Jamaica, Queens, but today we will be focusing on the section between Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn waterfront. Every autumn, this stretch of Atlantic Avenue is the home of The Atlantic Antic, an immensely popular street fair with live bands, children’s attractions, shopping, and a variety of food and beer that puts all other New York street fairs to shame. The Antic has been going strong since 1974, even earning a mention in a Beastie Boys track.
Atlantic Avenue retains a connection to its architectural past through its many unique storefronts, brick townhouses, and former factory buildings. This primary Brooklyn artery, once filled with streetcars pulled by horses and later by an electrified rail line, continues to serve as a conduit for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and as the main commercial destination for the thriving neighborhoods around it.
Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill: Brooklyn Bridge Park to Court Street
In the warmer months, visitors can enjoy beach volleyball courts, a giant sandbox for kids, and elaborate playgrounds like Swing Valley, Slide Mountain and The Water Lab. Piers 5 and 6 were actually once part of Brooklyn’s South Ferry landing, back when Atlantic Avenue was called Atlantic Street, and a ferry ran here from South Ferry in Manhattan. Passengers would then connect from the ferry to the railway along Atlantic Avenue.
Walking east along Atlantic Avenue, you’ll cross underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE). The non-profit mural organization Groundswell, in partnership with NYC DOT and the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), has a wonderful mural under the overpass that references Atlantic Avenue’s past and present.
On the south side of Atlantic Avenue before Hicks Street is Montero Bar and Grill, a dive bar with one of the few remaining wooden phone booths in New York City. Between Hicks and Henry you’ll find The Roebling Inn, with a good beer list and skeeball in the back, along with The Moxie Spot, a restaurant and playspace that caters to both kids and eco-conscious parents, described by The New York Times as a “Chuck-e-Cheese for hipsters.”
On the corner of Henry Street and Atlantic are two antique furniture shops, Holler & Squall and Jarontiques. The latter grew out of a successful Brooklyn Flea stall, specializing in mid-century Modern furniture and art.
Around the corner on Henry Street is Tazza, a café with great coffee, baked goods, paninis and salads, along with a quaint, exposed brick wine bar. There’s no Wi-Fi, deliberately, and a no-cell phone policy. Next door is Seaport Flowers, occupying the ground floor of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone.
Between Henry Street and Clinton Street, Atlantic Avenue turns into a foodie and drink paradise. Floyd NY, part of the same group as Union Hall in Park Slope and The Bell House in Gowanus, has clay bocce ball courts, beer, and bourbon. For restaurant fare, don’t miss Colonie, a farm-to-table restaurant with a lush green wall and wood interior.
Also on this block is Chez Moi—which will get a menu update very soon when Willy Ono joins as executive chef—and Luzzo’s BK for coal oven Italian pizzas. Boy Luv Girl, a popular hair salon with a simple Brooklyn vibe, rounds out this block.
As Atlantic Avenue approaches Court Street, there’s a distinctive shift in the scale and style of retailers. Here you’ll find the influx of such purveyors as Urban Outfitters, Barneys, Key Food, Rite Aid, and Trader Joe’s. But there are also some local finds in this densely packed block. Della Pietra’s Gourmet Meats is new but perfectly captures the old-world Brooklyn feel, down to the coordinated blue plaid shirts worn by the butchers. The meat ages right before the pedestrian’s eyes, in a temperature-controlled environment that looks onto the street.
Just next door is Sahadi’s, described by customers as “a Middle Eastern market wonderland,” or “a dry foods heaven.” Founded in 1898 on Washington Street in Manhattan, Sahadi Fine Foods moved to Atlantic Avenue in the 1940s after the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. In the last few years, the storefront expanded to the adjacent shop, and inside you can find 150 types of cheese, an olive bar, a spice area laid out like the bazaars of the Middle East, and goods like lavash flatbread, baklava, family size tahini, gallon-sized jugs of olive oil, and coffee.
What you can’t see at street level in this portion of the street is the oldest subway tunnel in the world. Built in 1844 and rediscovered by Bob Diamond in 1981, it’s generated a slew of urban myths. One of the best: an 1836 steam locomotive that may still be behind a sealed chamber. Diamond gave tours of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, accessed through a manhole cover, until 2010, when his license with the city was taken away.
At the intersection of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue is the former South Brooklyn Savings Institution, now a Trader Joe’s with a beautiful interior and immensely high ceilings.