The neighborhood formerly known as "the world's worst place to go swimming" has rapidly become one of the more picturesque areas of New York City. For decades, the area surrounding the polluted Gowanus Canal was home to swaths of abandoned industrial wasteland and (allegedly) Mafia activity. But now the waters have been partially cleaned up and the streets are flooded with bars, boutiques and coffee shops. While it seems as if a new hip hangout sprouts up every day, Gowanus has a strong sense of community and a plethora of unmissable attractions. Here's what you absolutely must do if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

See

Walk Along the Canal

City council members have declared Gowanus “the next Venice.” Hopefully they’re talking about Venice, California. While you may not want to glide down the aqueducts on a romantic gondola ride, a stroll down its banks can be quite intriguing. As the main vein of the neighborhood, the canal will lead you to most of the attractions listed here — while giving you a glimpse of the maligned area’s past. Cleanup efforts have drastically changed the landscape over the past decade. However, there is plenty of dilapidated bric-a-brac leftover to spur daydreams of a bygone era while showing hope for a cleaner future. 

 

Brooklyn Boulders

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If the lingering aroma of the canal makes you want to run as far away from the waters as possible (kidding — it’s really not that bad), climb away instead on the 22,000 square feet of climbing walls at Brooklyn Boulders. A now-iconic national brand, BB brings the full, new-age Brooklyn experience to its visitors, many of whom use the rock walls in lieu of a traditional gym. In addition to conducting classes in bouldering, auto belay, top roping and lead climbing, the wonderful crew also offers interactive yoga classes and Wi-Fi-powered coworking spaces for those who would prefer never to leave. You can even try your hand at some capoeira or acroyoga. Not for the faint of heart.

575 Degraw St., Brooklyn, NY 11217. 347-834-9066; brooklynboulders.com

 

Twig Terrariums

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If you aren’t already familiar with the art of the terrarium, you’re missing out on a truly Zen-like experience. In the midst of a huge comeback after widespread popularity in the 1970s, terrariums have become an art form with moss, plants and figurines as the medium. The women who run Twig Terrariums are masters of the craft. Using repurposed mason jars, wine decanters, gumball machines and the like, Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow have created a wonderland inside the walls of their Third Avenue boutique. As you wander the vibrant green aisles, your imagination will undoubtedly take you to curious places.

287 Third Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215. 718-488-8944; twigterrariums.com


 

Drink

Brewery Tour

Other Half via Website


In the two dozen or so blocks that make up the tiny neighborhood of Gowanus, there are a whopping three microbreweries and brewpubs in operation. The brewtastic trio is made up of Other Half Brewing (technically in Carroll Gardens, right next door), Strong Rope Brewery and Threes Brewing. Sample an array of craft beers at Threes or spend the day tasting a variety of New York State ales and local wines at Strong Rope’s newly opened taphouse. If you’ve got the time, make a day out of visiting all three. 

Strong Rope Brewery, 574 President St., Brooklyn, NY 11215. 929-337-8699; strongropebrewery.com
Other Half Brewing, 195 Centre St., Brooklyn, NY 11231. 347-987-3527; otherhalfbrewing.com
Threes Brewing, 333 Douglass St., Brooklyn, NY 11217. 718-522-2110; threesbrewing.com

 

Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club

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One of the more distinctive activities Gowanus has to offer is something you’re more likely to see when visiting your grandparents in Florida than when you are among the hip youth of New York. We speak of course of the ancient game of shuffleboard. Enjoy happy hour in a tropical paradise at The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. Two huge bars turn out fresh Caribbean cocktails to the tune of sultry island music, and vibrant pink-flamingo wallpaper casts a neon glow upon the dozen shuffleboard tables. Indulge yourself in this senior citizen Shangri-La. 

514 Union St., Brooklyn, NY 11215. 347-223-4410; royalpalmsshuffle.com

 

Lavender Lake

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Lovingly named for the murky luster of the canal next door, Lavender Lake may actually be the most essential stop on the Gowanus gluttony tour. Rotating craft beers and specialty cocktails (not surprisingly, lavender makes an appearance with some frequency) dot the drink list. Don’t miss the Bowie-inspired Life on Mars, made with local Greenhook Old Tom Gin. But the star of the show is, undeniably, the selection of small plates — think burrata and orange salads and butternut squash risotto balls. Fortunately, no canal water is used in the making of these delectable treats.

383 Carroll St., Brooklyn, NY 11231. 347-799-2154; lavenderlake.com


 

Eat

Black Mountain Wine House

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In these most frigid of times, the hardy New Yorker must find a suitable habitat in which to sustain warmth and maintain a buzz through the winter. The ideal niche for the chilly city slicker is Black Mountain Wine House, where patrons can curl up beside the ever-crackling fireplace with a glass of red or a soul-saving hot toddy. As you cuddle with your drink, you may have the feeling that you're in a ski lodge at the bottom of a snowy mountain. It's all part of the design, as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a chief influence. Take a cue from ski country by taking a boozy break from the biting wind in this log cabin wonderland.

415 Union St., Brooklyn, NY 11231. 718-522-4340; blackmountainwinehouse.com

 

Runner & Stone

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It’s such a shame when a good bakery ends its business halfway through the day. Just as when a fine restaurant keeps its doors closed until evening. The crew at Runner & Stone have finally figured it all out: They're baking warm, flaky goodness all morning and providing world-class small plates all night long. In traditional neighborhood fashion, residents will enjoy a sunrise nosh of a buckwheat baguette on the way to work and a plate of mushroom panzanella or house-made orecchiette with a glass of Côtes du Rhône after a job well done. Yet it's the handmade pastries that rise above the rest. Walk home with a handful of palmiers.

285 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215. 718-576-3360; runnerandstone.com

 

Pig Beach

via Website


Once you’ve gotten all your fine dining and small plates out of the way, save your appetite for a gut-busting meal at Pig Beach. The award-winning barbecue team at Pig Beach eschews the traditional, regional specific identity of most BBQ establishments in favor of a more global approach. Using flavors and techniques from European, Middle Eastern, East Asian and, naturally, Southern cuisines, the meats explode with a wild medley of flavors. Here’s a brief list of what you can order here: pork shoulder drizzled with hatch vinegar sauce, baby back ribs in a sticky honey glaze, purple coleslaw with smoked jalapeño and cilantro dressing … should we keep going?

480 Union St., Brooklyn, NY 11231. 718-737-7181; pigbeachnyc.com


By Alexander Brock

Alexander Brock is a freelance writer who writes sports, travel, food, politics, finance, fiction, poetry and whatever else is asked of him. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the editor-in-chief at downandoutmag.com.