Brooklynites love to flex the oft-cited stat about the borough’s power: if it were its own city, it would be the fourth largest in the country.
Really it feels like more than that, with dozens of distinct mini-cities across the borough, each with their own traditions, styles and secret neighborhood spots. It’s too big for even the most intrepid urban explorer to cover in the span of years.
Everyone already knows about the Instagram-standard tourist spots in the borough, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the line for a Di Fara pizza and the cornucopia of music venues in Bushwick. Dig deeper, and you’ll find the borough’s lesser-known treasures, including a robotic church, an indie arcade and some serene nature, including a waterfall or two.
True Brooklyn oddities
Red Hook is Brooklyn’s gorgeous little end of the world nautical neighborhood, full of repurposed warehouses, great bars and stunning views of the Statue of Liberty.
It also has a museum to capture its shipping and sailor history, which is, naturally, on a barge. The Waterfront Museum was founded in 1985 and housed aboard the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge No. 79, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside the rustic wooden barge, you’ll find artifacts of New York’s shipping past and a slate of unique performances ranging from plays to puppet shows.
And yeah, you get a nice view of the Statue of Liberty there, too.
290 Conover St., Red Hook; WaterfrontMuseum.org
All Eyes on Egipt Bookstore
Brooklyn has no shortage of bookstores these days, but none are quite like All Eyes on Egipt, both in appearance and content. It’s near a busy strip of Bushwick bars and music venues, but it looks like it’s out of place, and of another era. It’s made of two buildings: One is a skinny and regal brownstone with gold trim, and the other is a squat structure adorned with colorful Egyptian art and symbolism, which Vice magazine once called a “Fisher-Price version of Cleopatra’s palace.” Inside, you’ll often find people in elaborate tunics perusing the shelves, which feature books of various conspiracy theories and religious pamphlets.
The store is also connected to the Nuwaubian belief system, which is too complicated to explain here, but it involves aliens.
717 Bushwick Ave., Bushwick; Facebook.com/AEOENewYork/
The Robotic Church
If robots take over but find religion, it will look a lot like Red Hook’s Robotic Church. It’s a site-specific installation and performance series in a former Norwegian sailors’ church, made up of 50 pneumatic sculptures of all shapes and sizes. Each robot is like an instrument, designed to play by whirling, spinning or playing their own bodies, often as an ensemble, giving the effect of a post-apocalyptic Disney World orchestra.
The work is led by artist Chico MacMurtrie, who uses the space as a studio and opens it up for special events; check the Facebook page to for the next one.
111 Pioneer St., Red Hook; Facebook.com/RoboticChurchNewYork
Red Hook Trolley
The city has proposed bringing streetcars back to the waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens, but for now, behind the Fairway supermarket, you can find remnants of old tracks from an aborted attempt to bring trolley service to the Red Hook neighborhood in the ’90s. Only one car remains (thank you, Hurricane Sandy) — a 1951 3303 Boston T Green Line car; it’s not in great shape, but you can poke around in it. The car’s destination sign forever reads “NO STOPS.”
Fairway, 480-500 Van Brunt St., Red Hook
Food and drink
You won’t find Big Buck Hunter or Pac-Man at this indie arcade and bar that opened this year. Wonderville is more like a playable art studio featuring inspired and outlandishly original do-it-yourself, homemade and independent arcade games and pinball machines, with names like Kung Fu Kickball and Volleygon. Even the track lights above the door are a playable game.
The arcade doubles as a venue that features music, DJ nights and comedy. It’s an inspired way to show how video game culture can be turned into pure art — but they’re not above paying respect to their roots and playing some games of NBA Jam behind the bar every now and then.
1186 Broadway, Bushwick, Wonderville.nyc
The barkeasy at haus on hanson
One of the great tragedies of city life for dog owners is that it’s a shame to keep your pup locked up all day while you enjoy all New York has to offer. There are dog-friendly bars of course, but few so dedicated to catering to your pooch as the Barkeasy.
This dog-centric pop-up is an offshoot of the neighboring DSK beer hall, taking over a side space where pet owners can drink German beers and nosh on sausages and giant pretzels without having to tie their furry friends outside. The space hosts events such as comedy nights, which lead to great entertainment, like the one time comedian Jo Firestone did an entire set of crowd work with the dogs.
Check the website for Barkeasy dates.
710 Fulton St., Fort Greene, DSK-Barkeasy.com
Transplants from the Midwest are often frowned on in Brooklyn, but that’s not the case at the Turk’s Inn, which brings the colorful kitsch of a Wisconsin supper club to a part of Bushwick mostly known for dive bars and old-school taco joints.
It’s a recreation of a supper club of the same name founded in Hayward, Wisconsin, in 1934 that closed in 2015. Two longtime fans bought a ton of artifacts and decorations from the restaurant and added a few new touches, amounting to a visual assault of color and bric-a-brac: human-hand-shaped sconces, elaborate drapes and all sorts of vintage art.
The kitchen serves up Mediterranean fare including kebabs and moussaka, and you can catch belly dancing on Wednesdays. It leans more Brooklyn than Wisconsin thanks to an attached music venue called the Sultan Room.
234 Starr St., Bushwick; TurksNYC.com
The sign outside this bar on chic Smith Street advises patrons “This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address.” It’s not just some attention-grabbing schtick: the bar is on the site of a reported brothel The Post uncovered in 2016, which was then quickly shut down.
Today, it’s a cocktail bar with heavy goth and Parisian vibes, named after the famous French poem “À Peine Défigurée” It leans into the brothel energy — though the one that stood on the site was surely nowhere nearly as well decorated — with old-world bottles, a cheeky menu, a chandelier-adorned backyard and yes, even a full-size bed decked out in bordello red.
257 Smith St., Carroll Gardens; BarelyDisgruntled.com
DEAD HORSE BAY
Beach litter isn’t a problem here — it’s the attraction. Dead Horse Bay is trek through the woods across from Floyd Bennett Field, but it’s worth it for urban explorers who flock to the small body of water for its collection of washed-up urban detritus that ranges from the beautiful to the spooky. Named for the horse rendering plants in Jamaica Bay, who through to the 1930s dumped the bones into the water, it now features an array of ancient colorful glass bottles and relics from an old nearby landfill. And yes, you can still find horse bones.
Across from Floyd Bennett Field on Barren Island. For directions: AtlasObscura.com
The waterfalls of Prospect Park
If you think of Brooklyn’s gorgeous jewel of a park as mostly a running trail, picnic destination or concert venue, you’re missing its treasure trove of natural spaces and hiking trails. One of the best is the trail that take you through the park’s old-growth forest Ravine section. Park designers Olmsted and Vaux built it with the Adirondack mountains in mind, which is why it comes complete with waterfalls, providing a perfect oasis for the city dweller who doesn’t have time to get upstate.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Prospectpark.org
Naval Cemetery Landscape
Far away from the hectic scene at the newly opened Wegmans supermarket, the Brooklyn Navy Yard also contains a peaceful oasis. The Naval Cemetery Landscape is on the site of the former Naval Hospital Cemetery, closed to the public since the 1920s. It reopened a few years ago, designed as a natural park featuring native plant species, surrounded by a pathway, an amphitheater and a sacred grove. You can usually find free yoga classes and other programs here during the summers, too.
63 Williamsburg St. W., BrooklynGreenway.org