I gave up a day in Manhattan Valley and took one of the walking ‘trends tours’ with the Fashion Institute of Technology. These theme tours cover neighborhoods that are considered ‘up and coming’ or are already there but at the cutting edge at this point.
What is all really means is that the artists are still struggling, the buildings are not shiny and perfect and the stores and restaurants are in their first generation in the neighborhood mixing with the older neighborhood spots. Red Hook reminded me a small urban neighborhood isolated from the rest of ‘stroller Brooklyn’ closer to Prospect Park.
The tour was lead by Deborah Geiger, the Director of Content from Envirosell. Deborah Geiger, who you will note on Day Forty-Seven (July 9, 2016), lead the tour of Bushwick last summer. I teased Deborah this time wondering where ‘they were’ for this group. She wondered what I was talking about and I said on every tour I go on for school there is always one pain in the ass who either gets tired, can’t keep up with the tour, their hot or its not what they thought it was when they signed up.
They whine the whole time and want the complete attention of the tour guide the whole time. We had one this time again and thank God this one left the group as soon as we got to Red Hook. He lasted about twenty minutes into the tour and decided to leave. I wish more of them would do this so they don’t wreak it for the rest of us. I really think the college should explain to these people that every tour is different and the fact that it is ‘a walking tour’.
We started our tour for the day at the lobby of FIT, so we had time to see the new “Force of Nature” exhibition at the FIT Museum (See TripAdvisor review and my blog “VisitingaMuseum”). Don’t miss this as the clothes are interesting and they mounted the exhibition with interesting clothes through the ages.
Then it was a short trip by subway to the tip of Manhattan by the South Street Seaport where we took the IKEA Water Taxi to Red Hook docking by the giant IKEA store on the base of Red Hook. That was fun and what a beautiful day it was to travel by boat. The ride via New York Water Taxi is complimentary on weekends with the thanks from IKEA. It is a nice way to travel between spots especially on a warm, sunny day.
The trip took only twenty minutes but what a beautiful trip. We got the most picturesque view of lower Manhattan and of the Statue of Liberty. The view of all the buildings is spectacular. This is New York City the way people imagine it all over the world.
We landed at the slip where IKEA is located and walked around the harbor area to Van Brunt Street, the main artery of Red Hook, for a quick snack at Baked, 359 Van Brunt Street (See review on TripAdvisor).
It is one of those coffee shops that every neighborhood should have with cool seating, interesting music and the most delicious baked goods. I had the most amazing cinnamon rolls that I have ever had. This giant delight was filled with loads of cinnamon and had the thickest icing. It was a treat. We gobbled our treats down and then headed off to the Van Brunt Stillhouse at 6 Bay Street for a tasting.
The Van Brunt Stillhouse is an artisan distillery that produces high quality whiskey and rum. The owner had been in television and decided to make a career change. He had been dabbling in this for a long time and decided to make it a career. We had a tour of the small Stillhouse with its barreling all around us and a funky tasting room. We were allowed to taste the aged whiskey and get a good mouth feel of the product. After one shot, that was more than enough for me.
We moved on to more touring as we walked to the water to the former warehouses housing the Red Hook Winery for a tour of the facility. The Winery is really interesting as it is housed in an old shipping facility that has been converted into a wedding venue and an art gallery. If you get a chance to visit the winery, it is really interesting. Its not your normal winery as it has three different owners with three different philosophies.
They buy their grapes from the North Fork of Long Island and Upstate New York and created their own wines and blends. The collection is rounded off by other high quality New York wines. Our tour guide showed us the barreling method they use and that they still use their feet to crush grapes for the wine. I thought that was an interesting fact. We toured their ‘racking’ method of wine by rotating the barrels and sampling.
The front of the winery is used for tastings and for socializing. The place was mobbed by the time we got there and it was definitely a younger crowd. I was surprised as I thought the next generation was not interesting in these things. People were tasting wines, conversing about them and looking over the selection. It is an impressive room done in light stained colors and surrounded by the selection of wines.
Our next stop on the tour was Cacao Prieto at 218 Conner Street. This is the most unusual factory tour that we tour. When you enter the back of the factory, there is a tree growing in the middle of the building. We all got a kick out that. The guide let us see the small factory with its showroom up front and production areas off to the side. The whole set up is really nice and the chocolate bars are so beautifully designed.
Our next part of the tour lead us Van Brunt Street to the Peninsula Art Space at 352 Van Brunt Street. We walked through the exhibition of ‘Grand Ole Opera’, an exhibition by Brent and Willie Stewart. The Tennessee born artists exhibition is their institutional debut in the United States, also serves as a venue for a related series of noise, metal and rock concerts, staged within a revival tent.
“Within the exhibition itself, cinematic tableaus reveal a truck turned to AM radio; bizarre trailer-homes containing surreal sculptural landscapes. a perpetually-burning sun projected under a revival ten, which doubles as a stage; the “murder bar”, a nomadic functioning biker bar from the Deth Killers of Bushwick and Romulus and Remus, who nursed at the wolf’s breast and founded ancient Rome, found in a bar-fight”. (Catalogue Pioneer Works)
It was an interesting experience walking through 70’s recreational vehicles and watching B movies on the screen. It was a real ‘red-neck’ experience. The gallery even has a court yard to walk around where more of the exhibition was housed.
After that it was a tour of the Peninsula Art Space at 352 Van Brunt Street for a look at their latest exhibition. While looking at the work of a local artist (interesting perspective of the neighborhood in his paintings), we had a lively debate on the gentrification of the neighborhood and the one the gallery representative lived in, Bed-Sty. We debated the attributes about living above and below Gates Street where all the projects are located. She was amazed that I knew so much but I do read these articles.
Our last stop closer to the border of the neighborhood was the Raaka Chocolate Factory at 64 Seabring Street off Van Brunt Street. This is the most interesting candy factory where the owner just fell into the field when travelling abroad and found the cocoa beans. The factory has created a top of the line assortment of dark chocolate bars that are beautifully packaged. I do have a thing about $10.00 chocolate bars but these are a once in a while treat and the best part is they let you sample all the bars. The best was the lavender and the ghost pepper, which took time to linger on your taste buds when you bit into it. Like most of the factories we visited, we got a sample to the small cottage industries that are developing in this section of Brooklyn. I can go back for a more formal tour and tasting in the future.
We took a pit stop at Dolce Brooklyn for homemade gelato at 305 Van Brunt Street. This store has the most amazing homemade ice creams and gelato (See TripAdvisor review). I had the most delicious home trio of Strawberry Mint, Blueberry Lavender and Raspberry Mint. God , were these refreshing on a hot, humid day. There was a tangy-tartness to the flavors and they really do quench your taste buds. We were talking to the owner, who is French and he and the lady working the counter explained how his wife had gone to Italy to learn how to make proper gelato. I thought that was going to the extremes but it was well worth it in quality. The shop should not be missed on a hot day and it is one of those stores every neighborhood should have with its cool seating and relaxing atmosphere.
On our way back down Van Brunt Street, we stopped to go through some of the local stores and I got separated from the group. With only fifteen minutes left on the tour and totally starved (that was the only bad part of the tour is that we did not have time to stop for lunch), I figured the rest of the group was heading back to the ferry to go to Manhattan.
I decided to get some lunch and stopped at Marc’s Pizza at 326 Van Brunt Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor) for a slice of pizza and a potato croquette. The food is very good and you will love the atmosphere. The owner is a real character. Over the cash register there is a sign that shows a gun and it reads “We don’t call 911!”. The owner says he asks nicely the first time and then people stop (if you know what I mean). It’s not something you want to test. The pizza is great though and he gives you a nice size slice and his sauce has a lot flavor. The potato croquette is great as well. It’s a nice place for a quick lunch.
I walked around the bottom part of Van Brunt Street, looking at the shops and galleries. I stopped in Foxy & Winston at their gift selection. Not only does the owner have a nice of stuffed animals and stationary but she has the nicest dog to pet. He is so friendly that he distracted me from the group as they left without me. It was no matter it is a nice store that should be visited. I wanted to stay behind to explore some more.
My last stop on the tour was the Rood Gallery at 373 Van Brunt Street. I was attracted by the display in her windows of these little clay creatures by artist Peter Opheim. He makes the most unusual little clay monsters or characters, I don’t know how to describe them. They look like Japanese Pokémon. It was funny that I mentioned that to gallery owner, Samar Maziad. She told me that when Japanese tourist visit the gallery they will buy a few because they think the same thing. The only problem is that they are not cheap. They come with a small painting and certificate and beautifully boxed in a collection but at the same time are several thousand dollars. Their better to look at and admire.
I ended my tour walking around the waterfront at the Pier 44 Waterfront Garden and then walked back to the Erie Basin Park where IKEA was located and where the ferry is located. What a view of the Manhattan skyline! It must be something when its dark outside. These parks are a very nice place to just sit and relax and admire the view.
Still for all its charm and small town feel, Red Hook was still under water when Hurricane Sandy hit and it below sea level. Not an environment that I want to live in. You debate all of this in an up and coming neighborhood but still Red Hook, Brooklyn does have its charm to it. It was a engaging tour and I give tour guide Deborah Geiger credit again for a great touring experience. Its nice when your can meet shop owners and manufacturers who are working to create a real neighborhood.
These ‘trend’ walking tours are taken through the Fashion Institute of Technology Continue Education program and are well worth the price ($45.00). You can visit any part of the city on your own but to really see the neighborhood and experience meeting the business owners and seeing the out of the way places you might miss on your own, they are a lot of fun. You can access all tours on the college website.
I am also an Alumnus of The Fashion Institute of Technology (Class of 93) and a Lifetime member of the FIT Alumni Association.