It might seem obvious that a neighbourhood tucked mostly beneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges would go overlooked. DUMBO wasn’t much of a destination a decade ago, yet the waterfront Brooklyn neighbourhood (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) that lies just one subway stop from Manhattan now bustles with weekend crowds along the East River.
DUMBO is replete with original 19th-century architecture—its waterfront location led to the neighbourhood’s history in manufacturing. Traces remain, rendered in Belgian block streets embedded with freight tracks; factories and storehouses whose craft and commodity ranged from coffee, sugar, and tobacco, to soap, paint, and steel wool. DUMBO’s factories quieted after the Great Depression, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that a sense of community gathered as rogue artists sought the abandoned buildings—developers trailing not far behind.
The texture of DUMBO, once gritty, is now polished. Cafés and boutiques nestle into heritage factories and warehouses—raw spaces now rich in third-wave appeal.
In the early afternoon, start exploring the area with something sweet in hand. Burrow Patisserie, pocketed in the lobby of an office building, stocks daily treats which are full of whimsy; the pâtissier, who grew up in the Japanese countryside, serves a dozen different cookies each day, all artfully designed and perfectly paired with freshly brewed espresso. Tackle the neighbouring Fort General Store next. Its collection of wares, both new and old, are all cool: an array of vintage bomber jackets hang near displays of minimalist Japanese coffee mugs, Brooklyn-made jewellery, and handmade Moroccan slippers.
The texture of DUMBO, once gritty, is now polished.
On your way to the waterfront, you can’t miss DUMBO’s most iconic spot. Facing north on Washington Street in between Front and Water Streets you’ll find a fabled view of the Manhattan Bridge which appears like a movie backdrop. Framed by red-brick buildings that hug the cobbled street, it’s fabulously popular for wedding shoots and Instagrammers.
Decades ago, the DUMBO waterfront was less dreamy than desolate, but a sensitive reimagining shaped the park’s rough edges, linking them to a new 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park which wraps around the waterfront and skirts the East River shoreline. In this pocket, prim lawns stretch and tumble, while landscaped paths meander. The crown jewel, Jane’s Carousel, is transfixed inside a Jean Nouvel-designed enclosure—originally built in 1922, a decades-long restoration brought its horses and chariots back to life, conjuring nostalgia from a decade few remember. Fully restored, it now revolves in a new pavilion, for kids, and grownup-kids, alike.
No matter where you turn, all strolls will lead to Empire Stores, a massive red-brick building that’s original tenant once roasted coffee. Now, the dominating waterfront warehouse, thanks to a thoughtful renovation, houses an intimate array of shops and restaurants along the ground floor. Chief among them, FEED Shop & Café, where proceeds from each matcha latte or canvas tote are used to fight world hunger.
As afternoon dips into the early evening, DUMBO’s energy level stays high.
New to the neighbourhood, Celestine restaurant beckons the coast with Eastern Mediterranean delights like baked hummus enriched with brown butter, or Turkish dumplings stuffed with braised short rib and pomegranate molasses. For a final toast, head to the brand-new Randolph Beer DUMBO, the third location for the New York-based brewpub, and its first location to brew its own beer.
And if it’s sundowners that sway you, saunter along the East River towards 1 Brooklyn Bridge, where the new hotel’s rooftop bar, complete with stylish cocktails, is hard to beat, perched over the waterfront with an uninterrupted view of lower Manhattan. Should you decide to sip the night away, there’s luckily more than enough rooms below to turn a perfect afternoon stroll into an overnight retreat.
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