Williamsburg might be the single most hyped and most mocked neighborhood in the world. (We're talking Brooklyn here, not Colonial Williamsburg.) The once industrial wasteland on the East River waterfront gentrified in the late 1990s and swiftly became a mecca for the young, the creative and the eclectic. For decades, New York City's youth culture incubated in Manhattan's East Village and Lower East Side, home of punk rock, CBGB, The Strokes, Interpol and the Life Café where Jonathan Larson wrote Rent. But as Manhattan rents rose, it pushed the city's creative class one subway stop away, across the river into Brooklyn. VICE set up shop in Williamsburg, and bands such as MGMT and Grizzly Bear became indie rock darlings from roughly the same coordinates.
Now, it's not just the cool kids setting up shop. Chase Bank, CVS and luxury high-rise condos have sprung up as well. But these new, less-hip neighbors haven't blunted the neighborhood's cultural impact. In the past decade Williamsburg has heralded both the street-style movement—its residents are still slandered as "hipsters"— and the entrepreneurial, Americana craze, elevating Brooklyn from Manhattan's scrappy little brother to a global brand. Today, the neighborhood is peppered with vintage denim boutiques, craft distilleries and small-batch pickle manufacturers. It's a unique community that values good clothes, good food and damn good drinks.
2:52 P.M. Establish basecamp at the Wythe, a modern boutique hotel built in the remains of a 1901 barrel factory. The interior of the building is authentically industrial, with the original pine beams, exposed brick, factory windows and cast-iron columns still intact. The hotel is a destination in its own right: Acclaimed eatery Reynard is on the lobby floor and hot-spot bar the Ides is on the roof. The rooms have 13-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the borough of your choosing. Everything from the bed frames to the wallpaper is refurbished and handmade, and the minibar is stocked with local goods like bottles of bourbon from Kings County Distillery and bars of Mast Brothers chocolate. Plus, the concrete floors include radiant heating, a feature that's most appreciated when stumbling into bed on a cool night.
3:43 P.M. Stroll through East River State Park, a former rail yard, for exceptional views of Manhattan's jagged skyline and a telling glimpse into the future of Williamsburg. This waterfront property is where the new breed of gentrifiers—Wall Street kids—are buying up multi-million dollar penthouses in glass towers like the Edge. Enticed by the flea markets and street art, these new transplants have begun pushing current Billyburgers further into Brooklyn. Can you blame them? The East River Ferry docks here, at the East River State Park, offering quick commutes to Wall and 34th Streets.
4:39 P.M. Long night? Clean up at Fellow Barber, a full-service barbershop where the razors are straight and the mustaches are waxed. Opt for the "Hangover Treatment," a $25 facial meant to offer some relaxation and soothe the damage done by hard living. A barber—who is typically dripping in tattoos, cuffed denim and pomade—first wraps his patron's face in a hot towel infused with energizing tea-tree oil, which purports to treat abrasions and ease acne. Next, he slathers on a reviving Malin + Goetz Detox Mask to deep clean the pores, and follows that up with another tea-tree oil soaked hot towel. Then the barber wraps the face in a cold towel, this time infused with soothing lavender oil. And finally Malin + Goetz Facial Moisturizer is massaged in to protect from the day ahead.
5:54 P.M. In the 1800s New York State housed thousands of alcohol distilleries. Distilling was a lucrative and legal business, which was sadly shuttered during Prohibition and never reopened due to rigid state alcohol production laws. But in the early 2000s, New York decided to turn the still taps back on, offering special permits for small-batch distillers who sourced half of their ingredients from within state lines. There are now about three-dozen small-batch distilleries within New York, with a third of those residing in Brooklyn. New York Distilling Company is a rare gin and rye whiskey distillery that produces the only Navy-strength gin in the country: barrel-aged Perry's Tot. (Navy-strength means it is about 114 proof; strong enough to allow 19th-century British Royal Navy sailors to slosh their spirits around on the ship without ruining the gunpowder.) Take a free, informal tour and tasting of the distillery before warming up a barstool at the Shanty, the distillery's bar. Order the Tot and Tonic. Made with the strong stuff, Perry's Tot, and Brooklyn-based Q tonic, it's the best G&T around. Follow that up by downing a few shots of the house Pink Gin, dispensed from an antique still behind the bar. A whiskey cocktail will have to wait, though. The distillery is so new that their first batch of rye hasn't aged enough to be taken out of its barrels yet.
7:27 P.M. Marlow & Sons restaurant was a trailblazer. It put out food good enough to purposefully cross the Williamsburg Bridge—back before well-heeled Manhattanites did that sort of thing for a meal. Now owner Andrew Tarlow is Brooklyn culinary royalty and helms two restaurants, a butcher shop and leather goods boutique on the corner of Broadway and Berry. A decade later, Marlow & Sons is still worth the trip into South Williamsburg. Its tiny, seasonal menu changes daily and focuses on simple ingredients with intense flavors. Always start with a dozen East Coast oysters on the half shell and a bowl of roasted vegetable soup. For a main course, order the steak or the loin, whichever makes the menu that night—the animals are carved up at the butcher shop down the block. End the meal with a slice of the salted chocolate-caramel tart made with Brooklyn's own Mast Brothers chocolate.
9:39 P.M. Worship at the altar of Willie Nelson at Skinny Dennis. This gritty drinking hole immortalizes the country legend with a behind-the-bar portrait and signature "Willie's Frozen Coffee" drink, a java slushee spiked with bourbon. Snack on hot peanuts—and throw the shells on the floor—while listening to live honkytonk acts, playing shuffleboard and drinking whiskey-sweet tea out of Mason jars. Even the bathroom rocks: It's wallpapered with smutty pin-ups from Easyriders magazine.
11:16 P.M. Let's get this out of the way: No, you do not have to fucking bowl at Brooklyn Bowl. The enormous entertainment venue was built in a 19th-century ironworks building and contains 16 bowling lanes, a concert stage and multiple bars featuring local craft brews and gourmet fried chicken. On any given day there could be a performance from a burlesque acrobat, Kanye West, a bluegrass band or a celeb DJ such as the Roots' ?uestlove, who spins here every Thursday night.
1:41 A.M. You've avoided Williamsburg's main artery, Bedford Avenue, up until now, but in the wee hours, DuMont Burger on Bedford is the joint to get messy at. Order the sloppy DuMont Burger, a thick beef patty that's usually served pink, on grilled brioche with Gruyere and house-brined pickles. And the onion rings! The onion rings. The tempura-battered, greasy rings are so massive that half a dozen can barely fit on the plate—stacked sideways. Finish the night with a maple bacon bourbon vanilla milkshake. Yeah, yeah, the impulse to put bacon in everything is overplayed and obnoxious. That doesn't mean it's not great. Sound familiar?
Alyson Sheppard is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mental Floss, McSweeney's, National Geographic Adventure, the Boston Globe and more. Follow her on Twitter @amshep.
Photo by © Heather Ahrens/Alamy