One of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City, Brooklyn’s Dumbo is a synergistic place where artists, actors, designers, musicians and filmmakers can showcase their works in understated galleries such as SmackMellon and performance spaces like St. Ann’s Warehouse. Bars and cafés coexist peacefully with luxurious new condos housing celebrities, families and young executives in an intimate space between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges that extends east into Vinegar Hill.
“Dumbo is thriving and it’s about to be booming,” says Aaron Kalter, an actor-filmmaker. “This waterfront is still one of New York’s most iconic places.”
“Someone once said to me that Dumbo is where yuppies go to have kids,” Justine Block says as she walks her dog, Chester, toward the East River. She lives in a high-rise in Dumbo and makes the half-hour commute to her job as an attorney in Manhattan every day.
“It was my compromise at first, because I lived in the West Village and I didn’t want to leave it. But now I love it and I can’t imagine living anywhere else…I definitely think there’s a mix of that hipster Brooklyn vibe along with a little more sophisticated art gallery vibe. I think it’s really approachable actually and there are so many families here.”
Pausing to juggle a Louis Vuitton tote and dog leash, Block adds, “When we moved originally it was because we couldn’t get such great space … in Manhattan. That was about five years ago. We felt like this reminded us of Tribeca and since we’ve been here the neighborhood has just gotten better and the parks have gotten better, and I have a son so it’s just great for a kid.”
And for pooches, too. Terriers and pit bulls sit leashed at Pedro’s Bar & Restaurant while owners enjoy afternoon margaritas and reading at outdoor tables.
“It’s dope. You can sit outside, drink a margarita and feel like you’re on the beach somewhere. Know what I’m saying?” says Kay Cherry, who works down the street for Linda the Bra Lady, a lingerie line.
Cherry, sporting a black-and-white Nets cap, thinks the basketball team’s official entrance into Brooklyn this month will continue to fuel neighborhood pride.
“I can’t wait. Since I live in Brooklyn, now I have to rep for them. Brooklyn is going to be ‘it’ this year,” she promises.
Teens walk by with stylish Afros, stopping by Jacques Torres’ chocolate factory for couture chocolate chip cookies as they head home from school. Meanwhile, doormen in black suits wave ‘hello’ to blond babysitters, who look like Russian models. And residents in business attire just off work jump off Vespas and out of Porsche Cayennes. They meet up at reBar, a converted industrial loft space, for Belgian beers and macaroni and cheese under fabulous Art Deco lighting fixtures. Some will later head down the hall to reRun, an independent movie theater that boasts a full bar and gourmet snack counter, plus comfortable repurposed seating – from old cars.
Other patrons will vie for a table at culinary hotspot Governor (which The New York Times recently awarded two stars) or its sibling restaurant, the locally sourced, upscale Gran Electrica. There, beautiful bartenders will push La Tuna Pisco Sour, which blends Pisco, prickly pear, lime juice, agave, egg white and Angostura bitters. And come Sunday, the in crowd mixes with foodies and locals, who all gather on Front Street at Superfine for a boozy bluegrass brunch before heading out to Brooklyn Bridge Park down the street or taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (á la favorite son Walt Whitman).
“There has been a ton of new development here,” says Kristina Skurow, a real estate agent. “When I moved in, they were still finishing the cobblestone streets that are a little further down towards Front Street. Now the Brooklyn Bridge Park is blowing up… and they’re putting a hotel in there as well. They have a lot for the luxury-market clientele. It’s a real melting pot here,” she adds before ducking into Superfine. “When I first moved here, it was one of the first restaurants we went to in the neighborhood, and the people and food are both really great. There’s always a big crowd in here.”
“It’s a very laidback neighborhood-y neighborhood,” says Curtis Laraque, who lives in Harlem but works in Dumbo. “There’s not a lot of retail and most of it, especially in this area, still feels very local.”
“The types of businesses that are here are still very creative,” says Jada Williams, of Giant Noise, a Dumbo and Austin, Texas-based PR firm. “It’s where Williamsburg people come to work, you know what I mean? There are shops that support a lot of local artists.”
Williams recognizes that unique meeting place of luxury living and old-school spirit.
“Dumbo has always been a hip neighborhood, but I also think it’s a neighborhood for a lot of families so it’s not quite like a hipster scene. It’s more cosmopolitan Brooklyn,” she says, darting over to her polished Vespa. “Dumbo is the Brooklyn alternative to SoHo.”
Like so many of the ideally situated waterfront areas in Brooklyn, Dumbo started out as a manufacturing district that produced machinery, paper boxes and Brillo soap pads. The inexpensive, loft-y warehouses later provided the perfect work and living space for artists, some of whom are still there today.
Of course, now those smart stragglers from the early ’70s live beside newer residents of sophisticated high-rises. Arguably, the most coveted address is the triplex One Main St., located in the Clock Tower building. There condos with picture perfect views of the water, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and Brooklyn and Manhattan’s skylines go for $4 million, (and the penthouse will cost you a cool $19 million).
It’s ironic to learn that cool, glamorous Dumbo was actually a 1978 acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Residents thought with such an ugly name, developers would never be able to sell this part of Brooklyn.
Boy, were they ever wrong.