Not so long ago, echoes reverberated through this Brooklyn neighbourhood’s desolate, cobblestoned streets. Now, Dumbo – a moniker derived from the acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass – is arguably the hottest area outside of Manhattan.
From its heyday as a 19th-century industrial hub, via the artistic community that bloomed in its warehouses in the 1970s, to its current status as an “it” destination, home to the city’s most Instagrammed street, this charming waterfront area has layers of history and modernity just waiting to be discovered.
Dozens of artist studios and galleries offer cultural lures, while bustling restaurants, eclectic boutiques and plenty of open green spaces with spectacular views make exploring Dumbo a sensory delight.
Visit art galleries
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city launched its Artist-in-Residence programme in an attempt to bring tenants to the area’s vacant manufacturing buildings. Soon, Dumbo’s converted warehouses were filled with artists. This creative spirit remains today and can be seen at A.I.R. Gallery, a feminist collective and permanent exhibition space. Its executive director Roxana Fabius recommends other key art spots.
You’ll find two main spaces – one on the sixth floor for exhibitions and a street-level storefront for more events-based or ephemeral work.
2. Smack Mellon
The organisation focuses on supporting under-represented talent. Within its double-level space, it showcases more than 50 artists, across five annual exhibitions.
Each year, a professional jury selects 17 artists for a year-long rent-free residency in this studio programme.
“Dumbo has many incredible studios and exhibition spaces within close proximity; that helps make it one of the most interesting art destinations in New York” — Roxana Fabius, art historian and curator
May saw the opening of the Time Out Market in Dumbo. Bao Ong, Time Out New York’s food and drink editor, shares his top picks:
Rebecca Minkoff’s daily needs
For seven years, Rebecca Minkoff, noted New York fashion designer and mother of three, has called the district home. Here are the spots that are indispensable to her routine.
Minkoff begins her days at the Time Out Market, making two stops to get her morning off to a productive start: eggs Benedict over a crispy latke from Clinton St. Baking Company and then a matcha to go from Lauren Bush Lauren’s socially conscious shop and café, FEED.
The 34 hectares of Brooklyn Bridge Park are Minkoff’s go-to “for playgrounds, grass and miles of bike and running lanes”. The park is also home to Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1922 carousel, and a ferry stop, which can take you on adventures to Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. She treats herself to a hot chocolate from Jacques Torres, who opened his first café here back in 2000. Her pro tip: “I get a small cocoa in a large cup so that I can ask for extra whipped cream.”
Not far from the waterfront, Atrium has an edgy industrial design that’s softened by a live green wall. It’s Minkoff ’s perfect pick to unwind with a classic negroni.
“Dumbo feels like ‘New York City Lite’ – You have more parks and more space, and still get the close-knit feeling of a neighbourhood” — Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer
Top picks from Jacques Torres
Jacques Torres, aka “Mr Chocolate”, shares his appreciation for the best of the old and new
The original dining-with-a- view spot in Dumbo is the River Café, located on a former coffee barge right in the East River. Torres notes that the 42-year-old restaurant is “legendary in the New York food scene”.
Established in 2004, this bakery gets its cred from French baker Hervé Poussot. Many come for the almond croissants, but to Torres’ palate, they also make the best baguette.
Ice Cream Co Co-founder Sam Mason practically reinvented ice cream when he served up wacky flavours such as pumpernickel and butternut squash sorbet at this quirky ice cream shop. “He really is the Ice Cream Wizard!” Torres declares.
“I love the neighbourhood. I love the old stones, the old bricks and those old warehouses where coffee and spices were delivered. The whole history is fascinating to me” — Jacques Torres, pastry chef and chocolatier
Key dates and vital facts of the unique neighbourhood
1860s: Large-scale industry booms, with the rise of factories, warehouses and dock storehouses.
1883: Brooklyn Bridge opens, the first physical connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
1909: The construction of the Manhattan Bridge is completed, with subway tracks opening in 1917.
1920s: Brooklyn stores nearly 70 per cent of the world’s coffee imports, with Arbuckle Brothers at the centre of it.
1978: Locals coin the name “Dumbo”, allegedly to make it sound unattractive to real estate investors.
2007: Dumbo is granted landmark status and is known as the Dumbo Historic District.
2019: Expansion of the district continues, with the newest southern frontier dubbed Dumbo Heights.
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This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine