Below the Manhattan Bridge, a waterfront community thrives with galleries, restaurants, and street life.

By Sarah Brueggemann
April 30, 2008

Michael Luppino

Visitors to New York, lost in a cavern of skyscrapers, might forget they're in a coastal city. But across the East River from Manhattan, Brooklyn holds claim to memorable water views. From its shores, travelers witness the reflections of massive buildings and bridges wavering with the wind. In the distance, they see the Statue of Liberty hoisting her torch high above barges and ships crisscrossing the harbor.

Repeatedly rediscovered and renewed since the mid-17th century, Brooklyn is attracting more tourists. The borough's latest incarnation includes the community of DUMBO (an acronym for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass"). Many New Yorkers equate its energetic, creative atmosphere with SoHo in its heyday.

"It's industrial chic," says Richard Mauro. When he moved to the neighborhood 37 years ago, the area housed mostly derelict warehouses and gritty manufacturing buildings. During the 1970s, artists moved in for the spacious lofts and proximity to downtown Manhattan, but now, soaring property values have mostly priced them out.

Still, their influence persists. Today high-end design studios and art galleries edge the cobblestone streets. DUMBO has grown into a cultural hub, holding such events as the annual Art Under the Bridge Festival.

Newcomers find some surprising masterpieces in DUMBO's historic buildings. At 111 Front Street, 13 vastly different galleries are carved into the space. Modern installations at Smack Mellon and DUMBO Arts Center, the two longest-standing art associations, should not be missed. LAND studio provides a nurturing environment for local artists with disabilities. Their work―one man paints baseballs, another sculpts trains―reflects everyday life in Brooklyn.

Visitors don't just hunger for art, though. Grimaldi's Pizzeria, founded in 1933, inspires incomparable loyalty. Lines form around the block for its thin-crust pies, cooked in a coal-fired brick oven. Other notable eateries include the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, The River Café, reBar, RICE, Superfine, and the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory. Pete Thristino, owner of the Italian restaurant Pete's Downtown, says, "People are rediscovering the flavor of our neighborhood."

People are also learning why DUMBO's stunning setting has long drawn photographers and film directors. With lush lawns and a winding boardwalk, Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park stretches 9 acres, an oasis of green along the East River. Brooklyn-born Pam Shelala-Rohl says, "When you look at the beautiful water, the two bridges, and Manhattan across the way―even with the city noise, it's so peaceful."

A stroll along the shoreline often leads to Fulton Ferry Landing. There, a boxy white barge moors next to the dock. The nondescript structure houses a floating concert hall known for featuring both celebrated and up-and-coming classical and jazz musicians. Performers play before a large window with the city skyline sparkling in the distance. The slight movement of the boat keeps the audience swaying to the beat.

"This is what DUMBO is about," Richard says. "You turn the corner and something exciting and unexpected is bound to happen."