Typical Street in Brooklyn

photo by: Steve Huang, Flickr

October 6, 2015

Discover the History of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene In 24 Hours

  • By: Jeana Wiser

Welcome to the borough of Brooklyn (also, my borough!). More specifically, welcome to the historic and eclectic neighborhood of Fort Greene. This place represents both the old and new face of Brooklyn. With its beautiful brownstone-lined streets and its increasingly popular restaurant row -- Dekalb Avenue -- this place reflects all that has been drawing Manhattanites (and tourists) over the East River for the past several decades.

If you’re looking for a truly authentic Brooklyn experience, start here -- in the neighborhood sandwiched between downtown Brooklyn and the areas of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Fort Greene is diverse and full of families and young artists, alike. It is a neighborhood that embraces inclusivity and creativity, and is often cited as one of the most integrated and welcoming neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Much of the increased popularity of the neighborhood can likely be traced back to the beautiful and charming building stock. Residential blocks are dominated by the Brooklyn brownstone and mature trees while commercial blocks -- filled with small, older buildings dripping with character and detail -- line the neighborhood corridors of Dekalb, Myrtle, Fulton, and Atlantic.

Here are some ideas for how one might fill an entire day exploring, discovering, and enjoying.

Brooklyn Market

photo by: Evanscott7, Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn Flea Market in Fort Greene, in front of the Masonic Temple and the Queen of All Saints Church.

In the AM

I live just about a 20-minute walk away from Fort Greene Park, so on Saturday mornings I make my way over to the farmers market and jump start my day with some fresh produce brought in from the Hudson River Valley. Beautiful harvests abound.

After wrapping up my market shopping for the week, I usually hit up one of the neighborhood’s cozy coffee shops, for my caffeine fix. Some of the best options are: WTF Coffee Lab, BitterSweet (my personal favorite), and The General Greene. If you’re a bicycle enthusiast, try Red Lantern Bicycles that doubles as a coffee shop.

Some other perfect daytime to-dos:

Each Saturday, from April to November, the schoolyard of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School hosts the Fort Greene Flea (a part of the larger Brooklyn Flea institution). It's an eclectic vintage bazaar featuring locally crafted goods and eats.

Fort Greene Park deserves its own, stand-alone mention. What a gem for the neighborhood! I love to spend an entire afternoon at the park enjoying a bottle of wine from a local wine shop (try Heritage Wines or Thirst Wines), a blanket, and a good book.

On the prowl for a new book to enjoy at the park? Head over to Greenlight Bookstore -- one of Brooklyn’s best independent book shops. Make sure to check out their calendar to see if any visiting authors pique your interest.

If you’re a fan of historic churches, well, Fort Greene is a great neighborhood for some excellent “Insta-worthy” photos. Take a stroll through the neighborhood to check out the following gorgeous examples of late-19th-century places of worship: the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, St. Mary’s Episcopal, and Emmanuel Baptist Church.

Did you know:

  • During the Revolutionary War, 11,500 Americans died in British prison ships anchored in nearby Wallabout Bay. Their bones are entombed in Fort Greene Park, beneath a 106-year-old, 149-foot-tall, soaring Doric column known as the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.
Brooklyn Academy of Music

photo by: Wally Gobetz, Flickr

The Sharp Building, part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

In the PM

Fort Greene is part of the Brooklyn Cultural District. In other words, the neighborhood seeps with culture, creativity, history, and arts. On any given night it’s easy to find something fun to do, see, or experience.

One of my personal favorites is kicking off the evening with happy hour near the park at Café Paulette ($1 oysters!). Then, I meander down to BRIC Arts to check out either a lecture, poetry reading, exhibit, or show.

If all else fails, there is always food! Some of the best restaurant experiences can be found here in Fort Greene -- specifically along Dekalb Avenue. Check out: Chez Oskar, Roman’s, Madiba, or Colonia Verde.

Some other perfect late-afternoon and evening to-dos:

If you’re in the mood for arts or culture, look no further than the Brooklyn Academy of Music [BAM]. Check out BAM’s three different venues for a variety of events: the Peter Jay Sharp Building [opera + cinema], the BAM Harvey Theater, and the BAM Fisher (BAM Fisher Hillman Studio).

If you’re interested in learning more about the cultures and ethnicities represented in and reflective of the neighborhood, visit the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. MoCADA organizes Soul of Brooklyn -- a borough-wide celebration of the diverse arts and cultures of Brooklyn’s African Diaspora -- every August with more than 20 performances, street fairs, educational events, and film screenings.

Did you know:

  • Acclaimed writer Richard Wright’s celebrated novel Native Son is said to have been written on a bench in Fort Greene.

Late Night

Even with the plethora of daytime activities in Fort Greene, the neighborhood has just as much to offer at night! There are endless opportunities to explore the neighborhood’s local watering holes and sample some local music. My personal favorite place to meet a friend for a solid cocktail is Mayflower, a small, tucked-away bar located behind its dining companion, Aita.

Fort Greene’s bar scene has something for everyone. If you’re into the speakeasy vibe, be sure to check out Dick + Jane’s Bar. For the neighborhood karaoke bar, visit Mo’s. If the German-style pub is more your scene, try Berlyn.

Did you know:

  • 40 Acres and a Mule, Spike Lee’s production company, is located in Fort Greene -- where Lee grew up.
Brooklyn Street at Night

photo by: Steve Huang, Flickr

A foggy night on a street in Fort Greene, with the World Trade Center lights in the background.

For more information about the history and evolution of the neighborhood, check out the following websites:

Bonus fact!

  • Fort Greene was once home to notable author Walt Whitman and the original Tootsie Roll factory. It is also the birthplace of Michael Jordan.

By: Jeana Wiser

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