For a New York City neighborhood, Prospect Heights is pretty much as normal as they come. A diverse mix of residents and relatively affordable rent (compared to neighboring Park Slope), Prospect Heights is comprised of a handful of brownstone-lined streets and two unassuming main streets—Vanderbilt and Washington. For those who might get overwhelmed at the sprawl of other neighborhoods, the good news is that compact Prospect Heights is completely manageable—you could walk every inch of it within a few hours if you so choose. Although this small, mainly residential stretch of Brooklyn may not be the best destination for adventure-seekers, Prospect Heights does pack a punch—in fact, three punches: Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. So if any of these three attractions are on your to-do list, be sure to set aside some extra time to explore Prospect Heights while you’re at it.
First stop is a staple of the neighborhood: Tom’s Restaurant, an old-school diner with an updated menu, for breakfast (782 Washington Avenue). There’s always a line out front, but if you’re not an early bird, don’t worry, the staff is nice enough to play music and hand out refreshments for those waiting outside. If you’re too hungry to wait, pop into Old Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe instead (645 Vanderbilt, http://www.oldebrooklynbagelshop.com/). This tasty bagel shop sets itself apart with its unique selection of cream cheeses: bacon-maple, spinach artichoke, wasabi, and chocolate chip to name a few.
After you’re fed, go get cultured by visiting the Brooklyn Museum, an institution I like to think of as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s angsty little sibling (200 Eastern Parkway, Suggested Contribution of $12, $8 for students, http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/). I’m not always enthralled by the rows of ancient toothpicks that museums like these tend to focus on, however, the Brooklyn Museum likes to push the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from a typical museum visit.
Particularly impressive is their American Identities exhibit; ditching white walls for bright hues, this collection displays 18th century American landscapes next to examples of 1970s furniture design, mixing old and new in an innovative, eclectic mix which makes this collection feel as though it is meant to be absorbed rather than studied.
Among this experimental collection, visitors are invited to wander through the Museum’s visible storage units, checking out those objects not currently on display. It is impressive to see how many objects the museum holds, and intriguing to see what objects are deemed worthy of being preserved. It made me wonder if any of my stuff will end up in a museum someday—although I suppose this will only come to fruition if I ever make enough money to shop somewhere other than Ikea—those products are likely to disintegrate in the next 6 months.
My advice would be to start your exploration of the Brooklyn Museum here, as these exhibits put me in the mood for wandering around those more traditional collections. The Museum boasts one of the largest Ancient Egyptians collections, and after seeing more modern and familiar objects in the American Identities collection, I found the mummies and display cases filled with everyday objects from ancient Egypt to be that much spookier.
The entrance to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is conveniently located directly next door to the Brooklyn Museum (150 Eastern Parkway, $10 admission, $5 for students, http://www.bbg.org/). It is true that you could simply stroll through Prospect Park for a free taste of nature, but the small fee to visit the botanical gardens is certainly worth it, especially this time of year.
Throughout the year, different sections of the gardens are given the spotlight—when I visited it was the cherry blossoms and the tulips, and now it’s Bluebell Wood. Regardless of when you visit, the moment you enter you’ll feel miles away from New York City. Also impressive is the garden’s bonsai collection—gnarled and knotted hundred-year old trees that look as though they should be next to a doll house, these trees’ roots systems are actually tricked into thinking they’re 100 feet tall just like Tom Cruise and his lift inserts.
After all of that, if you’re feeling too cultured and sophisticated, then it’s time to drink. Walk on back to Vanderbilt, making sure to get sidetracked down a few of Prospect Height’s pristine blocks. For a trendy, low-key neighborhood bar with great bar food and an extensive beer selection, check out The Vanderbilt (570 Vanderbilt, http://www.thevanderbiltnyc.com/). If you’d like somewhere a bit more divey with some extra entertainment (movies shown once a week and Mad Men on Sundays), check out Soda Bar’s happy hour (629 Vanderbilt Ave). If you’ve worked up an appetite instead, head to Zaytoons to take advantage of their unbeatable backyard nestled next to Prospect Heights’ community garden (594 Vanderbilt, http://www.zaytoons.com/).