Neighborhood Secrets

Gowanus, Brooklyn: The Insider's Guide to Living There

By Polly Mosendz  | April 18, 2014 - 8:59AM

Until recently, Gowanus has gotten a bad rap, thanks to its namesake canal, a toxic body of water designated a Superfund site. But in the last few years, restaurateurs, barkeepers, artist collectives and real estate investors  have flocked to the neighborhood, wedged between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

These days, the canal is getting cleaned, luxury rental buildings are sprouting like spring daffodils along Fourth Avenue, and a long-delayed Whole Foods opened in the area last winter. But beyond these changes, what else should you know about this once-industrial part of Brooklyn?

We talked to the people who call it home and got their unfiltered take on the 'hood. Below, in their own words, the best insider tips:

  • Neighborhood Borders: Fourth Avenue to Smith Street and Degraw to Ninth Streets
  • Median sale price: $849,000
  • Median rent: $3,700/month

1. Ex-Manhattanites may suffer culture shock: "No one from Manhattan is ever going to visit you again." -Ben, 38, renter for six years "People have cars here, and it’s totally normal. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that." -AJ, 41, renter for about four months "It kind of feels like living in a warehouse: lots of metal, really industrial. If you’re moving from Manhattan, that’s a really different vibe to get used to." -Hughes, 26, renter for about a year

2. There are bodies in the basement: "Gowanus was home to the first battle of the American revolution [the Battle for Brooklyn] and residents have known for a while that fallen soldiers from this battle are hidden underneath basements." -Ben A., early 30s, renter for six years and founder of neighborhood blog Gowanus Your Face Off


Many parts of the area maintain their industrial charm (Photo credit: Mandy Goldberg)

The canal has been named to the government's list of the most polluted sites in the nation (Photo credit: Jason Eppink)

3. It's perfect for mouth breathers: "The canal smells awful in the summer. Then again, all of New York smells awful in the summer." -Anthony, 31, owner for about a year

4. Bars aren't just for drinkers: "There’s this weird phenomenon of watching TV in bars here. People are really serious about it. Try talking during 'Game of Thrones' at Halyards and you will quickly find out, people do not mess around  when it comes to their bar TV." -Anthony "Only Manhattanites go to Brooklyn Boulders." -Kaelie, 24, renter for two years "The new shuffleboard place [Royal Palms] sucks. At least in my opinion. I think a lot of residents are kind of skeeved out by the idea of a hipster old man spot infiltrating their space." -Ben 

Brooklyn Boulders will have you climbing up the walls (Photo credit: katie chao and ben muessig)

The Whole Foods is just one harbinger of gentrification (Photo credit: Whole Foods Market)

5. The strollers are coming! "The place is transitioning from an industrial area to a family area. I see more strollers and new constructions than I do old businesses now. It could turn into another Park Slope pretty quickly." -Ben "These old lofts are getting renovated, or just torn down for new fancy buildings. Crappy to see the old Gowanus go but I think it might end up okay, especially since it'll earn the old owners a lot of money." - Anthony "It’s not yuppified yet, but we are getting there." -Hughes

6. Taxi sweet spots: "I’ve figured out that using Uber is easier than cabs, at least for me. I never have to deal with cabbies not wanting to go to Gowanus when I go out at night. I think some of the flatrate livery services are even cheaper than regular cabs too." -AJ "It’s definitely easier to get cabs out here during the morning than in other places. We live pretty close to a school, so around there is a great place to get a cab. Hang out in front of Whole Foods and a cab will appear to get you back to Park Slope too." -Hughes "It’s kind of a no man’s land. It’s not that hard to get around when you are here, but to get there, it’s annoying for people." -Ben

7. Subway intel: "The F train is death. It’s packed, and old, and awful, and I think it comes three times an hour,  sometimes." -AJ "The F train is probably the worst thing about living here." -Kaelie "The N and R are pretty good. I usually take the R train when I need to get to Manhattan." -Anthony "I try to avoid public transportation. It’s so crowded. The bike lanes are nice out here." -Hughes

Gowanus has become a destination for foodies (Photo credit: Littleneck, via Facebook)

"Backwater" by Ellen Driscoll on display at Proteus Gowanus--one of the many art exhibitors in the nabe

8. Hidden gems: "Canal Bar kind of belongs in the East Village. It’s a terrible dive bar but in the best way. There’s free popcorn and everything is like $4." -Ben "Littleneck is not that hidden anymore. Still, it’s incredible. The cast iron littlenecks [clams] are my favorite." -AJ "Gowanus has a vibrant small business community that manufactures and sells some pretty cool shit! Highly recommend: kitchen cutlery workshop Cut BrooklynGowanus Furniture, the Brooklyn reuse center at Build It Green, bakery and restaurant Runner & StoneBrooklyn BrineCanal BarLucey's LoungeFletcher's BarbecueRobot Foundry (they can make robots out of old computer parts), Gowanus Studio SpaceGowanus Print LabGowanus Wines MerchantsFilm Biz RecylingLowlands BarMonte's, Cotta Bene, Littleneck, the Pines, and the Royal Palms shuffleboard clubProteus Gowanus is a fantastic museum with all sorts of stuff Brooklyn history nerds would love." - Ben A.

9. Artists and art lovers, rejoice! "There is a huge art scene here! Even if you never liked art before, it’s easy to get into living here. The Open Studios tour is really cool! I think it just happens in the fall, but it’s great. You get to go  through a bunch of the art spaces, studios and lofts and see art. And it’s free." -Kaelie

Related posts:

Adjusting to life in a new 'hood

Tribeca to Gowanus: The most toxic thing about Gowanus is the new construction

Gowanus Your Face Off: Looking past the open sewer to a promising neighborhood

10 of the best NYC neighborhoods for recent college grads

Neighborhood Secrets gets the lowdown on NYC's neighborhoods from the people who call the area home.

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