Field Trip: Sunset Park

Having already explored Bay Ridge, at the end of NYC Ferry‘s South Brooklyn route, I set off for the second-to-last stop—Sunset Park, another Brooklyn neighborhood I knew zip about. I was pleased to see that NYC Ferry has organized the departure info at Pier 11. Now, another suggestion: Each dock on the route should have signage visible from the boat, so passengers can tell which stop is theirs. Many of the landings look alike, and the announcements are tough to hear on the upper deck.

Welcome to Sunset Park! I was under the impression that the ferry would drop me off near Industry City, the former industrial complex being converted into creative offices, but I misread the map. Instead, we landed at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, another big complex I recognized from the Belt Parkway. The Brooklyn Army Terminal is massive, but I didn’t see any way to engage with it (or that marvelous skybridge); then again, I didn’t linger—too much ground to cover. I did enjoy the neat old factory and the NPYD marina.

As you can see in the map, most of Sunset Park to the east of the highway.

I can now cross “walk under the Belt Parkway” off my bucket list.

The residential architecture is mainly rowhouses—I don’t think I saw even one freestanding home—and some are in better shape than others. (It rarely got nicer than the pergola below.) I’m immune to many of the charms of Brooklyn, but I love those rooflines.

Commercial activity is almost entirely on the avenues. While there are some nice buildings, most of the storefronts have been “modernized” in garish ways. (The two old signs below give a sense of how things probably used to be.) More enchanting than the aesthetics of the stores were the liveliness and the mix. As I walked along 5th Avenue, which is mainly Hispanic—Puerto Rican if the many flags are any indication—I passed laundromats, food markets, a butcher, travel agents, pawn shops, slice joints, phone repair stores, and so on…. Some of us can remember when Manhattan was like that.

You know I like a quality misspelling:

And I’d be remiss not to mention the churches, including a pretty one that I neglected to take a photo of.

The only gentrified place I saw on the entire walk was Parkette, a café that opened last year. I’m pretty good at sniffing out cool and/or high-end restaurants, but when it comes to hole-in-the-walls, I prefer to rely on an expert. In March, Eater’s Robert Sietsema wrote a guide about where to eat in Sunset Park; the first establishment that I came across was Generoso’s Bakery, where I stopped to buy some cookies. I let them choose an assortment for me, as long as there were no sprinkles. The cookies were terrific, buttery and crumbly in a way you don’t see so much anymore. After I ordered, I noticed the anti-abortion sign, which bummed me out, but then what do you expect at an old-school Italian-American bakery?

I kept walking along 5th Avenue, starting to wilt in the 84% humidity. (Was someone playing bagpipes, or was I hallucinating?) I was relieved to finally make it to Don Pepe Tortas y Jugos, another Sietsema recommendation. The menu of sandwiches and juices is overwhelming—all of the options are displayed on the walls—but I managed to locate a vegetarian torta, and I asked the juice guy to give me whichever smoothie was the most popular. (The Red Dragon: dragon fruit, mango, banana, pomegranate juice, and agave.) Sitting near me was a family with two young sons, one of whom had graduated from somewhere—kindergarten?—and he was all dressed up, with congratulatory balloons. The sandwich and smoothie were excellent, the latter with the biggest straw I’ve ever wrapped my lips around, and everyone there was patient with my newbie/touristy behavior.

While I enjoyed my time at Don Pepe, in hindsight I should’ve ordered the meal to go and taken it over to the park called Sunset Park, which rises up a hill, with killer views of the harbor and Manhattan. The emphasis is on wide swaths of lawn, which I can see the neighborhood craving. At the far end is the Sunset Park Play Center, a stylish 1936 Art Deco pavilion (where pickleball was being played on an indoor court) and a huge swimming pool that should be open by now.

That last photo is of rowhouses on the park’s perimeter, which I think is where I’d live if I were to move to Sunset Park. From there, I headed south on 8th Avenue, into the predominantly Chinese part of the neighborhood. Maybe it was less interesting to me because we have Chinatown nearby, or maybe it was just harder to admire—vinyl siding, chrome railings, a gazillion discount stores, oy. That’s not to say there weren’t amusing and/or lovely moments along the way, such as the quartet of women playing mahjong at a table they had pulled onto the sidewalk, the holdout Italian-American menagerie, a hat that I think was shooting for “Marlboro,” lots of sidewalk hopscotch, a shoe repair from another era, and a miniature lending library.

My goal was to visit the Fei Long Food Court, described by Sietsema as “six stalls, embedded in a block-long supermarket with parking in back,” but 84% humidity and a total absence of hunger had me heading for the subway. Just as at Bay Ridge, it was closed; a sign promised an “Extensively Renovated Station Done in a Completely New Way,” which sounds mistranslated. What’s six more blocks after a couple hours of walking? My only regret was not seeing Industry City. Perhaps on the Red Hook field trip….

Previous Field Trip posts:
Bay Ridge
The Met Breuer
ICP Museum
Noguchi Museum & Socrates Sculpture Park
The Fisher Landau Center for Art
The High Bridge
The Broad
Crown Heights
Spuyten Duyvil
New York Botanical Garden
Bed-Stuy
The New Whitney Museum
Bushwick-ish
The Rockaways
Greenpoint
Wave Hill
Governors Island
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance

6 Comments

  1. Perfect timing! We took the ferry to the Rockaways this week and when it stopped at Sunset Park, decided to give that a try next time. Were the restaurants mostly counter/take out rather than table service?

  2. We tried to take the ferry from Pier 11 to Rockaways yesterday but unfortunately the boat was at capacity by the time we got to the head of the line (after waiting for about 40min). We didn’t want to wait another hour for the next boat so we just turned around and went home. Wish the ferry runs more frequently instead of every hour.

  3. I’m really enjoying this field trip series. Thanks Erik.

  4. Loved it. I’m a resident of Sunset Park. I found you as your site came up in Google News. I have an automated search for Sunset Park Brooklyn.

  5. Hi Erik,

    We thorougly enjoyed our Bay Ridge boat trip after reading your article a few weeks ago. However you didn’t mention the 129 year old Anopoli Diner at 6920 3rd Ave. What a surprise! The interior hasn’t changed for the most part. Being vegetarian, there were few choices for me so I chose the spinach pie which was really fresh and excellent. (unlike the shoe leather Gee Whiz has been offering of late). Also try their original ice cream concoctions like floats, egg creams and sundaes. Guaranteed you won’t forget the place. For some reason I can’t paste in photos, but do a name search and Mr Google has more info and photos..

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