Field Trip: Bay Ridge

Yesterday was the first day of NYC Ferry’s South Brooklyn route, which travels between Pier 11/Wall Street and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. You can buy tickets online ($2.75 each way), but you have to download the app to use them; they’re flexible in that they’re not for any particular date, but they don’t guarantee you’ll a spot on the boat. I found the ticket purchase painless enough, despite my great resistance to adding apps to my phone. When I arrived at the pier, however, a long line had formed next to the sign saying “South Brooklyn Route.”

Eventually, I figured out that the line was for a tourist boat, and the sign was indicating a waiting area on the pier’s south side.

As the departure time of 10:45 a.m. arrived, a fellow passenger and I grew nervous: Where was the boat? Then a man came over and said it had docked on the pier’s north side. NYC Ferry could really stand to make this all clearer. In any event, the boat was fresh and new and a bit small; it’s easy to see why crowding is a problem. The interior has seats in rows, with a snack bar at the back. On top are not nearly enough chairs, annoyingly gathered into clumps, many with unnecessary tables.

And we were off! The trip to Bay Ridge—with stops at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pier 1 and Pier 6), Red Hook, and Sunset Park—took about 45 minutes. The only demerit to the entire experience is the piercing signal the boat makes to announce each departure. They could probably hear us in New Jersey.

I disembarked knowing absolutely nothing about Bay Ridge except that parts of Saturday Night Fever were possibly shot there. I had looked at Google Maps to see if the neighborhood has borders, and it seemed to be jalapeño-shaped, with the Belt Parkway and Gowanus Expressway on either side and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the tip.

The ferry drops passengers off in the northwest, at Bay Ridge Avenue. I set off along the Shore Promenade, the strip of park on the far side of the Belt Parkway. It was pretty empty, with an occasional jogger or fisherman. The weather couldn’t have been lovelier.

Just ask this guy, sunbathing on a pedestrian bridge over the Belt Parkway.

For the next 30 minutes, I walked through the neighborhood’s western half, marveling at the architecture. On Shore Road, the owners really went for it: Architectural choices were not just made, they were embraced. Some of it struck me as tacky, but if I wanted safe good taste, I could’ve stayed at home. Satisfying housepeeking is more about seeing how other people live than looking at houses at you’d want to live in.

Not even the sidewalk was spared.

As I wandered inland, the houses were less ostentatious, but still eye-catching. And row houses became more prevalent. I was drawn to the ones that looked like conjoined fraternal twins, where the owners had gone distinct directions. (Or even built a wall between them.)

The streets were delightfully quiet. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped mid-street to admire the calmness and/or the trees.

And there were tasteful houses here and there.

When I was the editor of a travel magazine, it used to drive me nuts when people would ask where they should go on vacation. “What do you want?” I would reply. What I want is not Bay Ridge, per se; what I crave is the sense of exploration—having no clue what’s around the corner—that I rarely get in Manhattan anymore. And that’s why I don’t do research for these jaunts. Missing things that I have subsequently learned about—such as the Senator Street Historic District and the “step streets” at 74th Street and 76 Street—is a bummer, but I can always go back.

Hunger was calling, so I headed over to two commercial strips, 3rd Avenue and 5th Avenue, hoping something would lure me in. The streets felt like New York of yore, with myriad independent businesses (and a few chains, of course).

The architecture wasn’t very interesting, but there were some wonderful old signs—which I only decided to photograph after I had passed all the best ones (although the billiards one is pretty sweet).

Moments of cool sneaked in now and then….

But I went old-school, with a couple of slices at Gino’s, which has a pizza counter and a real restaurant. I only realized later that I could’ve eaten my slices in the dining room, but I was already halfway done—the eggplant slice was insane—and the main counter guy was fed way up with the customer who preceded me, a kvetchy Eastern European woman.

After poking into Balady Foods, a halal market that I would be thrilled to shop in every day (so nice! so clean! with a skylight!), I continued with the old-school theme at Mike’s Donuts. The old-fashioned donut was fine, but the atmosphere—a bunch of codgers hanging out at the tables—was superb.

The next ferry was in 45 minutes, so I took the subway back to Manhattan. Even after having to walk to a station farther away (the Bay Ridge Avenue stop is closed for renovations), I was home far more quickly than if I’d waited for the boat. As much as I love a ferry, the subway is hard to beat.

Previous Field Trip posts:
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
The New Whitney Museum
The Rockaways
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



  1. Love those kinds of explorations Erik! We have been doing a lot of them in BK lately too. It looks like a good place to bike around – do they allow bikes on the ferry?

  2. LOL. Brilliant article.

  3. Nice write up. We often do trips like this too. Just go!

  4. Really enjoyed this piece, thanks!

  5. That’s Billiards with an S flat.

    Sigh…miss this so much.

  6. I live in Bay Ridge. And I appreciate your article on informing people of an easy way to visit this great neighborhood. And I realize this is a blog and so I have no right to judge or bash your opinion. So I’m opening a can of worms by saying this… but I have too. Stating that the decor of people’s homes in Bay Ridge is tacky is actually tackier. In NYC, it is a blessing to own a home in any neighborhood in Brooklyn. People in Bay Ridge take great pride in their homes and the street in front of their homes. All NY, not just Tribeca citizens, have to bust their ass to get home and maintain it… I realize you had more positive things than negative, but calling someone’s home tacky on a public forum is terrible.

    • Erik, its a tough crowd in Bay Ridge – we are nice people, just don’t critizice where we live! Only we can do that. : )

  7. I agree Cat! I thought that comment about tacky homes was really rude and arrogant . They are European and exotic looking, is what should have been said. I do not even have my own home, but i sure do admire seeing the beautiful looking homes in bay ridge, as i go for my strolls….. The moral of peopke is seriously declining around us, lets help bring it up, not kick it down…

  8. You missed all the great restaurants Bay Ridge has to offer to offer

  9. Interesting to see how someone not from these parts sees my neighborhood. Was surprised at the comment about some of the homes looking tacky on Shore Road. That was a first. I see you zeroed in on some of the great places tho’ frankly there are so many. Third Ave alone is like restaurant row with boutiques here and there as well. We also have a botanical garden (movies Al fresco in the summer), festivals, parades, church bells ringing on Fourth Avenue – but I digress…

  10. “If I wanted safe good taste, I could’ve stayed at home.”
    God, how pretentious.

  11. Tacky?
    You mean like Steam Punk decor and skinny jeans?
    Please…don’t encourage more freaks to invade Bay Ridge.

  12. Eye roll to this entire article. Go home transplant.

  13. I would love to have ANY of the “tacky” homes in a heartbeat!! Bay Ridge is soooo beautiful and charming.

  14. I have to agree with the residents, of which I am one. You truly sound condescending when you talk of this Brooklyn neighborhood. You act like we are stuck in some sort of time warp. We are the true New Yorkers. We are the kids who grew up here jumping on the trains to Manhattan, spending days in museums and nights in clubs. We valued the separation of chaotic city life with our quiet streets. Although I could name many problems with this neighborhood, it has been my neighborhood for most of my life, so I am allowed to knock it. We are not some sort of exhibit for you to gawk at. If you don’t know how to write an article on Bay Ridge, refer to The NY Times. Oh and perhaps you should take another walk around. I’ve travelled the world and I still appreciate most of the architecture in this gem by the harbor.

  15. Tacky homes? What do you call tasteful, a crappy apt wedged between buildings?!
    Look at these beauties..