Bay Ridge tour
A surprisingly diverse corner of southwest Brooklyn, with maritime views, historic houses and churches, a rich ethnic mix, and many places to eat and drink.
It's a self-contained neighborhood, suburban and urban. The substantial southwest Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge has a reputation as the gateway to suburbia, since it is the pathway to Staten Island via the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (starting point of the annual NYC Marathon, by the way).
Yes, Bay Ridge, along with the adjacent, conjoined neighborhood of Fort Hamilton, has lovely large homes near the waterfront, a testament to this area's longtime residential (never industrial) character. No wonder it was home to many of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1950s.
But Bay Ridge, reached via the sometimes sluggish R train, is also a self-contained urban village, with a rich variety of housing (apartment buildings, row houses), civic buildings (religious institutions, schools), theaters (most converted), retail outlets, and restaurants.
Not for nothing has the "borough of homes and churches" moniker for Brooklyn been adapted, in the case of Bay Ridge, to "neighborhood of bars and churches." Today, we'd add mosques.
Once known for a Scandinavian and Irish population, and later an Italian one, Bay Ridge is still represented by those ethnic groups to an extent, plus people from Greece and China. Perhaps the most notable recent set of immigrants is from the Middle East; Bay Ridge has both Christian and Muslim Arab populations, and attendant religious institutions, restaurants, and stores.
Probably the best Middle Eastern restaurant in New York City is in Bay Ridge, Tanoreen, just a block from the subway. There's also excellent pizza, falafel, and baklava, among foods.
Depending on our route, we may encounter the old stomping grounds of novelist Gilbert Sorrentino (who thought Bay Ridge was pretty grim) and pass by the old workplace and house (surprisingly nice) of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. We'll see some spectacular mansions and, when we get to the waterfront, tremendous views of Lower Manhattan and New Jersey.
A walk around Bay Ridge will display the tremendous variety of the neighborhood, which has two major shopping avenues, another avenue full of major institutions, numerous interesting side streets, along with those great views. Please bring a MetroCard: we might take a quick bus ride to cut down on distance.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 45-60 minutes by subway
Basic tour length: 2.5 hours (see fees)
Starting place: Varies, but a good place is the R train at Bay Ridge Avenue or the R train at 86th Street. Or, if you come by ferry, the AmVets Memorial Pier.
Ending place: The opposite end of the neighborhood, depending on where we start
Highlights: History, architecture, waterfront views, ethnic mix, urban/suburban feel
Before tour: Snacks/meal
After tour: Snacks/meal
Potential tour extensions with me: adjacent Sunset Park, nearby Bensonhurst, Coney Island & Brighton Beach
Why I like leading this tour: Bay Ridge is like a small city unto itself, with a real array of architecture, shopping streets, food/restaurant options, views, and immigrant history.