Rachel Felder is no stranger to Brooklyn. She’s a fourth-generation New Yorker with plenty of family history, stories and memories in the city. Felder (a journalist whose work can be seen in various publications from the New York Times to Rolling Stone) decided to write the now available “Insider Brooklyn: A Curated Guide to New York City’s Most Stylish Borough” for visitors and locals alike—aiming to make discovery in the dauntingly large borough more approachable and fun. “Insider Brooklyn” can be read as a kind of treasure map—separated into neighborhoods and also categories, you can make your mission visiting a bar in areas from Greenpoint to Ditmas Park to Red Hook, or shopping at all the flea markets listed. Some of the usual suspects are listed (like Roberta’s, Rough Trade or Five Leaves) as it would be remiss to skip them, but the most exciting inclusions are the little-known antique shops, design stores, and tucked-away eating and drinking holes that will have you busting out of your own neighborhood. We spoke with Felder about her love for her hometown and writing a book that she’d want to read.
Your family has deep roots in Brooklyn; what are some of your favorite memories of the borough?
A lot of my most memorable Brooklyn experiences as a child included, perhaps inevitably, food. I spent many, many weekend afternoons in Brighton Beach, for example, eating copious amounts of Russian food, sometimes as takeout in the sand and sometimes in one of the area’s many authentic restaurants. Sitting on the boardwalk there eating borscht, it’s easy to imagine that you’re in a Russian beachfront resort town. My most favorite spot in the area, Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes, sadly closed years ago—that very no-frills place was absolutely amazing and had the most delicious knishes in a myriad of flavors. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the spinach pies from Damascus Bakery—I’ve been eating those since I was, like, a year old. I buy them in bulk and keep them in the freezer.
There are lots of guides to NYC. What did you feel was your point of difference when embarking on this endeavor?
I aimed to write the book on Brooklyn I wanted to read: a handpicked guide of the most vibrant spots instead of something that was all-encompassing and comprehensive. My goal is to provide a round-up of the places a savvy native would fill you in on—so even if it’s your first time in Brooklyn you can feel like a local. And I wanted it to be beautiful, so you could sit at home and plan traveling with pleasure, or give it as a gift to someone planning a trip—or move—to the borough.
Everyone hears about Brooklyn but most people don’t seem to know where to go: I wanted to point people in the right direction, with everything organized by neighborhood and with essential details like the nearest subway stop included, to make, say, a weekend afternoon of exploring in a new neighborhood super-easy. I intentionally included neighborhoods that aren’t all that well known to visitors, like Gowanus, as well as communities like Williamsburg, because there really are salient spots worth visiting throughout the borough.
Brooklyn is huge and has a rich history—what element of the borough was most important for you to reflect in your book?
As I was working on the book, the conviction and dedication of Brooklyn’s small business owners and entrepreneurs was incredibly compelling and inspirational. I hope their passion comes across in the book. I was eager to include incredible heritage businesses, like Martin Greenfield Clothiers, alongside more recent openings, to show the breadth and history of the borough.
What do you hope, ultimately, readers get from the book?
I aimed to write a book that would appeal to both locals and visitors, including lots of “secret” places that even people who live near them don’t necessarily know about! One interesting dynamic about Brooklyn is that people tend to know their own neighborhood but often don’t know the rest of the borough. Many people who live in Williamsburg, for example, have never been to Bay Ridge or Ditmas Park, both of which have wonderful shops and restaurants. I hope the book encourages readers to explore neighborhoods they don’t know and, of course, to love Brooklyn as much as I do.
Images by Cool Hunting