The no-sewage guide to free Brooklyn pools

Kosciusko pool

The ultra-cool Kosciusko Pool in 1974 (before the new dress code.) Photo by Danny Lyons.

I held out going to public pools like I held out on getting an AC unit, but eventually concluded that cold water immersion beat any E-coli I might contract. After I stopped obsessing over what bodily excretions might be swimming with me, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the resources Brooklyn has poured into its pools. And at the moment, they sure beat the ocean, with four local beaches closed due to elevated bacteria levels stemming from last week’s Hudson sewage spills.

Before you go, be sure that you know the slew of pool rules well in advance. You must bring a heavy-duty lock (no luggage locks), wear a swimsuit, bring a towel, and vow never to dive or push. If you lack any of the aforementioned, you may be denied entry, depending on the staff. The only things allowed on deck with you will be your person, a towel, and possibly sunscreen depending on the pool attendant.

The Gnarliest
Douglass-Degraw (Boerum Hill): At “Double D Pool,” an intermediate-sized pool, I first learned the borough-wide rule that no one is allowed on the deck without a swimsuit and a shower, even if they are not going to swim. No shorts, cover-ups, cut-offs, etc. I witnessed a mother begging in vain that her overheated 2-year-old get to just dip in the pool, because the staff had deemed the material of his athletic shorts “harmful to the water.” The pool itself as well as the outdoor deck seemed fine, but the facilities in general were run down, older, and very cramped. Locks were broken on stall doors and lockers; toilets were gross and there was no soap at the sinks. Meanwhile, while enforcing all the unbending rules, the employees would eat sandwiches in the shower area — a public-pool no no. Sometimes, the urge to drench yourself in water is greater than the fear of what bacteria or doodies lurk beneath, but not so in Double D’s case.
Picnic Tables: 6
Sun beds: 7
Benches: 7
Water temperature: Cool
Extras: Separate kiddie pool with benches

The Biggest (we think)
Red Hook Pool: The Atlantic of Brooklyn public pools, this massive dunk is an oasis for any hot Brooklynite looking to cool off instantly. When we visited, they had the entire middle chunk of the giant pool roped off and closed, presumably to make it easier for the lifeguards, but this made the available space uncomfortably crowded. That being said, this well-run pool knows exactly how to handle any rowdy teenagers, rule-breakers, and other distractions, and does so perfunctorily, so keep your party in check.
Picnic Tables: 7
Sun beds: 21
Benches: A set of metal bleachers (be careful!) and lots of concrete to sun yourself on
Water Temperature: Cold
Extras: Large separate kiddie pool with sprinklers, play area, and benches for parents

The Smallest
Bushwick Pool
: At the smallest of all the non-kiddie pools we’ve seen, the staff runs a tight ship because it has to. There are mostly young kids within the parameters of the actual pool, since their parents stand outside the fence to watch them instead of attempting to crowd into the pool area (wise choice). If you don’t mind fighting off 5-year-olds for space in the water and just need to stop sizzling, Bushwick Pool will fulfill your needs.
Picnic Tables: 2
Sun beds: 5
Benches: 2
Water Temperature: Cool
Extras: Separate kiddie pool (shaded)

The Best
Sunset Park Pool: Another Olympic-sized pool (though lacking a children’s pool like Red Hook), Sunset Park was by far the best experience of all the pools. There were large, colorfully painted concrete bleachers that provided enough room for groups and families to sit together, and the crowning glory: a beach volleyball court. No one was using it when we were there, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to work out while forgetting you’re working out. We even encountered a pool employee who wasn’t aggressively brusque—unfortunately, that signified a break in the normal protocol. These employees are understandably harangued day in and day out, but Parks and Rec should make a change to help their employees.
Picnic Tables: 9
Sun beds: 13
Benches: 40 one side, 35 on the other, and concrete bleachers
Water Temperature: Very Cold
Extras: Beach volleyball court (just ask the office for the ball)

The Shadiest (in a good way)
Kosciusko Pool (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
: The last Olympic we visited, Kosciusko Pool’s lap area wasn’t crowded. The water was clean and refreshing, and a return to the concrete bleachers of Sunset Park, except these were shaded, allowing for an all-day pool excursion without a blistering sunburn. Kosciusko also had a section roped off, though as with Red Hook, this probably changes when the weekend crowds hit, and the number of available lifeguards goes up. The crowd here was mostly 12-13 year old kids, and I’m undecided if that is better or worse than copious numbers of toddlers. However, we did wonder how many times the lifeguards have to save people…either Squints from The Sandlot-style or legitimately.
Picnic Tables: 2
Sun beds: 10
Benches: Concrete bleachers
Water Temperature: Cool
Extras: Kiddie pool

Brokelyn’s overall winner was Sunset Park, for the size and cleanliness, decent accommodations such as lockers, huge bleachers as well as 75 benches, and awesome beach volleyball court.

Outdoor pool hours are from 11am through 7pm., with a break for pool cleaning from 3 to 4pm. Visitors at several pools have observed that this time frame can vary.

4 Comment

  • I hear the Bed stuy pool is actually nice and clean.

  • Coming from someone who lives right up the street on Marcy Ave. from the pool in Bed-Stuy, I must say it is quite nice and never insanely crowded. I’m not sure if this is a city pool-wide rule or not, but at least there you can only wear a white top inside, among other clothing restrictions.

  • I go to Double D pool with my three kids often and I think this review is off the mark. While the staff strictly enforces the rules I’ve also found them to be friendly. Learn the rules before you go and you won’t have a problem with the staff. The locker room is certainly institutional in “decor” but we’ve always found the bathrooms to be clean and functional. The pool might be small but it’s not as crowded as some others I’ve visited like Red Hook. To my family and I Double D is a crucial oasis of fun in an otherwise bleak patch of Gowanus.

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