Bay Ridge/ Bensonhurst

Staycation tour of South Brooklyn

Sheepshead Bay pier, by Nimo Photography
Sheepshead Bay pier, by Nimo Photography

Here we are, at the tail-end of summer, September drawing perilously near, and maybe that European jaunt you dreamed of just didn’t pan out this season. We expected as much, and we’ve been doing our best to provide substitutes: exotic home swaps, $500-a-week vacations, a special kind of working holiday and, well, Mexico. But if none of these was the thing for you, it’s not too late for this one last chance for a great almost-getaway: the South Brooklyn staycation. Here are 17 ways to have a (very full) weekend in our own down-under.

FRIDAY NIGHT: Cheap Italian, drinks on the boardwalk

Fuel first, so start off on a Friday evening with an authentic Italian dinner at John’s Deli (2033 Stillwell Ave.). Take the D train to the 25th Ave. stop for “steam table”-style service and a menu with specials like chicken cacciatore, sausage and peppers, lasagna or fried ravioli—all for around $7 a plate. After dinner, jump back on the D for two short stops to the end of the line at Coney Island to see the historic attractions or even, depending on the size of your meal, take a ride on the Wonder Wheel or Cyclone ($6/$8 respectively). If you make the trip soon, get to the boardwalk by about 9:30 for the weekly summer Friday night fireworks show. Then top the evening off with cocktails at Ruby’s or Cha-Cha’s (the Riegelmann Boardwalk and Stillwell Ave.). This combination is my pick to end an evening at Coney —but keep an early curfew because tomorrow is a big day.

SATURDAY: Fishing, clams, geezer rock

You’ll be crack-of-dawnin’ it on day-two as you make your way down to the Sheepshead Bay Road stop on the Q train. The waterfront here is home to a number of commercial fishing boats which offer either a full-day or a half-day of fishing (approx. $75/$45 respectively, including all tackle, hooks, sinkers and bait). Most of the boats leave at 8 a.m. and reservations are not required. If you are staycationing with friends, consider a more intimate experience and charter a smaller vessel. My favorite, the 29′ boat manned by Captain Joe of More Time Charters, must be pre-booked with a deposit. Fishing for the day will set you back a bit, but it’s hard to beat this for authenticity in Sheepshead Bay (and think of all the money you’re not spending on JetBlue).

Elevated train and distant Wonder Wheel, by Clay Larsen
Elevated train and distant Wonder Wheel, by Clay Larsen

After you’ve de-wormed your fingernails and regained your land legs, pretty yourself up and get ready for a water-front supper. For a local favorite, try Randazzo’s Clam Bar (2017 Emmons Ave.), where the draws are the two Italian red sauces, known as simply Medium and Hot. Both are distinctive and go well atop your choice of fried fish, shrimp, calamari or a plate of steamed mussels. The joint’s best seller is the calamari, which will set you back $11 for a heaping plate.

If you find yourself completely fished-out after today’s ocean expedition you needn’t worry—some great (and cheap) hot roast beef sandwiches are only a few blocks up the main drag. Take a stroll to Roll-N-Roaster (2901 Emmons Ave.) where their motto is that you can have cheez on anything you pleez. Place your order at the counter and just wait for the cute girls in short skirts to call your number. Their roast beef sandwiches sell so fast that a fresh meal is all but guaranteed. Around $10 will get you a double dipped sandwich (extra gravy), a side of fries with cheez and a homemade lemonade or iced tea.

Roast beef and fries with cheez, by Andrew Sorense
Roast beef and fries with cheez, by Andrew Sorense

For some after-dinner imbibing, you have a number of choices. Lucky for you, fishermen like to drink, and they like to drink cheap. Nightlight Cafe (1657 Sheepshead Bay Rd.) always has something going on, like karaoke, live music or even belly-dancing. Drinks come in at around $6 per cocktail and $4/domestic and $5/imported for the beers. A block away is Wheeler’s (1707 Sheepshead Bay Rd.), a favorite of the area’s older crowd. It’s probably not the best place to pick up a hottie, but if you’re looking for a cheap beer (tap at $3.75 and $4.50) and a good place to absorb the old salt in the air, then cozy up here for the evening.You might even be lucky enough to visit them on Geezer Rock night when they feature a live band jamming classic rock hits.

SUNDAY: Walk off Saturday’s calories (then eat more), zen out at a spa, gaze at the Verrazano

The next morning, clear your head with a walk on the water—on the footbridge, that is, between Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach (don’t worry, you’re still in Brooklyn). Then take a winding walk up and down the tree-lined streets and admire the modern architecture. The streets run alphabetically here, so you’ll want to make your way left, up in letters, to the shoreline at Oriental Boulevard. The sand of Manhattan Beach you’re on now was once the site of the Oriental Hotel (1880-1916), the resort du jour of the elite during Coney Island’s heyday.

Back at Oriental Boulevard,  you can pick up a bus to one of the south’s best shopping areas: Bay Ridge. Take the B1 bus (toward Bay Ridge) to 86th Street and 14th Avenue. There, you’ll transfer to the B64 bus and take that to the last stop, 86th Street and Fourth Avenue.

Nearby Third Avenue is a unique shopping area. For whatever reason, there are a bunch of little stores that specialize in home decoration, candles and aromatherapy. Make it your business to stop by Lavender Blue (8702 Third Ave., 718-748-0322) and pick up a mixture of incense sticks at around 10 for $2. Their scent menu is as big as the hair on the girls you’d expect to see hanging out there. About a half-block away is The Green Spa (8804 Third Ave.) where, if you’re so inclined, you can dig into your pockets for your last staycation splurge. Sample a basic service like the Vegan Spa Mani, which, at $18, features a 100% vegan product line. (Wait, are there beef scraps in normal nail polish?)

Photo courtesy of the Green Spa
Photo courtesy of the Green Spa

Somewhere in the shopping mix you might be about ready for Sunday brunch. Find the corner of 88th Street and Third Avenue to sit down at Cebu (8801 Third Ave.). Their outdoor-seating is perfect for people-watching and $10 will get you a complete brunch (not including alcohol). Try the orange & vanilla-infused French toast and warm banana Belgian waffles. Or, right across the street you’ll find Trace (8814 Third Ave.), where $13 will snag you a Mexican inspired breakfast complete with your choice of Mimosa, Bellini or Bloody Mary. Hair of the dog, y’all.

Then there’s always Century 21 (472 86th St.), which, like its flagship location in lower Manhattan, is where you can snag designer duds for next to nothing. On a recent trip here I picked up a pair of Cole Haan shades for $12 and a men’s Ben Sherman hat for $16 on clearance. Get there.

To wind down the weekend, go on the 15 minute walk (or $6 cab ride) to Owl’s Head Park (68th St. at Shore Road) and its 27 acres of green. Enjoy the foliage, check out the action in the skate park or just lie back and take in the view of the Verrazano Bridge. The massive suspension bridge to Staten Island is affectionately known to locals as the “guinea gangplank,” but it really is quite a view. And remember, it’s the very bridge where John Travolta stood in Saturday Night Fever and tried to save his buddy Bobby C. All right here in South Brooklyn.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, by Chris Gold
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, by Chris Gold

Nikki Jo Grossman is the newly appointed Coney Island correspondent for the Examiner.


  1. Bay Ridge Resident

    Dear Nikki Jo:

    Thank you ever so much for inviting all of the asshat hipsters to my neighborhood for a “staycation.” I guess you dn’t realize that some of us actually LIVE here. As a result we need things to furnish our homes, hence why some local businesses may sell such items. Imagine that! “For whatever reason, there are a bunch of little stores that specialize in home decoration, candles and aromatherapy.”

    Also, thank you for perpetuating an overused, unoriginal stereotype. “Their scent menu is as big as the hair on the girls you’d expect to see hanging out there.”

    Finally, there’s something called “research,” as a “writer,” you may want to try it. Bay Ridge is NOT “South Brooklyn.”

  2. @bay ridge resident-

    You are correct, Bay Ridge is not part of the composite that makes up ‘South Brooklyn’- Demographically, however, you have to admit it’s a helluva lot more South than it is North.

    But, seriously, why all the hate? Believe me when I tell you that I am as anti-hipster as it gets but it is blatantly obvious that our parts of Bklyn are slept on. Fishing communities and good Italian food are things for all the world to experience.

    Hipsters NEED to experience a John’s Deli Roastbeef with gravy. It is only through experience that you learn what is right and what is wrong. Lead by example. Change the world.

    PS – I’m born and bred South Brooklyn (Gravesend to be exact) and have been in and around Bay Ridge my entire life. My hair is huge and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Big hair on Brooklyn girls is not necessarily a stereotype. :)

  3. Good job, Nikki. As a fellow Gravesend resident however, I am disappointed in the lack of a mention for Joe’s of Avenue U. Some of the most authentic Italian cuisine you’ll find. Other than that, very informative.

  4. Hey Shimmy –

    Within walking distance to the waterfront are two options. The more affordable of the two is the Golden Gate Inn (3867 Shore Parkway) at around $115 a night and just a tad pricier at $153.00 via their Internet rate is The Best Western (3003 Emmons Avenue), which would be my pick.

  5. Jessica

    You came to Bay Ridge and pretty much went to one block. Seriously. First off, the Century here is the original one, and now I believe is the largest as its footprint extends 2 city blocks.

    How do you come here from another neighborhood and not try the ethereal food at either Tanoreen or Robicelli’s? Considering those two are the reason that we get pretty much all our “food tourism” from other neighborhoods and boroughs, you think they’d be mentioned. And what about Tuscany Grill or Elia, all Michelin suggested? Did you bother to check out all the cute independent boutiques like Lola’s? Aside from Owl’s Head, it doenst seem like you looked around the neighborhood, or researched it, at all.

    By the way, Saturday Night Fever came out over 30 years ago, 6 years before I was even born. And no one in this neighborhood has had big hair since 1990. The look for the past 20 years has been straight with highlights. So you’ve had plenty of time since both those events to “research”.

  6. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your response and your opinion. I agree with you that I left out some really great restaurants but it wasn’t done so with the intention to not educate the public. In keeping w/ the Brokelyn tone, I put these suggestions together with the agenda of keeping things ‘on the cheap’. I’m confident you’ll agree that places like Tanoreen, Robicelli’s, Lola etc do not come in with a rating of “$”.

    Yes, it is true that Bay Ridge has tons to offer and that is part of the reason why on the 26th of this month I will be an official resident of the 11209. I can’t wait! I love everything about the area and if given a 5 page spread with free reign to report all worth mentioning, I’d absolutely love to.

    PS: As I mentioned in an earlier comment response I have been in and around Bay Ridge my full 31 years. My hair is big and I make no apologies about it.. Remember, just because something is not necessarily ‘in-style’ doesn’t mean it ceases to exist :)

  7. Jessica

    You can get some great deals at Tanoreen if you eat there for lunch instead of dinner. They do most of their business by take-out, so you can get standard mid-east take out fare at a really good price. For the Zagat rating they have, the price can’t be beat. They’re going to move to a new building soon that they’ve been doing lots of renovation on, so I don’t know if the move will affect their prices.
    Robicelli’s is the best deal for great food in the neighborhood. You can get half of one of their gourmet sandwiches, which are big, a cup of their amazing soup and a soda for 8 bucks. They’re run by classically trained chefs from the CIA, and you can get a full dinner for 10 bucks. But what they’re best known for is their cupcakes. I can say they’re nothing like any cupcake I’ve had in New York; they’re very rich, decadent and filling, and the flavors are so unique. Its like eating dessert in a fancy restaurant. You can sit in their cafe and have one with a large cup of coffee for 4 bucks. My boyfriend and I have been going there for cheap date nights after we get out of work. They have a brunch going on now too that looks very affordable, but I haven’t been yet.

    While our Michelin restaurants might not fit into “Brokelyn” standards, if you order well they can be cheap. The best thing at Tuscany Grill is their grilled pizza, which is a great light entree for two. BF and I will go and get one of those, a bowl of escarole or sausage they advertise as “for the table”, and some club sodas. Romantic dinner for two at a high-end restauant for $30. I also remember them extending the dine-in Brooklyn special for a few months after it happened, like a lot of the restaurants around here did. Maybe next year there will be more deals to be had.

    Trace also has a lunch during the week that’s very affordable. Same quality food as they have for dinner at a fraction of the price.

    Lola’s just moved to the new location, so I don’t know if she’ll have her fabulous sidewalk sale racks. But I’ve scored amazing stuff from her for super-cheap, like designer coats for 80% off. I guess when you move here, you can ask her if they’ll be returning.

    The Green Spa is pretty, but there are far cheaper spas in the neighborhood that have been springing up all over. Again, something you should check out once you’re here.

    The two best deals around here are right next to each other on 87th and 5th. Grand Sichuan House, who’s been in all the papers, is delicious. You can get a lot of their authentic Sichuan entrees on the lunch menu for a fraction of the dinner cost, and they’re just as filling. I’ll order a few specials Sunday afternoon and pack them up for the week. Next door is the Lonestar bar and grill, where ten bucks will get you a beer, a ton of french fries and the biggest burger I’ve ever seen. And its delicious.

    Welcome to the neighborhood! There’s lots of hidden gems to crow about if you just know where to look!

  8. Wow! Thanks for the excellent suggestions!! I am going to be sure to check them all out once the dust from the move settles. –

    I love Trace and have had dinner there a few times. Their octopus is outrageous. I have yet to take advantage of their lunch because I never found myself in the area in the middle of the afternoon, but all that will change in just a few weeks…

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