The perfect summer Sunday in Gowanus with Emily Elsen, of Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Enjoying Gowanus isn't a pie in the sky idea if Emily Elsen is guiding you through it. (Note: Miss Rosa isn't always there) via Instagram
Enjoying Gowanus isn’t a pie in the sky idea if Emily Elsen is guiding you through it. (Note: Miss Rosa isn’t always there) via Instagram

It’s Tuesday all over again, and you know what that means, Brokesters? Heck yes, it’s another edition of our Perfect Summer Sundays series. Remember? First, we bring you a local personality from the borough who shares how they like to spend a Sunday in their neighborhood. Then, you get to try it on for size! Tourists, too. Gone are the empty brags of having “been to Bushwick,” or the misguided attempts to hang out where the locals do. This way, you get a taste of what the neighborhood’s all about from someone who actually lives there, and you can leave satisfied.

So today, we’re headed into Gowanus with none other than Emily Elsen. Along with her sister Melissa, Elsen co-founded Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the famed pie shop and subject of Whoopi Goldberg‘s acclamation. Since 2010, the shop has been serving up lovingly handmade fruit and custard pies with their signature all-butter crust. The sisters, in turn, have become tastemakers of the borough, consistently featured in food and lifestyle magazines for their perspectives on artisanal trade. Emily Elsen also helped found the Gowanus Studio Space, a non-profit organization that offers subsidized rates on workspace for artists.  

A Sunday for Emily Elsen is all business. That is to say, it starts at her business, Four & Twenty Blackbirds (439 Third Avenue).


Morning light and peace at the pie shop. via Facebook
Morning light and peace at the pie shop. via Facebook

“Join the Pie for Breakfast Club!” Elsen says with a smile. “Not to be biased, but the shop is definitely a great spot to start off your day with a good cup of coffee and a slice of pie.” Come for the food, but stay for the vibes: there’s light streaming in from all sides through the shop’s gothically caged windows, and additional bench seating outside plants you right under the early morning sun. Pair your inner peace with the morning paper, and the pie shop takes on an almost church-like quality.

“You might even bump into a familiar face or two,” Elsen tells us. “On weekends, the shop is quite the gathering place for friends.”

And you really ought to caffeinate, because if you’re following Elsen, Sunday is all about adventure, which there’s certainly no shortage of in Gowanus. Elsen’s fond of everything from a sweaty wall-scaling session at Brooklyn Boulders (575 Degraw Street) to a low-stakes shuffleboard tourney at Royal Palms (514 Union Street).


Shoot to conquer, at Gotham Archery.
Shoot to conquer, at Gotham Archery.

“Gowanus has so many amazing diversions,” says Elsen. For adventurous athletic folks, there’s also archery, fencing, Crossfit and more!”

For something a little slower-paced, Elsen suggests you check Gowanus Studio Space (166 7th Street) to see if there’s anything of interest going on.

“I helped found this non-profit studio and workshop space in 2006,” she tells us. “Now it’s member-run, and home to a great number of talented artists – many of whom show work, offer classes and workshops year-round. And if you’re coming in the fall, you’ve got to check out Gowanus Open Studios.”

Take in some art, and then head over to the water. Because regardless of how dirty or toxic it gets, Elsen calls the Gowanus Canal the neighborhood’s must-go destination.


See? Flowers grow near the canal. via Flickr user Alexander Rabb
See? Flowers grow near the canal. via Flickr user Alexander Rabb

“You’ve just got to see it in its current state,” she says. “Hopefully, it’ll be very different in the coming years.” As long as it’s not threatening to corrode your skin or swallow you whole, the canal really is fun to observe at a distance. You can even cross over a walkway from Gowanus and get lost in Carroll Gardens!

“The Carroll Street Bridge has always been one of my favorite crossing points,” Elsen tells us. “Take it over to Lavender Lake (383 Carroll Street)—their namesake is the canal itself!” Elsen explains that Lavender Lake is the name of a documentary from the 1990s about the canal.


Evenings are swell in the backyard at Threes Brewing. via Instagram
Evenings are swell in the backyard at Threes Brewing. via Instagram

Head back to the Gowanus side of things for happy hour, because there’s a new brewery in Gowanus Elsen simply adores: Threes Brewing (333 Douglass Street), where craft brews meet a rotating kitchen menu of some of the borough’s more famous restaurants like Roberta’s, Mile End, and more. “The backyard’s lovely on a warm summer night,” adds Elsen.

Elsen is wisftul about the accelerated rate at which Gowanus changes, but hopeful about what might come next as the neighborhood’s landscape comes to demand it.

“I expect Third Avenue to continue to attract new businesses and storefronts,” she says. We’ll probably see a lot more high-rise housing and/or hotels, but I’d also like to see infrastructure to guard against flooding, affordable housing and zoning that will continue to allow manufacturing and industrial space to be utilized by artists and creatives and small businesses.”

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