The stunning views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges are DUMBO‘s biggest most popular attraction, but there is so much more to discover in this waterfront neighborhood. DUMBO is an acronym for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” and this stretch of land along Brooklyn’s northwest coast was once a booming center of industry. In the 19th-century, the luxury apartments that now line DUMBO’s streets were once factories where goods like paint, coffee, and beer were produced, and warehouses,where goods imported from around the world were stored once collected from boats on the East River. Today, the neighborhood boasts beautiful historic architecture, vibrant cultural destinations, quirky hidden gems, and scenic river views. From a eating in a new old-school pizza joint and browsing the exhibits at a pop-up photo village to an partaking in an elephant drop and attending a concert at a floating music venue, discover the best things to do in DUMBO!
1. See a Live Outdoor Concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse
— Michelle Young (@UntappedMich) October 21, 2020
For decades, the current home of St. Ann’s Warehouse stood as an urban ruin on Brooklyn’s waterfront. Formerly a 19th-century tobacco warehouse, Marvel Architects transformed the roofless relic of DUMBO’s industrial past into a state-of-the-art performing arts theater. St. Ann’s Warehouse, an avant-garde arts organization known for its plays, music and spoken word performances, was formerly housed in a Brooklyn Heights Gothic church. The new 25,000-square-feet theater space was built within the footprint of the warehouse, with space leftover for an open-air garden bordered by the historic brick walls. The garden is open to the public during the same time as Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the theater produces programming year-round.
A new series of live music concerts started taking place on the rooftop of St. Ann’s Warehouse in August of 2020. The Get Back! concert series is set up for the public to take live music in safely in the era of COVID. The performers, like Damon Daunno & Nathan Koci of Broadway fame seen in the above video, are staged at the edge of the roof facing the walkway so that the people below can sit or stand below and hear the music.
2. Uncover the Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge
Secret champagne vaults, a hidden fallout shelter, an abandoned park, and the location of America’s first White House are all places that can be found within and around the Brooklyn Bridge! On Untapped New York’s Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge walking tour, you can learn more about the places mentioned while walking across the bridge’s iconic span and unraveling the rest of its fascinating history. As you take in views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines you will get to know the allegedly cursed family of engineers who built the bridge, find out what makes the structure so impressive, and uncover more little known stories.
3. See Stunning Images at Photoville
Photoville is an annual photo festival that pops up in multiple locations throughout New York City, but is one of the most exciting things to do in DUMBO. In September and October each year, a village of exhibition spaces housed inside shipping containers pops up in Brooklyn Bridge Park at the Empire Fulton Ferry Park area. Due to Covid-19, there will be no shipping container exhibition in 2020, but instead, a series of smaller exhibitions spread throughout the city, with the core in the area under the Brooklyn Bridge.
In addition to the exhibitions, Photoville hosts virtual online storytelling events, artist talks, workshops, demonstrations, educational programs, and community programming. As a non-profit, the organization “works to promote a wider understanding and increased access to the art of photography and visual storytelling.” Keep an eye out for smaller Photoville exhibitions that pop-up in public spaces throughout the year!
4. Rock Climb at The Cliffs
If you are looking for a bit of a thrill, head to The Cliffs at DUMBO for an outdoor bouldering experience. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that is done with no ropes and no partner. It sounds scary, but the climbing walls are only about fourteen to sixteen feet high, and the ground is cushioned in case you fall. You can choose a course based on your experience level (look for the light purple handholds for the easiest route to the top!). The Cliffs are open seasonally and will close for the winter on November 1st, 2020.
5. Stop by the Oldest Office Building in NYC
DUMBO is full of wonderful historic buildings that date to the 19th-century when the waterfront neighborhood was a bustling center of industry. Sandwiched between DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, you will find the Fulton Ferry Historic District, designated in 1977. Within that district is what is believed to be New York City’s oldest office building.
5-7 Front Street is a Greek Revival building estimated to have been built in 1834. The brick building served as the headquarters for the Long Island Insurance Company (LIIC). LIIC sold fire insurance, a necessary protection for the many ships and goods in the area. The building is located on what was known as “Commercial Row.” This area, near Old Fulton Street, was also a familiar haunt for Walt Whitman. It was home to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the newspaper Walt Whitman edited for two years, from 1846 to 1848. Walk through the DUMBO Historic District, bounded by John Street to the north, York Street to the south, Main Street to the west, and Bridge Street to the east, to see more historic buildings, and check out our list of the oldest buildings in Brooklyn! This location was included in our guidebook Secret Brooklyn.
6. Eat Delicious New York Pizza
New York pizza is undoubtedly the best and you can grab a delicious pie in DUMBO. One favorite pizza place is Julianna’s, a relatively new establishment based on old school pizza-making traditions. At the age of thirteen, Patsy Grimaldi went to work in his uncle’s pizzeria. That pizzeria was the original Patsy’s in East Harlem, owned by Grimaldi’s uncle Patsy Lancieri. After years in the family business, Grimaldi and his wife opened their own pizza place at 19 Old Fulton Street. They also called it Patsy’s Pizzeria, but eventually had to change it to Grimaldi’s.
Grimaldi’s was frequented by locals, tourists, and even movie stars. In 1998, the couple sold the restaurant to Frank Ciolli. Ciolli turned Grimaldi’s into a national chain and eventually moved the original restaurant into a three-floor dining space in a former bank building at 1 Front Street. Following the sale, Patsy Grimaldi went into retirement, though he frequently checked in to make sure the new owners were making pizza the way he taught them to. After two decades away from the pizza oven, he could no longer resist the urge to be back in the business. In 2012, at the age of 81, Grimaldi and his wife Carol opened Julianna’s at 19 Old Fulton Street, the site of the original Patsy’s Pizzeria/Grimaldi’s restaurant. The pies at both establishments are thin-crust and made in coal-fired ovens. The oven at Julianna’s is the first coal-powered oven commissioned in New York in over fifty years.
Learn more about Brooklyn’s most iconic landmark at our upcoming Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge walking tour!
7. Explore Empire Stores
Empire Stores on Water Street is a shopping and dining destination located in what was once the heart of DUMBO’s industrial waterfront. Constructed in 1869 and 1885, the historic brick warehouse once stored goods from all over the world including barrels, bags of rubber, wool, linseed oil, and animal hides. The site most notably served as the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee warehouse. Other popular industries in the area were beer, iron-works, and lead paint. One of the largest paint companies, Masury and Sons Paintworks, was housed in a brick and timber building nearby on Jay Street. That complex has since been turned into residential property by Alloy Development.
The Empire Stores warehouse stood empty after being sold by the Arbuckle company in 1945. It is one of the last remnants of Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront and was saved from demolition when it was designated as a landmark in 1977 as part of the Fulton Ferry Historic District. Today, you can still see remnants of the building’s industrial past. Inside the DUMBO outpost of the Center of Brooklyn History (formerly the Brooklyn Historical Society), the wooden beams are marked with numbers made by workers doing calculations.
8. Find a Gem At Melville House Books
Melville House is an independent publisher and bookstore where you can find your next enthralling read. The publishing company was founded in 2001 by sculptor Valerie Merians and fiction writer/journalist Dennis Johnson. They started the company in order to publish Poetry After 9/11, a book of material from Johnson’s MobyLives book blog. Nearly twenty years later, the company has published various works of fiction and nonfiction, including two Nobel Prize winners: Imre Kertesz and Heinrich Boll. Melville House is known for rediscovering forgotten international writers and launching the success of first-time writers.
The publishing company and MobyLives blog operate behind the Melville House Bookstore located at 46 John Street, on the corner of Jay Street. The store often serves as an event venue for local independent presses, but in the era of Covid-19, it is open for pre-order pickup only.
9. Relax on Pebble Beach
It’s nearly impossible to take a bad photograph at Pebble Beach. You can get right up to the edge of the East River at this slice of Brooklyn Bridge Park located just off of Main Street. With the Brooklyn Bridge to your left, Manhattan Bridge to your right, Empire Stores behind you and the magnificent skyline of Manhattan stretched out in front of you, the tiny Pebble Beach boats a view that is hard to beat. Perfect for watching the sun go down!
10. Discover a Secret Library
If you are looking for a quiet place to sit down with a good book, the Sorted Library is a great option. Hidden in the back of the IFP Made in NY Media Center, a co-working space in Dumbo, the tiny, single-room library is organized unlike any other. The books inside the library are categorized by the people who visit. From the existing pool of 3,000 books, visitors create their own “collection” that is personal to them. Themes can be anything from “Opposition: Books That Would Hate Each Other,” to “Breakfast-Themed Covers,” and “fearless women.” Untapped New York made our own collection about urban exploration when we visited! For ease of searching, however, the books are physically organized by subject matter in the library. Each book that is part of a collection, gets an insert with the visitor’s own notes.
Sorted is a non-circulating library, so you can’t take a book home with you. To get inside, you must make an appointment or visit during the monthly open house.
11. Swim in the Pool at DUMBO House
If you can get yourself into the DUMBO House, an exclusive members’ club for the creative community by the renowned Soho House group, you can gain access to one of the best views in Brooklyn. DUMBO House occupies the top two floors and rooftop of Empire Stores. On the rooftop, members can lounge around the pool and take in panoramic views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
12. Catch a Show at Bargemusic
Bargemusic is an entertainment venue unlike any other in New York City. The “floating concert hall” is a former coffee barge stationed under the Brooklyn Bridge. Built in 1899, the barge was used to deliver hand-loaded sacks of coffee for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. It was converted into a music venue for chamber music concerts by violinist, violist, and Bargemusic founder Olga Bloom in 1977. The original green paint was covered with white, but you can still see “EL 375,” a sign of the vessel’s former life, embossed in the diamond plate steel deck.
Bargemusic hosts year-round performances of chamber music in an intimate wood-paneled room. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the venue to temporarily close, but the team is using the downtime to make repairs and renovations. President, Artistic Director, and violinist Mark Peskanov said in a statement on the venue’s website that the team is busy rescheduling postponed concerts and excitedly planning new ones for when it is safe to open.
13. Admire the Views at John Street Park
Of all the things to do in DUMBO, most people flock to take a picture of the Manhattan Bridge on Washington Street, but there are other great (and less crowded) views! You will find one of them at John Street Park. Located north of the Manhattan Bridge at a bend in the East River, John Street Park is comprised of tree-lined pathways, a 13,000-square-foot gathering lawn, and pedestrian bridges that stretch over a tidal salt marsh. As you walk along the pathways, if you can take your eyes away from the Manhattan Bridge, you will notice salvaged historical elements, such as footings of industrial buildings, original Belgian block and railroad tracks from the Jay Street Plaza, that pay homage to the site’s industrial past.
14. Watch Elephants Fall from the Sky at the Annual Elephant Drop
© 2018 Philip Greenberg courtesy DUMBO Improvement District
Every year elephants rain down from the sky at one of the most photographed spots in Brooklyn, the intersection of Washington and Water Streets, where you have a clear view of the Manhattan Bridge down a cobblestoned street. The Great DUMBO Drop is an initiative by the DUMBO Improvement District and usually coincides with the annual Washington Street block party between York and Plymouth Streets. For 2020, since Covid-19 prevented droppers from gathering in person, a compilation video was created with user-submitted videos of people throwing and catching tiny DUMBO drop elephants in various DUMBO locations.
Learn more about Brooklyn’s most iconic landmark at our upcoming Secrets of the Brooklyn Bridge walking tour!