Brooklyn is replete with creative pockets: Williamsburg, Red Hook, Greenpoint, and Bushwick for starters. But back in the late 1970s, artists started moving into warehouse buildings on a forgotten waterfront and gave it the catchy moniker Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. In 2007, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission named this streetscape, set against the iconic backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyline, a historic district. Stroll this waterfront district with its noir patina of granite Belgian blocks and old train tracks to gain a full appreciation for a part of old New York that has been reborn.
Dumbo took a big hit from last year’s Superstorm Sandy—artist studios were ruined and works were destroyed—but the tightly knit community has bounced back. Almost miraculously, Jane’s Carousel, a beloved vintage carousel set inside an acrylic jewel box of a pavilion on the East River and flooded during the storm, was operational within weeks. Dumbo is now one of New York City’s premium neighborhoods, but unlike other areas that price artists out as real estate values soar, here the creative community remains firmly rooted.
When to go: First Thursdays of the month when galleries and studios are open late to the public. Bars and restaurants get in on the action with specials. The big event is the three-day Dumbo Arts Festival in September. Come to mingle with hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors for special exhibitions, street performances, and art installations.
Where to eat: Grimaldi’s Pizza for a personal coal-oven pie. You can’t miss it. Just look for the long line snaking down Front Street. (1 Front Street; 718-858-4300; grimaldis.com).
Where to stay: NU Hotel, a hip boutique hotel that comes with lots of free perks like continental breakfast, bike rental, and use of an iPad. Ask about its Culture Grows in Brooklyn package that includes admission to the area’s major cultural institutions. (85 Smith Street; 718-852-8585; nuhotelbrooklyn.com)
Don’t miss … the view of Dumbo and lower Manhattan from on high by taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
St. Paul’s Lowertown
Back in the 1970s, artists started flocking to a downtown area of St. Paul called Lowertown, a forgotten quarter that was once an industrial hub for the Upper Midwest. The artists were drawn to the cheap rents, high ceilings, and good light of its 19th-century Italianate, Queen Anne, Beaux Arts, and Romanesque Revival buildings. Although it wasn’t until the community found support for their grassroots efforts that a true transformation began, artists were widely acknowledged as an integral ingredient in the area’s cultural redevelopment.
An influx of creative businesses, jazz clubs, ethnic restaurants, theaters and, of course, galleries followed them. Lowertown now has one of the largest concentrations of working artists in the Midwest. This 18-block district is anchored by pretty Mears Park, home to Twin Cities Jazz Fest and other crowd-drawing concert series.
When to go: The first Friday of each month, when Lowertown artists open their studios to the public. The popular semi-annual Art Crawls take place in April and October.
Where to eat: Faces Mears Park bistro, bakery, and wine bar for a croque monsieur with a twist—on homemade challah. If the weather’s nice, take it to go and have a picnic in Mears Park. (380 Jackson Street; 651-209-7776; facesmearspark.com)
Where to stay: Hotel 340 in a 1917 landmark building with stunning views of the Minnesota State Capitol, Mississippi River, and the city skyline. (340 Cedar Street; 651-280-4120; hotel340.com)
Don’t miss … a shot at creating your own masterpiece in special interactive workshops working alongside a local artist during First Friday events.
Take a look at four of America’s industrialized hot spots in action at saturdayeveningpost.com/art-district.