Stately brownstone blocks give off a “Sesame Street” vibe in Carroll Gardens, a charming, primarily residential, South Brooklyn neighborhood. Irish-Americans first settled the area in the early 19th century, and an influx of Italian-Americans followed around the turn of the 20th century. The Italian Catholic influence remains strong: You’ll still see statues of the Virgin Mary fronting residences and groups of older men chatting in Italian on stoops and outside social clubs. In recent years, the neighborhood’s quiet streets, good schools and proximity to Manhattan have attracted a younger, more affluent population. In response, real estate prices have skyrocketed and a number of hip restaurants, bars and boutiques have opened.
Deep front gardens are a neighborhood signature. You’ll find the best examples on First through Fourth Places and on President Street between Smith and Hoyt Streets — these blocks are particularly radiant in the spring. Two- and three-story row homes in the Greek Revival and late Italianate styles line blocks in the Carroll Gardens Historic District, which encompasses Carroll and President Streets between Smith and Hoyt Streets. Carroll Park, established in 1852, is the hub of the neighborhood, with two playgrounds, tree-shaded benches, a bocce court, several basketball courts and, on Sundays, a Greenmarket. It’s an urban park, so that means plenty of open space but no grass. The Carroll Street stop on the F and G subway lines puts you right at the park.
During the day, Carroll Gardens’ sidewalks and cafés clutter with stroller-pushing parents and nannies, artsy types seemingly without day jobs and longtime residents well into retirement. Nightlife centers on Court and Smith Streets, and those streets remain populated well past midnight on weekends. Tree-lined side streets are quieter, but most locals feel comfortable walking them at all hours. If you’re looking for a cab, try Clinton Street — many cabbies use it as an alternative to the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). When crossing from Manhattan by taxi, ask to take the Brooklyn Bridge for the cheapest fare.
Smith and Court Streets are the neighborhood’s main business thoroughfares and contain most of its restaurants, bars and boutiques, alongside storefronts for insurance companies, pet shops, yoga studios and doctors’ offices. Old-school Italian stops still thrive. Locals will direct you to G. Esposito and Sons Pork Store (in Esposito family hands since 1922) for a primo Italian sub and homemade sopressata. At Caputo’s Bakery (1904), classic Italian cookies can be had for a song. A bag of freshly roasted coffee from D’Amico Foods (1948) makes an excellent edible souvenir. The list of well-regarded restaurant newcomers is long, but New Yorkers consider Prime Meats (traditional American and steak house fare), Lucali (some of the best pizza in the city) and Buttermilk Channel (traditional American with Southern influences) worth the subway or cab ride from Manhattan and beyond.
The neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill are separated by Degraw Street on the north from the BQE to Court Street, while Warren Street between Court and Hoyt streets draws the line at Boerum Hill. To the west, the BQE delineates Carroll Gardens from the Columbia Street Waterfront District. Anything east of Hoyt and Smith streets is Gowanus. Hamilton Avenue is the southern border, across which is Red Hook.