Photo: Al J. Thompson
Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of Brooklyn’s most renowned neighborhoods. Long before hip-hop legends Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim and Jay-Z boasted about being born and raised there, Bed-Stuy had major significance to the Black community in New York City and the US at large. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Bed-Stuy was a center of activism in the North, with leaders such as Dr. Robert Palmer and Shirley Chisholm organizing and mobilizing people to battle against racism and its pervasiveness in society.
The Notorious B.I.G. mural by Vincent Ballentine. Photo: Al J. Thompson
The neighborhood murals that immortalize these civil rights figures and music icons, coupled with collections of Victorian brownstones—one of the largest in the US—on tree-lined blocks, create a distinct aesthetic. Black-owned restaurants, bars and shops cluster on busy strips such as Fulton Street, Nostrand Avenue, Bedford Avenue and Tompkins Avenue. This combination of history, community and bustle makes Bed-Stuy worth exploring over a long weekend; a visit can also provide much-needed support to Black-owned businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Courtesy, Brooklyn Tea
Start your Bed-Stuy experience at a local café, one of the best of which is . Co-owners Jamila McGill and Alfonso Wright began by creating original tea leaf blends and popping up at local festivals around NYC. Wright credits his Jamaican upbringing for his love for tea, describing it as a defining part of the culture. In January 2019, the couple set up their brick-and-mortar shop for anyone seeking to quietly enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea and commune in a warm and inviting environment. A block away on Nostrand Avenue, offers a place to sit and relax while enjoying freshy brewed coffee, savory or sweet crepes (some with copious amounts of Nutella) and almond croissants. Senegalese-born owners Mouna Thiam and Thiero Anne infuse their heritage into drinks such as bissap, made with boiled hibiscus and fresh mint.
Restoration Plaza. Photo: Al J. Thompson
Take a short walk over to , a nearby community center that has served as a go-to for neighborhood events, a resource for small businesses and a platform for arts and culture for nearly 50 years. You may stumble upon a live performance, art exhibit or pop-up shopping experience with local vendors.
Right in Restoration Plaza, clothing retailer sells traditional Nigerian garments and accessories for men, women and children. The 25-year-old shop recently moved from its original location in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and continues to embody the spirit of African pride.
Spicy plantain. Courtesy, Brooklyn Beso
For lunch, head to lively counter-order spot . Enjoy Latin dishes such as arepas, empanadas, tacos and house specialty platanos rellenos—sweet plantain stuffed with spicy bacalao—in the colorful, brick-walled interior or at garden patio tables in back.
, a music and movement studio for toddlers, opened weeks before having to shut down for in-person classes as the pandemic hit NYC. The owner, Miss Alex (also known as Lady B), transformed the studio into a thrift store selling custom-embroidered baby and toddler clothing, along with adult pieces, for under $20. You can also bring in clothing for NYC- and Brooklyn-themed embroidery.
, which serves Haitian dishes such as griyo (marinated pork shoulder) and legim (vegetable stew), makes a good dinner destination. Aside from great food, this business stands up for the community and has partnered with other restaurants and local organizations to provide meals to over 6,000 first responders, hospital workers, Haitian refugees and others in need.
Courtesy, Bed-Vyne Brew
As night falls, Bed-Stuy becomes even more vibrant. There’s never a dull moment at craft-beer and wine bar or its sibling cocktail bar, . A house-party feel prevails as DJs play hip-hop, dancehall, R&B and Afrobeat.
Shrimp and grits, Peaches. Photo: Samuel Craig
Bed-Stuy’s popular sister restaurants, and , are great options for Saturday brunch. Though their menus differ slightly, both dole out modern American fare with a focus on Southern specialties like shrimp and grits and fried catfish. HotHouse gets its name from its Nashville-style hot fried chicken, which is a must-try.
Walk off your meal on the stretch of Tompkins Avenue known by locals as “Black Girl Magic Street.” Between Hancock and Madison Streets, the blocks hold a concentration of stores owned by Black women, who outwardly support each other through word-of-mouth and cooperative economics.
is an eclectic home-design haven and gift store that taps into worldwide Black culture, selling a curated range of items such as Moroccan poufs, Sadé sweatshirts, aromatherapy candles and Brooklyn street art. With products at all price points, the store has universal appeal.
Courtesy, Byas & Leon
Two childhood friends started , across the street, to support Black creators in Haiti—homeland of the owners’ parents—and abroad in the world by paying living wages for handcrafted products. The shop is filled with button-down shirts, gemstone jewelry and other items by makers who focus on fair trade, zero waste and sustainability.
The visual display at , a block north, is a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and African prints. In addition to selling clothing, accessories and home decor, Make Manifest serves as a community space and creative hub for independent designers. It holds workshops, trainings and events like the Black Girl Magic Street Market, a pop-up for vendors of everything from body butters to vintage wears.
Practically next door, the is an acupuncture and massage center whose staff, trained at the Swedish Institute of Health and Science, aims to provide healing through human touch. While some services are limited due to the pandemic, the team has introduced a botanicals experience in which they create custom bouquets based on your energy.
is a minimalist concept store that features limited-edition pieces from emerging womenswear designers and lifestyle brands. Everything about the shop is cool and perfectly placed. Owner Kai Avent-deLeon uses her store to support social initiatives, including a free food fridge, anti-ICE campaigns and Building Black Bed-Stuy, a financial resource for Black-business owners in the neighborhood funded by profits from the store’s clothing capsule that shares the name and from a block party for local retailers who set up shop outside the store on select Sundays.
When entering just a few doors down, don’t be alarmed if the staff clears your energy with sage. Adorned with African prints and masks, the apothecary seeks to improve the everyday well-being of its patrons through the power of ancient rituals. Shop for incense, organic skin- and hair-care products that bear the house label, palo santo sticks, plants and candles.
Once you’ve finished your Tompkins Avenue experience, enjoy home cooking that will make you feel like you’re in your aunt’s kitchen. has soul food specialties like fried whiting, Cajun catfish, biscuits and gravy, and black-eyed peas and rice. The Sooouul Roll, an egg roll filled with sweet potatoes, mac and cheese and greens, is delicious, and there are even a few vegan-friendly items.
Top off your meal at . This understated mom-and-pop bakery is easy to spot: there’s usually a line of folks outside waiting to order a slice (or more) of red velvet, pineapple upside-down or strawberry cake. The banana pudding, also a favorite, is sure to handle your sweet tooth with care.
is a family-owned bar with a welcoming vibe. The colorful cocktails and tropical plants lining the checkerboard floor lend a Caribbean flair. You can connect with locals, watch the game and, on Saturday nights, enjoy live music. Within a two-minute walk is , a cocktail bar and art space named for Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. On weekend evenings you’ll find live music or DJ sets along with painting by local artists or pop-up fashion experiences. The space also serves as a platform for open-mic poetry and networking events.
Kick off your last day in Bed-Stuy at . Owner Myriam Nicolas launched her elevated café experience in 2017, with a focus on pastries baked in-house. Most of the popular brunch items, such as the bacon, egg and cheddar sandwich and the fried chicken sandwich, are served on the hero offering: house-made brown-butter biscuits.
Courtesy, Richard Beavers Gallery
Take in the art scene at , dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming and established Black artists, particularly those who create work that speaks to issues at the forefront of the Black community. The owner chose the neighborhood because of its historical significance to and his desire to make fine art more accessible. Alongside rotating exhibits throughout the year, the gallery hosts networking events, comedy shows and workshops on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Opening hours are limited for the moment, but you can .
A visit to the is an immersive cultural experience. Its collection of pieces from over 40 countries in Africa—ceremonial masks, wooden carvings and more—serves to preserve traditions and educate the public on African customs and culture, as do tours, workshops and artists-in-residence programs.
Launched by husband-and-wife duo Joe and Angela Austin in neighboring Bushwick in 2013, now has three NYC locations. Their latest, in the heart of Bed-Stuy, has minimalist decor with just the right touches of warmth, making for a retreat from the busy streets and a perfect stop for a coffee or a small bite.
is described by its owners as a “collection of Black curiosities, heirlooms and collectibles.” That downplays the impact of this carefully curated shoppable museum, which is on a quest to preserve and honor the spectrum of Black American culture. You may be greeted, for example, by the sounds of Anita Baker or Stevie Wonder, followed by Megan Thee Stallion or Lil Baby. It’s a place where hot combs and afros are both celebrated and on display. Browsing the store feels like walking through a colorful mosaic of things that are innately or intentionally Black, like playing cards with Black faces on the kings and queens; vintage Ebony, Jet and Essence magazines; and newspapers with headlines about Black leaders.
For your last neighborhood meal, hit the welcoming , its brightly painted walls lined with artwork. The Senegalese restaurant focuses on traditional dishes, such as tiebou jeun (the national dish of seasoned baked fish with vegetables and joloff rice), thiou kanja ganar (chicken stewed in okra and tomato sauce), pastels and plantains, bringing an authentic African experience to central Brooklyn.