Calling NYC home for over 20 years, stylish human (and Aotearoa native) Kathryn Neale knows a thing or two about the city's highlights and hidden gems.
Working as a fashion stylist for a number of top brands and illustrious magazines, and most recently as a costumer in film, Kathryn maintains her Kiwi connection as a columnist for Stuff's weekly magazine Life, sharing her sartorial expertise with local readers and lovers of fashion (she is also responsible for our sudden need to purchase a henley).
Kathryn has called the historic Brooklyn neighbourhood of Fort Greene home for the last 15 years, and shares with us her favourite local spots, including where to find the most delicious hummus. Take note and plan your itinerary - the world is bound to reopen soon(ish).
“It’s a landmarked neighbourhood and you can feel the history. American writers, John Steinbeck and Walt Whitman both lived here," says Kathryn, who lives here with husband Sam Shaffer and their children. "Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, which is on the corner of my block, was a refuge for escaped slaves even before the civil war. Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglas both gave speeches on abolition there.
"Fort Greene gives you a sense of what America was and what it's still trying to be.”
Your local bar or pub?
The best bar in the neighbourhood is called Frank’s cocktail lounge. Frank’s son, Tyrone runs it. Well, he did. Covid closed Franks. But it's the original place to drink in Fort Greene. The old timers still dressed in 3 piece suits to walk in the door. The Church ladies came out for Karaoke on Tuesdays and brought down the roof. I threw my husband's surprise 40th there. New York magazine had an obituary for Frank’s when it closed. I’m too depressed about it closing to contemplate finding a new drinking spot.
Best place for breakfast?
You can’t beat a deli for breakfast in NY. My closest is run by Palestinian brothers from Sunset Park. They know my order, the deli is packed with regulars, and I catch up on all the neighbourhood gossip while I wait. I get a roll with bacon, egg, tomato and ketchup. It costs maybe $3 and is very helpful if you’re slightly hungover.
Where do you get your morning coffee - and what’s your order?
I occasionally get a latte (whole milk) from Bittersweet, around the corner. It’s a Black owned business and I remember them handing out free coffee and food to protesters at all the BLM rallies last summer. I’m not really a coffee junkie, I’m mostly in line for their ham and cheese croissant.
The restaurant you’ve been going to for years?
I have been going to Olea since I moved here. The menu hasn’t changed in 15 years. Neither has the decor, which I love, it feels very Casablanca. Even a few of the original waiters are still around, and still comically grumpy.
Favourite restaurant to visit with friends?
Miss Ada is perfect for meeting friends in the neighbourhood. Run by an Isreali chef, Tomah Blechman, it has a great backyard. Lots of amazing sharing plates and the most delicious hummus in Brooklyn. It also has a Bib Gourmand award from the Michelin restaurant guide, which means great food, good prices.
For something fancy?
There’s a ton of fancy restaurants down the block from me: Roman’s, Evelina, Walters… All white tablecloth fine dining. I never go to any of them. They weren’t here when we moved here and I resent their intrusion in the neighbourhood. My personal protest does not seem to have affected their success as they are packed almost every night.
Best ‘cheap eat’?
Fort Greene had the best diners. Old school NY joints where your coffee is refilled and the orange juice is terrible. I loved them. There was one we went to for breakfast, Academy diner. It's across the road from Spike Lee’s production office and he ate there every Sunday. Then we went to Mega Bites for dinner. The meals are things like meatloaf or pot roast. Everything comes with mozzarella sticks. Neither of them managed to reopen after Covid.
Favourite place for date night?
There is a place two blocks away on a busier street. It's a basement level restaurant called The Quarter. I find it very relaxing to sit at a bar and watch feet go by. I think it's a holdover from watching Cheers as a kid. The food is not terribly exciting but they serve oysters for $1 and make a mean martini.
Brunch on a Sunday: where would we find you?
Sunday lunch is the only meal we leave Fort Greene for. We go every week for Dim Sum in Flushing, Queens.
Your regular supermarket?
I stop at a place called Mr. Coco most days. I think they take all the food that the big grocery stores reject. Nothing is perfect and you have to eat the produce that day. But the prices are great and because so many different communities shop there they have things you won’t find at a big brand grocer. I like to be tempted by woodear mushrooms, dragon fruit and aloe leaves as I’m thinking about what to make for dinner.
Where do you go for ‘special’, non-supermarket food or drink?
There is a grocery store called Provisions that's the opposite of Mr. Coco. Everything is finely misted every 20 minutes and you can read a novel about where your carrot came from. I go there for a cheese plate if we are entertaining. I am also partial to their sandwiches which are all named after local streets.
Favourite place for live music?
For live music we are lucky enough to be able to walk to the BAM, Brooklyn Academy of Music. They have everything: independent film, dance, theatre, comedy, and great music.
Where do you go for some relaxation or a beauty treatment?
There is a massage place one block away where I go to treat myself. It's a basement level place as well. So it’s dark and private and I try really hard not to fall asleep but always end up snoring anyway.
Best kept shopping secret?
There is a tiny store on Fulton Ave called Yuinteriors that I love to go to. I’m usually buying a present for someone and I just describe the person to the owner and he comes up with great suggestions. I usually find a few things I didn’t know I needed while I am in there.
If someone was visiting your neighbourhood/city for the first time, what’s the one place you would recommend they visit?
I would tell them to go to Fort Greene Park. All you need to do to understand the neighbourhood is walk around the park. There is a farmers market on weekends, and there are always kid’s birthday parties. Nobody wants a party for 3-year-olds in their apartment. There’s usually people playing live music and other people playing tennis. There’s the make-out corner that's kind of hidden that my husband and I always joke is for adulterers.
Everything important in life happens in that park every single day, all you need is a little time and an empty bench and you can watch it all unfold.