The neighborhood of Flatbush is the geographic heart of Brooklyn, and as far as I’m concerned it’s the neighborhood with the most heart as well. Not to mention, it has the most energy, the greatest food, the most aesthetically pleasing homes, and the most vibrant Caribbean community outside the geographic Caribbean.
(Before we go further with this neighborhood guide to Flatbush, I should probably disclose, if it wasn’t already obvious, I have a strong bias towards this neighborhood. I grew up in the Flatbush-adjacent neighborhood of Flatlands, but since there’s not much going on in Flatlands, Flatbush is our go-to place to eat, shop, and have a good time. As a result, I have a lot of love for Flatbush and I hope this guide inspires you to fall in love with it too.)
Before we dive into what to do in Flatbush, here’s a little background info on the neighborhood:
Flatbush is a HUGE neighborhood of more than 100,000 people packed into one square mile. It’s so sprawling that it has its own micro-neighborhoods, such as Ditmas Park, Prospect Lefferts Garden, and Kensington. Some of these micro-neighborhoods have their own distinct architectural and cultural vibes, but overall, the pulse of Flatbush is West Indian/Caribbean, as this neighborhood has been home to members of the Caribbean diaspora since the 1970s. You’ll see these deep Caribbean roots reflected nearly everywhere in the neighborhood, from the types of restaurants and shops, to the soca music bumping from car speakers, to the flags displayed in home windows, and even the signage on the streets. Quite fittingly, in 2017, this neighborhood was officially designated Little Caribbean. One can only hope that this helps preserve the cultural distinction that made this neighborhood special, because –as with nearly everywhere else in New York City– the gears of gentrification are a-turning in Flatbush.
Top Things to Do to Help You Get to Know Flatbush
Appreciate the historic buildings.
As the descendant of one of the oldest Dutch settlements on Long Island, Flatbush has quite a bit of history within its borders, with places like the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church and its cemetery dating back to the 1630s.
Across the street from the church, you can’t miss Erasmus Hall High School, a massive castle-like structure. Erasmus Hall’s architecture isn’t the only impressive thing about it; this school was founded in 1786 by a few of New York’s most prominent citizens including Robert Livingston, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.
If you walk a few blocks further south along Flatbush Avenue, you’ll see the jewel of Flatbush: the fabulous, historic Kings Theatre. As the last remaining Loew’s movie palace in the area, this National Historic Landmark has undergone extensive repairs in recent years to reclaim its former glory as Brooklyn’s Palace of Versailles. Whether it’s for an architectural tour or to see a performance, you’ve got to get inside Kings Theatre to see its over-the-top design.
Admire the architectural details of the residential buildings.
Flatbush’s micro-neighborhood of Ditmas Park is famous for its gorgeous, million-dollar Victorian mansions, but that’s not the only place in Flatbush where you’ll find adorable houses with intricate architectural details. If you wander along the residential side streets that offshoot from the main avenues, you’ll see several unique row houses, not to mention apartment buildings with beautiful detailing.
Count how many Caribbean countries you see represented as you walk down Flatbush’s main streets.
It’s an understatement to say that there’s a lot of cultural pride on display in Flatbush. Peep the storefronts, the car windshields, and the apartment building windows boasting flags from the Caribbean islands. This is especially obvious as you walk down Flatbush’s main arteries of Flatbush Ave, Nostrand Ave, Church Ave, and Utica Ave.
Learn about Flatbush’s Caribbean culture and history at the Brooklyn Public Library and with Caribbeing.
You can learn a lot about a neighborhood by walking its streets, but to really get to know it and put everything you see in context, you’ve got to do some research. Unfortunately, there aren’t an abundance of resources on Caribbean-American history widely available, but the Caribbean Literacy Center at the Flatbush Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library tries its best to satisfy curious minds.
If hitting the books isn’t your thing and you’d rather interact with locals, take a Little Caribbean tour with Caribbeing. No one knows and loves Flatbush and its Caribbean roots like they do. In fact, they were the driving force behind getting the neighborhood recognized as Little Caribbean.
Fill your belly with delicious Caribbean food.
If you’re in Flatbush and you don’t get any Caribbean food, you need to reevaluate your life choices. From oxtail to curry goat to beef patties to oil down to roti to saltfish and doubles, your stomach will burst from all the good food to eat. Allan’s Bakery, Roti R Us, and Taste the Tropics are my favorite Flatbush eateries, but over the past few years, several new places have opened in the neighborhood with their unique, modern takes on Caribbean cuisine.
Spend some coin at dope black-owned businesses.
Flatbush is the place to go to find decent clothes and everyday items without blowing your budget, but more artisan and boutique stores are popping up. If you’re looking for unique local items, I’d recommend visiting Flatbush Caton Market and neighborhood newcomer Granru Market. (Note: Their website doesn’t do them justice. The clothes and art in-store are way more funky and stylish than what they advertise on their site.)
Thanks for allowing me to guide you through my beloved Flatbush. I hope this Flatbush neighborhood guide inspires you to visit this colorful community. Let me know if you’re in the area. Maybe we can split a roti.
But before you go, if you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!