This column will help you break outside your neighborhood comfort zone, one subway stop at a time.
We're going to start at Jay Street-MetroTech on the A, F, C and R lines, in Brooklyn's bustling downtown. If you've been here, chances are it was for something silly, like going to the courthouse or your office. Below, we prove that Downtown Brooklyn has a personality all its own.
Crossroads Cafe: March straight past the Starbucks and the Panera—you can do better. The modest stand—an outpost of the Windsor Terrace cafe of the same name—offers nowhere to sit, but you can take your coffee and rest your dogs on one of Columbus Park's plentiful benches. Enjoy the people watching, which, if you happen to go during the week, will primarily consist of lawyer types who are more stressed out than you are. Sip your coffee, and smirk at your good fortune.
Crossroads Cafe to go is located at 261 Joralemon St.
MTA's Transit Museum: While the subway itself is often reminiscent of a circus sideshow (Things That Have Happened on the Subway: A rat nuzzling a sleeping man's face, John Hodgman wielding a cobra staff), the MTA has for you a different sort of educational experience: the Transit Museum! What it lacks in befuddlement (Is that a rat, or just an animate piece of trash?) it makes up for in wholesome fun, like stepping behind the wheel of a city bus and gawking at vintage train cars. At just $7 a ticket, the Transit Museum is also one of the city's most economical tourist attractions.
The MTA Transit Museum is located at 130 Livingston St.
Shake Shack: There will be lines. But you know what? It's good for you. Waiting in line builds character and leg muscles, and the payoff (burger) will be all the juicier and more delicious once you've overcome real adversity, by which I mean 15 minutes of thumbing through your iPhone. Get the ShackBurger ($4.60 for a single), milkshake ($5), take or leave the fries ($2.70). If you do get the fries, embrace your decision fully by adding cheese ($3.70), made with a classy blend of American and cheddar cheese sauce.
Shake Shack is located at 409 Fulton St.
History Time: Right, the cheese may have been a mistake. Let's take a walk. Head southeast on Fulton Street. Cross Red Hook Lane, and keep walking until you arrive at 374 Fulton St. What do you see? Yes, it's a kitschy jewelry store, but look closer. Etched in the window are the words "New York's Oldest Restaurant," a reference to the former Gage & Tollner, which opened its doors for the first time in 1892, and remains one of the city's seven former restaurants to have earned both interior and exterior landmark status.
O'Keefe's Bar & Grille: It's been a long day, and you're ready for a drink. Drag yourself down the street for one last stop at O'Keefe's Bar & Grill. The digs are modest, the food is hearty and the clientele is heavy on legal aides recently emerged from nearby Borough Hall, ready to loosen their ties and knock a few back. Loosen your own tie, if applicable. If you're wearing a t-shirt, tug wearily at the neck. If you're wearing no shirts at all, grasp at the air around your neck while making intense eye contact with the patron to your left. Such neck-tugging will establish familiarity with the pack, and you'll be trading war stories with regulars before you know it.
O'Keefe's Bar & Grill is located at 62 Court St.