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Serenity now! Our full guide to getting some peace and quiet

The Brooklyn Paper

Horns are honking. Jackhammers are hammering. Politicians are calling. Babies are screaming (or worse, wanting you to play with them). Face it: you can’t get any freakin’ peace and quiet in this town!

Thankfully, we feel your pain, so this week, GO Brooklyn’s tranquility-loving team fanned out across this frenetic borough to find those silent enclaves, late-afternoon beers, peaceful saunas and other hidden oases (nice plural!) where you can get a rare bit of time to recharge.

Here are the calming details:

Still waters

Sunsets aren’t only for romance, they’re for relaxation — and the best place to watch the rosy fingers of dusk slink away over New Jersey is from Red Hook, with its expansive sky, lapping waters and a 270-degree view from Lower Manhattan to the Narrows (with Lady Liberty thrown in for good measure).

One great spot is the Valentino Pier. Jutting out from the end of Coffey Street into the harbor, the pier has the splendid view, but is also a relaxing community gathering place (if you find relaxation in petting other people’s dogs, this is your place).

And for all the controversy its opening created last year, IKEA has done the neighborhood a huge favor with its Erie Basin Park, which sits behind the blue-and-yellow Swedish monolith. The park has some mildly interesting sculptures, but the most interesting aspect of Erie Basin is its tranquil sadness: plaques carry testimonials from the dockworkers who once worked the piers, and cranes that used to hoist cargo dot the waterfront promenade, reminding parkgoers of the industrial roots of Red Hook.

Valentino Pier (end of Coffey Street in Red Hook); Erie Basin Park [1 Beard St. at Dwight Street in Red Hook, (718) 246-4532].

Full body

Set in a converted chocolate factory, Body By Brooklyn is a luxe spa with that rarest of relaxation spots: a full bar that’ll serve you even if you’re barefoot and wearing a robe (would Eamonn Doran do that?).

Of course, you don’t come to a spa to drink, you come to spa (yes, it’s a verb), so there are all the requisite treatments, including yoga, massages and steam rooms. The Russian sauna offers a dry, 180-degree heat, plus the chance to be hit with oak leaves or rubbed with salt from the Dead Sea. If you’re not sufficiently relaxed by that point, get a chocolate full body massage. And if you want the full treatment, reserve a private room for $200 per hour. The spa provides the Champagne and you can do whatever you want (no questions asked).

Body by Brooklyn [275 Park Ave. at Waverly Avenue in Clinton Hill, (718) 923-9400].

Book smart

You don’t hear of people going to the Brooklyn Historical Society — and that’s what makes the society’s Othmer Library such a great place to escape. Constructed in 1881 and refurbished in 2003, the library houses some 100,000 books about the history of Brooklyn. The hand-carved ash stacks and mezzanine are elegant, interesting and historic, just like our borough. True, you need an appointment to look at a manuscript or something from the archives, but casual bibliophiles can browse or read (after paying the building’s $6 admission fee).

Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. at Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 222-4111]. Open Wed-Fri, 1-5 pm.

Dead quiet

On weekends, Prospect Park is as crowded as a frat party and as filthy as a garbage dump, so why not go hang out in the cemetery? It may sound strange, but the Green-Wood Cemetery is relaxing for more than just its long-term residents. In fact, prior to the Civil War, its rolling grounds attracted 500,000 day-trippers — rivaling the stentorian appeal of Niagara Falls.

But these days crowds are far more sparse, leaving lots of room to amble the 478 hilly acres, where conductor Leonard Bernstein, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and even graft master “Boss” Tweed enjoy their eternal rest.

Green-Wood Cemetery [500 25th St. at Fifth Avenue in Greenwood Heights, (718) 768-7300]

Crawl, don’t run

Everyone loves the city’s public swimming pools — everyone, that is, except people who like to swim. And there’s no shame in admitting that sometimes you wish you could just have the pool to yourself instead of being surrounded by noisy, boisterous kids (damn kids having fun!).

Fortunately, there are early morning and early evening lap swimming hours at both the Red Hook and Sunset Park pools.

It’s a great stress reliever.

“Once you’re underwater, you hear nothing,” one swimmer told us the other day. “You think you would think about all of the things that are stressing you out, but once you’re under, you forget about all of that.”

Sunset Park Pool [Seventh Avenue at 43rd Street, (718) 965-6578]; Red Hook Pool [155 Bay St., between Henry and Hicks streets, (718) 722-3211]. Early lap swim, 7–8:30 am; evening lap swim, 7–8:30 pm.

Get bent

It’s easy to tell a stressed out person, “Try yoga.” (Try yoga — there, we said it. Yes, it was easy). But not all yoga is the same. At Bend and Bloom, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, owner Amy Quinn-Suplina prefers a vinyasa-style yoga that leans more towards tai-chi than traditional stretch-and-hold gruntfests.

“Vinyasa techniques aren’t just relaxing in the studio, but because they’re not all about stretching, you can use what you learn as you go out into the world,” she said.

Of course, Quinn-Suplina’s studio itself is a comforting place — and not just because the 1920s-era firehouse is painted all white and has such nice high ceilings. If you’re short on dough, for example, you can sign up for a work-study program that will have you answering phones or working on the company’s Web site in exchange for your classes.

Plus, there’s a “pay-whatever-you-want” every Tuesday at 10 am, and an unlimited classes for $99 deal.

“Yoga,” Quinn-Suplina said, “is about the union of the mind, the body and the breath, or spirit.”

So it shouldn’t break the bank.

Bend and Bloom Yoga [708 Sackett St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (347) 987-3162].

Wine streak

Down a flight of stairs off bustling Lafayette Avenue, Stonehome Wine Bar is the brainchild of Bill Stenejem, who is (get this) a retired high school alcohol and substance abuse program administrator.

Stenejem, who looks and sounds like an American version of Malcolm McDowell, has put together a wine list of some 200 bottles, with 35 wines available by the glass. The back patio is home to a lush garden, but the undulating cherry-wood bar designed by Stenejem’s wife, Rose Hermann, is equally beautiful.

Stonehome has expanded its food offerings from cheese and charcuterie to include a $25 prix-fixe menu (before 7:30 pm) and offerings like watermelon and feta salad or sustainably fished Mahi Mahi.

Nothing says “relaxation” like a sustainably harvested fish.

Stonehome Wine Bar [87 Lafayette Ave. at S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 624-9443].

Drinking life

When you walk into the Brooklyn Inn, inhale deeply. That smell can’t be manufactured in any scent-maker’s laboratory — it can only be earned. It’s the scent of an old bar. So grab a pint of Brooklyn Lager or Guinness at the 1870s-era wood bar, or shoot some pool in the backroom (these games are definitely low key).

Better still, take your beer into one of the walled-off booths for a quiet afternoon chat.

Brooklyn Inn [138 Bergen St. at Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 625-9741]

The art of Zen

If yoga isn’t spiritual enough for you, how about sitting and meditating while facing a wall?

That’s the soto Zen tradition, as practiced at the Brooklyn Zen Center in Park Slope, where Zen priest Greg Snyder runs the show.

“What we are doing is bringing our minds to our body and following our breath,” he said.

“What tends to cause stress in our lives is that we have an attachment to thought, and the breath is a way to bring the mind away from being attached to those thoughts,” he added.

So the goal at regular meditation sessions is to sit still for a half hour at a time, which Snyder admitted isn’t so easy for first-timers.

“They’re used to following their mind wherever it takes them,” he said. “But it is much easier to do it with other people around.”

Sounds like that introductory class at 9:30 am on the first Saturday of the month is for you.

Brooklyn Zen Center [389 Ninth St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 701-1083]. Suggested donation is $5. For info, visit www.brooklynzen.org.

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Reader Feedback

chuck from boerum hill says:
What about that Zen center on State St near 3rd Ave? Is that open to the public?
Aug. 7, 2009, 12:14 pm
Dogen Zen from Boerum Hill says:
Yes, the Zen Center of New York City, Fire Lotus Temple, located at 500 State Street (between Third Avenue and Nevins Street) welcomes the community. The Center is home to a well-established, active community of Zen practitioners, as well as a resident teacher, Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei and resident senior monastics. ZCNYC is affiliated with Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY, in the Catskills. All are welcome to come for beginning meditation instruction offered during the Sunday morning program. For more information visit www.mro.org/firelotus
Aug. 12, 2009, 10:01 am

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