The one book: New guide shows Brooklyn’s 111 best kept secrets

Wax work: John Major’s new guide book “111 Places in Brooklyn That You Must Not Miss” includes Downtown’s House of Wax bar. The author is pictured in front of the figure of German serial killer Fritz Haarmann, known as the “Butcher of Hanover.”
Photo by Kevin Duggan

This is the guide of Kings!

A new book showcases more than a hundred interesting spots in Brooklyn, going beyond the usual tourist traps. “111 Places in Brooklyn That You Must Not Miss” unveils the borough’s quirky and historic sites, which the author hopes will lead Kings County residents out of their routines to rediscover the objectively best borough.

“As locals we form our little routes to the subway or shops that we frequent and we at some point stop looking as vigorously as when we first arrived,” said John Major.

The Park Sloper first moved to Brooklyn some two decades ago from Ohio, and said that he has kept the attitude of a visitor by continually seeking out interesting places in his adopted home. His guide takes explorers beyond Brooklyn Heights brownstones and Williamsburg bars to unveil the borough’s vastness and complexity — and its weirdness, too.

For example, on the fourth floor of City Point you can discover the House of Wax, where bartenders stir craft cocktails against a backdrop of eerie vintage wax figures. Effigies of German Kaiser Wilhelm, Napoleon, classical composers, and the victims of gory medical procedures made their way from a 19th century exhibit in Berlin, Germany, to America’s Downtown, according to Major.

“It’s just this very weird, macabre experience to be in there,” he said. “They have great cocktails and about 25 beers on tap, meanwhile you’re sitting at the bar and you’re staring at these faces of history looking back at you.”

Also in the book is a row of 19th-century houses in Crown Heights, on Buffalo Avenue between Bergen Street and St. Marks Avenue. Here you will find the remnants of the 1830s African-American enclave Weeksville, named after its founder, former slave James Week, who bought the two lots of land and sold houses to black men, who were only allowed to vote at the time if they owned property.

Only a couple of buildings, known as the Hunterfly Road Houses, remain, but they show how Brooklynites have fought to liberate the suppressed for centuries, according to Major.

“To me it represents this real pride personally, that Brooklyn has this piece of history within it,” he said.

Major found some of his 111 entries through online research, but he said that the old-fashioned method of walking around neighborhoods and getting the locals’ recommendations still holds up in the information age.

“What better recommendation can you get than from someone who lives there and takes great pride in sharing a place that’s important to them?” he asked.

Meeting people with a deep knowledge about where they are from was a great pleasure during his journey, he said.

“People who are so passionate about that history — I find it so fun to be in the presence of people who have a real passion,” he said.

“111 Places in Brooklyn That You Must Not Miss” by John Major. www.111places.com. In bookstores now. $19.90.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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