Nestled between the tourist mecca of DUMBO and the historic Navy Yard in Brooklyn sits Vinegar Hill, a waterfront neighborhood just 0.1 square miles wide that looks like it was plucked from an old New York picture book.
The area is somewhat known because of the restaurant Vinegar Hill House and the historic mansion the Commandant’s House. But those destinations only scratch the surface of the tiny neighborhood’s treasures.
Walking down the cobblestone streets by 19th century homes, the neighborhood offers a trove of unusual sights, including a handful of driveways with cars that look like they’ve been sitting untouched for 40 years, decorated by overgrown trees and vines.
The Dorje Ling Buddhist Center, a large yellow building that looks like a mini castle, wraps around the corner at 98 Gold St.
Alice Ting, a volunteer who manages the center, explained that Dorje Ling follows the 700-year-old Jonan Buddhist Lineage, which draws on Tibetan spirituality and culture. The center is part of a network of temples in Nepal, Tibet, Taiwan and Beijing. Atlanta is home to the main Dorje Ling center in the U.S. and its Vinegar Hill location opened in 1991.
“Our master is in Qing Hai, China, and he comes here once a year. His visits draw people from all over to study with him and learn about our tradition,” she said.
Those who come might be inspired to stay.
Malan Lama, one of the four lamas who live inside, came to the U.S. from Malaysia 40 years ago to study photography at University of Rochester. He was hired to shoot photos of the temple when it opened, and wound up becoming a monk.
The center offers open chanting and mediation every Tuesday and Friday evening at 8 p.m.
Exploring the area at night, visitors will be drawn to neon lights coming out of a large garage at 306 Water St. The enticing glow comes from the studio of artist Jen Lewin, whose light installations can be found as public art in cities all over the world, including Dubai, Mexico City and Singapore.
After moving to Vinegar Hill from Boulder, Colorado, in September 2016, Lewin took over what used to be an antique Japanese furniture store.
“I assumed this kind of space didn’t exist in Vinegar Hill, but it’s perfect,” she said.
Lewin is known for her interactive work that allows participants to manipulate the art themselves, including a laser harp, a light installation that senses movement and responds with sound.
“The largest collection of laser harps in the world is here in my studio,” Lewin said.
She travels the world with her work and loves watching people interact with it.
“What’s so great is that even in very different cultures, people mostly react the same,” she said. “It shows our common humanity.”
In the spring and summer, Lewin hosts open studio time to give people the opportunity to interact with the art and the artist.
Blossom Crawford, the owner of Bridge Pilates, is another international attraction.
Nestled on 53 Hudson St., Crawford’s Pilates studio doesn’t exactly look like a destination—it’s housed in a studio apartment where some of the equipment overflows into the kitchen. A lesson with Crawford is considered a must by Pilates teachers and devotees from all over the world. She estimates that international visitors come to her studio about twice a month, from places like the Isle of Man, Japan, Spain and across the U.S.
Pilates, a system of exercise named for its founder Joseph Pilates, who died in 1967, has been passed down with great care from those who knew him. One of those “elders” was Kathy Grant, Crawford’s mentor.
“When Kathy died in 2010, all of a sudden people looked to me carry on the legacy. It was a big responsibility,” Crawford said. She’s frequently invited to run workshops for other teachers internationally, including in Australia and South Korea.
Crawford opened her studio in 2006 in nearby DUMBO, but moved to Vinegar Hill in 2015 – a move she was nervous about because people called neighborhood the “edge of the world.”
“You’re not near a subway and it’s a small, quiet community up here,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if people would make the trip—from Australia or Brooklyn Heights. But they have and they love it.”
It’s easy to see why.