Having claimed New York City as her own—in a trajectory that starts with a fresh-faced art enthusiast from New Jersey and most recently includes her position as a director of Pace gallery—the now 31-year-old Kimberly Drew, otherwise known as @museummammy, has had over a decade to uncover the city for herself. As the art critic and author established herself and her practice, that process solidified a commitment to understanding the ways that Black art, Black liberation, Black histories, and the documentation of Black life intertwine.
As much as the city informed Drew’s career, her lens as a Black queer woman informs the way she navigates New York. She shared the different Black businesses and communities you can support in her home borough of Brooklyn, like Brooklyn Blooms, where she picks up flower arrangements, and we added in some of our own favorites, too. What’s the right way to visit responsibly when exploring these neighborhoods? Drew suggests doing so with deference and an open mind. “It’s never about changing New York,” she says, “it’s about letting New York impress upon you.”
Building Black Bed Stuy
Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant is where Drew calls home so, naturally, her first recommendation is Building Black Bed Stuy, a women-led project with a mission to preserve the area’s rich history that offers local Black-owned businesses and organizations financial support in the wake of COVID-19. Alongside successful online fundraisers, they’ve become known for their weekly Sunday marketplace and block party, found at the corner of Tompkins and Monroe.
“‘Block party’ doesn’t even really do it justice,” explains Drew. “It’s this entire avenue of incredible richness, commerce, great food—you’ll see people doing yoga.” She even regularly takes her parents to the event. The celebration of Bed Stuy’s Black communities, as the neighborhood rapidly changes, holds a special place in the writer’s heart. “I think anyone who is interested in Black culture, whether you are a part of it or not, should go and patronize it because it’s one of our great lifebloods, especially borne of this pandemic time.”
A city packed with flavorsome and nourishing cuisines, NYC can make you hard-pressed to make a decision come dinnertime and Bed Stuy’s Black-owned establishments are no exception, so AFAR rounded up a few that top our list to help you out. For Southern favorites with a Brooklyn spin, including fried green tomatoes with bacon, arugula, and aioli, try Peaches HotHouse, a restaurant cofounded by Black chef Craig Samuel that spawned the nearby offshoot Peaches Kitchen & Bar, as well as Peaches Grand in Fort Greene. Also in Bed Stuy, Grandchamps is a Haitian community hub that serves authentic dishes like codfish fritters with avocado. If you prefer your comfort food without meat, head to Greedi Kitchen, the brainchild of Brooklyn native Latisha Daring, for treats such as yucca dumplings and fried okra bites.
You’ll find plenty more in the way of delectable plant-based meals in Bushwick, an area known as much for its creative types as for its thriving restaurant scene, where Drew has a go-to top spot. “If you are vegan, there’s a restaurant called Sol Sips—Black-owned, vegan restaurant,” the writer reels off the top of her head. Determined to make plant-based food accessible to all, Sol Sips is all about community and their mission comes through in the food itself. Think tamarind jackfruit taquitos, slow-cooked kale patties, and plant-based chopped cheese (a staple of NYC deli counters, typically made with beef and American cheese on a roll). Plus, they offer weekly sliding-scale brunches, free cooking classes, and partnerships with similarly aligned organizations.
Another vegan spot, but with Caribbean flavors of jerk seasoning and breadfruit, Natural Blend has four locations in Brooklyn and comes with AFAR’s endorsement. We recommend the Prospect Heights outpost but in the same area you could also try Drew’s pick for vegan, Aunts et Uncles, or her go-to for soul food, Cheryl’s Global Soul. When eating at any of these Black-owned establishments, check out Prospect Park (said to be favored by landscape designer Frederick Olmsted over his other masterwork, Central Park) and The Brooklyn Museum.
The Brooklyn Museum and more
Known for its extensive collection of roughly 500,000 objects, namely its huge holdings of Egyptian and African art, the museum is one of the largest and oldest art museums in the country. Dating to 1895, the imposing 560,000-square-foot building sits at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue on the edge of the Park and serves as an emblem of the progressive values and diversity for which the borough is known.
Having just redisplayed some of its 19th- and 20th-century pieces and home to a monumental 2020 rally for Black trans lives, the historic landmark has an exciting air of change encircling it, something Drew can speak to. “I recently joined their council for African-American art, they do fantastic programming,” she says. “It’s an incredible institution that has really beautiful exhibitions but also dope public programming especially oriented around so many marginalized communities.”
This includes their longstanding First Saturday program—which impressively has been running for more than 21 years. On a monthly basis, visitors are welcomed through the doors of the Museum for an evening of free programming. Focusing on Black lives and liberation, the Museum’s website adds that First Saturdays is “a place to amplify voices from across our borough’s BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.”
Get more progressive cultural edification nearby at the Drew-recommended feminist bookstore Cafe con Libros. Cap off your visit with libations made from house-made, small-batch gin in neighboring Crown Heights at Ode to Babel, a spot “inspired to build and maintain space in our community” that Drew favors.