• NZ

    Select your country and language

    Selected country/territory
    All countries/territories
  • MENU
Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
            Back to Open Skies

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY

23 July 2015

Words: Marina Chetner / Images: Thomas Mester

For a taste of Russia in New York, head to Brighton Beach, less than an hour's subway ride from midtown Manhattan. The seaside neighbourhood – once a luxurious resort, then blighted by the Great Depression – received its first wave of arrivals from Odessa, Ukraine, in the 1940s. Then, around the time of a collapsing Soviet Union, in the late ’80s, early ’90s, a second wave of immigrants settled in the area. Initially developed to evoke England's Brighton Beach, today the enclave is affectionately referred to as “Little Odessa” or “Little Russia by the Sea” and is home to America’s largest Russian-speaking population.

Located in southern Brooklyn on the Coney Island peninsula, Brighton's main artery, Brighton Beach Avenue, is lined with restaurants, food markets, bookstores, and gift shops signposted in Cyrillic. The surrounding residential streets are filled with redbrick apartment blocks and single-family homes, all within walking distance of the beach and Atlantic Ocean. Over the past decade, luxury condominiums have drawn more affluent residents including Russian officials and local celebrities.

In summer, the neighbourhood buzzes with a cacophony of Russian and American accents as day-trippers join in oceanside revelries. No visit is complete without tasting the traditional piroshki, rich plombir ice cream, smoked fish on rye, and caviar.


Entering Gourmanoff, you’re instantly taken with its cornucopia of produce: persimmons and pears piled high; an artisan bakery lined with rye loaves, fruit breads, and bunches of baguettes; decadent tortes displayed under glass to lure sweet tooths; and a delicatessen brimming with sausages, salamis and cheese cuts, ranging from Finnish Havarti to Rossiyski Slavia.

On the opposite side, a prepared food station tempts with shashlik skewers; chebureki – a deep-friend turnover filled with minced meat; and mounds of salads, including the popular vinaigrette, tinged pink from chopped red beets. Housed in a former nightclub, the high-end supermarket opened in August, 2014 and quickly established itself as the go-to for smoked fish and caviar. Under the gaze of chandeliers, packaged goods like the “CCCP” plombir ice cream and pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings) inspire nostalgia.

1029 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 517 2297


Reminiscent of the tchotchke-filled booths that line Moscow’s underground pedestrian walkways, Kalinka Gifts is a veritable cabinet of curiosities. Opened 20 years ago, the shop is popular with locals given its eclectic and colourful displays of traditional Russian gifts and European finds.

Fair maiden matroyshkas stand alongside similar wooden dolls painted in tribute to John Lennon; samovars produced in Gzhel, a Russian village renowned for its blue-and-white porcelain, make for a lovely collector’s item; and lacquered eggs decorated a la Fabergé glimmer under diamante and gold trim. Elaborate icons and art works made with amber hang upon the walls.

Russophiles will immediately recognise the wooden Khokhloma handicrafts – chopping boards, soup spoons, and bowls – depicting summer and autumn; the red-and-gold painted images of berries, flowers, and butterflies stand out against a black background.

524 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 743 4546


Russian culture is rich in art, music, literature, and dance, and a love for live performance makes Master Theatre, formerly Millennium Theatre, a thriving part of this Slavic-centric neighbourhood. Ray Charles, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Russian violinists Vladimir Spivakov and Yuri Bashmet have graced the stage of the 1,326-seat venue.

Most recently, the theatre hosted Mikhail Efrmov's Grazhdanin Poet, renowned journalist Vladimir Pozner, and the Nutcracker ballet to sold-out audiences. Artists popular since the days of the former USSR make regular appearances including singer Tamara Gverdtsiteli, and actors Tatyana Vasilyeva, Leonid Kanevsky, and Klara Novikova.

During Christmas and New Year, the theatre comes alive with jugglers, clowns, magicians, acrobats, and animal acts from the acclaimed Big Apple Circus, Ringling Bros, Cirque Du Soleil, and Barnum & Bailey.
1029 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 732 3838


It would be remiss to say that Food Network put La Brioche Café on the map – the shop’s been open for about 30 years – but celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s endorsement of its smetannik – a sour-cream layered cake – on The Best Thing I Ever Ate show hasn’t gone unnoticed. Food tour groups frequent the bakery; demand for the assorted varieties of turnovers, slices, and slabs of tortes is kept up with a constant rotation.

Inhale the heady scent of just-baked doughy goodness while perusing racks of cherry strudel; trays of tea biscuits; and a refrigerator case lined with the custard-heavy Napoleon, Black Forest, caramel, and nut-filled cakes. What to choose? Many of the goods can be purchased by the pound, so the best bet it to buy small portions of each. The most popular item, babka bread, is by far the simplest: it’s a honey-sweet loaf dotted with sultanas.

1073 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 934 0731


Lovers of print, DVDs, and CDs will appreciate browsing this 10,000-square-foot souvenir shop. Works by Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Alexander Pushkin are at the fore of a library’s worth of books that also includes romance novels, cookbooks, detective stories, and an extensive selection of children’s literature.

Soviet-era movie classics including Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears, and the popular Office Romance are hard to pass up (check for English subtitles) as is the historical drama, Russian Ark, famous for being filmed in one 96-minute take. By the store’s entrance, display cases show off beautiful ceramics by Imperial Porcelain, a St Petersburg-based factory founded in 1744. Intricately painted with mineral cobalt and 24K gold, the tea set in ‘Cobalt Net’, a pattern inspired during the reign of Empress Catherine II, is just exquisite.

230 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 891 6778


Not only is this alfresco stall convenient for a snack or lunch on the go – it’s located right by the entrance to the B and Q subway – but as the fast-food extension of Homemade Cooking Café, it’s one of the tastiest spots for Russian fare. Roadside stands selling piroshki are ubiquitous in Russia, and stopping here for a deep-fried handheld pie filled with meat, chicken liver, cabbage, or the local favourite, potato, conjures up images of similar pop-ups on the bustling streets of Moscow.

Shop assistant Vera has worked at the stall for five years and recommends the echpochmak, a hearty triangular pastry filled with roughly chopped potatoes, onions, and minced meat – a staple in the Tatar culture. For tea, there’s a selection of sweet breads like mak pirog (strudel layered thick with poppyseed).

504 Brighton Beach Avenue
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 513 0075


The Coney Island Boardwalk is rarely referred to by its official name, Riegelmann Boardwalk, named after Edward J Reigelmann, the Brooklyn Borough president from 1918 to 1924. Built in 1923, it initially ran along the southwest portion of Coney Island peninsula until 20 years later, when construction extended it east to Brighton’s 15th Street.

Today, much of the Atlantic-fronted way is lined with apartment buildings and luxury condominiums; the section between 4th and 7th streets is the liveliest thanks to patio-fronted cafés and restaurants. Benches draw groups of Russians, young and old, for gossip sessions and some shut-eye under the afternoon sun. Recently, protests have ensued against the boardwalk’s renovation as preservationists feel the use of recycled plastic lumber in place of wooden planks will destroy its historic character.

At Brighton 15th Street and Brightwater Avenue
NY 11235


Dining on Tatiana Restaurant’s four-course lunch menu means spending a few hours on its boardwalk patio while lingering over a table laden with Russian staples like Olivier salad, Ukrainian borscht, potato-filled vareniki, and beef Stroganoff. Named for its Odessa-born owner, the oceanfront spot is partly alfresco and perfectly poised for people watching.

By night, the main dining room transforms into a dressed-up affair. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, groups of friends feast on the Tatiana Special banquet menu, which includes a seafood platter, traditional ‘Tsar’ beef stew, and layered Napoleon cake based on a family recipe (it’s also referred to as mama’s signature cake). The band starts up at 9pm, followed by a Vegas-style live show at 10pm that translates into a spectacle of glitter and sequins until dawn.

3152 Brighton 6th Street
NY 11235
Tel: (+1) 718 891 5151