Discovering DUMBO And Vinegar Hill With Big Onion Walking Tours

One question was on my mind as I hopped on the Brooklyn bound F train to reach the starting point of my walking tour with Big Onion Tours: “Why Big Onion and not Big Apple?”  Our lovely guide Pam answered it straight away: Just like an onion, NYC has many layers to peel away and discover.  Insert Big Onion Walking Tours here.

I joined in on the DUMBO and Vinegar Hill Tour, partly because I was determined to try the famous Grimaldi’s pizza in the area, and partly because I had never even heard of the neighborhood Vinegar Hill.  Like the previous tour I’ve done with Big Onion, I walked away with an extremely historically detailed and comprehensive snapshot of this section of Brooklyn.  Not going to spoil the tour for you, but here’s a few teasers:

The Origin Of DUMBO

DUMBO stands for: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  Rumor has it that the “Overpass” had to be strategically added, or else the neighborhood would just be DUMB.


Rapid Gentrification

A theme that kept repeating on the tour was that of “rapid gentrification”.  It wasn’t until the last 5 to 10 years that the neighborhoods started attracting upper income folks.  The contrast was striking…on one side you’d have luxury boutique residences where residents earn an average of $150,000 per year, and on the other side 16 acres of projects, where residents average $21,000.  The difference between these neighborhoods’ gentrification and, say, that of SOHO’s is that when the rich started moving into SOHO, the artists just moved out and into a new section of town.  Clearly 16 acres of public housing isn’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see in what directions the neighborhoods continue to grow.


Warehouses Turned Lofts

To cater to the recent gentrification of the hood, old warehouses are being converted into high-end loft/apartment spaces.  This particular space used to be the Hanan & Sons Shoe Factory…now it has one bedroom apartments going for $5,175 per month.



A little historical fact for you…everything past Water Street in Brooklyn is built on a landfill.  It’s certainly the prettiest former landfill I’ve ever seen!


Hidden Mansion

Amidst the factories and lofts and projects of the neighborhoods lies a ginormous house that we New Yorkers would most definitely call a mansion, complete with a sprawling front yard and gated driveway.  Who knew?  It was originally built to be the Commandant’s House, lived in by the Commandant of the Navy, but sold in 1966 to a private owner.  We’re thinking it could make for a pretty amazing garden party venue!



As the tour wound up, we passed the famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria.  I took one look at the line snaking around the block, and decided the slice would have to wait until another day.  All the more reason to jump on the F train and head out to Brooklyn.



For more information about tours, times, and tickets, please visit Big Onion’s website.


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen




  • Cindy Jacks says:

    That is definitely the prettiest landfill I’ve ever seen as well! I love discovering NYC through your eyes!

  • bizarrely, when I first visited NYC it was the fact you had ‘old’ buildings that really suprised me. For what ever reason I’d envisioned a very modern city…

    I need another trip!:)

    • Used York City says:

      I love the juxtaposition with the old buildings and the shiny new luxury buildings…makes for such a pretty skyline!:-)

  • Good thing you made it before Sandy hit! Isn’t Grimaldi’s delish? I did the tourist thing when I first moved here and walked across the BK bridge before eating there. It was summer and the line was loooong! I’ll have to check DUMBO out once the subways are working again! 😉

    • Used York City says:

      It’s a great hood to explore, very artsy with lots of fun cafes and restaurants. And the gorgeous view of Manhattan, of course:-)

  • Cari Lorine says:

    This tour looks like it was so much fun! It looks like a great area. I’m sorry you missed out on the pizza, though; I wouldn’t have wanted to wait in that line either. Great post!

    • Used York City says:

      Haha, I always wonder…”what about that pizza is SO amazing that people will wait in line for an hour?!” Maybe it’s all hype, but I’ll find out someday:-)

  • Really interesting about the gentrification and the conversion of old buildings. This sounds like the perfect tour for us — sight-seeing plus history! Will definitely keep this tour group in mind. Thanks!

    • Used York City says:

      They offer all kinds of historical walking tours throughout the city, definitely check them out when you come back to the states!:-)

  • Wow–that is one long line for a slice of pie…Interesting facts about Vinegar Hill. It seems like a lot of neighborhoods have this dynamic of the Haves and Have Nots. We spent the past four days in San Francisco and my friend said SF surpassed NY as the most expensive city in the U.S. Portrero Hill has gorgeous Victorian style homes a stone’s throw away from the projects (O.J. Simpson grew up there).

    Thanks for another fun, photo-filled history lesson, Jess :).

    • Used York City says:

      Oh, San Fran is lovely! Probably my second favorite city in the US…(after NY, of course;-) But yes, very interesting to see the dramatic disparity in neighborhoods so close to each other.

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