With the summer travel season officially under way, the time seems right to focus on some of our nation's nerdiest destinations. So for the next couple of months I'll be writing a number of Topless Robot Road Trip lists showcasing the nerdiest places in some of America's finest cities. From worthwhile tourist traps to obscure spots known mostly to locals, these articles will be your guide to the greatest geek getaways America has to offer.
For this debut list, I'll be introducing you to what I consider to be Brooklyn's dorkiest hot spots, including a shop to get all of your superhero gear, some nerd-oriented bars and other places designed to get your inner fanboy or fangirl worked into a frenzy. Obviously lists such as this are extremely subjective, so instead of bombarding me with "YOU FORGOT ___________" remarks, feel free to add your own personal picks in the comments. Sound good? Okay then, let's get this (hopefully bedbug-free) road trip started already!
15) Brooklyn Public Library
Since opening in 1941, the Brooklyn Public Library's main branch, Central Library, has become something of an unlikely tourist attraction for bookworms and architecture fiends alike. Constructed to give the appearance of an open book, the massive building is a place where you can either spend an afternoon doing a self-guided tour, leaching off of the free wi-fi that is available, catching one of the free performances featured throughout the summer months or just taking in the facility's collection of nerdcentric books and graphic novels. (As I did last year when I read through a fascinating book about Popeye collectibles while waiting for a friend who worked there). The best part? You don't have to have a valid Brooklyn library card to enjoy and explore the sheer wonder of the facility. So you next time you are in the borough and feel that you are, um, overdue for some culture, check out the Central Library. It's a great reminder the importance libraries hold as a resource and public gathering space.
14) The Brooklyn Flea
If the Hipster Culture Wars ever had the equivalent of World War Z's Battle of Yonkers, chances are it would be fought at the Brooklyn Flea. This high-end flea market sets up shop each week in the Fort Greene and Williamsburgh sections of the city. (There's one in Philadelphia too, though as a resident of the City of Brotherly Love I haven't quite figured out why). Whether you are looking for overpriced knick-knacks that you find for five bucks cheaper on Etsy or you just want to laugh at skinny trust-fund kids with ridiculous fashion sense and an encyclopedic knowledge of The National's discography, there's plenty of fun to go around. Snark aside, the incredible atomic age collectibles of Alphaville and the ubiquitous food vendors make this a fun day out - whether you have black-rimmed glasses or not.
13) Nerd Nite Global Festival 2013
For the most part, you can check out pretty much every place on this list whenever you want. A notable exception is the Nerd Nite Global Festival 2013. Held on August 16th to the 18th, this spin-off of the popular Nerd Nite events that are held monthly throughout the world promises speeches with enticing names like "The Art of the Star Wars Retcon," "Godzilla: History, Biology and Behavior of Hyper-Evolved Theropod Kaiju," and, inevitably, "Drunk Science." Having attended and participated in Nerd Nite events myself, I can tell you from firsthand experience that this event will be an unpretentious, booze-filled celebration of the sorts of dorky things that make the otherwise soul-crushing drudgery of life worthwhile. Don't miss it.
12) Union Hall
You ever see that BBC documentary where the woman fell in love with and subsequently married the Eiffel Tower? I never understood how a person could have such an all-encompassing passion for a location until I first went to Union Hall a few years back. On the surface, it appears to be just one of a thousand bar/performance venues that clutters up Park Slope. But it's so much more than a place to get a drink and see a band. There are bocce courts, a shitload of different craft beers to wreck your liver with and a general low-key vibe that seems sorely lacking in the other local bars where displays of status seem to trump having a good time.
Then there are the special events. Union Hall is the home of the Muppet Vault, an occasional video celebration of rare Jim Henson ephemera, as well as frequent singalong events and appearances from comedians like Eugene Mirman and David Cross. It is also the home to Geeking Out, an event where comedians get as enthusiastic as they possibly can about music, celebrities and other topics without restraining orders being issued. Wanderlust, thy name is Union Hall.
11) Coney Island
After being devastated by Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island is living up to the current New Jersey tourism campaign by proving that it is "stronger than the storm." Eight months on from the disaster, the Wonder Wheel is once again spinning and the sideshow freaks are freaking. (No word on if the Warriors are coming out to pla-a-a-a-y). Even the fabled Coney Island Mermaid Parade - in which attendees do their best Little Mermaid impersonations by dressing up in ocean-themed outfits - will be held this Saturday after much-needed funds were raised on Kickstarter to keep the event from going all glug-glug. Yes friends, Coney Island is back, and still as much of a symbol of Americana as always. I'll meet you at Nathan's.
It's one of those simple ideas that you kick yourself for not having: opening a bar that also is home to an arcade. But the mad geniuses behind Barcade got to it first. Which is fine, because now we can all enjoy the retro fruits of their labor. Walking into the cavernous Barcade is the closest thing to time travel we have yet. The cacophony of sounds emanating from old friends like Popeye, Tapper and Ms. Pac-Man feels like a safe aural blanket of nostalgia that will give you the warm and fuzzies. Of course, that could just be a side effect from all the beer you just drank too. Note: if you can't make it to Brooklyn, the Barcade empire has expanded to Jersey City and Philadelphia, with a New York City location to open later this year. That makes my Pooyan tingle just thinking about it...
9) Action Burger
Despite the dubious claim that it is "America's first comic book/sci-fi themed restaurant," Williamsburg's Action Burger serves up delicious meals with its nerdery. While you wait to sample enough varieties of hamburgers to make Morrissey rip every hair out of his pompadoured head, you can either play some old video games or marvel at the comic and toy paraphernalia on display. The restaurant is owned by Steve Bala and Vlane Carter, two lifelong comic fans who wanted to create a place that hungry fanboys could call their own. (Proving that these guys are the real deal, Carter's own indie comic is available on the premises). Of course, you could be a dick and play devil's advocate by saying that the last thing geeks need is more hamburgers, but where's the fun in that?
8) Bergen Street Comics
There are two types of comic stores in the world: unkempt disasters where the latest releases not-so-peacefully coexist alongside of rarities like Tippy Teen in dusty longboxes, and upscale establishments which are as organized as they are clean. Both of these have their charm, but Bergen Street Comics definitely falls into the latter camp. Arguably the best-known comic store in Brooklyn, this Park Slope mecca for geeks has been featured on HBO's Bored to Death (where it was the go-to shop for Zach Galifianakis' character) and, as seen above, has featured performances by Jonathan Coulton.
The special appearances and signings are terrific, to be sure. Yet at the end of the day, the best things about Bergen Street Comics are its knowledgeable staff and great selection of new releases and graphic novels. Plus, it doesn't have that mysterious aroma of cat piss that so many of its competitors seem to cultivate. Advantage: Bergen Street Comics!