Peter Greenberg Worldwide –the famed travel expert, has some interesting and useful articles about the neighborhoods of New York City. This is one of them. View the entire article here.
Before we launch into Phyllis Berger’s excellent article about Queens, I need to point out that when it comes to apartments for rent in Queens, there is only one place for the very best no fee apartments in New York… RDNY.com.
When it comes to New York boroughs, they say that Brooklyn is the new Manhattan. Does this mean the pecking order — at least in perception — has changed? Does this mean that Queens has become the new Brooklyn? With expensive waterfront properties, a growing arts scene and diverse ethnic restaurants and shops, Queens is drawing a new younger population. More than 30 years after she fled the borough, we sent Queens native Phyllis Berger back to check out the new hot neighborhoods of Astoria, Long Island City and Jackson Heights.
I grew up in the borough of Queens in New York City. In the 1950s and ’60s you were on your way up if you moved there from the Bronx or Brooklyn. Queens was the borough of middle-class dreams—good schools, modern apartment houses, and lovely private homes for the upwardly mobile. But in the 1970s it was a place for a young person to move out of—Manhattan was the only cool place to be and Queens represented all that was old and staid.
Several decades later, imagine my surprise to find that with rents unimaginably high in Manhattan, and Brooklyn real estate skyrocketing out of site, that Queens has become cool. It’s now the borough where under 30s are moving to start families and to find spaces to create art and theater and to open restaurants important enough to be reviewed by top critics. Queens—the birthplace of Ethel Merman, Donald Trump, Martin Scorsese, 50 Cent, and Nancy Reagan—is now a thriving borough with enough ethnic diversity to make a twenty minute subway ride feel like a journey to a far off land.
You want to check out Queens for its exotic bazaar of Thai, Cuban, Indian, and Bangladeshi foods and shops. Many of the cultures overlap, so within a few short miles you can feel as if you’ve traveled from Bangladesh to Mexico without a passport.
Astoria is one of the two places that I visited that is only one stop into Queens from Manhattan. The neighborhood was named after John Jacob Astor who was told that if he donated $2,000 to the burgeoning community, they would name it after him. Apparently he knew how to keep his money because he only ended up giving $500, but still got to have the area named for him. I guess my mother was right: It’s the rich that count their pennies and nickels while the rest of us fritter our money away….
The second half of the 19th century saw an influx of German immigrants, among them the Steinway family who were the founders of the famed piano makers, Steinway & Sons. A major thoroughfare, Steinway Street is named for them. It is possible to tour the Steinway Factory located at 1 Steinway Place, but you do need to make an appointment.
Three thousand miles from Hollywood is the Kaufman Astoria Studios, which is on the National Register of Historic places. It was built in 1920. The Marx Brothers made their first two films there, the films Hair and The Wiz were filmed at these studios, as well as Sesame Street, and, in 1984 it became the home of The Cosby Show. While you’re there you can tour the Museum of the Moving Image. In addition to teaching about the art and history of the motion picture through multi-media presentations, it also houses the distinction of having one of the most significant collections of video games and gaming hardware—a perfect place to visit with your kids when they recoil at the idea of another museum. And speaking of kids—up to age 90 for this one—If you get there before September 23rd, you can see the exhibit “Aliens, Gadgets and Guns: Designing the World of Men In Black 3.”
One unexpected treat for this Queens native was Astoria Park, which has the largest public swimming pool in New York City open since July 4, 1936. On the day I visited, it was overflowing with bikinied teenage girls frolicking with their boyfriends alongside elderly women in Speedo maillots and swim caps who looked as if they were used to swimming in the Baltic. Everyone was cooling off in the gigantic pool or laying on their towels on the concrete perimeter.
Overlooking the East River and the RFK Bridge, Astoria Park also has a new skate park with all the requisite ramps to terrify any parent.
Astoria has a very large Greek and Italian population for many years, so I tried to pay homage to both nationalities.
One of the most notable Greek restaurants in Astoria is Taverna Kyclades. This small Greek restaurant is known for its seafood. In case you’re unsure what to order, the taxidermy swordfish that is prominently displayed on one of the walls is a good hint. At a friend’s suggestion, I ordered the charred sardines—a first time for me, but now not the last, and a Greek salad. Everything was wonderful and fresh. The lunch menu is considerably smaller than their dinner menu but I’d say go there whatever time of day you happened to be near… but don’t go for lunch if you want dessert, which they don’t serve that until dinner.
Astoria residents would say that Trattoria L’inconrto and Ornella Trattoria are among the best Italian in all of New York without the Manhattan prices. At L’Incontro, chef Rocco Sacramone and his mother, Tina cook traditional dishes from their home in Abruzzo, Italy as well as continually finding ways to keep the dishes updated and surprising. At Ornella Trattoria, husband and wife Ornella and Giuseppe Viterale, bring the authentic tastes of the regions where they grew up, Ornella in Torino in the northern part of Italy and Giuseppe in Salerno in the south together. They leave no region of Italy untouched!
You can also travel to Czechoslovakia in the 1920’s by popping into the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden on 24th Street,“the oldest beer garden in New York City.” Sit outside on the long picnic benches and try one of the many beers on tap while eating one of the traditional Czech delicacies such as cold marinated spicy knockwurst or sausages served with pickled onion or vinegar….or just have a glass of Pilsner Urquell.
Reminder: If you are looking for an apartment for rent in Queens, check out the no fee Queens apartments listed with RDNY.com
Long Island City
This area is also just one stop into Queens on the 7 train proves that a Queens address can be just as desirable as uber-trendy Williamsburg in Brooklyn. While the draw to see Astoria might be the ethnic restaurants and that amazing swimming pool, go to Long Island City to get in on the ground floor of what is sure to become the next best thing to happen in NYC. Here, art is popping up everywhere in unexpected places, like warehouse facades and its spectacular waterfront promenade is the perfect antidote to sometimes feeling overwhelmed by masses of people and gargantuan buildings that are among the hallmarks of this city.
Just as Astoria has the wow factor with its huge swimming pool, Long Island City dazzles with its waterfront promenade, Gantry Plaza State Park. With spectacular views of the East River looking across at the United Nations building and mid-town New York, the high rise apartments that have recently sprung up along this stretch are serious competition for its luxurious counterparts found in Manhattan. For $3.25 million you can be the proud owner of a two-story waterfront penthouse. However anyone can enjoy the walk along the river the promenade’s built-in lounge chairs and hammocks. Towering over you, is the iconic 60-foot high neon Pepsi Cola sign that was constructed in 1936 for the Pepsi Cola bottling plant; the sign was dismantled and placed in its current location facing the river.
If art’s your thing, I suggest you save Long Island City for a Thursday through Sunday visit when the major art museums are open. MoMA P.S. 1 is an exhibition site affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art focusing on experimental and innovative art. It is open Thursday through Monday.
The Japanese-American artist and sculptor converted the nearby Noguchi Museum, open Wednesday through Sunday, to a museum from an abandoned industrial building in 1986. Built to house his life’s work, the design of the building and its open-air sculpture garden has become some of his most celebrated pieces.
Close by, is the Socrates Sculpture Park, which shows what can happen when a community comes together to turn a beast into something beautiful. Originally a dumpsite, artists transformed it into a sculpture garden for large-scale works. It has also become a popular place for local residents to host events like the outdoor movies shown during the summer months.
There are several galleries in the area, such as the Dorksy Gallery and m55Art, but there is a one spot you can’t miss. At Jackson Avenue between Crane and Davis Streets 5 Pointz, a collection of warehouses covered in extraordinary and electrifying graffiti. See it soon as there is talk of tearing these buildings down.
Long Island City Eats:
Madera Cuban Grill & Steakhouse: This place will put an authentic bit of Havana in your belly. I say just go for the sandwich Cubana and follow my waiter’s suggestion and order the yucca fries. Between those two items and the fried sweet plantains, let me just say that I was happy I was wearing pants with an elastic waist. 27-49 Vernon Blvd., LIC
Tournesol: This small French bistro is as good as many famous Paris spots and. it’s less expensive than counterparts in Manhattan. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to be having dinner there on a night when the cassoulet is their plats du jour. 50-12 Vernon Blvd., LIC
The Corner Bistro: This Greenwich Village late night legendary burger joint has opened in Long Island City and it’s a great place to go when you’re craving that cheeseburger with bacon. And if your companion is counting his/her calories, the grilled chicken sandwich is pretty good, too. 47-18 Vernon Blvd., LIC
Sweet Leaf: When you are exhausted and can’t walk another step but you still have more sightseeing to do, stop at this local coffee house. The coffee is great, the people are friendly and the club chairs are perfect for collapsing on. I spent a half hour there sipping my iced coffee while I rested up before hitting the next gallery. 10-93 Jackson Ave, LIC
Reminder: RDNY.com has an excellent selection of Queens apartments for rent – and all of them are 100% no broker fee.
A little farther into Queens than Astoria or Long Island City, Jackson Heights offers the visitor a look at a unique architectural feature begun in early 20th century, of apartment houses built around beautiful gardens—hence, the term “garden apartments.” Where once it was a bastion of white, middle class, largely Jewish families, today it is one of the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods in all of New York City. Newer arrivals from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Latin America, live side by side with residents that have been here for sixty or seventy years. In 1993, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a section of Jackson Heights as a historic district thereby preserving the architectural integrity of these apartments and private homes built between 1910 and the 1940s. Author Daniel Karatzas, showed me around his neighborhood, and shared with me his passion for this corner of the borough that is his home turf. In the book that he wrote on the history of Jackson Heights, “Jackson Heights: A Garden In The City.” We learn that the term “garden apartment” was most likely first used to describe the building complex that went up in Jackson Heights in 1917 built by the Queensboro Corporation. Every window of every apartment had to face the street in front of the building or a beautiful garden in the rear.
As I toured these apartment buildings, I was astounded to see the intricate and beautifully manicured gardens reminiscent of an English garden. Walking through the gates of these buildings and coming upon these gardens is like opening an oyster and being surprised with a perfect pearl.
Jackson Heights Eats:
La Portena: Begin your tour of the South American side of Jackson Heights with a stop at La Portena. I haven’t been to Argentina but friends who have tell me this is as close to an authentic Argentine culinary experience as you can get without a passport. For the somewhat adventurous, order the mixed grill that includes blood sausage and tripe. If you want to stay closer to the familiar, there are several delicious preparations of steak and chicken that combine the familiar with local Argentine spices. For a little education check out their website. On it you can find a drawing of a cow that is divided into several sections with a letter of the alphabet in each section that corresponds to the name in Spanish and English of that cut of meat. Personally, I found a few sections that I’ll try to avoid, but that’s just me. 74-25 37th Ave., Jackson Heights
Taqueria Coatzingo: Don’t come for the mariachis or traditional tapestries—you won’t find that here. But you will find very good Mexican food. If you’re not feelin’ it for one of their specials like goat stew, you will be very happy with the tacos al pastor made with the pork you’ll see roasting on the a spit. 76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights
Delhi Heights: Jackson Heights has a very large Indian population, and the subcontinental restaurants to prove it. So it’s hard to choose just one Indian eatery to recommend but my friends in Queens unanimously agree that Delhi Heights is one of the best around. Whether you’re a vegetarian or in the mood for shrimp, chicken, lamb or goat, Delhi Heights with its extensive menu will serve up something otherworldly and transporting. I ordered my favorite Indian dish, chicken tikka masala and it was among the tastiest I’ve tried.
A FINAL NOTE:
If you’re really ambitious and want to venture further into Queens for some treats, check back. In my next installment, I’ll tell you about Rockaway, Flushing, and Floral Park where you’ll find the largest working farm in New York City.
A FINAL NOTE FROM RDNY.COM:
Your no fee Queens apartment for rent awaits you at RDNY.com.
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