Queens, the largest of NYC’s five boroughs by size, is home to over 2.3 million people, which would make it the fourth largest city in the U.S. if it were not part of NYC. Queens’ melting pot boasts a brew of 100+ nationalities speaking some 160 languages, with nearly half of its residents foreign born.
What Queens has to offer:
Art Scene: the Queens Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image plus PS1’s Warm Up series where art mixes with DJ, music, and dancing in sensual fusion. MoMa PS1, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, is the oldest and second-largest non-profit arts center in the United States solely devoted to contemporary art. SculptureCenter is New York City’s only non-profit exhibition space dedicated to contemporary and innovative sculpture. It re-located from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to a former trolley repair shop in Long Island City.
Chic hotels and ethnic dining:
Queens delivers an alternative to ridiculously priced Manhattan hotels with a new crop of boutique hotels sporting rooftop bars and restaurants. Speaking of restaurants…I have enjoyed authentic Queens ethnic dining. I first meet Lidia Bastianich (Emmy award-winning television host) when she and her ex-husband, Felice, opened their second small restaurant, Villa Secondo. This led to the world famous Felidia, as well as many other restaurants with son Joe and chef Mario Batali. Queens is a Foodies dream come true.
The Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, is the only non-toll automotive route connecting Manhattan and Queens. When the factories in Long Island City were closed, the western side began to be developed and rezoned as a residential neighborhood. The former
Silvercup Bakery became home to Silvercup Studios (30 Rock & Sex and the City). The Silvercup sign is still standing (Highlander). High-rise housing is being built on a former Pepsi-Cola site on the East River. The older low-rise apartments are interspersed with the redevelopment in Queens West with its high-rise residences located close to public transportation, making it convenient for commuters to travel to Manhattan by ferry or subway. The Hunters Point Historic District includes 19 buildings built in the late-19th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Citicorp Building is the tallest building on Long island and in any of the NYC boroughs outside Manhattan.
Brooklyn marketing gurus have coined the clever term, Brooklyn Hip. But, BQE Tours (Brooklyn Queens Experience Tours) introduced me to Queens Cool. I passed through Queens on the way to Long Island, or LaGuardia, or JFK airports (both are located in Queens). Years ago I taught a wine class at Queens College. I never gave the borough another thought until now.
The #7 train was a quick 20 minute ride to the Long Island City tour meeting point (near the Queens Midtown Tunnel). Since I arrived early, I walked across the street to Bricktown Bagel & Café for a bagel and coffee. Our group included John (our leader), three folks from Austria, two ladies from Long Island and two other journalists from uptown Manhattan.
The tour consists of approximately three miles of walking. John was an excellent guide with encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Our first stop was at the Eduardo Anievas studio. His portraits in oil were outstanding. We walked down to Gantry Plaza State Park where the night before hundreds of thousands of people had watched the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks. Since the weather was sunny and warm we had great views of Roosevelt Island and the Manhattan skyline. The new high-rise apartment buildings had replaced the
old factories, however the classic Pepsi Cola sign remained. We spent 15 minutes at the seasonal LIC Flea & Food with John supplying samples. Right next door was the microbrewery Rockaway Brewing Company. Flint Whistler gave us a short tour followed by a sampling of their products.
We had a chance to sit and rest for a bit while being served BBQ at John Brown Smokehouse.
Glenn Marlowe opened up his sculpture studio for us to view work. The sculptures are crafted in clay and cast in a variety of materials, including aqua-resin and bronze. Using mainly live models, I was impressed with the facial expressions and the sheer size of some of his work.
Our final stop was the rooftop bar on the 14th floor of the 100-room boutique Z NYC Hotel where we enjoyed a glass of prosecco while taking in the sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. At the end of the tour, John offered escorted walks back to the subway. The hotel had free shuttle service to Manhattan for diner guests and dining discounts for tour participants.
The BQE tour converted my “pass through” perception of Queens into respect for the the borough’s cool.
About the Author:
Ron Kapon has over 50 years of experience in the wine & spirit field, starting with his first drink (mixed with water) at age three. His family’s business, Acker, Merrall & Condit, was established in 1820 and is the oldest wine merchant in the United States as well as the largest wine auction company in the world.