Queens: An Essential Travel Guide
The New York City borough of Queens—so named in 1683 for Queen Catherine of Braganza, the wife of King Charles II of England—has often appeared as a relatively sleepy suburban hamlet, reminiscent of middle America, complete with tree-lined residential streets dotted by two-story family homes, plus plenty of parking lots and strip malls, when compared to the concrete jungle of Manhattan, its bustling “big city” neighbor directly across the East River. Sure, folks would zip through the district on their way to and from NYC’s two major airports—John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) are both in Queens—or stay a bit to cheer on the Mets at Citi Field; but, in recent years, the city’s most populous borough has become a destination in its own right—not just a detour.
Queens is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Similar to its adjacent neighbor Brooklyn a few years ago, more and more businesses are opening up shop in the area—some on the lookout for cheaper commercial spaces to rent, while others try to make their mark in the latest trendy neighborhoods, namely Long Island City, Astoria and Ridgewood (with plenty of other places adding to the list daily).
Long Island City: For Foodies and Museums
Two Manhattan chefs that opted for the latter include Segundo Tinishanay and his brother-in-law Bolivar Perez, alums of Manhattan’s Il Mulino, who opened the high-end Italian restaurant Il Falco (21-50 44th Dr., Long Island City, 718.707.0023) in Long Island City, (LIC to locals) this past August. Tinishanay and Perez are in good company, as many other chefs and restaurateurs have made the move across the river and opened outposts in the historically industrial neighborhood on Queens’ waterfront (and beyond).
Long Island City is also home to a large concentration of art galleries and attractions, such as The Museum of Modern Art’s offshoot PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave., Queens, 718.784.2084), dedicated to experimental art and housed in a Romanesque Revival public school building; as well as The Noguchi Garden Museum (9-01 33rd Rd., Queens, 718.204.7088). With so much to see and do in one place, 15 hotels opened in the community between 2006 and 2013 and, with a recent $100,000 loan from the New York City Regional Economic Development Council for a comprehensive plan for the future of the neighborhood, LIC seems to have an even brighter fate on the horizon.
Astoria: The Indie Pioneer of Queens
Before LIC became all the rage, the city was abuzz about Astoria. Once a predominately Greek area, the northeastern Queens neighborhood is now a collection of indie-owned shops and cafés as well as chain retailers—many of which rest on the five-block stretch of Astoria known as Steinway Street, the enclave’s main thoroughfare and namesake to the famed piano-maker dynasty. The neighborhood’s top cinephilic attractions include the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Ave., Queens, 718.777.6888) and Kaufman Astoria Studios (34-12 36th St., Long Island City, 718.392.5600). Astoria is also home to the oldest beer garden in NYC, Bohemian Hall (29-12 24th Ave., Queens, 718.274.4925), and Steinway & Sons piano factory (1 Steinway Place, Queens).
The Next Generation: On the Horizon in Queens
Like Long Island City and Astoria before it, as of late Ridgewood is the neighborhood to haunt. In close proximity to popular Brooklyn hipster enclaves like Bushwick and Williamsburg, the indie music scene and bohemian culture have crossed over the Brooklyn/Queens boundary into this up-and-coming neighborhood, which, at one point, was actually considered part of Brooklyn. Teeming with charming row houses, the blue-collar locale has earned major street cred thanks in part to concert venues like Trans-Pecos (9-15 Wyckoff Ave.) planting roots in the neighborhood—with headbangers flocking to the area to rock out to the latest under-the-radar musical acts. Ridgewood also lays claim to a handful of historic districts, as well as Vander Ende-Onderdonk House (1820 Flushing Ave., Ridgewood, 718.456.1776)—a Dutch farmhouse dating back to 1709 and the oldest Colonial stone house in New York City. The house is open for tours on Saturdays.
Although the three Queens neighborhoods mentioned above get plenty of love, there are still several attractions farther inland that are definitely on the radars of both locals and visitors and are revamping their Queens surroundings, including Resorts World Casino New York City (110-00 Rockaway Blvd., Queens, 888.888.8801).
Those whose interests are piqued by the thought of gaming and entertainment don’t need to rack up the frequent flier miles on a trip to Atlantic City or Las Vegas—look no farther than Jamaica. Jamaica, Queens that is. Similar to what indie music did for Ridgewood, the dining scene did for LIC and quaint shops did for Astoria, Resorts World Casino New York City is revitalizing its Queens neighborhood, with 20,000 people a day visiting the only casino in NYC. Many reach the destination via the casino’s free bus, Red Express, with eight pick-up locations in Manhattan, as well as shuttle service from four stops in Brooklyn. In Queens, coach buses stop at four locations in Elmhurst, plus Flushing.
Once at the casino, high rollers are treated to more than 2,200 slot and table game machines—including penny slots, video poker and European-style single-zero roulette—in the Times Square Casino on the first floor, as well as 3,000 additional slot and table games—including Table Games Square and the High-Limit Baccarat Club—in the Fifth Avenue Casino on the second floor.
Resorts World is also a concert hall, sporting arena and nightclub all rolled into one, with bands rocking out weeknights in Bar 360 (also the perfect place to watch the big game on the largest HDTV in Queens), plus DJs spinning wicked beats at Club 360, and dance parties, boxing matches and live concerts on weekends at the venue’s Central Park event space.
On the food front, the destination is home to RW Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar for fancy fare (solid choices: certified Black Angus steaks and the seafood dishes), as well as a food court for comfort food offerings.
Those just drawn to Queens by airplanes and baseball might want to reexamine their thoughts on the borough. After experiencing the locale’s burgeoning food, music, culture and entertainment scene, they might not want to ever leave. Or, at the very least, decide to book a later flight.