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Is Queens going Brooklyn?

queens is king

queens is king Photo Credit: amNY

If Brooklyn is the new Manhattan, will Queens become the new Brooklyn? It’s the question on the lips of many borough-watchers eyeing the rise and fall of real estate prices and the migration patterns that follow.

Increasingly known for its creative communities and hipster mind-set, Brooklyn has pre-empted Queens’ longer-standing artistic status — the borough was home to America’s jazz royalty and screen stars. But residents give that little regard: Queens, the largest of the five boroughs, has its own particular vibe that many wouldn’t trade for all the bistros in Brooklyn.

“As innovative as Brooklyn is — and I wish we could have a little more of that here — we lack the striving self-consciousness of it,” said chef and author Tamara Reynolds, an 11-year Astoria resident.

Spread out over nearly 110 square miles, Queens presents a tangle of ethnic neighborhoods. Borough historian Jack Eichenbaum notes, “Outsiders may perceive a complicated whole, but insiders mostly relate to their neighborhood rather than the borough as a whole.”

Those far-out nabes — Jamaica, Flushing and Willets Point — are “poised for growth the moment someone is willing to go there” said Brian Rafferty, executive editor of the Queens Tribune.

“I think Queens is evolving in a way people don’t understand,” he said. Rafferty speculates that some areas at the end of the No. 7 line could become like independent city-states.

What isn’t guesswork now is where it’s all happening, and that’s in waterfront neighborhoods such as Astoria, which boast burgeoning dining scenes, and satellite neighborhoods such as Sunnyside.

Brooklyn gets kudos for its sustainable lifestyle, but since the 17th century, Queens has been green, and it’s getting greener. The Queens County Farm Museum is the oldest and only historical working farm in the city. This summer, Brooklyn Grange opened as the city’s largest rooftop urban farm in Long Island City. Coming in 2011: Queens Harvest Food Co-Op.

“It’s probably inspired by what’s been going on in Brooklyn, but it’s a return to our roots in a modern way,” said Leah McLaughlin, of Edible Queens magazine.

***

Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, discusses the borough’s future.

The big question: Will Queens gentrify and become a borough of micro-nabes of coolness like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, DUMBO, Red Hook, etc.?

Not likely for gentrification. These areas were once for the urban (upper middle class) gentry. Queens was built in more “suburban style” for the lower middle and middle class. (LIC is exceptional since it’s an industrial conversion like Dumbo and Red Hook.) “Coolness”  is something else. It’s already here. It’s increasingly cool to live in an area that has convenient transportation, biking ... [and] not a price rip-off for most essentials.

How would you describe Queens’ DNA?

[It’s] an inheritance of small rural and suburban 19th-century nodes that grew denser and more connected in the 20th century.

What keeps the borough from becoming over-gentrified?  Immigrant competition and simpler quality of original structures.

Where are the most likely areas of gentrification and why?

Jackson Heights and Sunnyside Gardens are historic districts. Enclaves like Forest Hills Gardens, Kew Gardens, Malba ... and Bayside Gables were built for the upper middle class or wealthy and haven't changed too much in the last century or so. Classic gentrification ... is not as likely as more spillover of native-born Americans.

What neighborhoods are prime for development?  

[It’s] already happened in Astoria and Forest Hills, and it could happen more in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Flushing.

***

The Curators of Queens

Meet the key people who are movers and shakers in New York’s second most populous and most diverse borough.

Leah McLaughlin, 39, editor and publisher of Edible Queens
Quote: “When I first moved here, this was really the New York City I always wanted to live in. You can work in this high-powered media industry in Manhattan, and you can come here and have a life and a back yard and eat good food.”

Zora O’Neill, 38, travel writer and author of Forking Fantastic
Quote: “To me, what I love about Queens is that I am just one of a million kinds of people on the street. The mish mash is amazing and great and makes me feel like a citizen of everywhere. I like not being part of a larger type in the neighborhood. I was put off by the hipster subculture. I just kind of like being anonymous in this nabe and not being part of a trend.”

Eric Benaim, 32, president, Modern Spaces real estate
Quote: “We do see a lot of people moving from Brooklyn to here. A lot of Park Slopers—they’re priced out. A lot of people come here because they like to be near bars and restaurants, but don’t want the crowds and the carriages.”

Ruarie Curtin, 34, owner, Sweet Afton
“I’m not surprised by [our] success because I’ve always had a lot of faith in this neighborhood. I think this is the next Brooklyn—we are now where Williamsburg was 10 or 15 years ago. It’s going to get better and better.”


Brian Rafferty, 41, executive editor, Queens Tribune
Quote: “The thought at that QNS is somehow backwards is absurd. It’s been the home of an offshoot of MOMA for 40-plus years. It’s been home for decades to some of the greatest artists in the city who just preferred not to live in Manhattan.”

Tamara Reynolds, author, chef/caterer and will have a show on Food Network’s new cooking show

“I think it’s easy to move to Brooklyn: it’s just add water and stir. Queens is harder: it’s so real it hurts -- immigrants who are so busy working to pay the bills and get a leg up it doesn't occur to them that they need to be ‘authentic.’ "

Alia Akkam, 31, founder of QNote
Quote: “This isn’t a place where hipsters are going to take over. …[t]here’s an influx of young people, but you don’t see them dominating. There’s a co-existence; everyone here has found a home.”

Queens Crapper, (age unknown), founder of Queens Crap blog
Quote: “There were once a lot of great spots in Queens. Unfortunately, most of them have been demolished and replaced with soulless crap and the ones that are left are way too overcrowded to enjoy now.”

Tom Finkelpearl, 54
Executive Director Queens Museum of Art
Quote: “I wish we could get Queens to have the same image as Brooklyn but there’s always this fun in being the up and coming rival.”

 
Ben Flanner, 29, farmer and founder of Brooklyn Grange, which is based in Brooklyn.
Quote: “There’s a positive energy in Queens’ communities and thriving markets. We’ve seen a lot interest and support, tons of volunteers. That’s some of the cool stuff that’s come out of doing this.”

***

The Hip List

Astoria

Astoria has long been a dining destination for Manhattanites seeking ethnic food, but the grub scene here is diversifying and finding its own among locals.

Hangouts/Bars

Sweet Afton, 30-09 34th St.,
718-777-2570
Why go: Handcrafted gastropub featuring craft beers and local suppliers. No plasma sets here.

Hell Gate Social, 12-21 Astoria Blvd.,
718-204-8313
Why go: Counter-revolutionary bar that welcomes “artists of all disciplines, revolutionaries and fallen angels”

The Sparrow Tavern, 24-01 29th St.,
718-606-2260
Why go: You won’t need a vintage costume at this Boho-friendly rock pub and performance space.

Sunswick, 35-02 35th St., 718-752-0620
Why go: You’ll get a huge collection of craft beers without bespoke bartenders at this quintessential neighborhood bar.

Café Bar, 32-90 36th St.,  718-204-5273
Why go: One of the first chill bars in the neighborhood—a foreshadowing of what was to come. Some of the charm was lost in recent renovations, but it’s still a sold pick.

Eateries

LINN, 29-13 Broadway, 718-204-0060
Why go: World-class sushi from the master chef Shigenori Tanaka, formerly of Masa.

Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar, 21-02 30th Ave., 718-545-5550
Why go: Inspired by Italy and the local greenmarket, it’s a pioneer in Astoria’s growing slow food movement. Come also for the wines on tap.

BareBurger, 33-21 31st Ave., 718-777-7011
Why go: The burger bar in the 31st Street micro-corridor is all organic — right down to the rough-hewn furnishings.

Astor Bake Shop,
12-23 Astoria Blvd., 718-606-8439
Why go: Newly opened SoHo-style bakeshop has downtown vibe without the attitude.

Da Franco Ristorante, 23-92 21st St.,
718-267-0010
Why go: The “original artisanal cheese” — homemade mozzarella made by Frank in Ridgewood and delivered here daily.

Retail

Astoria Wine & Spirits, 34-12 Broadway, 718-545-9463
Small wine shop guided by a young tastemaker.

Candy Plum, 30-98 36th St., 718-721-2299
The keen focus on local designers at this boutique guarantees you’ll walk out with unique clothing and accessories.

Greek treat

Taverna Kyclades, 33-07 Ditmars Blvd., 718-545-8666.
Bustling Greek restaurant open late and offering some of the best Tzatziki west of the Acropolis. Seafood is the specialty here.

Old-school gem

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, 29-19 24th Ave., 718-274-4925
Owned and managed by an organization dedicated to preserving the area’s Czech and Slovak communities, this Astoria institution serves up serious beer and bratwurst.

Skateboard heaven

Astoria Skateboard Park, Astoria Park, 21st Street at Hoyt Avenue
Opened this week, a $1.6 million, 21,500-square-foot skate park in Astoria Park, at the foot of the RFK Bridge.

Long Island City

Eateries
Burger Garage 25-36 Jackson Ave., 718-392-0424
Opened by Palm Restaurant owners, this converted industrial garage is now a burger joint.

M. Wells, 21-17 49th Ave., 718-425-6917
Simple Quebecois food and a hip vibe.

LIC market, 21-52 44th Dr., 718-361-0013
This new restaurant, wine bar and market features artisanal sandwiches and local foods.

Shi, 47-20 Center Blvd., 347-242-2450
Asian fusion restaurant and lounge opened by two brothers who were former U.N. chefs.
Bars/lounges
Lounge 47, 47-10 Vernon Blvd., 718-937-2044
Approachable lounge that doesn’t require hipster ID or knowledge of elderberry spirits.

Studio Square, 35-33 36th St., 718-383-1001
Gigantic beer garden offers sauerkraut and sushi and is a prim spot for people-watching.

Dutch Kills, 27-24 Jackson Ave., 718-383-2724
Handcrafted cocktails + uber-mixologists = slick speakeasy.
Retail
Lightbox Home, 12-07 Jackson Ave., 646-340-0982
The handcrafted lighting here fits almost any décor.

Hunter’s Point Wine & Spirits, 47-07 Vernon Blvd., 718-472-9463
A nicely curated selection of wines featuring small estates and organic producers.

MUST SEE LIC

The waterfront at Gantry Plaza State Park., 718-786-6385
Visit the remnants of the LIRR Terminal, where 40,000 feet of track once loaded freight onto barges. All that remains are the iconic black gantry towers and unbeatable views of the midtown skyline.

Sunnyside

Quaint, 46-10 Skillman Ave., 917-779-9220
All-you-can-eat mussels and fries on Monday nights ($18).

Bliss Bistro, 45-20 Skillman Ave., 718-729-0778
This French bistro is Michelin-recommended.

Claret Wine Bar, 46-02 Skillman Ave., 718-937-7411
The 100+-bottle wine list is carefully curated. They also have local craft beers on tap and in bottles.

Old-school pick

Alpha Donuts, 45-16 Queens Blvd.
Seemingly stuck in a time warp from 1973, this ever-popular local diner is inexpensive, friendly and, most importantly, open 24 hours.

Irish mainstay

The Gaslight, 43-17 Queens Blvd., 718-729-9900
Laid-back Irish pub with an outdoor garden and a smoking section. Stays open late and hosts live music, including Irish folk tunes.

Retro roost

Stray Vintage, 48-09 Skillman Ave., 718-779-7795
One of the best vintage stores in not only the borough, but the whole city. Most of the cool collectibles have been picked up at thrift stores and antique fairs.

Woodside

Burger bastion

Donovan’s Pub, 57-24 Roosevelt Ave., 718-429-9339
Dark-wood booths, stained-glass windows add waitresses in brogues and old-fashioned atmosphere.

Must-see

Little Manila, Roosevelt Ave., 63rd St.-71st St.
This section of Woodside is packed full of Filipino-owned and themed stores and restaurants.

Party place

Bum Bum Bar, 63-14 Roosevelt Ave., 718-651-4145
Known as an extrovert lesbian hangout, this Latin-styled venue is popular with straight drinkers too. Salsa and merengue rule the dance floor.

Artsy pit stop

Topaz Arts Center, 55-03 39th Ave., 718-505-0440
This non-profit multidisciplinary arts organization provides contemporary performance and visual arts.

Jackson Heights

Espresso 77, 35-57 77th St., 718-424-1077
Opened by two architects, this coffeehouse and art space sources its menu locally.

Indian standby

Jackson Diner, 37-47 74th St., 718-672-1232
Offering authentic Indian dishes, from classic curries to south Indian dosas (Indian crepes), Jackson Diner is a standout of the area’s many restaurants.

Rock out

Today’s Music, 73-09 37th Rd., 718-429-7179
Anyone with a (secret) passion for Bollywood and Indian and Pakistani music will find what they are looking for.

Gay getaway

Club Atlantis, 76-19 Roosevelt Ave., 718-457-3939
Chiseled strippers, drag talent and over-the-top circular dance floors attract crowds from far afield.

Forest Hills

Wine Bar &
Kitchen, 104-02 Metropolitan Ave., 718-261-2144
Michelin-starred wine bar and restaurant praised for its excellent, locally sourced charcuterie.

Pizza pick
Nick’s Pizza, 108-26 Ascan Ave., 718-263-1126
Famous for what it doesn’t have — no wood, brick or coal oven — owner Nick Angelis’s gas still cooks up some mightily popular pizzas.

Comics caterer

Montasy Comics and Collectibles, 70-17 Austin St., 2nd. Fl.
718-575-8815
Features shelves of manga, graphic novels, “Star Wars” figurines, busts of characters from “The X-Files” and Japanese action figures.

Billiards bastion

The Billiard Co. pool hall, 70-49 Austin St., 718-520-7665
Plays host to 19 well-kept pool tables, two ping-pong tables, comfy sofas and candlelit drinking tables.

Go for a hike

Dubbed Queens’ Central Park, Forest Park has seen a renaissance, with major renovations.
 

Corona

Gabbana Restaurant & Lounge, 107-11 Northern Blvd.,
718-651-4052
Hot modern Dominican restaurant recently opened by celebrity chef Ricardo Cardona (Hudson River Café).

Nueve Nueve, 99-01 Northern Blvd., 718-426-9099
Eclectic Latin menu from the Americas including a Peruvian roasted chicken, taken up a notch.

Go Green

Brooklyn Grange
37-18 Northern Blvd., Long Island City
The city’s largest (one-acre) rooftop urban farm.
brooklyngrangefarm.com

Two Coves Community Garden
11-01 30th Ave., Astoria
Quirky community garden and host site of Western Queens Composting Initiative, which hosts monthly bike tours and pot lunch meals.
twocovescommunitygarden.org

Build it Green! NYC
3-17 26th Ave., Astoria
The city’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building materials. bignyc.org

Queens County
Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Floral Park
The original “green movement,” it’s the oldest and largest sustainable working farm in the city limits. queensfarm.org

Coming in late 2011: Queens Harvest
Food Co-Op
 

Joe Jackson contributed to the listings

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