While the tall towers of Manhattan can be spotted from several points around Nassau County, what might not be so obvious is that one of the coolest parts of NYC is actually on Long Island (geographically anyway): Astoria.
This section of Queens has been a nightlife-friendly section for years and remains a major draw for people under 35 looking for a neighborhood to crawl — so for a this-is-it city experience that is insanely easy to reach, get your phone fully charged and get there.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
A great start is The Social (3706 30th Ave.; 718-772-3777, thesocialnyc.com), which according to management was intentionally established in Astoria to take advantage of its millennial-heavy popularity and legacy as a nightspot neighborhood. Cocktails are a big part of their plan, which are created to be paired with the food of a menu that changes seasonally. It’s got a clubby look to it, with a sleek interior and black furniture—and DJs are a regular part of the scene—but the overall personality is fairly relaxed, with a secluded patio out back.
If you’d rather grab some suds, one of the neighborhood’s premiere locations is calling: Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave.; 718-274-4925, bohemianhall.com). Easily one of the most popular stops in town, it has a massive courtyard that holds bustling events — yet prides itself on being a draw for football watching on Sundays, and a Tuesday-night cornhole tournament has recently been added. DJs spin Fridays, bands rock out Saturdays, and for a not-so-typical experience, try their headphone-wearing quiet club parties every other week. As for the beer, there’s a great mix of hoppy options, ranging from German and Czech imports to easy faves like Blue Moon and cider.
Another spot that gets a lot of nods is The Ditty (35-03 Ditmars Blvd.; 347-617-1747, thedittybar.com), a late-night spot that serves food until the bar shuts down. Guests will find a fine selection of cocktails — especially rich and fruity drinks — and they keep it lively with DJ nights, but sitting at the bar and playing board games is a normal sight as well. Watch for movie nights on Tuesdays and (until the end of November) yoga on weekends from 11 a.m.-noon.
The Highwater (34-20 Broadway; 917-745-0407, thehighwaternyc.com) goes for more of a tiki-personality with tropically inspired décor and a friendly hang-out vibe. The menu leans toward tasty comfort things that can be shared — including a wild dessert called “Monkey Bread” made from Nutella, brown sugar, coconut gelato and walnuts — and the cocktails are deep too; top drinks that taste as cool as they look include the “Fear and Loathing in Astoria” (a powerful Jamaican rum concoction served in a skull mug) and the Mai-Chai (a mai tai-like drink served flaming). A scoop from the people inside: watch this fall for autumn-friendly cocktails mixed with ingredients like pumpkin, carrots and mulling spices.
To hang in an actual brewery, SingleCut Beersmiths (19-33 37th St.; 718-606-0788, singlecut.com) has popular IPAs for sure, but ask the crew there what’s especially worth checking out and they’ll point toward their lagers. The taproom is staffed by keeps who have a lot a beer information in their heads, and it’s also a place to play board games and check out events like Friday night trivia, live music events and occasional comedy shows. To walk in like an insider, know that for only this fall the ‘Cut is again releasing its “Heavy Boots Of Lead” imperial stout, while the dark “Free Form Jazz Odyssey” schwarzbier just dropped after Halloween.
THINGS TO DO AND EXPLORE
Nightlife and social gatherings in Astoria are clearly easy to find, and honestly one can just wander to find fun places to eat and drink, but there’s other ways to engage your brain around these parts, starting with the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Ave.; 718-777-6888, movingimage.us). Quite frankly, it’s a singular experience — an incredible institution dedicated to the history, influence and power of cinema and TV — and while it’s a museum, this is no stodgy stop that only focuses on the highbrow end of the visual medium. Look for the ongoing Jim Henson exhibition, dedicated to the man whose puppets and Muppets have been a part of American culture for decades; check the calendar to see what’s screening and details on fresh exhibitions.
Originally founded by artist Isamu Noguchi to show his own work, The Noguchi Museum (9-01 33rd Rd.; 718-204-7088, noguchi.org), which lies on the border of Astoria and Long Island City, not only offers a view of Noguchi’s sculptures and creations but efforts from others whose work shares the founder’s offbeat and innovative intentions. Be sure to stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden for a piece of peace.
For views where New York City provides the beauty, Astoria Park (19 St. between Astoria Park S. and Ditmars Blvd.; nycgovparks.org/parks/astoria-park) puts visitors in prime position to ogle both the Hells Gate and Robert F. Kennedy bridges. There’s lots to do: tennis, basketball, trails, playgrounds and seasonal scenery — and in the summer there’s the pool, the largest and oldest in the NYC Parks system (and it’s free to use).
For indoor entertainment, there’s the always-interesting Q.E.D. (27-16 23rd Ave.; 347-451-3873, qedastoria.com), an independently owned arts house and community space, and its event calendar bubbles with programming. Shows range from comedy and open mics to film presentations and bazaars by local vendors; check out the occasional drink-and-draw nights (with live models) and, on the odd chance you’d like to cut a podcast, the venue has a studio that can be rented by the hour (watch the calendar for podcast how-to classes as well).
Much like the rest of the Five Boroughs, summing up shopping opportunities is a printer cartridge-demolishing level of text, so it’s best to look up online what you seek and then see where in Astoria you can possibly make the buy. However, one shop that is fairly unique among its neighbors is HiFi Records (23-19 Steinway St.; 718-606-1474, hifi-records.com), with a selection of vinyl records that goes deeper than the average offerings that have made their way back to malls these days; watch for collector’s items, offerings from local artists and limited edition pieces.
Another sort of store that has been getting rarer and rarer is the independent bookstore — but the Astoria Bookshop (31-29 31st St.; 718-278-2665, astoriabookshop.com) is keeping the indie fire burning with new books for sale; watch for book release parties, a new book club and its “Storytelling Shows,” an open mic-style program that asks participants to conjure up a five-minute personal tale. A small but final hook to get people in this nook? Staffers say shoppers shouldn’t leave before picking through their hand-quilted bookmarks, crafted by a local artisan and sold exclusively here.
Driving is technically easy to do, as there are no tolls between Astoria and the rest of Long Island, but cruising in the Big Apple can be a big pain, and to drive there you’ll almost certainly hit traffic. An easier way could be taking the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station, then jump on an N or R subway train back east into Queens.