Queens, New York – a short subway ride from Manhattan brings the world into one borough
It feels like every stop on New York’s 7 train transports you to another world.
n Flushing, I board the subway at a station nestled among Asian markets and dim sum restaurants that buzz around Main Street. The train climbs and travels through Jackson Heights (home to “Little Colombia” and many other South American communities), the Greek enclaves of Astoria, the Irish and Filipino communities of Woodside. The skyscrapers of Manhattan are increasingly coming into focus.
It’s the world on a subway line.
It’s Queens, where more than 100 languages are spoken, change is constant and a place I never thought I’d cross the Atlantic to see.
“It’s very different from the Flushing I grew up in,” says Lori Lustig, a retired teacher and Big Apple Greeter, who takes our group on a tour of the neighborhood. “If I could wake my father from the dead, he would insist that I trick him.”
We start on the 12th floor of a new Renaissance hotel and watch as LaGuardia planes take off nearby. There’s a multitude of freeways, excavators scraping at construction sites, and shiny new towers alongside derelict old buildings, which Lori uses as reminder markers to map the place where she grew up.
Her house is only a mile away, with a small pool and a garden where her husband grows tomatoes.
“We’re only eight miles from Times Square.”
It’s fair to say that Queens is off the tourist radar. The borough isn’t as hip as Brooklyn and too sprawling to get a good sense of it on a day trip by plane. You might hear his name at the US Open tennis tournament or when arranging transportation to or from JFK. You may have seen his ‘Unisphere’, Flushing Corona Park’s famous globe, in films such as men in black or iron man. You may know that the Ramones, A Tribe Called Quest (and, whisper, Donald Trump) cut their teeth here.
And yet, within hours, I can be eating tostados from a Mexican food truck, visiting an outpost of MoMA, peeking into a pawn shop, and photographing the iconic 1930s Pepsi sign on the Hudson River.
The feeling of energy and diversity is intoxicating. Queens is one of the most culturally diverse places in the US (nearly half of its residents were foreign-born); The soundtrack is multilingual, banging constructions, honking horns and trains screeching by on elevated subway lines. And yet many buildings are barely a few stories high.
“I feel like Queens is a bit more relaxed, it’s very spacious, you have to explore a little bit more,” says Tomoko Kawamoto of the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) in Astoria. “It’s not a place you can do in an afternoon or quick sprints… but it’s very livable here. Lots of new, interesting communities are moving in.”
The MoMI is one of many museums and galleries that are springing up like mushrooms in the district – it offers an in-depth look at filmmaking with exhibitions the Walking Dead And Sesame Street (filmed in a studio next door) when I visited.
There’s also an enticing collection of Tiffany lamps at the Queens Museum in Flushing and a public school converted into a contemporary gallery at MoMA PS1.
As we stroll through Flushing with Lori, we pass historic buildings such as Bowne House, an Anglo-Dutch homestead built in the countryside around 1661 (now surrounded by dwellings, such as Mr Fredricksen’s house in High). After that, I follow one of her foodie tips and eat dumplings from a bamboo steamer at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao.
“You could eat yourself to death here,” is one of her side notes. “And I tried that sometimes.”
Further evidence of this can be found at Birria-Landia, a food truck located under the elevated subway line at Roosevelt Avenue and 78th in Jackson Heights. It is famous for the two stars it has been awarded New York Times Food critic Pete Wells during the pandemic and worth the trip.
We wait in the pouring rain while guys in red hoodies set up a small awning, a tip jar, and a trash can, and start lugging slow-cooked beef (birria is a type of beef stew or soup) to make tacos and tostados for $3.50 apiece. The Consumé, a warming beef broth, also makes your mouth water.
“I wonder why so many napkins,” says one of our group, but it becomes clear as juices spill out of the tacos and mix with rainwater on our hands. The tender beef, bold notes of chili, coriander and lime are licked up and devoured as the hits thunder over them.
In Astoria, we’ll check out a couple of hip bars like The Highwater and Diamond Dogs, where craft cocktails are served up by blown-up bartenders against a backdrop of bare brick walls. I discover the Omonia Cafe where the cake was baked My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Chic boutiques like Lockwood sit alongside Irish pubs, delicatessens and old-school shops like Jack’s Shoe Repair, which has a sign on the inside of the window that reads ‘I will heel you / I will save your sole / I will even dye for you.”
As we push towards shore, the lights of Midtown begin to twinkle across the river. I catch glimpses of the Empire State Building and enjoy the sunset from the piers at Gantry Plaza State Park while video-calling home to share (and rejoice in) the magical moment.
Tomoko was right. Queens is not doable in the sprint; Nor can it be done in a weekend. I make notes for Louis Armstrong’s House, a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram (actually a cable car), and Rockaway Beach.
Of course, Manhattan will always attract the lion’s share of visitors. But NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization, heavily promotes tourism in the boroughs. Queens can also be cheaper to stay and eat, and its cultural diversity and breathtaking pace of change bring an energy all of their own.
“People came to Queens for space,” says one Uber driver. “I hear the birds chirping. Sometimes having whole conversations… New York is a fluid place.”
Do not miss
“Meeting” is an installation by artist James Turrell at MoMA PS1, a room with a square hole in the ceiling that allows for an unobstructed view of the sky. It’s oddly impressive in such a busy cityscape. Turrell is also responsible for the Sky Garden at Liss Ard, Co Cork. momaps1.org
Pól has been a guest at United Airlines, NYC & Company and the Renaissance New York Flushing Hotel at Tangram.
United flies Dublin to Newark from €465 return (Basic Economy) and €1,695 (in Polaris Business Class). united.com
The Renaissance New York Flushing Hotel at Tangram offers double rooms from around $165/€152 per night during the week and $280/€257 (plus tax) on weekends in February. marriott.com
For more information on Queens, New York and its boroughs, go to nycgo.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/queens-new-york-a-short-subway-ride-from-manhattan-brings-the-world-in-a-borough-42323501.html Queens, New York – a short subway ride from Manhattan brings the world into one borough