If you’re in New York City, Astoria, Queens should definitely be on your radar. Here’s why.
I’m not sure how scientifically sound such a statistic is, but in a September 2019 feature by Time Out, Astoria, Queens was ranked 8th in an article entitled “The 50 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World,” making it number one in New York City and second in the United States at large. For many of us who call Astoria home, a first response to such a claim was perhaps, “Well, DUH,” followed immediately by, “Hey, SHUT UP Time Out!”
No but really, we residents of Western Queens are happy to share what makes our neighborhood great, or rather, cool, especially if it means we get to lord it over all of Brooklyn, who has gotten the lion’s share of that reputation for far too long.
Located just 15 minutes from midtown Manhattan, Astoria is a vibrant neighborhood worth a detour during your trip to New York, worthy of being a travel destination unto itself, or frankly, worth moving to, in my humble opinion. Here are 8 ways in which Astoria is every bit as cool as Time Out says it is.
1. Old World Vibes
While incorporating the young creative types that started calling the neighborhood home over the last decade, Astoria gracefully did something that few New York neighborhoods have managed to do, which is to maintain the immigrant community that gave it personality in the first place.
Largely influenced by the Greek population, you can find frothy frappés and spirited, gesticulated debate at any time of day at cafes such as The Grand, Avenue Cafe, or Omonia. (Insider tip: check out the proud poster at the bakery next door to Omonia that had the distinction of making the wedding cake for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”) Certainly a cure for any winter malaise that ails you, steep yourself in garlic at exemplary Greek eateries like Taverna Kyclades or Bahari Estiatorio.
Even new restaurants promoting old world flavors find success in Astoria, with newcomers Akrotiri, and Lokanta, catching the attention of The New York Times and the Michelin Guide respectively, right out of the gate.
2. Really Old World Vibes
In a stretch of Steinway Street known as Little Egypt you can find Middle Eastern dining and shopping, and better yet, the highest concentration of hookah bars this side of the Atlantic.
(Oh, right, Steinway Street. Yeah, all of their world class pianos for the Western Hemisphere are made in Astoria, so we also have that. No big deal.)
It’s hit or miss as to whether or not you find yourself in a more traditional, cultural club that doesn’t serve alcohol, or one of the contemporary spots that feature rebirthed, kitschy ‘80s cocktail classics, but figuring it out is part of the fun. If you’d like your puff with some of the stronger stuff try Fayrooz or Layaly. For the tea and smoothie approach try Rotana or Jasmin.
3. Music: It’s Alive!
In an era when gritty, iconic music venues seem to be closing their doors on the daily, Astoria managed to build a grassroots music scene from scratch to showcase the incredible talent that had moved into the area. Built largely on the wherewithal of Astoria resident Miguel Hernandez, who went door to door convincing bars to host music nights and pay musicians, a diverse lineup of live music is available every night of the week in Astoria, with a couple of yearly festivals thrown in for good measure, care of Hernandez’s Astoria Music Collective.
You can get your live band fix with a side of suds at breweries such as Singlecut and LIC Beer Project; with cocktails at cozy, modern bars like The Bonnie and Sweet Afton; with a proper Guinness draught at classic pubs such as The Shillelagh and The Quays; or simply with personality at old school venues like The Letlove Inn and Q.E.D.
4. Arts and Crafts
You don’t need to traipse up and down 5th Avenue with the rest of humanity during your trip to New York in order to get your visual arts fix. Astoria also has you covered in that department.
The Museum of the Moving Image is a tribute to the film and television industry, something that Astoria has just a little claim to, being the location of Kaufman Astoria Studios, NYC’s only production studio with a backlot, and the filming location for none other than Sesame Street. (Who are the people in YOUR neighborhood?)
The Noguchi Museum is a building designed by the artist himself to showcase his work, and the result is a serene, austere space that takes the traveler out of the New York bustle for a moment to immerse her or him in sculpture and light, and a peaceful, courtyard garden. For some art out of doors of a more peculiar persuasion, you can go from your Noguchi visit right across the street for a riverside stroll in the quirky Socrates Sculpture Park.
5. Beer Culture
Proof positive that the universal divine favors Queens over Brooklyn: Astoria Bier and Cheese. Full stop. No but really, this combination bar, cheesemonger, and bottle shop is as close to perfect an eating and drinking establishment as I have ever found, with its suds and curds-forward menu, and airy market vibe.
In addition to the aforementioned breweries Singlecut and LIC Beer Project, no beer tour of Astoria would be complete without a visit to Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, a Czech cultural club complete with the requisite sausages and liter draughts. Grabbing a table in its expansive, tree-lined backyard will have you wondering whether you’ve somehow entered a portal to the Bohemian countryside, but the friendly rattle of the subway just a few blocks away will remind you that you’re still in New York City.
6. Sweet Tooth Satisfaction
Along with a robust Greek and Italian population comes bakeries of the pay-by-the-pound variety. Baklava seekers should visit Martha’s Country Bakery or Omonia Cafe Next Door, whereas disciples of the cannoli can find refuge at Gianpiero or Rose and Joe’s.
An eight-block stretch of Astoria’s 30th Avenue has seen such a recent emergence of sweet eateries to have earned the unofficial nickname of Dessert Row. (If you’re not convinced by this, alone, I can’t understand what moves you.) Feed your sugar need at Chip for cookies, Ample Hills for ice cream, T-Swirl for crepes, Néo for cakes, or Paris Oven for getting your French on.
7. Lo-Fi Shopping
Who other than the coolest neighborhood on earth—sorry, I mean coolest in New York—could support opening a record store in the past decade? Well, Astoria did. And not only that, but in a culture where all kinds of single concept stores have gotten bulldozed by big box establishments, Astoria has birthed not only Hi-Fi Records, but Gamestoria for gamers, Astoria Bookshop for literary types, and Lockwood Paper for…other literary types. There’s apparently even enough business to support Uke Hut: a damn ukulele store. I mean, how cool is that?
Not to mention the European-style food shopping where meats, seafood, baked goods, and cheeses all have their expert, specialty purveyors, for those who choose their New York City AirBnbs on the basis of the kitchen.
8. Not Trying to Be Cool, or Rather, Trying to Be Not Cool
I have long held the belief that Astoria is the coolest precisely because it isn’t trying to be cool. (See, “ukelele store,” above.) On the contrary, one of its peculiar delights is noticing the prevalence of puns and dad jokes in businesses whose mission seems to advancing the antithesis of cool. Maybe it’s just me, because I live here and I notice these, but I salute them for their unapologetic wordplay: Off The Hook, The Teapsy, Enthaice, and Something Catchy. With you in our corner, Astoria will never become too cool for school, thereby earning the right to stay cool forever.
Related Reading: How to Spend a Weekend in Westchester County
Header image courtesy of Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images.