When I first started cycling seriously, Queens scared me. It was vast, sprawling, and its street system made no sense. Clearly, the cartographers and city planners were smoking something when they came up with this nonsense. Like Manhattan, the streets are mostly numbered. Unlike Manhattan, the numbers appear to be randomly assigned. You are riding down Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria and cross 70th Street. The next street you get to is 49th Street. Where did the missing streets go? Sometimes there seems to be a surplus of numbers; in Maspeth there are 60th Street, 60th Avenue, 60th Place, 60th Drive, 60th Road and 60th Lane. You are riding on Review Avenue which becomes in succession Laurel Hill Boulevard, 56th Road, Rust Street, and 59th Drive - and you never made a turn. Take a cue sheet, use your Garmin, check out Ride With GPS. It doesn't matter - if you ride in Queens, you will get lost. Over the years, and leading numerous ride in Queens, I have begun to make some sense of this large borough. I have come to appreciate its various neighborhoods, it's out of the way places, and its amazing variety of ethnic foods. And yeah, sometimes I still get lost.
How to Get Here
Coming from my home in Brooklyn, I would normally head up the Hipster Highway in Williamsburg and cross the Pulaski Bridge, where the new protected bike lane is a game changer. If I am in Bushwick, I often take Cooper Ave, what I consider the "back door" into Queens. From midtown Manhattan your best bet is the Queensboro Bridge, and from Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, the RFK/Triboro Bridge is also an option. Note that this bridge has stairs and is DEATH to ride after dark.
What to See Here
I always thought that Queens was a conglomeration of boring red brick buildings, interspersed with boring single family houses. And yes, part of the borough is like this. I call these areas miscellaneous Queens. But, the more I explored, the more I discovered places that were amazing and interesting. Places like the haunted Steinway Mansion, the beautiful and welcoming Ganesh Temple or the stained glass mausoleums in Calvery Cemetery. There are many neighborhoods that are well worth visiting, from the exclusive and elegant Jamaica Estates or Forest Hills Gardens, to the indescribable neighborhood of “The Hole.” There are strange waterside hamlets of Hook Creek and Ramblersville, tiny and remote - you feel like you are a hundred miles outside of the City. Some of the nicest views of Manhattan are seen at night from Vernon Boulevard as you ride down from Astoria on a cool summer's night. There are also great water views from the new bike trail in Long Island City. Are you an art aficionado? Visit Socrates Sculpture Garden or the juried graffiti area of Welling Court.
Queens has some wonderful parks to ride through. A favorite is Forest Park, a leafy, hilly, romp through the center of Queens. You can head to Kissena Park and ride around the city's only velodrome. You can visit Flushing Meadows and ride around the world. I do not want to forget Cunningham Park – the starting location of many Nassau County club rides. Like Beaches? On a hot Summers day head to Riis Park, Belle Harbor or the Rockaways for a dip in the Atlantic.
Queens has become a hot bed of brewing lately. Started by SingleCut in Astoria, there are now various breweries that have some delicious products to taste. One of my favorites is Big Alice Brewery. Big Alice is about the size of my living room, it specializes in “farm to tap” brewing, using as many local products as possible. There are some good suds hidden behind the green door. In the middle of the borough is Finback, where I have tasted some delicious stout. Other microbreweries in the borough include Transmitter Brewing and Rockaway Brewing.
What to Eat Here
Here are some of my favorite places in Queens, in no particular order. You are not gonna go hungry.
- Ganesh Temple – Not dumbed down for the tourists. Solid, spicy and cheap south Indian vegetarian fare. And make sure to visit the Temple next door
- New World Mall Food Court – Dozens of food vendors. Hundreds of Seats. Thousands of patrons. Embrace the crazy for some authentic Asian food.
- Tuk Tuk – Yummy Thai food in LIC – and some high octane Thai coffee to keep you rolling.
- Jackson Heights Diner – Anyone who has gone on a 5BBC ride to their buffet knows why.
- Empanadas Cafe – A tiny restaurant with a single table in Corona. Get the City's best Empanadas and eat them watching boccie in the park up the block
- Lemon Ice King of Corona – Right down the road from Empanadas Cafe, so why not get some dessert.
- Bohemia Beer Garden – It's been there before you were born. Still serving traditional fare of sausages, potato pancakes and the like.
- The Bay House – You won't find this place off Hook Creek. But if you do, enjoy huge portions of well prepared food.
- Eddie's Sweet Shop – They make their own ice cream. They make their own toppings. They make the best malteds. Here since the 1920's.
And in the End
It is almost impossible to sum up a borough as diverse as Queens. There are crowded and bustling corners like Corona or Jackson Heights, there are suburban neighborhoods like Douglaston or Howard Beach, and there is everything in between. For foodies, the treasures of Queens rival those of anyplace in the world. Around any corner can be a new and delicious discovery. Yes, the streets make no sense [only Bobby Moleti seems to understand how they work], and yes you will get lost. Enjoy getting to know this often overlooked part of New York City.