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The Queens 50

Enjoy it while it lasts. A pre-gentrification to-do list.


Could queens be the next hot borough? Had this question been posed even five years ago, it would have seemed laughable. In the hipster imagination, Queens is a historic dead zone: a quasi-suburbia to be escaped, the quintessence of uncool. But in 2005, as Brooklyn’s gentrification spreads into such unlikely neighborhoods as Bushwick, Queens represents opportunity. After all, the ever-expanding armies of the upwardly mobile have to go somewhere. Already, beachheads have been established in the lofts of Long Island City (touted on the cover of this very magazine in 2002) and the studios of Astoria—and the idyllic English garden homes and stellar ethnic restaurants of Jackson Heights may be the next stop. So hurry: Before Queens is sacked and made safe for Starbucks and sushi, there’s still time to experience some diverse, honest-to-goodness, old-style urban culture. Beyond P.S. 1 and the Unisphere, we’ve found 50 things that define the essence of the borough, from Norman Rockwell throwbacks and Balkan cevapi sandwiches to Art Deco porn theaters and Egyptian hookahs.

1 Hit a real tiki bar. Few aspects of Americana have been so defiled by retro culture as the classic Polynesian lounge. One of the last thriving originals is the bamboo-paneled, totem-pole-strewn tropical oasis that is King Yum (181-08 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows; 718-380-1918), where “Uncle Jimmy” Eng has been serving up inspired rum libations in fishbowls since 1953. Nothing compares to devouring a pupu platter while downing a drink large enough to drown a cat in.

2 Taste the old Times Square. The Polk Theater (93-09 37th Ave., Jackson Heights; 718-639-4081) is a landmark-worthy Art Deco movie theater, with 1938 neon marquee and tiny ticket booth still intact. It also happens to be an old-school skin-flick house. Recently showing: Lovers’ Rodeo.

3 Pretend you’re in a Norman Rockwell painting. The red-white-and-blue banners hung from lampposts along Grand Avenue between 69th Street and 72nd Place in Maspeth read MASPETH IS AMERICA, a sentiment that might strike you as over the top—unless you’ve actually spent an afternoon there. It’s a picture-perfect diorama of Main Street USA, complete with vintage storefront signage, a dedicated bingo parlor, a unisex hair salon, and a Knights of Columbus hall. Even the McDonald’s looks quaint. But hurry: A sushi bar has moved in.

4 Get cevapi smoke in your eyes. What the hot dog is to Coney Island, cevapi—rustic beef-and-lamb sausages the size of slightly overgrown cocktail franks—are to Sarajevo. Outside of the Balkans, the place to get them is at Cevabdzinica Sarajevo (37-18 34th Ave., Astoria; 718-752-9528), a brightly lit Bosnian hash house off the beaten Astoria path (look for the cloud of grill smoke hovering above the roof).

5 Take the cure—for anything. Remedies for all your ills—spiritual, sexual, or fiscal—await at Botanica La Caridad (96-07 Roosevelt Ave., Corona; 718-639-3570). Just look in the window: laminated portraits of Pope John Paul II, aerosol cans of “Love Spray” and “Money Attracting Spray,” framed Catholic benedictions, “spiritual-aromatic” bath salts, ceramic Virgin Mary statuettes, “slendering” cream, breast-enhancing cream, and for good measure, bottles of cod-liver oil.

Bowling at Juniper Valley Park.  

6 Get lost in a forgotten park. The very name of Juniper Valley Park (bounded by Dry Harbor Road, Juniper Boulevard, and Lutheran Avenue), and of the neighborhood in which it sits, Middle Village, evokes a sylvan fantasy. Bring a ball and glove: The 55-acre green space contains more than a half-dozen beautifully groomed ball fields. Or bring a paramour: Shady groves of mature trees shelter sun-dappled benches and gentle hillocks.

7 Set your kitchen on fire. The Guyana West Indian Grocery (123-02 Liberty Ave., Richmond Hill; 718-835-2023) is Kalustyan’s with a Caribbean twist. In addition to a staggering line of spices, preserved foods, and condiments—including canned jackfruit, cassava extract, guava jelly, canned goat’s milk, and (everyone’s favorite) corned mutton—the twenty-year-old store has its own bakery and fish-and-meat counter. When you’re done shopping for Calypso sauce and puja powder, hit Liberty Avenue’s food markets, purveyors of prehistoric-looking Amazon-basin freshwater fish. If you haven’t had broiled fillet of whiskered hassar, your palate is not complete.

The King Manor Museum.  

8 Tour the country house of a Founding Father. The King Manor Museum (Jamaica Avenue at 153rd Street, Jamaica; 718-206-0545) is Queens’ own country house in the city, a big, yellow eighteenth-century gambrel-roof mansion that sits serenely and improbably on eleven grassy acres in a notoriously parks-deprived commercial sector. Exactly 200 years ago, Rufus King, a lesser-known Founding Father—and one of New York’s first two senators—purchased the house, calling it his “place in the country.” Even today, there’s a quaint earnestness about the site that seems more rural than urban.

Belly up at Koliba.  

9 Hoist a pint of Staropramen. While the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden has become a bona fide tourist attraction, Koliba (31-11 23rd Ave., Astoria; 718-626-0430) feels like the insular refuge of a Czech-expat crowd, elbow-to-elbow at the cozy bar. Enormous planks of chicken schnitzel, goulash served with sliced-bread “dumplings,” spaetzle in a tangy sheep’s-milk sauce—it’s not exactly the world’s lightest cuisine. Which is where the slightly bitter, palate-cleansing Pilsner comes in.

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