By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The rooftop of the mammoth redbrick Brewster building in Long Island City might make a sweet secret spot for a New Year's 2001 tryst. The 1911 edifice on the north side of Queens Plaza has the SoHo charm of an industrial building scrubbed free of grime. Bring Cole Porter on your MP3 player.
"You're the top, you're a ritz hot toddy, you're the top, you're a Brewster body," Porter sings of the sensuous classic cars that were made here. And of course, the building's current owner boasts that it has "unobstructed Manhattan skyline views for satellite and microwave [data] transmission."
So much for romance. But there's plenty of passion at street level. Cast your eyes down Queens Plaza (which mysteriously transforms into Queensboro Plaza a block west) and maybe you'll glimpse the jaunty walk of the hookers as they pass through the neon purple glow of the new Cityscapes strip club on their way to greet the Rikers Island prison bus.
"I had a potential client coming for an appointment and he was driving in circles after he got off the Queensboro Bridge. He couldn't find my block and finally told me from his cell phone, 'Are you sure you didn't say Wrong Island City?' "
Over the past year Long Island City has become a magnet for two industries that use silicon in remarkably different ways. Giuliani administration zoning laws have pushed strip clubs into this iron-and-concrete jumble of a neighborhood at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge at the same moment that the Digital NYC program, seeking to kick start economic development there, designated it a High Technology District to which companies would be lured with significant subsidies. Rumor has it the growth in technology firms could even lead to the building of a railroad hub, complete with Amtrak service, in the neighborhood.
Cityscapes sits directly across from the Brewster Building, which is now officially the BridgePlaza TechCenter, thanks to a multimillion structural makeover that includes a newly threaded network of fiber-optic cables. The broad Plaza is overshadowed by the elevated 7 and N train lines and often clogged with cacophonous traffic. At the eastern end is the Clocktower Building, which is getting a similar overhaul, and at the western fringe is another exotic-dancing club, Scandals, which opened in March.
Oddly enough, both the sex clubs and the dotcommies smell success in the air.
"There used to be a lot of people who were afraid to come here. There were a lot of dark places," says Manzur Mazumder, the chief financial officer of NetCom Information Technology, Inc. At 30, Mazumder is the eldest partner of the software training and consulting firm that started up two years ago in the shadow of the Clocktower Building. "It's really cleaned out."
Credit the cleanup, however incomplete, to an unusual mix of the city's finest and its most lascivious.
The 108th police precinct aggressively mobilized against the Brooklyn-based Bloods street gang earlier this year after two shooting deaths were linked to their prostitution ring in Queens Plaza, which sometimes exploited young teens. The cops even asked the courts to banish suspected members of the Bloods from the Plaza, but the request was rejected.
The thin blue line has since hauled its office-trailer Forward Command Post to other flash points, and a smattering of less organized hooking has returned. The beat cops have been supplemented by more informaland improbablestreet sentries: strip joints like Dumbartons II, Scandals, Cityscapes, and Runway 69. These gentlemen's clubs have trained surveillance cameras on the streets, lighted once eerie stretches, and peopled the blocks with beefy security guards.
Most of the clubs' customers have been drive-ins, who come for an evening and then leave. But one strip club worker says the newly spiffed-up area might soon be ready for pedestrian and daytime visits as well. "Now the place [Long Island City] is jumping," says Katie, Scandals' VIP liaison, who asked that her last name not be used. "We're seeing if a luncheon program might work. We'll have a better idea after the summer, which is always our most dead time."
On a recent rainy Thursday night, some dancers in Scandals' cavernous mirrored and purple-lit club performed scarcely observed gyrations with an enthusiasm better suited to practicing piano scales. Katie says she's encouraged by the growth of the high-tech business community. "Hey, all of the girls have Web pages, and we say, the more businesses, the merrier."
More is right. In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art plans to move its entire exhibition for two years to the old Swingline Stapler factory while it remodels its building on 53rd Street. Silvercup Studios, where HBO's hit series Sex in the Cityis shot, is significantly expanding its facility in the neighborhood. Irwin Cohen, who's responsible for the much admired Chelsea Market, remade a Long Island City building in his trademark funky fashion.
Tech firms are pouring in fast. Some are refugees from Manhattan, and others are starting from the ground up. Internet infrastructure giant PSINet plans to funnel at least $200 million into revamping a local building to house servers for its customers, a good many of which are Fortune 500 companies. The cofounder and CEO of Fairway Wholesale & Distribution on 132nd Street in Manhattan sold his stake there and is starting FreshDirect.com in an old Long Island City paper distribution center.