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Queens is by far the best boroughand I'm not just saying that because I was born and bred here. Recently named the most diverse county in the nation, the melting pot is also home to the Mets, Rockaway Beach, the No. 7 elevated train, Flushing Meadows, and countless watering holes. And due to its safe distance from Manhattan, you don't have to be ultra-hip to hang at any of the bars that populate the arearest assured that while in Queens, you can simply be yourself.
At FM CAFÉ(69-47 Austin Street, Forest Hills, 718-793-5111), a Miami vibe (Latin guys and girls, paint-splattered walls, pastel hues, and pink spotlights) sets the tone at what is more of a lounge than a cafébut who cares, when they offer $3 drinks and free buffalo wings Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.? After a strong caipirinha (cachaça, simple syrup, and lime) and a yummy, yet Dimetapp-tasting Viking Purple People Eater (Viking Fjord vodka and cranberry juice), you won't mind that the kitchen isn't stocked with some items listed on the bar menu. But definitely stay awhile, since the dancefloor starts throbbing on theme nights (Wednesdays, Latin; Thursdays, ladies; Fridays, hip-hop, reggae, and r&b). Just don't let the Barnes & Noble across the street detract from the frolicking South Beach scene.
For "Soho ambience in Astoria, Queens," head to NITRO CAFÉ, INC.(32-18 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718-956-8835). The promise, prominently printed on their menu, isn't delivered, which is goodunless, um, they're talking prices (Coronas are $5!?), which are not so good. The stern mom-and-pop-ish joint serves up "Euro Toasts" (a/k/a sandwiches, $6), made by the no-bullshit matron, that pair surprisingly well with the fruity drinks (Malibu bay breeze, $6) mixed by her stone-faced companionbut it's this lack of airs that makes the place so homey. Catering to nabe locals, including hefty Greek men seeking refuge from their wives and young kids trying to look cool, Nitro seems to pack it all in. Even the decor has something for everyone: Black leather love seats suggest intimacy while the exposed pipes and gray walls create an industrial feel. If you still don't know what to make of it, try zoning out on the television or racking your brain on one of the funky chessboards. Either way, do it during happy hour (weekdays, 5 to 8 p.m.), when the bar redeems itself with $2.50 beers.
Named after Molly Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, BLOOMS (41-08 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside, 718-706-1000) serves up lots of class and fine spirits, too. Shadowed by the No. 7 train, the Irish bar's pretty facade shares the boulevard with a string of pubs. Inside, rich, dark wood, dim hanging lamps, and glass cases filled with vintage bottles frame a curvaceous custom-finished bar, where displaced Dubliners down pints of Guinness ($5) and tell their stories to bartenders with thick brogues. Other neighborhood stalwarts sit back in little nooks labeled "snug" or "whiskey corner" and reward themselves for a day's work with a smooth, warming Jameson on the rocks ($4.25). After a week's labor, you may even want to treat yourself to one of the 16 pricier whiskies, like a fragrant, sweet Middleton ($20). Then head to the back den, with its big leather armchairs and dark green walls, and while away an evening like royaltyyou are in Queens after all.