Close-Up on Tottenville, Staten Island

More Mayberry than Manhattan, the quiet town of Tottenville doesn’t feel like part of New York City. Located at the southern tip of Staten Island, the hamlet was never gentrified, in part due to its distance from Manhattan , but mostly because its large population of city employees, firemen, and policemen have tended to stay put. It’s a town you can walk at night and barely see a car on the move as kids play ball in the street. “All tension oozes out of my body when I get off the train,” says Rabbi Abe Unger, who lives on the Upper East Side during the week and serves member families and newly affiliated congregants on weekends at Tottenville’s Congregation Ahavath Israel. “It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting with the old Victorian houses and the beautiful old streets.”

Boundaries: The southernmost point in New York State, Tottenville is surrounded on three sides by water. The Arthur Kill waterway is to the west, and Rariton Bay is to the south and east. The town of Richmond Valley is to the north.

Transportation: The Staten Island Railroad is free as long as you don’t get on or off at the Ferry, in which case it costs the standard two dollars. It leaves Tottenville every 20 minutes and coordinates with Staten Island Ferry departures and arrivals. The 20-mile ride to the top of the island takes about 50 minutes. There are also three express bus lines that take commuters into Manhattan.

Main Drags: Main Street is as quaint as any you’ll find in a New England seaside community, even though there are a few boarded-up storefronts (including an old theater that was later a roller disco). There are antique stores, a tastefully restored police station, and a few restaurants among the houses.

Average Price to Rent: Mostly located in large newish complexes, studios go for $700, one bedrooms for $800, and two bedrooms for $1100. There are, however, older and cheaper alternatives with character if you walk and watch for signs in windows.

Average Price to Buy: Two-bedroom condos range from $225-$250,000. Houses range from $350,000 for a quaint three-bedroom cottage to $1 million or more for a mansion on the water.

Local Shops: The Scented Cottage (7321 Amboy Rd, 718-984-4437) is a small mom-and-pop gift shop. Thirdbase Sportcard and Collectibles (163 Main Street, 718-605-7199) looks like the perfect place for The Simpsons’s Comic Book Guy to conduct business.

Green Space: The Conference House Park, complete with a large pavilion on the water, is enjoyed by locals. The Tottenville Beach has been well known for centuries.

Local Landmarks: Built around 1680, The Billopp House (7455 Hylan Boulevard, 718-984-2086), also known as The Conference House, was the site of a September 11, 1776, meeting between Lord Howe, representing Lord North, and Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, representing the Continental Congress. They were unsuccessful in negotiating a peaceful reconciliation between England and the colonies.

Famous Residents: Independent filmmaker and low-budget gore-fest icon Andy Milligan owned and lived in the Tottenville Inn, where he shot his films. Keith Richards’s wife Patty Hanson grew up here.

Restaurants: Chefs Brien Reynolds and Naomi Bergonia opened the low-key Le Pomme Tete Café (232 Main Street, 718-984-0136). Falling in love with the community, the young couple opted to open a French bistro in an area entrenched with Italian cuisine. Reynolds does magical things with duck, but also check out the five-course prix fixe meal for $28.50, which changes twice a week (served from four to midnight). Bergonia’s specialty is dessert; she makes crepes and cakes daily. The couple has quickly earned a strong base of repeat customers.

Best Bar: Those who are looking for a salty old man bar could do worse than Two Morros (225 Main Street, no phone). In addition to serving great food, Le Pomme Tete is the center of late night action, attracting local hipsters and/or those who are interested in good imported beers (29 different kinds) and a decent wine list. The bar stays open till four and has a rockin' jukebox.

Happenings: A big July 4 party at The Conference House Park includes fireworks. The South Shore Artists Group hosts an outdoor art show in the park on the first Sunday in June.

Politicians: City Councilman Andrew Lamza, Assembly member Robert A. Straniere, Congressman Vito Fossella, and State Senator John J. Marchi—all Republican.

Crime Stats: The 123rd Police Precinct is one of the quietest in the city. Traditionally, cops whose partners were shot in the line of duty get reassigned to Tottenville because of the easy pace. As of July 20, the precinct reported zero murders, same as last year; one rape, down one; 12 robberies, down three; 22 felonious assaults, down one; 53 burglaries, down 14; 68 grand larcenies, up 16.

 
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