Although famously home to P.S.1 and Silvercup Studios (the soundstage for Sex in the City and The Sopranos), Long Island City isn’t always ready for its close-up, despite plans to rezone the district and create a “new midtown.” The area’s a lean, existential wedge in NYC’s bar-hopping pie, populated by surreal-looking old industrial buildings (an ersatz ghost town that’s a nerve center of transportation). It’s a curious locale for seeking out firewater establishments, but with the Citibank skyscraper as a signpost, Liquid City sets off through the rainy streets and into the L.I.C. Twilight Zone.
Given its official hours, 2 to 9 p.m., and strategic location outside the Hunters Point Avenue subway station, around the corner from the Midtown Tunnel, LUCKY 7 (21-17 49th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, 718-729-0288) should have a brisk commuter trade. But this annex of the Skyline—a railcar diner overlooking the craterlike MTA yards—is a quiet haven for a lucky seven or so customers. Yet despite the visible lack of blue-collar brawn, the mantel above the bar is festooned with stickers cheering on Steamfitters Local 638, NYC Laborers’ Local 79, and other hometown unions. It’s also proudly crowned with a row of hard hats. In solidarity with this display, we order the Roosevelt, a gin, rum, grenadine, and lime juice concoction ($5) served in a martini glass, while the regulars opt for end-of-the-shift Heinekens ($3). Noticing the mysterious horn—like the ominous symbol from Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49—hung above the cash register, we decide to depart early on a good note; we are, after all, on 49th Avenue.
Lured by a coral awning advertising a “Go-Go Bar & Grill,” we zag left to the RIVERHEAD INN (45-08 Vernon Boulevard, 718-392-7664), where we order bottled Budweisers ($5) and sit back to survey the action. Behind the extensive bar, backed by floor-to-ceiling mirrors washed by the glare from a giant-screen television, a brace of young ladies in hot pants and minimal tops (“Girls frequently wear less clothing on MTV,” notes an unimpressed onlooker) tentatively sway to remixes of Dido and Moby on a crush-board platform. Dancers awaiting their turn onstage outnumber the lone-wolf patrons, who don’t seem to mind the controlled, “under new management” feel to the spare, low-lit establishment. “Friday’s the busy night,” says one performer, leaning low to accept a George Washington in her bikini strap.
We seek asylum from the go-go blare at the SHANNON POT (45-06 Davis Street, 718-786-6992), a quiet little pub—if you overlook the subway rattle from the elevated No. 7 train above—that plays cheerful oldies radio. It’s too late to order unpredictable-sounding filet mignon cubes ($4.95) or crab cake balls ($4.95), so we opt for a liquid meal of Guinness ($4) and a Johnnie Walker Red Label ($4.50) and grab a seat among the small, ragged scene of student types, tank-topped men, and middle-aged couples nursing beers and watching the three TVs. The ’70s-hotel-style mauve walls, Bud Lite clock, wan decorative curtains, and ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster are oddly comforting—this is a clean, bright place amid the flotsam of often inscrutable local grog shops. Finally, L.I.C.’s Holy Trinity: a solid pint, regular hours, and straightforward service, and you can just put the tip on the bar—instead of fumbling to wedge singles between skin and bra strap.