When Allen Ginsberg wrote in Howl that he saw the best minds of his generation and that they wailed, he added that “the Staten Island ferry also wailed.” Any Staten Island expat worth her saltwater tears can tell you about the integral relationship of the ferryboat to the city, and of the peculiarly beautiful experience of spending at least 40 minutes at sea each day. Nowhere on the island is this amphibious life more apparent than in St. George, which houses the ferry terminal and has the waterfront as two of its hazy boundaries. The neighborhood shows off its island nature in a flourishing Caribbean culture mixed with a sizable African American population, a crunchy-granola bunch, and a blend of Italian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Irish, and Polish residents. The ocean is the greatest democrat in the city.
Boundaries: Richmond Terrace to the north, Bay Street to the east, Victory Boulevard to the south, and Westervelt Avenue to the west
Main Drags: Bay Street and Richmond Terrace for arguably the best view of the lower Manhattan skyline in the whole city
Mass Transit: From Union Square 20 minutes on the N and R trains to Whitehall Street/South Ferry or 4 and 5 trains to Bowling Green; 25 minutes on the free Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Street to St. George
Average Rents: One-bedroom: $800; two-bedroom: $900
Average Price to Buy: $250,000 to $450,000 for a house. A loft in a co-op starts at $159,000
Cultural Institutions: For years, baseball held firm as the sport the general public could afford to attend. Today, tickets to a Staten Island Yankees game will run you $8. The new 6886-seat stadium is about as close to the ferry as it can be without getting wet. On the east side of the terminal is the North Shore Esplanade Extension, with impressive design by Siah Armajani. The walkway to the waterfront, and a grand public place to sit in the sun or watch fireworks, takes you past historic buildings dating from 1869.
Famous Residents: Paul Newman lived in St. George as a struggling actor. Much later, Martin Sheen lived in the same building. His son Emilio Estevez was born on the living room floor of that apartment. Brendan Sexton III, of Welcome to the Dollhouse fame, grew up in the neighborhood. (Much earlier, George Burns got his act off the ground performing on the Staten Island Ferry.)
Sietsema‘s Pick: The Polish Place, 19 Corson Avenue. Hidden by a grocery storefront, this jaunty red-and-white establishment produces lovely stick-to-your-ribs fortifications like chicken rolls chock full of cheese.
My Pick: Island Roti, 65 Victory Boulevard, and its adjoining grocery store feature all kinds of roti (pumpkin is best), plus bright, gem-like candies, and pickles. Have a splendid meal in this homey, two-table spot where the walls are covered with pics of the West Indian Day Parade. Victory Nutrition Center, a health food store across the street, will service all one’s soy and carob deficiencies.
Best Bar: The Cargo Café, 120 Bay Street, is a bar, a restaurant, and an evolving work of art. At times, the exterior has been covered with paintings of giant eggbeaters, mondo ants, and humongous swaths of plaid. Currently, the flag and the twin towers wrap the building. Open mic every Monday all summer long draws musicians, poets, and comic acts. Music at least four nights a week. Pool table. The Side Street Saloon, at 11 Schuyler Street, is a hop-skip-jump from the boat.
Community Standbys: Everything Goes, with its three shops, serves all one’s non-edible consumer needs, and at a thrifty price for high-quality used goods. Attire yourself at 140 Bay Street; furnish your pad at 17 Brook Street; find everything else at the original store (208 Bay Street).
Local Politicos: Councilman Michael E. McMahon, Democrat; State Assemblyman John W. Lavelle, Democrat; State Senator Vincent J. Gentile, Democrat; Congressman Vito Fossella, Republican
Crime Stats: The 120th Precinct, which includes St. George, covers all of the northern third of Staten Island, so statistics are by no means limited to the neighborhood. As of May 12, there were three homicides, compared to two last year; 11 rapes (compared to 12 in 2001); 78 robberies (down from 91); 114 felonious assaults (a drop from 162); 179 burglaries (up from 160); and 112 reports of grand larceny (down from 138).