Down past the Sunset Diner, off the powdery dunes of Atlantic sand, there is a quaint parking lot with smashing ocean views. A rusted-out Camaro has bathed in the sun for years, here in this lonely graveyard of broken-down trolley cars and empty chicken buckets. The parking lot is for sale, local agents say. Ballpark price? $3 million to $4 million. Oh, Rockaway, Jewel of the Queens Crown, changing again. Take warning: The new Rockaway is not the new Williamsburg, though the two are becoming quite similar in stock. Surfers, writer types, lovers of reverse-status symbols, and the poor struggling vanguard of the hip are all staking their summer claims here on Rockaway Beach, on the cheap. Some sleep in the few remaining WW I bungalows that pepper the beach and still offer the homegrown feel of a backwoods Appalachian mountain shack; others rent crumbling houses, bring lots of playing cards and disinfectants, and prepare for a summer of looking up at the bellies of JFK’s jumbo jets, and looking back toward the grandeur of a beach town long forgotten.
Main Drags: Find cotton candy, corn on the cob, rollerbladers, and the ghosts of Damon Runyon’s friends on the boardwalk. Drugstores, diners, banks, soul food joints, doughnut shops, and the train station dot 116th Street.
Boundaries: Atlantic Ocean to the south, Rockaway Inlet to the north, Beach 110th Street to the east, and 126th Street to the west
Mass Transit: Take the A train toward Far Rockaway, transfer at Broad Channel to the Rockaway Park Shuttle.
Average Rent: Prices vary according to season. Summer rentals, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, average $5000 for a two-bedroom and $3000 to $5000 ($2000 to $4000) for a bungalow, depending on condition. Off season: Studios are $650 to $750 ($650); one-bedroom, $800 to $1000 ($900); two-bedroom, $1000 to $1200 ($1200); three-bedroom $1300 to 1500 ($1350).
Average Price to Buy: Two-family houses, $650,000 and up ($300,000 to $500,000); single-family homes north of 116th street, $500,000 and up ($400,000 and up).
To Do: “They ain’t only two things to do in Rockaway,” says one of the pizza boys at Ciro’s Italian restaurant, “drink and fuck . . . well, and smoke some too.” Indeed. Nightlife can be painfully, or wonderfully, quiet, depending on one’s mood. Irish bars used to pepper the street corners; now there are only a few. The Irish Circle, 109-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, is a dark, loud saloon with cheap beers, a tough-skinned crowd, a jukebox stocked with country, and over 30 TV screens. In the day, find all the accoutrements of a Club Med vacation: Good snorkeling and scuba can be found near the Atlantic Beach Bridge, and, on the other end of the island, Breezy Point Executive Golf Course (Beach 169th Street), an 18-hole pitch and putt. Handball courts, basketball courts, and chess tables line the beach promenade.
Cultural Cues: Rockaway folk aren’t isolationists, although some seem to wear the phrase “I haven’t been to the city in 15 years” like a badge of honor. Drinks, they seem to like ’em stiff; dogs, they grow ’em big.
Cultural Institutions: The Rockaway Museum, a gallery devoted to the colorful history of the peninsula, is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from noon to 4 p.m., and is located inside The Wave news building, home to a weekly paper over 100 years old. The Rockaway Artists Alliance also meets once a month inside Fort Tilden, a National Park.
Local Politicians: Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, State Senator Malcolm Smith, and Congressman Anthony Weiner—all Democrats
Best Restaurants: Behind the gas station, at 416 Beach 116th Street, the Wharf offers a picture-perfect view of Jamaica Bay, Kennedy Airport, and the Manhattan skyline. Boats float to its docks to eat in or take out from a mostly deep-fried menu that comes fairly pricey to Rockafolk. Their fish isn’t local, though the breaded sea scallops ($8.25) prove to be a tender burger alternative. Oh, if your waitress disappears for, say, 30 minutes or more, don’t worry. She probably won’t come back anytime soon. So just try and enjoy the view. The Sunset Diner, 116-01 Beach Channel Drive, makes for a close, air-conditioned alternative.
Crime: The presence of firefighters and cops in Rockaway, locals say, helps to make the neighborhood one of the safest in the city. The neighborhood is patrolled by the 100th Precinct, and includes Arverne, Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Neponsit, and Roxbury. As of September 25, 2005 they reported 1 murder, 5 rapes, 60 robberies, 55 felonious assaults, and 46 burglaries. (As of August 18, they reported 2 homicides, compared to 1 last year; 7 rapes, up from 3; 41 robberies, compared to 38; 43 felonious assaults, down from 54; and 39 burglaries, down from 66).