Close-Up on City Island, the Bronx


“Round here we don’t die; we just dry up and blow away.” Or so goes the New England adage evoked by a 1939 guide to New York in describing the robust inhabitants of City Island. Today, you can still find traces of the old pioneering spirit across this 230-acre neighborhood. And although wooden boats are crafted no longer on the self-proclaimed “Seaport of the Bronx,” its aquatic legacy continues to be channeled, if in a more a recreational vein. Now the island is home to various dive shops and Jet Ski rentals, and an abundance of seafood restaurants along the main thoroughfare.

Vintage bungalows and Cape Cods freckle the quiet lanes. Yacht clubs cling to the water’s edge. But a generic Wisteria Lane this place is not, with City Islanders tending more toward the Jolly Roger. Locals have long referred to themselves as “clam diggers” and outsiders as “mussel suckers.”

Today, developers are erecting new condos, causing established residents to worry that their urban fishing village will shrivel away and live only as souvenirs in one of the local antique shops or as exhibits in the nautical museum. Take heart: City Island has a way to go before it becomes another Soho.

The Seaport of the Bronx
photo: Jessie Pascoe

Boundaries: Located in the western part of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay, City Island is connected to the Bronx by the City Island Bridge.

Main Drags: City Island Avenue is the sole major artery, lined with numerous shops and restaurants.

Transportation: Getting here by car is a million times easier, but taking the 6 train to Pelham Bay and then transferring to the BX29 can be your personal MTA adventure. During the weekdays, the BxM7B express ($5 each way) runs from Midtown.

Average Price to Rent: On average, one-bedrooms go for $850-$1,000; two bedrooms for $1,400 to $1,600; three bedrooms for $1,800 and up; and cottages and bungalows for around $2,000.

Average Price to Buy: Again, the water matters. One-bedroom houses are rare. Two-bedroom cottages go for $350,000, and three-bedroom houses rent for $500,000 to $800,000.

Cultural Institutions: Galleries and museums dot the small island. Focal Point Gallery (321 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1403) exhibits contemporary art, with a strong emphasis on photography. Starving Artist Café and Gallery (249 City Island Avenue, 718-885-3779) blends coffee with local art and performances. For a taste of the municipality’s salty past, take a turn off the main street to City Island Nautical Museum (190 Fordham Street, 718-885-0008). Here you can peruse archives of all things boat related, including old World Cup sailing photos.

Shopping: A visit to City Island would not be complete without a stop at Mooncurser Records (229 City Island Avenue, 718-885-0302). A one-man local institution, owner Roger Roberge has over 100,000 records for customers ranging from first-time vinyl shoppers to serious collectors. Get your fix for memories of times past at Silver Arrow Antiques & Things (275 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1598) or Midtown Antiques (310 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2820).

Restaurants and Bars: City Island’s seafood restaurants are a piscatorial paradise. Visitors flock to Johnny’s Reef, on the southern tip of the island (2 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2090). Here you can wash down inexpensive fish and chips with a piña colada or Mai Tai. If you like to mix and match, head to Artie’s Steak & Seafood (394 City Island Avenue) and have your lobster with some cow. For late-night dining, try Sammy’s Fish Box (41 City Island Avenue, 718-885-0920. Manhattan sophisticates fear not! The concept of brunch is alive and well here. Prime spots include The City Island Diner (304 City Island Avenue), which hosts a traditional Irish Seisun, and the Black Whale (279 City Island Avenue, 718-885-3657), which has a back veranda. Both are good choices for vegetarians. Nightlife is mostly absent on the island, but the recently opened Sixmilecross Saloon (288 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1664) hopes to shake things up with weekly events including “Tattoo Tuesdays,” and “S.I.N. on Sundays.”

Crime Stats: As of April 23, 2006, the 45th precinct, which serves both City Island and Co-op City, reported one murder, three rapes, 69 robberies, 28 felonious assaults, and 91 burglaries.

Politicians: City Councilmember James Vacca, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, Representative Joseph Crowley, State Senator Jeff Klein, all Democrats.