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What pops into your mind when you hear “Long Island City”? Maybe you picture less of a neighborhood, more of a character-free yuppie warehouse, where overpaid dullards stack themselves in gleaming condos, sucking the life force from yet another community’s jugular. But you’d be wrong. That nonsense is largely confined to the waterfront, which you can easily avoid. Scrape away that gentrified mold of luxury apartment towers, and you’ll find a delectable drinking ‘hood, where gem-like bars sparkle against the dark backdrop of industrial buildings and moody railyards. And if you drink too much and get lost in Queens’ confusing mess of numbered streets and avenues? Just look up. You can always orient yourself with the Citigroup Building, the tallest structure in New York outside Manhattan, looming over everything like Sauron’s Dark Banking Tower. This is our run-down of the 10 best spots to throw back a glass in Long Island City.
10. Corner Bistro
47-18 Vernon Boulevard, 718.606.6500
The Queens offshoot of its infamous Manhattan namesake, Corner Bistro is where you go for $3 mugs of McSorely’s Ale and a bacon cheeseburger so savagely delicious, you’ll probably order two. This location hasn’t quite captured the gloomy day-drunk charm of its West Village parent, but makes up for it with comfort and surprisingly cheerful service (none of that “who the fuck are you?” face the bartenders excel at in the city). It also has 19-33 Queens Lagrrr! (sic) produced by Astoria’s Singlecut, the first microbrewery founded in the borough since Prohibition.
5-14 51st Avenue, 718.937.7494
The slow legalization of weed presents a real challenge to the booze industry, but Alewife is prepared: their Happy Hour starts daily at 4.20pm, on the dot. It’s a big place, with two large, full floors of seating. And with that scale, it should feel like one of those soulless midtown booze troughs we all hate going to after work. But somehow it doesn’t feel like one. Cozy despite its size, it’s a great spot for large groups, and its 28 drafts on tap should slake the thirst of even the douchiest of ale snobs. Plus they have a sweet deck for summer tippling. Word of warning: Saturdays and Sundays they offer a $25 brunch and all you can drink special from noon-3pm. If that’s your kind of mess, have at it.
47-10 Vernon Boulevard, 718.361.8488
A bar without televisions? What a concept. If you crave a civilized drink without bloviating ex-sportsmen interrupting every sip, Woodbines is the place. It’s a serious bar for serious drinkers, with 24 bourbons and ryes behind the rail. They even serve a whiskey flight menu, perfect for deepening your love affair with the beautiful brown liquor. In a sweet gesture to our poor, wheat-intolerant cousins, Woodbines features a gluten-free beer selection, including Portland’s Omission Pale Ale and Belgium’s Discovery Amber. All of its 12 draft beers can also be taken home in a growler.
7. The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue, 718.706.8783
The Creek and The Cave is three things in one: a bar, a Mexican restaurant, and an alternative comedy lab, incubating the most promising joke-telling talent in town. To our knowledge it’s the only place in New York City that hosts live comedy seven nights a week across two stages, all with zero cover. Some people are calling it comedy’s CBGBs, and it’s hard to argue: you’ll see shows that are raucously unpolished, but also showcases for Jimmy Fallon’s bookers, hunting the best new acts in the city. Head straight downstairs to the bar and enjoy a clubhouse atmosphere, where comics guzzle $3 Tecates all day and ponder the agony of bombing and ecstasy of killing.
6. PJ Leahy’s
50-02 Vernon Boulevard, 718) 472-5131
This flinty tavern is an unpretentious salute to simple drinking. You’re not there for a wine list or highball ice spears. It’s a simple formula: beer, shot, repeat. PJ Leahy’s is, you’ll be stunned to hear, an Irish place. But like, really Irish. It’s so Irish, on the wall hangs a framed hurling shirt (hurling is a stick-based Irish sport), from a team honoring Belfast’s Long Kesh prison, where Nationalist hunger strikers rocked Northern Ireland politics in the 1980’s. That’s pretty fucking Irish. So if you have Hibernian roots, come here and authentically celebrate them. Maybe don’t bring your English roommate, though.
5. Penthouse 808
8-08 Queens Plaza South, 718.289.6118
This rooftop bar sits atop a rather plain hotel that one might suggest to distant visiting relatives.The lounge is not particularly unique, but you’re only there for the view. Framed by the Queensboro Bridge, it’s a panoramic eye-feast of twinkly Manhattan towers. If you want to feel like a real baller, take a date on a random summer Monday. You’ll enjoy half-off a decent sushi menu all night, $5 margaritas, and a spectacular urban sunset. Single people: if you like girls in hoochie dresses and dudes with neck chains, stay all night. Trust us, they’ll show up.
4. Dominie’s Hoek
48-17 Vernon Boulevard, 718.706.6531
Dominie’s is an arty neighborhood bar. Its décor resembles a Greenwich Village click-clap joint from the 1960s, and you half-expect to see Don Draper in the corner, creeping on some dope-addled sculptor. A lot of L.I.C. bars close earlier during the week (2 a.m. is typical), but not Dominie’s. They go hard in the paint ’til 4 a.m., every night of the year. So settle in, enjoy the all-day $5 beer/shot special, and ask a lot of questions. The walls are crammed with local art, and every knickknack and curio in the place has a story behind it. Weekend brunch is $12 with unlimited mimosas. Hoo boy.
3. Domaine Bar A Vins
50-04 Vernon Boulevard, 718.784.2350
Looking for somewhere to pretend you’re Baudelaire? Here is your ideal wine bar. Domaine’s dim lights, marble floors and 40 wines by the glass could have you thinking you’re by the Seine, rather than EPA superfund site Newtown Creek. The owners hail from Southwest France, so they specialize in bottles from small producers based in that winemakers’ paradise. Right now, an excellent 2009 Chateaux L’Argentier Coteaux Du Languedoc is impressing patrons, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre so good it may have you quoting symbolist poetry. Unsurprisingly with a bunch of Frenchmen at the helm, Domaine also boasts one of the best cheese lists in Queens, and dollar oysters daily from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
2. L.I.C. Bar
45-58 Vernon Boulevard, 718.786.5400
History buffs should hold L.I.C. Bar dear. This beautiful landmarked building in the industrial heart of the neighborhood was boarded up for 60 years, when some enterprising souls crowbarred the place open. Inside they found a pristine bar, tin ceiling, fixtures and tables, like a Marie Celeste of pubs. The energy of a hidden gem still powers the place, and it’s a perfect spot to hole up and drink time away. The back patio is large and draped in weeping willows, and faces a restored carriage house that offers refined shade in summer months. The crowd is very mixed: hipsters, locals and weird Queens types rub along with uncommon civility. Maybe the establishment’s large selection of Scotch has something to do with that.
1. Dutch Kills
27-24 Jackson Avenue, 718.383.2724
On an unpromising stretch of Jackson Avenue, under a spidery freeway exit, lies this sign-free Mecca to boozy integrity. These guys care about your drink, possibly a little too much. The décor is like a dim, dangerous tribute to Prohibition-era skullduggery, and the staff is made of men and women one simply trusts to make something superlative. Dutch Kills shares space with the Hundredweight Ice Company, providing a slow frozen ice that eliminates the pesky air bubbles responsible for premature melting that bedevils lesser establishments. See? They really, really care about this stuff. Their take on an Old Fashioned is the Don Lockwood (chocolate bitters, maple syrup, bourbon and Islay Scotch). Drink one and die happy.
More:Best of NYC