Close-Up on Long Island City


To most, Long Island City is that area at the south end of Queens along the East River. But chartered in 1870, LIC, as it’s also known, is one of Queens’s earliest municipalities. Ranging from Newton Creek to LaGuardia Airport, it’s composed of all or parts of Astoria, Sunnyside, Dutch Kills and Hunters Point. Such a broad swath of western Queens means that there are a variety of ethnic communities as well as a long-running industrial center with defunct factories like the now-demolished Pepsi bottling plant as well as resurrected ones like the massive Silvercup Studios, which once operated as the Silvercup Bakery.

Unlike many gentrified neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn that where originally middle class, Long Island City has always been an Archie Bunker blue-collar enclave. It didn’t convert from farmlands to city until 1908, with the arrival of the Queensboro Bridge. The Midtown Tunnel and Triboro Bridge followed in the 1940s. This all meant that people had a reasonable commute into Manhattan, and that calculus is still in play today.

Well before the Modern Museum decamped Midtown Manhattan to the old Swingline Stapler factory, Long Island City has been a destination for hipsters hitting P.S. 1 or cab drivers heading back to the garage. The museum is now safely ensconced in its newly renovated crib, but there’re still plenty of folks making the jump across the East River to hit an impressive array of arts spaces.

Living options are plentiful and varied. Astoria in particular has been a bedroom community from the very beginning and is now a mix of old Greek and Italian families as well as professionals looking to raise a family in an actual house, even if the yard is miniscule.

“While there has been a trickle of people coming in from Manhattan, Astoria is still very much a steady family neighborhood,” says Tara Semczuk, who grew up in Astoria and is now raising the family’s third generation there.

Long Island City residents like Semzcuk are not uncommon, giving the neighborhood a distinct sense of stability, just as more industrial areas draw transient hipsters looking for a cheap place and room to practice their art or music.

While Eastern Queens is fairly homogenized in a bland Nassau County kind of way, Long Island City is a substantial part of Queen’s famously mixed cultural fabric. For all the diversity there isn’t a density—the area doesn’t have same claustrophobic feel that can mark typical city living. Whether it’s an artist’s colony or the bedroom community, there is room here to breath and spread out.

Boundaries: East River to the north and west; 49th Street and New Calvary Cemetery to the east; Newtown Creek to the south

Transportation: Trains: 7, E, F, V, N, R, W, G. Buses: 61.

Main Drag: Vernon Boulevard runs parallel to the river and offers such varied fare as galleries, dive bars, and pharmacies. The near manic Steinway has the new retail chains as well as the old mom and pops.

Prices to Rent and Buy: Housing is cheaper than in Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn, and if you work above 14th Street the commute is quicker. For those looking to rent: studios average $750 to $950; one-bedrooms $1000 to $1200; two-bedrooms are $1400 to $1600; and houses upwards of that. Co-ops run less than condos. To buy: studios average $190,000; one-bedrooms, $325,000; two-bedrooms are $400,000. Houses can go upwards of one million for multi-family dwellings.

What to Check Out: P.S. 1, the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum and Socrates Sculpture Garden are all more than worth the commute. Converted from an industrial wasteland, the two-and-a-half acre Gantry Plaza State Park has green areas and piers that offer fantastic views of the river and Manhattan.

Hangouts, Restaurants: Those who want the cocktail on the beach scenario but don’t mind an East River locale will certainly enjoy Harry’s LIC at Water Taxi Beach, which is open seasonally (sorry kids, you’ll have to wait until spring). Take heart, the Bohemian Beer Hall and Beer Garden’s playground-sized and walled-in yard is open for business and a great place to drink good beer and eat grilled meats outside on a warm fall day. Just around the corner, Greek Seafood doesn’t get any better than Elias Corner. Open 24 hours a day, 5 Stars Punjabi is a trippy godsend for those living near the Queensboro Bridge. Bookish types will find solace at Seaburn Books, a rare independent bookstore that also happens to be the only bookstore of any kind in the area.

Crime: The 108 and 114th Precincts serve Long Island City. Things get pretty sketchy underneath the Queensboro Bridge unless you’re looking for a hooker, but the rest of LIC seems relatively quiet once you get off the throughways. The bad news: As of October 9 murders were up from 7 to 12 and rapes were up 31 to 47 from the same time last year, but those homicide numbers include those at Riker’s Island (yikes!). There were 453 robberies, which is down from 570 in 2004. Felonious assault at 334 and grand larceny at 1133 were about the same. Burglaries are 694, which is down 136 from 832 in 2004. GLA is 686, which is down 148 from 834.

Politicians: Councilman Eric Gioia, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, State Senator George Onorato, and Congressman Joseph Crowley are all Democrats