Long Island Cityscape

photo by: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

November 25, 2015

Get to Know Queens’ Long Island City in 24 Hours

  • By: Jeana C. Wiser

Welcome to the borough of Queens, the most ethnically diverse of all the five boroughs in New York, and one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country! If you don’t know Queens as well as you know Manhattan or Brooklyn, then this special borough is totally worth checking out.

Long Island City got its start way, way back in 1642 when it was founded by Dutch settlers. Originally, the area was referred to as Dutch Kills (kill is the Dutch word for creek or water channel). Today, locals refer to the area as simply LIC, which not only reflects the modern identity for the neighborhood but also its growing trendiness and local pride.

Long Island City’s landscape is dominated by a strong converging of old and new. The old is rooted in its early industrial industries and connectedness. 1901 marked the construction of the Queensboro Bridge, connecting Long Island City to Midtown Manhattan. In addition to its role as a major 19th century industrial hub, the 20th century further established Long Island City as a transit hub, as well. Today, there are eight subway lines, two major bridges, multiple bus lines, the mid-town tunnel and a new ferry service linking the neighborhood to Manhattan.

The new is evidenced by the striking and evolving skyline filling up with both new towers (both office and condo) as well as a number of warehouse and industrial adaptive reuse projects. One of those projects is the new headquarters of JetBlue, the airline company, in the old Brewster Building (once an assembly plant for Rolls Royce cars, Brewster cars, and Brewster Buffalo airplanes).

The old is rooted in its early industrial industries and connectedness...The new is evidenced by the striking and evolving skyline.

In the last two decades, Long Island City has become a major cultural center with world-class art and working artists who seek refuge in the stock of old warehouse and industrial spaces. In fact, even New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has taken note and opened one of their most interesting annex locations—MOMA’s PS1—in an old public school building in the heart of LIC. The museum, noteworthy for its collections, fascinating exhibits, and overall experience in the space, draws thousands of interested tourists and locals, alike.

One of Long Island City’s best attributes is its location on the East River, with striking views of Manhattan. The best way to enjoy those views is to visit Gantry State Park, with the iconic and historic Pepsi-Cola neon sign and old gantries. The industrial monuments were once used to load and unload rail car floats and barges. Today, visitors to the 12-acre park enjoy them as striking reminders of the area’s strong working waterfront history.

Here are some ideas for how one might fill an entire day exploring, uncovering, and enjoying.

Gantry Plaza State Park

photo by: Young Sok Yun, Flickr

Waterfront view at Gantry Plaza State Park.

In the A.M.

If you love charming coffee shops that take their coffee seriously, you need to stop at Sweetleaf Cafe first thing in the morning. Your pick—either Jackson Avenue or Center Boulevard. Sweetleaf is not only a staple in Long Island City, serving as a neighborhood hangout for nearly 10 years, but also a favorite of tourists and visitors alike.

Enjoy weekend brunch on the quaint back patio at LIC Market, a charming restaurant owned by a Queens native, which sources ingredients from local farms and producers in the region. Can’t make brunch? Happy hour is just as good.

Enjoy sculpture and old buildings? Check out Long Island City’s very own Sculpture Center, a not-for-profit arts institution, founded by artists in 1928 and dedicated to experimental and innovative developments in contemporary sculpture. The building is interesting too, as the Center is located in an old brick trolley repair shop. This would be a great late morning activity on a rainy or gray day, following breakfast or brunch.

Gantry Plaza State Park. A summer or fall visit to Long Island City wouldn’t be complete without spending some time at Gantry Plaza State Park. A new, 10-acre, public space with intermingling of days past. Be sure to snap a photo of the famous Pepsi-Cola neon sign and the historic gantries.

Fancy yourself a thrift shopper? If so, you have to stop by Just Things, a 27-year old thrift shop run by two sisters, and find yourself a special treasure. This shop has a little bit of everything, from vintage glittery purses to fur coats.

Did you know:

If you happen to find yourself visiting Long Island City in June, consider joining the annual LIC Bike Parade, either as a spectator or participant! Kicking off in Socrates Sculpture Park and ending in Queensbridge Park, this parade has a little something for every bike or parade enthusiast. Plus, if you’re a Simon and Garfunkel fan, you already are familiar with this part of Long Island City, as the folk duo’s song, “Feelin’ Groovy” (also called “The 59th Street Bridge Song”) references this part of Queensboro Bridge.

In the P.M.

The famous Brooklyn Flea and Food Market’s Smorgasburg now has a location in LIC. During summer months you can check out Smorgasburg – LIC in search of delicious, local, and eclectic food served out of food trucks, just steps away from the popular neighborhood bar (and namesake) Dutch Kills.

If it’s winter, or outdoor food bazaars aren’t your thing, stop by Cyclo for some spicy and warming Vietnamese food. In the mood for Thai instead? Check-out Tuk Tuk, Cyclo’s sister joint, on the Long Island City waterfront.

Do your ears perk up when you hear the word bacon? If so, stop by the small, yet big on flavor, restaurant Sage General Store just steps away from MOMA PS1 and the Court Square subway station. Look for items such as the bacon brownies or bacon mac and cheese on the menu.

Flux Factory, a nonprofit artist space, is a great location for those who are interested in art of all shapes and sizes. They have an extensive offering of programming, public events, lectures, and social activism opportunities ranging from food justice potlucks to dance parties. Check out their current calendar to see if one of their events speaks to you.

Much like Flux Factory, Local Project Art Space originated as a response to the shrinking availability of artist spaces in NYC. Local Project was established in 1993 with the mission to “provide a space.” Today, visitors can stop by during regular gallery hours or attend a special opening or event.

For the wine enthusiast in us all, Domaine Bar a Vins serves as a restorative refuge for the many who seek out that perfect glass of wine. This small and intimate spot serves as a perfect place to set the stage for a romantic evening or provide the inspiration for writing the next best novel.

Did you know:

During the Long Island City building boom in the 1920s, a large building with four floor silos was constructed, serving as the home of Silvercup Bakery for over 50 years. By the 1980s, the Bakery was no longer, so the newly formed Silvercup Studio took over occupancy in the abandoned silo. Today, Silvercup Studios serves as the largest independent, full-service film and television production facility in the northeast. You probably have heard of some of the films and shows filmed there. To name a few: HBO’s Girls, NBC’s 30 Rock, and The Devil Wears Prada.

Long Island City at Night

photo by: cgc76, Flickr

Long Island City at night.

In the Late Night

Love modern art and cool old school buildings? If so, MOMA’s eastside annex, PS1, is perfect. In the summer months, PS1 hosts a number of DJs and dance parties. It’s also home to art and music-filled New Year’s Eve party with views of the East River fireworks show. Discoveries await.

The Creek and the Cave is something like an arcade, restaurant, and laugh-generating venue all rolled into one just for adults. This eclectic restaurant/bar/event space offers up a diverse menu ranging from comedy nights, to film screenings and vintage pinball.

This list wouldn’t be complete without including this bar. Don’t be fooled by the name; Dutch Kills plays homage to the name given the area back in the late 17th century by early Dutch settlers. Perhaps influenced by its historic name reference, Dutch Kills boasts some of the best classic, handcrafted cocktails in the ‘hood. Vintage cocktail lovers will be delighted by this place.

The Chocolate Factory is Long Island City’s go-to spot for experimental, raw live performance. Those who would rather enjoy an artistic, modern play in an intimate space over Broadway will surely appreciate this artist-founded, artist-led venue, which hosts a variety of performance ranging from dance to music to theater.

A truly unique and literary experience awaits you at Long Island City’s co-working salon for writers. This member-based social club boasts a library, salon, artist-in-residence program, and literary-themed public programming. If you enjoy a an old-fashioned bound book over a Kindle, you may just want to take a peek at the Oracle Club and see what this 21st Century reincarnation of the Gilded Age has to offer.

For a quaint and traditional French café experience in Long Island City, enjoy a home cooked dinner or unwind at the end of the day with a glass of full-bodied French wine at Café Henri.

Historic bar enthusiasts will love LIC Bar with its antique wood bar, original tin ceilings, and brick walls. Vintage details abound in this authentically classic drinking establishment, serving the neighborhood for 100 years. No extra fancy cocktails here, but a solid list of classic libations and local beer are a sure bet. Bonus: check the website’s event calendar for upcoming live local music.

For more information about the history and evolution of the neighborhood, please visit the following websites:

Gantry Plaza State Park (NYSParks.com)

History of Long Island City (Queens West Villager)

The History and Renewal of Long Island City and Dutch Kills, Queens (Untapped Cities)

The End of the Line; As the Swingline Factory in Queens Closes, Veteran Workers Wonder What's Next for Them (New York Times)

Announcing the 2020 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List