Long Island City
Rooftop farms, MOMA concerts, and schoolhouse eats
Step out of the subway somewhere in Long Island City, Queens and you're likely to be surrounded by a confusing mix of glass towers, construction sites, an art gallery or two, and rows of neglected 3 story buildings. LIC (as the neighborhood has now re-branded itself) is one of the most rapidly changing neighborhoods in the city and is grappling with a bit of an identity challenge.
Accessible one stop from Manhattan by 6 trains, this former industrial spiderweb of highways, gas stations, and factories is now a mecca for commercial developers of luxury high rise condos, new outdoor spaces, and trendy restaurants to boot.
With glass towers continuing to spring up at a rapid pace along the waterfront and the recent very public demolition of 5 Pointz (the famed graffiti mecca / community space), a lot of questions are being raised about the future of this neighborhood. For example, folks are asking, will LIC become:
- A midtown commuter outpost, full of shiny luxury towers, private amenities, Starbucks, and spinning gyms?
- A haven for families seeking more affordable housing, spacious park space for their kids, and a decent public school system?
- A cultural destination anchored by MOMA PS1, the small (but expanding) home grown gallery scene, and a group of small but mighty culinary pioneers?
- An opportunity to develop a new model for environmentally sustainable urban development, already begun by the visionaries at the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm and potentially scalable with environmentally efficient housing developments?
- Williamsburg lite?
- Some or all of the above?
I'm not ready to cast my ballot for the future of this neighborhood just yet, but what I do know is that LIC has an amazing foundation of cultural capital to build on. From MOMA PS1 to beautiful public and private outdoor spaces to a burgeoning food scene, this neighborhood makes for an excellent Saturday of exploring -- to be sure, one of my very favorite days yet!
The question for the future is, will the development here expand on and highlight the organic components of what make this neighborhood already great or eclipse that potential by becoming a bland midtown outpost? Stay tuned, folks, and in the meantime, get to know the LIC of today with this tour of a few favorites below!
Start the day: Saturday morning farmer's market at Brooklyn Grange's rooftop farm
Brooklyn Grange has to be one of my favorite new discoveries in the city. Stop by this beautiful rooftop farm (with a view!) every Saturday throughout the summer from 11-4 for their weekly farmer's market and open house. Best way to get here is via the 36th street E/F/M/R station which will drop you a few blocks from COFFEED, the downstairs coffee shop that you've got to wander through to find the elevator to the roof.
Can't get enough of the Grange? There are tons of events at the flagship LIC location as well as the Navy Yard location, including regular yoga classes, rooftop farm to table dinners, crawfish boils, flower arranging, and all sorts of delightful creative things. I know I'll definitely be back here very very soon!
Don't forget to support the farm by picking up some of the most delicious produce around from their market stand. A friend and I made some rainbow chard, carrots, honey and radishes into an awesome summer avocado salad, flavors all thanks to the freshness of the produce.
A farm isn't a farm without chickens, right? Don't worry, they've got those too.
We met the most wonderful families here, including this dad and his daughter from Jackson Heights. One of the best parts about visiting outdoor urban spaces like this is realizing how they open up entire worlds that city kids and parents never would have had access to. The kids were loving it, let me tell ya.
Time for lunch: a schoolhouse vibe and stellar eats at M. Wells Dinette
You just bought all those carrots and radishes at the Grange, but its ok, save them for dinner. To match the fresh summer vibe though, we're headed to M. Wells Dinette inside MOMA PS1. Pro tip: no museum entrance fee required. Just let them know you're headed to M. Wells to eat and you're good!
This deliciously creative spot started out as its own mom and pop style establishment in Queens in 2010. After some issues with a lease and landlord, it disappeared briefly and soon popped up inside MOMA PS1 where it is today. Its schoolhouse deco is an homage to the building's former use as a public school and makes for a fun lunch spot. Expect a fresh and quirky menu with great share plates. A full review from the expert, Max at Serious Eats, here.
We ordered the cauliflower and smoked mussels (below) which were amazing, a beet terrine, a duck + foie gras dish, and a dry white wine to drink. The menu changes constantly, but I'll bet that whatever you select will be delicious.
For an (admittedly pricey) upmarket dinner, head to M. Wells Steakhouse which I hear is also delish - think Foie Gras Gnocchi!
Next up: contemporary art fix at MOMA PS1
PS1 is an exhibition outpost of MOMA located in a former public school. Known for featuring some of the more up and coming names in contemporary art, it pushes the borders quite a bit past those of its Midtown sister. Expect to find experimental and provocative works that won't all necessarily stand the test of time, but will make for a fun and quirky afternoon of museum-ing.
My favorite piece at PS1 is this room with a square cut hole in the ceiling, Meeting by James Turrell. The benches inside the room are a bit like church pews, inviting a sort of meditative atmosphere. People are also usually lying on the floor - all looking up at the framed clouds outside slowly rolling by.
Summer Saturday special: MOMA PS1's Warm Up concert series
If you've been to LIC before, it was most likely to visit the former 5 Pointz or to spend a Saturday drinking margaritas, eating raw oysters, and dancing to the electronic music featured at Warm Up. As far as summer events go, this one is incredibly well planned, offering new large scale courtyard installations every season, excellent food and drinks, live (usually famous and awesome) DJ, free entrance to the museum with ticket, and a generally great day drinking time. Highly recommend. Check out the 2014 line up here. Visit any Saturday June 28–September 6, 2014, doors open at noon, and music is from 3-9pm.
Afternoon stroll and snack: LIC Flea & Food
LIC Flea is a sort of Smorgasburg Lite, an outdoor flea and food truck festival located a few blocks away from MOMA PS1 towards the water and near the most concentrated area of high rise developments. Stop by for a gourmet bite or some shaved ice for the summer months.
Beautiful views, historic landmarks, and summer sun: Gantry Plaza State Park
This 12 acre riverfront park boasts spectacular views of East Manhattan and has some of the most seriously comfortable lounge chairs I've ever seen in a public park. Not to mention, of course, the famous Long Island Gantries (below). These historic structures are monuments of an industrial past, once used to load and unload rail car floats and barges that were carrying supplies to and from LIC's factories.
Constructed in 1936 by Artkraft Strauss (the iconic designer of Times Square signs and displays), this 120-foot x 60-foot neon Pepsi-Cola sign was located on top of the large Pepsi bottling plant that once had a home on this waterfront. Now preserved and moved to a sloping grass hill in the park, it's a pop art style reminder of how quickly the neighborhood has, and is still changing.
Late afternoon caffeine fix (or the best Strawberry iced tea on this side of the river): Sweetleaf
This trendy (London-inspired?) cafe is right in the center of all the new waterfront high rise development on Center Blvd and is just a stones throw away from the park. Stop by for your favorite Stumptown roast, a delicious Strawberry iced tea, or any number of their other creative caffeinated offerings. Beautiful place to do some reading or catch up with a friend if that's your situation as well! Or, better yet, stop by in the evening during cocktail bar hours.
Your evening speakeasy scene: Dutchkills
This neighborhood gem is easy to miss, located on a heavily trafficked street in the middle of all the high rise, abandoned lot, crumbling building LIC confusion. Look out for a neon sign that says BAR and you'll see a little brown plaque on the door that says "Dutchkills". This dark, old school style speakeasy serves up an impressive menu of cocktails and some grilled cheese variety indulgent late night eats. A great way to end a day of exploring in LIC! Open 5pm-2am!
Mapping your trip
Start off at Brooklyn Grange and then walk over to the hustle and bustle in Hunter's Point. The walk between the two areas is along a heavily trafficked road but offers a really interesting snapshot of all the change that LIC is undergoing, from luxury developments to demolished empty lots. Whichever way you choose to go, this part of Queens is really safe and a wonderful place to explore.