What’s Going On in Long Island City, Queens? Oh, So Much.
Long Island City is just one of those very odd yet quintessential New York City neighborhoods. First of all, the name is confusing as even well-seasoned visitors think that Long Island City is in Long Island not Queens (now you know). Further, despite its proximity to Manhattan (one train stop from Midtown East) it still feels rather untouched. Every restaurant, bar and cafe feels like a best kept secret. However, I’m prone to sharing all of my own secrets. The primary draw to LIC for many visitors is MoMA PS1 which presents exhibitions of equal caliber to its city counterpart. After having worked in the area for the latter half of last year, it very quickly became my new stomping ground, albeit with a small-town kind of .
I was first seduced by Domaine Wine Bar (50-04 Vernon Boulevard) which is next to the Vernon-Jackson train stop. Perfect for last minute decisions or pit-stops, and even better if you haven’t got a grip of the Queens grid system. The moment you step through the doors you are in a timeless cavern decked out with white tiles, minimal seating and a fantastic compilation of music. The mood has been exacted on every visit. Francophiles should be chomping at the bit to get here as French owners Pascal Ecriout et Robert Gonçalves have managed to instill their Gallic sensibility into every nook of the bar, without being too kitsch about it. Even though it’s a wine bar with an extensive list of forty wines, the ale is delicious and one may ask for liquor without being frowned upon. This is in part due to Ciprian ‘Chip’ Toma, sommelier and every patron’s new best friend, who was able to “adjust” my malbec fixation.
Although LIC is far from being nostalgic. It is very hip to the third wave of coffee culture with Sweetleaf Coffee and Espresso Bar (10-93 Jackson Avenue) just around the corner. What’s cooler than a coffee store named after a Black Sabbath song? A coffee bar serving espresso shots using La Marzocco’s Strada EP. An espresso machine that uses jet engine technology, and allows the barista to control the pressure with each shot and then records this information which can be saved to an electronic device. This sci-fi beauty, which was the first in the City, has drawn coffee geeks into LIC for a daily fix of coffee selected from Stumptown and (an even rarer find in NYC) Ritual. Even though this spot has had a devoted following from the neighborhood since its opening a couple of years ago, new customers are stopping by daily for their perfectly executed drinks. Pour-overs, cold brew and iced-coffee is served all year round. The baristas are talented, nonchalant, friendly and passionate. Sharing their passion is co-owner Rich Nieto, a self-confessed coffee geek. The interior, built by mysteriously cool co-owner Freddy, is a delightful mish-mash of salvaged wood and auction finds. There’s space dedicated for laptops and a vinyl room is located at the back of the store where you can play anything from Abba to Zappa. Pastries are made on site and there are vegan and gluten-free offerings daily. All of this overlooks the Pulaski Bridge. Word on the street is Sweetleaf are to open a new location.
The food scene in LIC continues to focus on fresh and seasonal, but, primarily comfort. Alewife (5-14 51st Avenue) is not only a well-thought out gastro-pub but also a dedicated craft-ale bar. With its ever-evolving draught list and dinners that stick to your ribs it’s hard to leave this one out. I am still yet to try the raved-about brunch here. Speaking of which, there are a handful of decent brunch spots but a new favorite of mine has to be LIC Market (21-52 44th Drive). Located in an actual market the restaurant is homey yet very serious about quality food. As proven by my oyster mushroom hash. But given that it is still “winter” I don’t really have the impetus to venue hop, which is why I am grateful for the anomaly that is The Creek and Cave (10-93 Jackson Avenue). Essentially, this is a three-in-one kind of deal; there’s a Mexican restaurant, bar and comedy club. Yes.
Starting with the restaurant: burritos, tacos and flautas are all present and delectable with very fair price points. Surprisingly, The Creek Burger is so very good (I have one weekly) and The Creek Salad will not induce any New Years’ diet resolution guilt. My favorite part is that tortilla chips come with everything and I suggest you skip the tasty salsa and go straight for the mini-mountain of guacamole. These chips go even better with happy hour downstairs at the bar where Megan and Liz will serve you the most potent margaritas I’ve had this side of the border. So tasty, so dangerous.
The bar is sort of split into two section one of which provides spill-over for open mics and launch parties alike. The greatest thing about this place is that you can show up and something will be happening. In the theater there are shows every night most of which ask for no cover. The heart of The Creek has to be owner Rebecca A. Trent. What this woman does for these rising starlets is unparalleled in the New York City Comedy scene and like her neighbors over at Sweetleaf things are set to get bigger this year. With plans to make this an even better comedy venue she has launched a Kickstarter project appeal which I suggest we all go take a look at with our wallets. Meanwhile, get your comedy fix on at Cave Comedy Radio. That’s right; they have their own comedy radio station.
And you thought there was nothing going on in LIC…
–Nikkita Flavius-Gottschalk is a Contributor to The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.