The NYC Hood Most Tourists Miss Out On (But That’s Why It’s So Great)

published Dec 17, 2018
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You’re more likely to see someone in Paris sporting a “Brooklyn” tee than a “Queens” one, but despite that (or maybe because of it), Queens’ greatest neighborhoods are among New York City’s most appealing right now (especially since Amazon’s HQ2 is moving in soon). Hop on an uptown N or W, and you’ll soon find yourself in one of them: Astoria, the colorful and unselfconscious neighborhood that stands across the East River from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Occasionally—and almost accidentally—hip, Astoria is one of those New York City neighborhoods that really feels lived in—no mean feat in a city where living anywhere is more often than not an economic stretch. That’s not to say that this old Greek neighborhood hasn’t been transformed by waves of Broadway actors and yuppies, but there’s plenty of authenticity left beneath the elevated subway tracks and on thoroughfares like Ditmars Boulevard, 30th Avenue, and Broadway. Astoria has a relatively high and diverse homeownership rate, which has limited gentrification for now. And there is a large and diverse immigrant population that mixes with the domestic arrivals—in fact, there are more languages spoken in Queens than anywhere else in the world. We’ve seen plenty of new luxury buildings pop up here in the past decade, but most of the neighborhood landmarks have so far survived it all.

Here’s looking at a few of them, old and new, with a help of Bridget Mallon, fellow Astoria resident and Apartment Therapy‘s design editor. Here, she takes you around a tour of our neighborhood in the third episode of “Zip Code,” a new series exploring the best of everything in our favorite neighborhoods—whether you live there, move there, or just want to visit.

Watch the third episode of Zip Code:

A local’s guide to Astoria, Queens

Describe the neighborhood in three words: “Diverse and comfortable”

The basics:

Median rents: $1,900 for a one-bedroom and $2,300 for a two-bedroom, according to Curbed.

Median house price: $715,500, according to Zillow.

Walkability score: 95, according to Walk Score.

Average commute: Astoria is on the N/W subway line, which will get you to midtown Manhattan in about a half-hour.

Best local bookstore: Astoria Bookshop.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best place to get coffee: Gossip Coffee for the usual stuff. At night they serve cocktails, too. They also serve stuffed Duchess Cookies that are cooked only 80 percent of the way, so they’re soft and gooey. Head to Cafe Boulis for Greek coffee and more.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best bar for when you want to be around people: Where else but the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden? It’s a Czech beer garden with a huge back garden.

Best bar for when you want to be alone: Sparrow Tavern.

Best free cultural thing to take part in: Any of the several summer street fairs run by Astoria’s Greek Orthodox churches.

Best gyro: BZ Grill.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best street for finding a birthday gift: Skip the chains on Steinway Street and head up to Ditmars Boulevard for unique local shops. Bridget says the best place to buy gifts in the area is Lockwood, which has three locations between Broadway and 33rd. One location has home goods and giftables, and the one down the street has cards and other paper goods, and the third location has apparel.

Something only locals know: There are a lot of a good beer specials and a few good wing specials to be had in Astoria, but Blackbird’s is crazy enough to have them on the same night (Wednesday).

Hidden gem: Astoria’s best bagels are being served up at Bagelberry, the unassuming mostly-bagels joint that inexplicably also serves fried chicken, Korean food, and smoothies. (Please pretend you didn’t read this and keep going to Brooklyn Bagel). Also Titan Foods is a great Greek supermarket in the neighborhood.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best spot for an Instagram: Line up shots of Astoria Park and the Manhattan skyline from between and beneath the iconic Triboro and Hell Gate bridges. Bridget also recommends stopping by [sek’end sun] for a happy hour wine and a shot of the huge neon Queen sign at the back of the bar.

Overrated spot: The Beer Garden on a Saturday night, when all of Manhattan has arrived to get a little air.

Underrated spot: It’s that same Beer Garden on Sunday afternoon, full of sun and devoid of investment bankers.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot: Take a camping hammock to the northern reaches of Astoria Park, where cooperative trees make it easy to find a spot to hang for the day.

Best date spot: Prove to your date that you’re one of those MUSEUM PEOPLE and head to the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s dedicated to (what else?) the history of film! The exhibits display costumes and sets from TV shows and movies. If you’re not into walking around a museum, you can catch a showing at their in-house theater—they play classics, newer films, and rarities.

Best alone spot: Socrates Sculpture Park—Astoria’s other, and less crowded, riverside park.

Best place for a workout: Hit the southern end of Astoria park and use the track, tennis courts, and other installations.

Best place take an out-of-towner: Singlecut Beersmiths.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best brunch: Queens Comfort—probably the most famous brunch spot in Astoria. It’s full of super fun, kitschy decor and delicious and decadent food.

Best bakery: Artopolis Bakery has baklava à la carte!

Insider tip: Bahari Estiatorio is the place to go to when every other taverna is closed.

Parking tip: Alternate-side parking makes Astoria a cutthroat place for car owners, but those willing to walk a bit can seek a spot along Astoria Park or in the northern end of the neighborhood, where street cleaning is less frequent.

Best free activity: Do some good for your neighborhood and meet some great people by helping out the Astoria Park Alliance on most warm-weather Saturdays.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Best local celebrity: Astoria has given us national celebrities like Christopher Walken and Tony Bennett, but the local celebrity who rules the roost these days is the gentleman who manages the brunch line at Queens Comfort (see “Best brunch” above). It’s a thing. Additionally, it’s home to Kaufman Astoria Studios, so you may see a celeb walking around every once and awhile.

Claims to fame: Astoria is the birthplace of Steinway Pianos, was the nation’s largest Greek-American neighborhood for decades, and is now a thriving and diverse community just a stone’s throw from Manhattan.