Telling someone you’re going to Queens garners the same response you might get telling them you’re going to Siberia. They’re both far away unknown lands with only one way in and one way out. Nobody ventures there intentionally.
Rex and I know, however, that Queens deserves way more credit than it receives.
While roughly half of the population of Queens is foreign born and the diversity of this borough manifests itself in neighborhoods that resemble somewhere in India more than somewhere in the United States, the neighborhood I know and love best is Long Island City (not to be confused with Long Island or with the fact that LIC is a neighborhood in Queens and not an actually city).
The attraction to Long Island City is that it’s one stop from Manhattan on the E, M, F, N, Q, R, and 7 trains. In other words, you can’t find a more connected area. It only takes 10 minutes on the train to get to Midtown Manhattan from anywhere in LIC, a commute most New Yorkers would kill—or pay way too much money—to have.
While the only dogs officially allowed on the subways are service dogs or dogs that fit in a carrier, nobody has ever stopped Rex from getting on a train. Granted, I don’t flaunt him in front of subway employees and if I see that someone is scared of him or might be allergic, I move to the next train car. Let’s face it, the trains are loud and smelly as it is; what’s an adorable pooch gonna do besides make a few people smile?
What’s better than the ease of transportation is the view. You can’t have a view of Manhattan if you are in Manhattan, but if you hop across the East River to Long Island City you can see everything from Midtown to Downtown.
Prior to Mayor Giuliani, one could cruise past abandoned factories and empty lots in LIC to pick up girls by the hour or get your next fix, but in 2001, the area was rezoned to allow for residential use and the landscape is now unrecognizable in some places. High-rises are popping up everywhere you turn and the population is growing rapidly. Still, with all the new construction, parts of the neighborhood are stuck in the 1970s, and roaming from block to block is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan sidewalks. You can walk 5 minutes without seeing another person, a magnificent rarity in a city where you tend to be more intimate with a fellow crowded-train rider than the person (or hound) with whom you share your bed.
With its pleasantly deserted blocks and the kind of sunshine you don’t find too often in the city, LIC makes for a quiet refuge. The sky isn’t blocked by buildings like in Midtown nor is there the smell of cigarettes and gas like you might find in Brooklyn. The warmth shining down makes you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and forget your worries for a moment.
On a blustery Sunday morning in early April, we headed across the river in search of fresh air and coffee. We had opted for the 30-minute drive from our home base in Brooklyn instead of the hour long subway ride. Two loops around the block and we found free parking on the street.
The plethora of parking is another great thing about Long Island City. Like anywhere in New York you have to look for signs about street cleaning, church services, active driveways, etc., but even on a gorgeous day it only took us a few minutes to find free parking. You will also come across paid parking lots if you feel like giving up but I’m of the mentality that driving around for an extra 10 minutes is worth saving the money for much needed coffee.
After parking, we walked toward the water in search of LIC Landing by COFFEED. We found it and Rex was fit to be tied.
Mom! Look! There’s grass in the city!
This ‘coffee’ location is built like a concession stand- a fancy one. There is a pick-up window but you can get table service under the Hunter’s Point South park pavilion. The surrounding area features a 2000 sq-ft outdoor event and green space, which will be home to both public and private events, and all of it is set against a stunning backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
LIC Landing roasts their own coffee, bakes their own pastries, and sources a lot of the produce featured in other offerings from the roof of their flagship location. Yeah, they grow their food on the roof. Welcome to New York. They also serve craft beers and fine wines.
Maybe the best thing about this company is they donate 3-10% of all gross revenue to local charities; Hunter’s Point Park Conservancy benefits from proceeds at LIC Landing and you can plainly see where their money goes. This is a cup of coffee you can feel good about enjoying and at $2.25 it doesn’t break the bank.
Rex wasn’t too keen on the sitting part, so with coffee in hand we ventured north along the boardwalk. Thankfully, each step Rex took was a little closer to canine serenity and he calmed down enough for us to take a breather on a bench. Sitting on a bench by the East River, gazing across the water at Manhattan…Rex’s leash in one hand, a steaming cup of joe in the other…. Inhale. Exhale. What more could you need?
Exercise! Apparently, Rex needed exercise. Half a cup down, I felt ready to move again.
Not too far from our bench is one of my favorite dog parks in New York. Many of the dog parks here are dirt or pea gravel, but the dog run at Hunters Point South is all concrete. I know you’re thinking that’s not great for the dogs, but since grass is, in general, a lost commodity unless you’re in LIC, concrete is a godsend for doggy parents who don’t want another muddy mess. Or travelers headed back to a hotel room.
After Rex expended some energy and I had seen enough butt sniffing to last a lifetime, we leashed up and headed out. There was a flea market we were missing.
The current trend across NYC is outdoor flea markets with food vendors. Most occur every Saturday and Sunday from mid-April until the end of October and the one in Queens was just a 10-minute walk northeast from the dog park.
As a tourist side-note, if you head straight north along the boardwalk, you will find the iconic Pepsi Cola sign. The 80 year old neon sign is 60 feet high by 120 feet long and once sat atop the Pepsi bottling plant in LIC. It has been situated in the park since 2009. Calling it one of “the most recognizable features” on the waterfront, the sign was recently designated a city landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
On this particular day though, we were more interested in the flea market.
A smaller version of what you would find at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg (which is huge and wonderful, but doesn’t allow dogs), the LIC Flea & Food is an eclectic maze of everything from ramen noodles to refurbished dressers. You can spend enough time there for your skin to go from pasty white to full on lobster—trust me—but, if you don’t have a lot of money to blow, you may just want to wander for an hour. There are plenty of sites and sniffs to be had, and we had transitioned into snack mode.
My usual tactic is to make an initial loop around the perimeter to see what all of my choices are, but right out of the gate I saw Oconomi, a stand selling Japanese vegetable pancakes—a classic savory Japanese street food made with cabbage and other vegetables (and sometimes meat) that is all mixed together then fried on a skillet like a pancake. I chose a meatless version of cabbage and scallion with the classic sauce, which resembles a tangy BBQ.
Although this is my personal cup of tea, you could try a burger, pickles, chocolates, or any number of other snacks. When it’s warm, why not grab a drink, too? Then sit to enjoy it in the beer garden located at the back end of the lot. Just make sure you have cash as not all vendors have card readers.
LIC Flea & Food is definitely dog-friendly and I’d read reviews saying that many of the vendors put water bowls out for the pups, but we didn’t come across any. Maybe it was the cold weather or maybe they were just a little underprepared for opening weekend, but a couple of laps with mom stopping to look at jewelry, dresses, art, and food had Rex panting. I was getting thirsty myself, so to the brewery we went.
Directly across the street from the market is a brewery that, according to Yelp reviews, allows dogs. Unfortunately, upon reaching the door we encountered a sign that read, “Sorry, no pets until further notice.” You just can’t trust the internet.
Thankfully, I had a backup plan.
Another 10-minute walk north is Big Alice Brewing. They’re a nano-brewery serving up very small batches of craft beer made from locally grown farm ingredients. The tiny batches they make allows them to experiment with innovative and unexpected flavors like the Jalapeño Rye, which has an amazing aroma, but none of the heat. We learned they accomplish this by taking the seeds out of the jalapeños prior to brewing—a fun fact that was just one of the many things, including dog treats, the bartender contributed.
He had a treat in his hand for Rex before I was even fully inside the door. He also put a water bowl out for him, and made sure the other patrons were okay with me taking him off the leash before I did so. We need more people like him in the world.
Some other things I learned about Big Alice: Not only do they allow well-behaved dogs, but they allow well-behaved kids (Kate and Rex got along just great!); they have no desire to be a bar of drunken chaos and therefore close around 10pm; and they allow you to bring in outside food to eat while you enjoy their brews.
If all that doesn’t have you marking your thirst-quenching Queens agenda, then let me tell you about the space. Located in an industrial pocket of the neighborhood, the walk there was of the pleasant deserted nature I previously mentioned. The inside of Big Alice Brewing reflects its surroundings- concrete floors, a metal bar, a huge skylight, and only seats about 10 people. The simplicity of design makes you appreciate that these people’s number one focus is brewing.
After my fair share of taste testing and relaxing, my pancake was wearing off. The plan was to walk the 20 minutes back south to the car then drive to Astoria (a 10 minute drive, 20 minute train ride, or 30 minute walk from Big Alice) for a late lunch at Gastroteca. We never made it.
3:00 pm was fast approaching and just as I began to fade, we stumbled upon an Indian food cart. I’ll never tire of this convenience found so few other places in the world. Rather than take Rex somewhere he was bound to be jealous of all the patrons’ food, I grabbed some vegetarian fare from the incredibly friendly gentleman at Mysttik Masala and took it home.
If you don’t have a nearby home to take your togo, don’t fret. You and your 20-pound dog will be welcomed (for an extra $25 per night pet fee) at Z NYC Hotel. This 14-story tower has unbeatable views of Manhattan, an industrial chic atmosphere with clean and comfortable guest rooms, a rooftop bar even native New Yorkers have been known to rave about, FREE self-parking, and complimentary transportation for you and your pup to and from Manhattan every hour on the hour. If the subway is more your style remember that you have nearly every train necessary to go anywhere in NYC just steps away. Z NYC Hotel is located very near the places Rex and I ventured— a 12-minute walk to LIC Flea & Food and 4 minutes to Big Alice Brewing. How’s that for convenience?
As a visitor to New York, just know that you don’t have to spend all of your time in Times Square or Central Park to enjoy the city. Queens may not have the hype, but there’s a lot more room to breathe.
P.S. If your best friend weighs more than 20 pounds, check out Wyndham Garden Long Island City. It’s not the unique boutique that Z NYC Hotel is, but for a refundable $250 pet deposit and the lower rates you’ll be saving bundles. Even with the $27 per day parking, you could end up saving money. The Wyndham Garden has great views of the Manhattan skyline and the Queensboro Bridge and happens to be just a 4-minute walk to Big Alice Brewing and wins out with a 6-minute walk to LIC Flea & Food!
P.P.S. If you have a Broadway show or a day of shopping on 5th Avenue planned, drop your pooch off with Olivia at Lucky Paws. It’ll take you about 10 minutes to walk there from either hotel; daycare for 5 hours is $20 and longer than that is $30. The dogs get to play with each other all day with uninterrupted supervision and they get put in their own little cubicle to eat so nobody else steals their food! Olivia lives upstairs from the daycare and loves 4-legged overnight guests if you think it’ll be a late night. All of the dogs sleep on their beds in her room or even in bed with her. You’ll never feel guilty leaving your pup behind with Olivia!
After moving to New York City from Arkansas in May 2014, Kammie Melton finally found her first big girl job and settled in Brooklyn. Shortly thereafter, she adopted Rex, an 11 year old Husky-Beagle mix, from Animal Care Centers of NYC. Kammie is frequently distracted by food trucks and rarely makes it to actual restaurants. Rex just wishes she’d eat meat.
A follow-up to Brooklyn Ain’t Ruff, this is their second guest post for Travel Tails.