Why Queens Is New York's Most Underrated Borough

Photo by Mishella/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Soo Kim, The Telegraph, September 7, 2018

In a scene of the new film Crazy Rich Asians, the lead character Nick Young (a posh New Yorker from a wealthy Singaporean family) asks his girlfriend: “What about us taking a little adventure east?”, to which she hesitantly replies with furrowed brows: “Like... Queens?”

This sceptical stance is echoed by many tourists (and some elitist Manhattan and Brooklyn residents) who turn their noses up at the idea of exploring this unappreciated territory on their doorstep.

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Thousands flock to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, home of the annual US Open tennis championship (which finishes this weekend) yet not many, if any, stick around to explore the rest of Queens.

But the borough has come a long way since the days when I lived on its eclectic streets (following my upbringing in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg; before its ‘Shoredification’). 

While Brooklyn has long been the new Manhattan, Queens is quickly becoming the new Brooklyn, with pockets of under-the-radar venues waiting to be discovered by hipster millennials and sophisticated jet-setters alike. Here are some of the places worth exploring. And you don’t need to be that adventurous (or a crazy rich Asian) to seek them out.

Flushing | Where does the name come from? 

Step back in time on vintage fairgrounds

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is also home to another major sports complex: Citi Field (the home stadium of the New York Mets baseball team), at the north end of the park.

Not a fan of sports? There’s plenty of culture to be absorbed throughout the sprawling 900-acre park, which still houses vestiges of its heydey, when it hosted the World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964. Look out for the Unisphere globe and the New York State Pavilion (which featured in the Men in Black films of 1997 and 2012), as well as the Flushing Meadow Carousel, built for the 1964 fair, which is still in operation.

Go for a stroll through Queens Botanical Gardens, which dates back even further, to the 1939 World’s Fair, or the Kew Garden Hills area where the Paul Simon grew up. The musician will perform the last concert of his farewell tour at Flushing Meadows Corona Park later this month.

Other venues worth visiting include the bright and airy Queens Museum, which sits in the former HQ of the UN General Assembly, and the Queens Theatre, offering a variety of performance art.

Poke around Queens Zoo and the New York Hall of Science (one of the country’s first science museums, built in 1964), where both kids and adults can be entertained for hours with the interactive exhibitions.

16 weird and wonderful landmarks built for World's Fairs 

Tuck into an Asian feast 

If you’re feeling peckish, hop on the 7 train, getting off at its final station Main Street (one stop from Flushing Meadow Corona Park).

While Manhattan’s Chinatown is home to the largest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere, most of New York’s Chinese population resides in the borough of Queens and Flushing is home to one of fastest growing and largest Chinese communities outside of Asia.

Chinese food enthusiasts will want to make a stop at Joe’s Shanghai, a Flushing institution featured in the Michelin Guide. Specialising in Shanghai cuisine, it is famous localally for its soup dumplings.

Wander further down Northern Boulevard to have your pick from a string of other Asian supermarkets and restaurants including Korean (Kum Gang San at 138-28 Northern Blvd is good for a spread of Korean staples) and Korean Chinese (Sam Won Gahk at 144-20 Northern Blvd has long been a favourite in my family - classic dishes to try include the fried chicken in hot pepper sauce, noodles with black bean sauce and the hot seafood noodle soup).

Explore the original Hollywood 

The American film industry was based on the east coast before the birth of Hollywood in the early Thirties. Major cinema companies, including Paramount Pictures (the second oldest surviving film studio in the country and fifth oldest in the world), based their operations in New York, and several films, such as the first Sherlock Holmes sound film (The Return of Sherlock Holmes), were shot at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

The historic studio, built in 1920, was declared a national historic district in 1978 and was where other major films, including Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way, and several classic American television programmes, such as Sesame Street, were later shot.

Kaufman Astoria Studios sits adjacent to the fascinating Museum of the Moving Image, the only museum in the country dedicated to exploring the art, history and technology of the moving image, with a collection of more than 130,000 quirky artefacts. One of the museum’s permanent exhibitions is devoted to the life and work of Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets characters. 

Astoria is also traditionally known for its Greek communities, where you can find plenty of Greek food (try  Ovelia ), and other Mediterranean cuisine. Visitors can also find Brazilian, Indian and Middle Eastern food options too.

Visit of one of the country's oldest art institutions

Bordering Astoria, Long Island City (LIC) has been one of the city’s fastest growing areas for a while, and offers thriving art galleries and a waterfront location overlooking the East River. The area was once home to several factories such as the Silvercup bakery which today is Silvercup Studios, the company that produced some of the city’s most iconic television series such as HBO’s Sex and the City and The Sopranos.

The MoMA PS1 (established in 1971 and affiliated with the MoMA in Manhattan since 2000) is one of the country’s oldest and largest galleries dedicated to contemporary art. Welcoming nearly 200,000 visitors a year, it is one of LIC’s most popular attractions. 

Other fascinating art venues to explore include the Noguchi Museum, showcasing the work of the late Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and the outdoor Socrates Sculpture Park just down the road.

Watersports enthusiasts should make the most of the LIC Community Boathouse which offers activities on the East River, including free kayaking sessions at the weekends.

For 360-degree views of the Manhattan skyline, head to the rooftop bar of the Z NYC Hotel.

Things you didn't know about New York - Boroughs 

Discover the birthplace of the Ramones and Simon & Garkfunkel 

This historic Forest Hills neighbourhood is known as the birthplace of the Ramones and Simon & Garfunkel (Art was born and raised locally, while Paul attended Forest Hills High School) features lots of beautiful tree-lined streets and Tudor-style homes.

Go for a wander down Austin Street, which offers lots of independent shops and restaurants, and through Station Square, where former US president Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech on July 4 in 1917.   

Go surfing in the city

Beyond the much-loved Coney Island, the Big Apple offers a host of sandy beaches just a short metro or car journey from Queens, including Rockaway Beach (immortalised by The Ramones) and Long Beach. Surfing is popular at both.

Long Beach sits on Long Beach Barrier Island, just off Long Island’s South Shore, which is bordered by Queens on its western end. It’s home to a host of small beachside communities, including celebrity haunt The Hamptons at its eastern end.

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This article was written by Soo Kim from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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