Beercation: Queens, New York
While Brooklyn may be the borough best known around the world, not many places in the country can rival the rich culinary intricacies of Queens, New York. The original “melting pot,” dubbed the most diverse place in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, is an interwoven community of many global cultures that in recent years has formed a diverse craftbeer culture. By Cat Wolinski
MORE THAN FIFTY DISTINCT
neighborhoods make up Queens County: Astoria, in the north, is home to New York’s “Little Egypt,” with many residents originating in the Mediterranean and Middle East; further central, Ridgewood is largely inhabited by Latino and Hispanic families; stretching up past JFK Airport, Jamaica is predominantly African American; Flushing claims one of the largest Chinese populations outside Asia; and back northeast in Bayside, Italian, Irish, and Germans and their American descendants reside.
In this densely populated, immensely diverse community of immigrants and their offspring, a collective entrepreneurial spirit is evidenced throughout, visible and palpable in the many bars and restaurants throughout the borough. In fact, with the exception of Brooklyn Brewery’s 1988 debut, Queens is really where New York’s craft-brewing revolution cranked into gear.
It all started in 2012, when Singlecut Beersmiths, in Astoria, and Rockaway Brewing Company, in Long Island City, opened their doors, and residents’ eyes and minds, to locally brewed beer.
Singlecut Beersmiths, located at Astoria’s northernmost tip in a middle-class neighborhood known as Ditmars, brought rock-and-roll and bold beer to a location better known for its supermarket across the street. The music theme is somewhat subtle for those not well-versed in guitar riffs, lyrics, and lingo, but more obvious than the oft-obscure beer names (Softly Spoken Magic Spells, Weird, and Gilly) are the blatant flavors they provide: West Coast–inspired, East Coast–interpreted hops bombs take center stage here in a robust portfolio of IPAS and IPLS. (For something softer on the palate, the 19-33 Pilsner, named for the brewery address as well as Prohibition’s end, pleases hopheads and basic beer lovers alike.)
The century-old Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden has been slinging Czech food and beer since 1910; the backyard bar, with its massive square footage and plethora of picnic tables, proves a good place to catch a European football match. Astoria Bier & Cheese–ditmars, sister location to the original about a mile south, offers upward of 150 types of cheese, more than forty charcuteries, and 350 or so beers in bottles, cans, and on draft, available to drink on site or to go. For a candlelit date night, head to Crescent & Vine, a wine bar that regularly features live jazz. Walk a few more blocks west and you’ll hit Bow-
ery Bay Bar, a reclamation, whiskey- and farm-to-table-focused boutique bar named for the forgotten body of water and beach resort now home to Laguardia Airport.
Running west-east on a downward slant across Astoria’s middle section is the invigorating 30th Avenue, where one could spend the entire day bar hopping (with plenty of opportunities for snacks and shopping along the way). Starting from the subway train entrance and moving east, standouts are Judy & Punch, a craft beer– and cocktail-focused pub with a perfect people-watching storefront window as well as a pleasant backyard. William Hallet offers family-friendly, but still chic, comfort food in a dimly lit setting; Blackbirds boasts daily happy-hour deals to pair with its brews; and for the traditionalists, Max Bratwurst Und Bier is the spot for German brats, platters, and classic European lagers in hefty mugs.
Worth the short walk southward from 30th Avenue is the Local, a loveable pub that manages to marry the comfortable vibes of a dive with clean environs and a virtuous craft-centric beer selection. Take your pick from the twenty taps mixing locals, regionals, and rarities, then stay for a chat with the friendly staff, and if you’re lucky, the even friendlier locals known to close down the bar at dawn.
Calling those who love all things artisanal is the Queens Kickshaw, a great place for a break and a drink, be it beer, cider, or coffee; the grilled cheese menu is also advisable. Oliver’s beckons nearby with floor-to-ceiling windows, open on warmer days, and a robust menu of appetizers, entrees, and beers, an ideal setting for a bite and a breeze.
The original Astoria Bier and Cheese (next door to its predecessor, Astoria Wine and Liquor), is an absolute can’t miss for those who seek craft beer, meats, and cheeses in a casual cafe setting. Barbeque, beer, and whiskey await in the rusticmeets-industrial Strand Smokehouse.
The last leg of Astoria before Long Island City offers a quiet respite with a handful of clever craft-beer and food options. Rest-aurant, or RAR Bar, offers tapas-style snacks to pair with beer or wine; Snowdonia sets the stage for Welsh food and craft brews; and Sunswick 35/35, the area’s original craft-beer bar, is easy to miss but not to be overlooked: better-than-expected pub grub and an excellent selection of brews hide inside.
For those missing the glory days of college, Studio Square, an event space and beer garden that’s spacious and modern inside and out, draws a younger crowd with its booming music and clubby vibe.
A few minutes’ walk off the path, but still nearby, is Iconyc, which recently debuted its taproom focusing on farmhouse-style brews.
Long Island City
Long Island City is arguably the most densely-packed brewery district of New York City, and it shows no sign of stopping. Better yet, most breweries and bars are easily accessible in a day or so on foot (even easier by bike).
Transmitter Brewing distinguished itself as one of New York’s best breweries when it stepped onto the scene with its yeast-focused, refined farmhouse ales in large-format bottles. Each beer is designed with a traditional yet inventive approach, and the taproom, though small, is worth the squeeze to taste what’s fresh (and take home some bottles).
Alewife offers a constantly rotating, oft-humorously written, beer menu and tasty fare, though the space can get hectic and less attentive. Relative newcomer, Bierocracy brings a Bavarian-style beer hall into a modern setting with its circular bar and slightly pricier brat and beer options (note the luxury condos looming nearby).
Beer-conscious bars and restaurants are aplenty heading up and around Vernon Boulevard: Woodbines for Irish bites and whiskey flights; Alobar for inventive dishes (plus about 100 whiskies) that have earned the restaurant Michelin Bib Gourmand awards; John Brown Smokehouse is a destination for casual, counter-style Kansas City-style BBQ starring succulent meat candy and sloppy sides atop lunch trays and checker print tablecloths. Expect a line.
Backtrack to Rockaway Brewing Company (its original location; recently, the company also opened a new location in the place of its namesake), where English-style beers have evolved into more American and East Coast styles (Da Beach, Hawaiian Pizza). Practically next door, Fifth Hammer Brewing, in its buildout at press time, is expected to open its doors in late 2017. Between them is the Gutter, a grungy bowling alley bar originating in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that got a facelift in Queens; the fresh space offers a great group activity opportunity.
The outlier, in terms of bar-crawl geography, is LIC Beer Project, a brewery worth the 20-minute trek (or short ride) north. The impressive space—enormous by New York City standards—is home to the city’s only coolship, and the brewery pours a steady supply of Belgian-style wild ales and saisons along with plenty of crowd pleasers such as their Kölsch and bright, hazy IPAS, which are also available in cans.
Finally, look for the neon green-bordered “BEER” sign and coordinating door around the corner for Big Alice Brewing, one of New York’s smallest, but most spirited, beer makers, having hundreds of experimental one-offs under its proverbial belt. Monthly nonprofit partnerships also help them stand out from the crowd.
Ridgewood is New York City’s next craftbeer frontier, with trendy establishments starting to pop up around every corner. Bridge & Tunnel Brewery was the first brewery to arrive, proudly boasting a DIY, mom-and-pop aesthetic and authenticity.
Craft Culture, which celebrated its grand opening in June, brings a brightly lit, marble-white bar and tasting room/bottle shop to the area, focusing on local beers from Queens and Brooklyn, as well as some farther-reaching brews, with small plates, such as spicy, crispy empanadas, that reflect the neighborhood. Julia’s offers a smaller selection of local beer, emphasizing organic wines, homemade crackers, and other snacks.
Pioneer beer bars here are the Monk, a Belgian-style (and Belgian bottle–stocked) beer cafe with light bites, and Onderdonk and Sons, an unassuming beer and wine bar worth a late afternoon beer, burger, and fries combo.
Then, head to Glendale, where Finback Brewery, the Kickstarter success story tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, is producing some of New York’s trendiest beers. First timers will benefit from a custom flight to witness Finback’s versatility-driven styles spanning barrel-aged stouts and fruited sours to pale ales and IPAS.
Mikkeller, the Danish brewer that operates dozens of bars around the globe (plus a brewery in San Diego), will be making its East Coast debut at Queens’ Citi Field stadium. Swing by before a Mets game or visit anytime year-round to peruse sixty brews on tap (by Mikkeller and others) in a modern-design setting. Restaurant collaborations are being planned to spruce up the food menu.
Forest Hills, Bayside, and Woodside
For the adventurous, Forest Hills is a simple trip from Penn Station via Long Island Railroad (LIRR) or via any entry point of the subway’s E train. Here, Station House is dressed to impress with a digital beer menu, juicy burgers, platters, and poutines, and nearby Austin Street provides the setting for an aimless amble or shopping spree.
Another LIRR stop that’s basically suburbia, only with more bars, is Bayside’s Bell Boulevard. The craft culture hasn’t quite caught on here yet, but Irish pubs and family-style restaurants are nearly infinite (Maggie May’s, Donovan’s, Bourbon Street). The unexpected champion here is Press 195, a sandwich shop where you can enjoy a mean panini (either from the lengthy menu or custom ordered), Belgian frites, and a craft brew in the backyard.
In Woodside, head to Unidentified Flying Chickens for crispy Korean chicken wings and craft beer in the basement.
Finally, for the beach bums, there’s Rockaway Beach. Rockaway Brewing recently opened its surf-inspired second location here just a few minutes from the shore. A third location is planned for the future.
Below » LIC Beer Project is worth the out-of-the-way trip.
Above » Grab some barbecue at John Brown Smokehouse;
Left » Long Island City is a craft-beer hotbed, and Fifth Hammer is joining neighbors such as Rockaway Brewing, Alewife, and Transmitter Brewing in the burgeoning craft-beer neighborhood.