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‘Queens Is What Manhattan Was Before It Lost Its Soul’

Astoria is cool — but hopefully not too cool.

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ASTORIA, Queens, New York City- I need to set the scene:

Around the corner from me is Ruby’s Candy and Grocery. It sits next to Jack’s Shoe Repair. Another door down is Amber’s Barbershop, which is located right next to Angela’s Wine & Spirits. Lloyd works at the Duane Reade at the end of my street. A block from there Andrew fixes my broken phones and tablets. Antonio owns the discount household goods shop.

This is a place where people have names — it’s an urban neighborhood that hasn’t lost its essence. There are people in the streets, most of the shops and cafes are unique and many have the owners working in them or are at least locally owned.

The place is diverse: 49% white (Greeks and Eastern Europeans, mostly), 25% hispanic, 15% Asian, 5% black, and something like 7 Pacific Islanders and an Eskimo. You walk down the streets here and hear a half dozen different languages. There are foods from everywhere made by people who are really from there.

There are also cheap dive bars and cafes on every block — which gives the place a hip kind of feel and keeps people in the streets. There’s a speakeasy-like bar around the corner that doesn’t have a sign that I only know about because some girl wrote the address down on a napkin for me and another speakeasy that’s behind the facade of a hardware store. There is also NYC’s only beer garden — a giant place, apparently, although I haven’t been there yet.

I’m staying in Astoria, a neighborhood the western flank of Queens which ended up being the New York City that I was looking for when I came to set up a base of operations here a couple of months ago: a place made up of everywhere.

However, change may be near. Just yesterday, Time Out magazine declared Astoria the eight coolest neighborhood in the world:

You could think of Astoria as a more sensible, melting-potty alternative to overdeveloped North Brooklyn – and not just because the rents are way more affordable. From the stretch of Steinway Street lined with Egyptian restaurants and hookah bars to the gorgeous street art at the Welling Court Mural Project and some of the city’s most idiosyncratic museums, it’s got all the diversity, flavour and energy that some people complain you can’t find in New York these days.

Apparently, it’s also the number one neighborhood in NYC that millenials are looking for an apartment in.

When I tell people that I’ve set up a base of operations here they say, “That’s a cool place.” I say, “I know.”

Although I didn’t know before I got here.

As you may remember, I wasn’t exactly looking for cool when I rented an apartment in Astoria — I was actually trying to escape it. To be honest, I just put my finger down on a map of NYC where a north-south Brooklyn bound subway line intersected with an east-west Manhattan bound subway line and said, “There, that’s the place.” It was simple travel logic.

I have no idea what this place is becoming — hopefully, the moneyed locust won’t swarm in and eradicate the very elements that make Astoria a place that people want to be.

The other side is that I’ve set up a base of operations in a place that people actually want to visit. I’ve been showing people around my neighborhood, sharing a place with others. Business associates have come in, my wife’s parents have visited, my parents stayed with us, and last week my best friend from where I grew up was here. It’s a complete role reversal — my entire adult life was spent being shown around places by others. I’m kind of digging repaying the gesture.



Filed under: New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3689 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

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  • Kyle B. September 19, 2019, 9:41 am

    Astoria is great, though I wouldn’t worry about it being overrun any time soon, at least not completely. We were worried our neighborhood might get “cool”, by which I mean they’d raise our rent, after the Trader Joe’s opened down the street across from the trendy Australian brunch restaurant. It hasn’t happened (yet). The nice thing about New York is that there are enough neighborhoods that the coolness gets diffused any any one neighborhood isn’t overly affected.

    The Welling Court Mural Project is a really beautiful walk, and the Bohemian Beer Garden is probably my favorite place in Astoria. Let me know if you’d like to grab a beer some time.

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    • Wade Shepard September 19, 2019, 2:08 pm

      Hello Kyle, Yes, let’s meet up soon! I’ll be gone for the next week and a half, but after that let’s hang!

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  • Michelle York September 19, 2019, 9:52 am

    Love your writings! I travelled so much in my early days..at this stage I’m happy to accompany you (virtually).. Safe journeys!

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    • Wade Shepard September 19, 2019, 11:56 am

      Excellent! Welcome aboard.

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