When you visit New York City for the first time of course you will go to Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. It’s just what you do. But if you really want to get to know New York check out the other four boroughs. BQE Tours offers walking tours in ultra-hip Brooklyn and now they are introducing Queens with a Long Island City tour.
Introducing Long Island City
Long Island City sits on the edge of Queens just across the river from Midtown Manhattan. Formerly an industrial hub, LIC is now a flourishing neighborhood of elegant apartment towers, artist studios, trendy eateries and parks with astounding views of Manhattan. If New York City is a melting pot, Queens is at the center of that pot. Over 138 languages are spoken in this borough. There are restaurants of every ethnic variety and layers of history and culture. Recently, I joined BQE Tours to uncover the coolness of Queens.
BQE Tours is run by husband-and-wife team John and Elissa Garay. Both native New Yorkers, they are passionate about NYC. John, a licensed NYC tour guide, met us at a LIC park to begin our tour. I took my boyfriend (another native New Yorker) along for this tour. He had the utmost respect for John because native New Yorkers really only trust another native New Yorker to tell the story of their beloved city!
The Artists of Long Island City
LIC is home to a delightful mixture of architectural styles. A courthouse in Beaux Arts style contrasts with industrial warehouses. Contemporary apartment towers claim real estate along the East River while brownstones offer a quiet refuge along tree-lined streets. What I loved most were the unexpected finds – like the artist studios tucked into non-descript buildings. We visited the studio of Eduardo Anievas, an artist whose paintings center on cityscape, landscape, still life and portraits. Eduardo’s paintings have been exhibited in shows in the United States, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria and Portugal.
Another stop took us to the studio of sculptor Glen Marlowe. Modeling the structural elements after the Renaissance artists Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini, Glen’s sculptures capture the human form in dramatic fashion. The size of his sculptures ranges between miniatures to over-life size. I never expected to find such magnificent sculptures inside a warehouse.
Taste of Long Island City
Named for a radical abolitionist and anti-slavery legend, John Brown’s Smokehouse serves up Kansas City style barbecue. This is a great neighborhood eatery with red and white gingham tablecloths covering picnic tables, rolls of paper towels used as napkins, a selection of craft beers and a courtyard surrounded by brightly painted murals. And, of course, smoked brisket, pork and turkey with BBQ sauces ranging from sweet to spicy to “my mouth is on fire” hot.
At the seasonal LIC Flea and Food market, we sampled a diverse range of foods while browsing booths filled with everything from clothing to furniture to unique artisan crafts.
Just across the street from the market, Ethan and Marcus are hand-crafting brews at Rockaway Brewery. What started as a home brewing gig in their Far Rockaway backyards to give them something to drink after a day of surfing has grown into a nice little beer business with their brews found all over Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. At the LIC brew house you can fill up a growler and tour the brewery.
Preserved Icons, Parks and Oh! The Views
Along the banks of the East River, a former industrial zone has been transformed into Gantry Park. Considered the best spot anywhere for unobstructed views of Manhattan’s iconic skyscrapers, the park welcomes you at Gantry Plaza with four massive gantries reminding you of LIC’s industrial past. Beyond the gantries are four piers, sidewalks, picnic tables, benches, chairs and even summer hammocks. Gantry Park is also the place to view Queens’ most iconic structure – the Pepsi sign.
Another testament to LIC’s industrial past, the Pepsi sign originally topped Pepsi’s bottling plant. When the plant was demolished, Pepsi kept a little strip of land and that is where the sign found its permanent home. Neon meets history on this beloved piece of pop art. When the 24-story apartment building located behind the sign was designed, the architect recessed a portion of the building to accommodate the iconic sign.
We finished our tour with a glass of Prosecco at the roof–top lounge of Z Hotel with 360 degree panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. It was an extraordinary finale to a fascinating tour.
The Scoop on BQE Tours
Besides the LIC tour, BQE Tours offers tours in Brooklyn’s DUMBO and Williamsburg neighborhoods. They also offer custom tours. It is a great way to get to know some of NYC’s neighborhoods. It is three hours of walking so wear comfortable shoes. The history and culture aspects are interesting for adults, so this is one I would book for my parents or my adult children, but not the grandkids. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.