A Night’s Tale: In search of the best nightlife
Everyone’s been to the beer gardens in Astoria, so forget about those. Scratch all of Long Island City as well – there’s only so many ways to paint LIC red, and they all end with an illegal nightcap in Gantry Plaza State Park.
When it comes to nightlife in Queens, there’s more to the borough than its two hippest neighborhoods. From old-school Irish taverns to upscale Chinese dance clubs, the country’s most diverse county has something for every kind of late-night rabble-rouser. Brooklyn may be the new Manhattan, but Queens stands on its own.
To prove this, It’s Queens went in search of the best taprooms in less-heralded neighborhoods. We set our sights on well-known watering holes and unknown holes in the wall, fancy cocktail lounges, and “my cousin Mario swears by this place” kind of places. Consideration on our pub crawl was given to all of the essentials – location, drink selection, special features, clientele, music, and service. It was also given to the wholly unscientific whims of our driver, Elis Gomez, who stopped his Cadillac Escalade SUV wherever he damn well pleased. Elis knows the best bars, as well as the best after-hours duck joint in all of Flushing, among other secrets.
8:04 P.M. Neir’s Tavern | 87-48 78th Street, Woodhaven | (718) 296-0600
“What’s a-matter with you?” Robert De Niro asks a money-flashing wiseguy in the famous Goodfellas scene shot at Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven. “Are you stupid or what?” Cadwallader R. Coldon certainly wasn’t. He’s the improbably named, politically connected racetrack manager who founded the tavern in 1829. Neir’s has served German conversation water almost without interruption ever since, making it arguably the oldest bar in Queens and one of the oldest in all of New York. De Niro’s character Jimmy Conway didn’t want fancy visitors, and neither do Neir’s regulars. The narrow, low-ceilinged bar is a no-frills trip down memory lane. It has cheap drinks ($3 Budweiser; $4 Jameson’s) and live music from local acts a few nights per week. Well-worn armchairs make do for décor; a 2009 renovation restored the original mahogany bar and some fixtures.
The night we visited the bar, on stop one of our tour, Jimmy Young was the featured performer. The former backup singer for Salt-N-Pepa wore a fedora, slacks and sharkskin shoes. “We’ll bring you the best entertainment that we can,” he promised. After trying out some new material, Young set to work fixing the karaoke machine, which was having some problems. A woman named Linda was waiting impatiently for the chance to sing “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley.
10:32 P.M. Rockaway Beach Inn | 88-22 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Rockaway Beach | (347) 246 7433
Don’t be fooled by the name; this hard-scrabble bar is no romantic getaway. Located a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in a brick building that looks like a factory, Rockaway Beach Inn is the perfect working-class hangout.
After a day on the beach, unwind at RBI’s with a half-dozen pints of Coors Light ($2.25 each), then use the conveniently placed handrail to steady yourself on the way to the john before making the long trip home.
While you’re at it, talk pipefitting with the union plumbers at the bar, and don’t take offense when they call you a “mainlander,” that’s the term peninsula natives use for their borough neighbors across Jamaica Bay. Someone going “uptown” in the Rockaways is headed west, by the way (downtown is in the opposite direction, Christopher Columbus). RBI’s keeps it spare and simple. Comfortable booths line the wall facing the bar, which is tended most nights by a friendly woman named Mary, and for fun, there’s a dartboard and pool table, which has a pair of eight balls, but is missing the two. A man smoking a cigarette inside offered to find it for us.
“Are you sure? We can just play with two eight balls.”
“What do you wanna do that for?” he asked with a hint of disdain. “What are you missing again?”
The two, Eric said. The man nodded and disappeared behind a door. A few minutes later he came back with a five ball and handed it over without a word. He was too big to argue with, so we leave it alone.
12:13 P.M. Night Tale | 133-22 39th Avenue, Flushing
The lounge at the Sheraton East LaGuardia Hotel in Downtown Flushing closes way too early, but around the corner on a back street behind a gaudy Korean karaoke palace is a small nondescript club called Night Tale. It’s where twenty-somethings from Flushing go to play dice games and pound pitchers of Hennessy and tea.
The game – called “Liar” or “Bullshit” in English – involves a blue dice-rolling cup, shots of liquor and fourth-grade math. The drinking part is easy, but overcoming a language barrier while trying to add multiples of three in a strobe-lit, smoke-filled dungeon can get complicated quickly.
Our recommendation? Stick to your Hennessy and watch the locals go at it. Because let’s face it: visitors from elsewhere in Queens are no less foreign at Night Tale than mainlanders at RBI’s. It’s a different world, where the regular rules don’t apply.
“Our recommendation? Stick to your Hennessy and watch the locals go at it.”
Queens can get fancy in a hurry if you’re on the right guest list. We weren’t, but after a brief negotiation the manager of Play on Queens Boulevard promised VIP treatment and ushered us past a long line of people waiting to get in. He ignored Joe’s tie-dye sweatshirt, or maybe one look at Terrence was enough to convince him that were not prepared to follow the dress code. At least we pulled up in an Escalade..
2:08 A.M. PLAY | 77-17 Queens Boulevard, Elmhurst | (718) 476-2828
Play is one of the borough’s most exclusive venues, despite its location on a boulevard better known for its number of car crashes than happening nightspots. There’s a gleaming bar, a regulation-sized four-lane bowling alley, hookah lounge, live DJ’s and good-looking go-go dancers.
Everything is top of the line, including the prices and the clientele, if what you like are muscleheads, hipsters and beauty queen dreamers with an expert knowledge of the Long Island Expressway. The place also attracts a diverse smattering of well-heeled locals.
“That’s the great thing about Queens,” said Thane Gevas, the club’s owner. “You have Italians, Greeks, Japanese, everybody. Put them all in a room together…” his voice trailed off. It’s worth a trip to find out what happens. Just remember: leave the tie-dye at home and don’t drink too many “Sneaky Pete’s” (rum martini; $10), or else you’ll roll gutterballs all night.
3:19 A.M. Sean Og’s | 60-02 Woodside Avenue,Woodside | (718) 899-3499
Last call is cause to celebrate, because we’ve made it this far without fighting a bouncer or crashing our car. So we roll to Woodside, where those two things are most likely to happen after a long night on the town. That is called logic. And dedication. Logical dedication, the best kind.
At this late-night hour the pub-heavy intersection of Woodside Avenue and 60th Street, where they converge on Roosevelt Avenue under the elevated train, is the liveliest in Queens. There are several dives to choose from. If they all look the same you’ve probably had too much to drink. Just and pick one; times’ a wasting.
Saints and Sinners has been a favorite for years, but these days the more popular option is Sean Og’s, a traditional Irish pub that stays packed until it is required by law to stop serving alcohol. (No fear: the bar is open 118 hours per week, out of a possible 168.) Og’s has 23 beers on tap, good deals on pitchers ($10 domestic; $15 imported), and an attractive interior with plenty of room for large parties. There’s even a stained-glass window.
4:26 A.M. We’re headed to Spanish Harlem. If that’s not in Queens it doesn’t matter anymore. Peter is hoping a bodega will sell us some boiling water (priceless) for a special tea pick-me-up. Elis the driver has not taken off his crisp gray suit jacket, or loosened his tie. As long as we’re headed uptown, he says, he knows of a great little spot.
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