Pepsi-Cola stopped making its sugary drinks in Long Island City a decade ago, but the area is known for creating a different kind of fizz. Once an industrial wasteland, the Queens neighbourhood is New York's newest centre of cool.
Factories, among them the former Pepsi property, have given way to art galleries and other hubs of creative activity such as Silver Cup Studios, one of the largest studios outside California where much of Sex and the City was filmed.
Former landfills are now sculpture gardens. Warehouse loft conversions are drawing Manhattanites across the East River to take up residence. And rumour has it a new Marriott is moving into the neighbourhood, joining a handful of other hotels - both budget and boutique - that have recently been built in Long Island City in response to the growing tourist trade. Upgraded with sidewalks, lighting and bicycle lanes, streets are teeming with new restaurants, trendy boutiques and bars. Graffiti, which is maligned in Manhattan, is beloved in this neighbourhood where an entire city block is devoted to the art of urban scrawl on the walls of the five-storey, 200,000-square-foot 5Pointz, a former industrial building.
"Long Island City is experiencing a period of explosive growth," says Jeffrey Travia of the Long Island City Business Improvement District. CUNY School of Law is moving in, JetBlue Airways is relocating to Queens Plaza North and New York's Department of Health will be moving into the 21-storey Gotham Center office building when it opens early next year.
This is where, in recessionary America, real estate is booming and new businesses are arriving. Twenty years after New York magazine first declared the area up-and-coming (after noticing New York artists flocking to the Queens neighbourhood in search of cheaper rent), Long Island City has definitely arrived.
ART LOVERS PARADISE Areas of Long Island City may still be covered with warehouses, but these days they're producing pop art, not pop bottles. Galleries include MoMa PS 1, a contemporary outpost of the Museum of Modern Art (22-25 Jackson Ave., 718-784-2084; www.ps1.org) and the Socrates Sculpture Garden, an outdoor exhibition space with a view of Roosevelt Island (31-34 Vernon Blvd., 718-626-1533; www.socratessculpturepark.org). The Noguchi Museum, this year celebrating its 25th year in Long Island City, showcases the work of the late sculptor Isamu Noguchi. 9-01 33rd Rd., 718-721-2308; www.noguchi.org
A BEACH WITH A VIEW While just a stop from Midtown, the neighbourhood also has its own sandy beach with spectacular views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Featuring 1,002 tons of sand spread over 44,000 square feet, Water Taxi Beach at Long Island City at night becomes a playground for the 21-and-over crowd with all-night dance parties taking place on the banks of the East River. A four-minute water-taxi ride from Manhattan, the beach can also be reached by subway. Open daily from June 7 until Oct. 10. Swimming not allowed. www.watertaxibeach.com
GREEN ACRES The Brooklyn Grange is a one-acre working rooftop farm that recently took root high at the top of the six-storey Standard Motor Products building, an old warehouse property. Consisting of a million pounds of soil and using a greenhouse infrastructure to grow vegetables, it is said to be the largest commercial rooftop farm in New York City. The urban farmers involved in the pioneering project plan to sell produce on-site one day a week and supply several local restaurants, including the popular Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar in nearby Astoria. 37-18 Northern Blvd. www.brooklyngrangefarm.com
SHOP TILL YOU POP This is where to find dangly earrings fashioned after plumbers' wrenches and coasters, bowls and clocks made from the Vinylux line of recycled albums. Subdivision is both a gallery and a boutique that supports and promotes the work of independent designers who create the clothing, handbags and jewellery artfully displayed in the showroom. Funds from the boutique are used to run the gallery and sponsor the creation and production of art and cultural projects exhibited in the gallery. 48-18 Vernon Blvd.; 718-482-1899; www.subdivisionart.com
KILLER COCKTAILS The speakeasy-style cocktail lounge Dutch Kills on Jackson Avenue, a few blocks from the Queens Plaza subway station, is named after a former Long Island City subdivision that was an important road during the American Revolution. Inside the atmosphere is dark and moody. Outside, the neon sign screams BAR (27-24 Jackson Ave.; 718-383-2724; www.dutchkillsbar.com). Alternatively, Studio Square is an enormous new outdoor German beer garden offering artisanal beer and bratwurst beneath a canopy of stars (35-33 36th St.; 718-383-1001).
FOODIES' DELIGHT Comfort food and ethnic cuisine are among the culinary hallmarks of Long Island City, where sushi bars and pasta joints are plentiful. Noteworthy are Manducatis Rustica, an Italian grocery store/bakery/restaurant (46-33 Vernon Blvd.; 718-937-1312), and Café Henri, where you can linger over cups of espresso (10-10 50th Ave., at Vernon; 718-383-9315). Tuk Tuk is an affordable Thai noodle place for lunch (49-06 Vernon Blvd.; 718-472-5598) while Shi Restaurant Lounge and Bar is where to go for a stylish Vietnamese-inspired dinner (4720 Center Blvd.; 347-242-2448). In the summer, the laid-back Lounge 47 serves wasabi devilled eggs, pulled-pork sandwiches and seafood stew in its backyard garden (47-10 Vernon Blvd.; 718-937-2044).
WHERE TO STAY
Country Inns & Suites 40-34 Crescent Street, countryinns.com/queensny
Several floors of accommodations offer panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. The interior design is bright and sophisticated, with hardwood style plank lobby flooring and a lobby fireplace. Fitness room and meeting rooms on site. From $117 ($112 U.S.) a night.
The Ravel 8-08 Queens Plaza South, 718-289-6101; ravelhotel.com
Long Island City's first luxury boutique hotel features 63 guestrooms, with glass-enclosed showers, HD plasma TVs, high-speed wireless Internet, 400 thread-count sheets and some private balconies overlooking the Manhattan skyline. City views can also be had from 6,500-square foot rooftop deck, a popular drinks spot. From $176 ($169 U.S.) a night.