Must-See Long Island City

Michael Hsu

Once an epicenter of manufacturing, Long Island City is now home to one of the City's most exciting art scenes. The neighborhood is dotted with turn-of-the-20th-century industrial buildings that have been transformed into galleries, museums and studios, and there's a fast-growing list of must-visit restaurants, shops and performance venues.

But the neighborhood is more than a great day trip. It's also an excellent place to stay. There are around two dozen hotels here (with more under construction), most built within the past few years, including major chains as well as boutique properties. Among them are Boro Hotel New York, Courtyard by Marriott New York Queens Long Island City, Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Queens/Queensboro Bridge, Hilton Garden Inn New York Long Island City/Manhattan View, Holiday Inn Manhattan View - Long Island City, Home2 Suites by Hilton Long Island City/Manhattan View, Nesva Hotel – New York City Vista, Paper Factory Hotel, Wyndham Garden Long Island City/Manhattan View and Z NYC Hotel.

Best of all, getting to Midtown Manhattan from Long Island City is surprisingly fast. It's just one stop from Grand Central Terminal on the 7 train, cab fare is reasonable and some hotels offer free shuttle service to Manhattan or nearby subway stops. You can even travel by boat: the East River Ferry regularly serves the neighborhood straight from FDR Drive and East 34th Street.

And then there are the views. Whether you're relaxing in Gantry Plaza (a 12-acre state park located on the river) or having a drink at the rooftop bar of your hotel, you'll enjoy some of the best vistas of the Manhattan skyline. So pack a suitcase or at least a day bag—Long Island City has so much to see, eat and explore, you can keep busy for days on end.

Photo: Erin Kornfeld & Erica Leone

22-25 Jackson Ave., 718-784-2084
MoMA PS1 has no permanent collection (its focus is on presenting art rather than warehousing it), which is what gives the museum its improvisational feel. You'll find work from artists of all stripes scattered in just about every corner of this sprawling 100-room building (built in 1892 as a public primary school). This includes its rooftop, stairwells and boiler-room basement, where you'll find Sol LeWitt's Crayola Square, which the artist created for an earlier incarnation of the museum. In addition to that and other long-term installations, the space holds temporary exhibitions that focus on diverse subjects: say, dance choreography, hip-hop or the artist's place in society. On Sundays, the museum hosts Sunday Sessions, a variety of performance programming and lectures. The on-site restaurant, M. Wells Dinette—brought to you by a couple of celebrated Montreal transplants—attracts foodies in droves. They come for specialties like veal brains, bison tartare and various esoteric combinations (foie gras and oatmeal?) from an ever-changing menu.

Photo: George Hirose

The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Rd., 718-204-7088
This jewel of a museum is dedicated to the work of Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, who had a studio in Long Island City in the early 1960s. Noguchi designed the institution himself three years before he died, and in it you'll find the very contradictions that he so masterfully explored in his work: between natural and industrial, light and shadow, fragility and permanence. The museum has a series of galleries housed in two renovated commercial spaces and, outside, a pebbled garden that shows off Noguchi's sculptures (which he positioned himself). The outdoor area is organic and tranquil. The interior galleries are sparse, with the lower-level space dedicated to a permanent exhibition of Noguchi's pieces, mostly sculpture. The museum's sun-dappled café and shop offer comfortable spots to relax and enjoy some of Noguchi's famous furniture designs, like the Freeform Sofa and Rocking Stool.

Museum of the Moving Image. Photo: Peter Aaron/Esto

Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave., 718-777-6888
The Museum of the Moving Image, in nearby Astoria, Queens, explores all facets of TV and film production, starting with the early years of the mediums and moving up to the cutting-edge techniques used today. Learn about Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope (the precursor to the movie projector), create your own stop-action animation and view classic Star Wars action figures displayed behind glass like ancient Egyptian artifacts. Even the art of the video game gets a nod here, with a small arcade where you can play vintage games like Donkey Kong and Asteroids in all their retro glory. Of course, it's also a wonderful place to catch a flick. The museum screens about 400 films a year, very few of which you'll find at the Cineplex: silent movies (often with live music), animated shorts, rock documentaries and new releases fresh off the international festival circuit.

SculptureCenter. Photo: Michael Moran

Sculpture Spaces
Long Island City's industrial spaces are home to many sculptors' studios, so it's no surprise that the neighborhood is one of the best places to view avant-garde, large-scale artwork. One venue not to miss is the Maya Lin–designed SculptureCenter, which is among the City's most magnificent exhibition spaces—and which increased greatly in size and scope with its renovations, completed for an October 2014 reopening. Housed in a former trolley-repair shop that was built in 1908, the museum features a huge ground-level gallery with brick walls, soaring ceilings and an intricate framework of exposed iron beams. The overhaul added a lobby and courtyard gallery to the center while installing a more traditional white cube in the downstairs exhibition space, which retains its maze of skinny hallways, alcoves and concrete archways as a setting for smaller-scale artwork. Over on the shore of the East River, Socrates Sculpture Park presents an ever-changing assortment of sculpture and art installations, mostly by emerging artists. And to get a taste of how disciplines collide, stop by the Flux Factory, which hosts sporadic exhibitions and events, including a monthly potluck dinner and art salon, sometimes with live music.

Sweetleaf. Photo: Ambria Cone

Snacks and Treats
While the art scene is the area's primary draw, you'll also find plenty of delicious snacks. For a cup of joe that has coffee aficionados swooning, stop by one of Sweetleaf's two LIC locations. The original tin-ceilinged café serves both drip and pour-over coffee (as well as espresso drinks) using their own roast of beans (and occasionally some from Stumptown), as does the newer location on Central Boulevard—though the latter turns into a cocktail bar come 5pm. For more exotic beverages and snacks, head over to Rio Bonito Supermercado, where you can get pão de queijo (a Brazilian cheese bun) and other street food to go, along with cashew juice to wash it all down. More seasonally, the LIC Flea & Food sets up on weekends in a lot near the waterfront; stop by to sample bites from local restaurants and artisanal food producers—homemade marshmallows and alcoholic cake pops, anyone?

Burger Garage. Photo: Eli Reuven

Casual Meals
The neighborhood is also an excellent place to get a proper—but still casual—sit-down meal. Tournesol, a classic French bistro located just steps from the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue subway station, serves quintessential bistro fare (steak frites, moules marinières) as well as terrines and pâtés that are made in house. Northeast along Jackson Avenue, Sage General Store dishes up locally sourced comfort food like spit-roasted chicken, artisanal mac and cheese (sold by the scoop) and, on weekends (and soon, if not already by the time you’re reading this, for weekday dinners), organic-dough pizza that's fired in the restaurant's wood-burning oven. Save room for the gourmet takes on Hostess cupcakes (complete with the squiggly line of icing) and other classic desserts. Two blocks away, the Burger Garage puts a refined spin on the classic American burger joint. The fries are twice cooked, caramelized onions are sautéed for four hours and the slaw is made fresh each day. It also serves a crisp iceberg-wedge salad with crumbled bacon and blue cheese dressing—a steak-house staple at a fraction of the steak house price ($5.35).

Courtesy, Water's Edge Restaurant

Water's Edge Restaurant
401 44th Dr. (at the East River), 718-482-0033
LIC Market
21-52 44th Dr., 718-361-0013

Long Island City also has many fine-dining options. For breathtaking views of the river and skyline, visit Water's Edge. The restaurant's glass-enclosed dining area and wraparound deck sit just above the East River, giving you the sense of being afloat. The menu leans heavily on the ocean—diver scallops, red snapper, top neck clams—but also includes poultry and steak. LIC Market is another local restaurant worth making a trip for. The market-driven menu has garnered rave reviews for its entrées (risotto with corn and jalapeños; ribeye cap with black truffle butter) and sides like garlic fried potatoes. The restaurant stocks its wooden shelves with seasonal signature condiments like strawberry-and-black-pepper jam and bitter-lemon marmalade.

Antipasto. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Manducatis Rustica
46-35 Vernon Blvd., 718-937-1312
For a quick trip to old-country Italy, take the G train to the 21st Street stop; Manducatis Rustica is just down the block. The southern Italian fare here is prepared à la minute by chef Ida Cerbone, who has owned the restaurant with her husband, Vincenzo, since 1977. There is little at Manducatis that Cerbone's own hands do not touch: she butchers the restaurant's meats, makes the pasta and has created every one of the restaurant's simple, authentic dishes. Try the roast baby pig (when available), served on the bone with potatoes or vegetables; a scaloppine of veal cooked on the grill and paired with radicchio trevisano or endive (depending on what Ida finds at the market); and plump shrimp, sautéed in white wine with herbs. The selection of homemade pastas, which changes regularly, might include favorites like manicotti, gnocchi and spaghetti—though with some unusual flavors and flourishes. The wine list is extensive, detailing around 400 bottles, though that's just a fraction of the thousands that reside in Manducatis' cellar.

Dutch Kills. Photo: Marley White

Libations in the City are not hard to come by. But Long Island City serves it all up with character. At the craft-beer bar Alewife Queens, you'll discover a range of hard-to-find beers on draught. Offerings include Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Bear Republic Triples Alley. Alewife also serves bar snacks, dinner (featuring burgers and locally harvested oysters) and a weekend brunch at which you can get Southern-inspired dishes like pork and grits or biscuits and gravy. Oenophiles visiting the neighborhood will want to stop by Domaine Bar a Vins, a chic and cozy wine bar that serves more than 40 wines by the glass. Pull up a stool to the zinc bar and hope that there's live jazz going on that night. If you're more in the mood for handcrafted cocktails, head over to Dutch Kills. This speakeasy takes you back to the Prohibition era with hand-cut ice cubes, a ragtime-piano room strewn with sawdust and mixologists wearing old-timey vests. The cocktails are embellished with all manner of fresh ingredients, such as grated cinnamon and house-made grenadine.

Steve Hofstetter. Courtesy, The Laughing Devil Comedy Club

Like the neighborhood's food and visual-arts scene, the performing arts landscape in Long Island City is thriving and diverse. At the Obie Award–winning Chocolate Factory Theater, which is housed in a renovated commercial garage, you'll find multidisciplinary pieces that blur the lines between dance, music, spoken word and video art. It hosts frequent performances by the theater's founders as well as by visiting artists. For more lighthearted fare, the Laughing Devil Comedy Club hosts performances most nights of the week, with two shows on Friday and Saturday evenings. Opened by comedian Steve Hofstetter, it's a good place to catch up-and-comers like Dan St. Germain and local staples like Chris Gethard. Budding comics should check out the early-evening open-mics on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.