Hotel boom luring tourists out of Manhattan

Associated Press


A hotel boom is luring tourists out of Manhattan and across the East River to the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, where 15 hotels have opened since 2006.

Many of them boast not just lower rates than hotels in Manhattan but also great views of the city skyline and easy access by subway, taxi or even ferry.

Just don’t be put off by the area’s factories, warehouses, and parking lots.

While Long Island City and the adjacent neighborhood of Astoria offer many attractions, including waterfront parks, museums and good restaurants, industrial heritage remains a vibrant part of the local identity.

There’s also a famous bridge here. No, not the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge, named for the city’s late mayor but commonly called the 59th Street Bridge. Many Long Island City hotels offer views of the bridge that connects Queens to Manhattan.

The growth in Queens hotels has coincided with a push by NYC & Company, the city’s tourism agency, to bring visitors to the boroughs outside Manhattan.

Many points of interest in Long Island City and neighboring Astoria are related to the area’s industrial heritage.

The famous Steinway piano factory opened in Astoria in the 1870s; today, free factory tours fill up months in advance.

One of Long Island City’s best-known landmarks is a bright red Pepsi-Cola sign on the waterfront, visible from across the river in Manhattan. The sign once marked a local soda bottling plant; the plant closed but the sign was preserved in Gantry Plaza State Park, which offers boardwalks, piers and skyline views.

Filmmaking is another local industry.

The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria is housed in a building that was part of a 1920s film studio that made silent and early sound films.

The studio was revived three decades ago as Kaufman Astoria Studios; modern production credits range from “Sesame Street” to “Men in Black 3.”

In Long Island City, a baked-goods manufacturer called Silvercup was transformed into Silvercup Studios. Its clients include “30 Rock” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

The Museum of the Moving Image’s artifacts range from early cameras and projectors to costumes and props from “Star Wars.”

Screenings include silent movies with live music, classics and the avant-garde.

The museum’s hands-on exhibits are especially fun: Play old arcade games such as Pac-Man, dub your voice into a clip of Dorothy from the original “Wizard of Oz” or put rock music into the soundtrack of an old Western movie.

A few blocks away, the Noguchi Museum offers a sublime collection of the late Isamu Noguchi’s spare, modernist stone sculptures, along with a compelling film about the artist’s career and unusual childhood with a Japanese father and American mother.

Noguchi created the museum in the building where he lived and worked.

Nearby, the waterfront Socrates Sculpture Park displays work outdoors by various contemporary artists.

Another major destination for art-lovers is MoMA PS1, part of the Museum of Modern Art, located in a former Long Island City public school. The museum’s mission is to display contemporary art.

PS1’s extraordinary cafeteria M. Wells Dinette is a must for foodies. The menu offers adventurous items such as bone marrow tarts along with less edgy fare such as borsht, oysters, juniper potato salad and hot toddies.

Speaking of food, ask a New Yorker about Astoria and you may be told, “That’s where you go for Greek food.” Although it’s known as a Greek-American neighborhood, Astoria’s immigrant population and restaurants are quite diverse.

In Long Island City, a trendy, lively bar and eatery at 24-27 Jackson Ave. called Dutch Kills offers artisanal drinks and “bartender’s choice,” where patrons give guidance on what they like but leave it up to the bartender to create interesting cocktails.

Head bartender Jan Warren admits that first-time guests are sometimes “a little freaked out” by Dutch Kills’ location on a deserted industrial street with a spooky lit-up “BAR” sign.

But inside it is warm and welcoming, and the bartenders put on a great show as they pour, pinch, squeeze, stir and shake ingredients, then present their creations with a flourish and a smile.

Other Long Island City attractions include places to climb: a five-story outdoor wall at NYC Outward Bound headquarters, and a cavernous new gym called The Cliffs, opening in May.

At Astoria Park, you’ll find a skateboard park, jogging track and waterfront paths, along with the city’s largest outdoor swimming pool.

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