A 10/10 Sunday in Queens

I had a great day exploring Queens this weekend. Highlights include coffee, a large biscuit sandwich, coffee, the Socrates Sculpture Park, and unexpectedly encountering some of my family’s heritage!

A tall pink sculpture in a park covered in snow and mud

When I lived in NYC a few years ago, I estimate 94% of my time was spent in Manhattan, and 80% of that was below 14th St. which is where I lived, but still….I had a “radius” so to speak.

Of the remaining 5%, 3% was visiting my family on Long Island or north of the city, 2% was Brooklyn, and 1% miscellaneous outings to the remaining boroughs.

When daydreaming / plotting a move back to NYC (which is not happening – more on that soon!), Astoria was at the top of my mind for places to live. It’s close enough to midtown for commuting, relatively affordable for a studio or 1 bedroom, and I’ve only heard positive reviews about living there. This week, I am staying in Astoria with one of my close friends who is visiting the NYC to look at grad schools.

I figured this trip would be a good opportunity to test out the neighborhood. So far, three days in, I’m a fan! It’s certainly a slower speed of living than where I used to romp around, and the effects of gentrification and high rent have not altered surface of the neighborhood like it has in much of Manhattan: the hustle and bustle on a Sunday is less about boozy brunch and more about usual people doing usual things, or in my case, a few select Queens-y things that I give a 10/10.

At a suggestion from a few folks I met at Global Diversity CFP Day (which is possibly my favorite event ever – I will look forward to it every year) I structured my day around plans to visit the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City and a trip to the Astoria Bookshop, an independent bookstore that was already on my radar.

Before starting my Sunday adventures, I went for a 5 mile run to ensure maximum capacity for food intake.

Coffee and Breakfast

At about 11:30am, I ventured to Kinship Coffee on Steinway which I have deemed the best coffee shop in the immediate distance from where I am staying (and one of the better I have been to in general). The banana bread gets 10/10, the coffee 9/10 (the drip was delicious but they do not offer pour-overs), and the environment 10/10. I did not spend any computer time there, but outlets appear to be available, the seating situation is comfortable, the music not too loud, and based on the amount of people working, WiFi is freely available. Needless to say, I will be stopping at Kinship every day on this trip.

Back to the Sunday at hand. After purchasing my coffee and surviving a bout of anxious indecision regarding my upcoming meal, I walked up Steinway to see what food establishments would catch my eye (this is one of my favorite things about New York – you do not need a destination, you can “see what comes up”).

I stopped in a shoe store to try on some winter boots (which I purchased later in the day), then made a right onto 30th Ave where I saw this very inviting storefront:

The front of Comfort Land in Astoria.

Buttermilk biscuit sandwiches? “Yes” to everything about this. I cannot imagine a better way to replenish the fuel burned earlier that morning!

My biscuit sandwich.

I can’t remember the exact name of the sandwich on the menu, but I ordered the more classic of sandwich options – egg, cheddar cheese, some kind of tomato jam, and a choice of meat. Regrettably, I chose the chicken apple sausage instead of bacon, but other than that, this biscuit sandwich was everything I had been hoping for in my post-run meal. I almost ate the entire thing.

The decor inside Comfort Land left nothing to be desired. In addition to colorful, well-thought out signage and wall decorations, there were small animal figures hanging from the ceiling:

I very well may apply this decorating strategy to my own apartment! That would be a great conversation starter.

After my large biscuit sandwich, it was time for a walk to the sculpture park. Given that it was still an hour or so before afternoon caffeine cut-off and that I have very little self-control when it comes to coffee and there happened to be another location for Kinship coffee less than a block away, I got another delicious coffee to sip during my walk.

I headed west on 30th Ave, and encountered several beautiful and though-provoking murals:

Socrates Sculpture Park

I arrived at the Socrates Sculpture Park, situated along the East River and Broadway. I hope you don’t mind my quoting their website:

Each year Socrates presents an exhibition of new commissions made by artists awarded the Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship. Conceived for the landscape and produced on-site in our outdoor studio over the course of the summer, these pieces respond to the Park’s unique history, landscape, and community

Socrates Sculpture Park Website

The park itself used to be an abandoned landfill and illegal dumping ground – I love seeing spaces that have been transformed like this. Given the industrial surroundings transposed with the mud and leftover snow and slush, it was not hard to envision this spot as a previous space for waste.

Fort-dress by Amy Brener

I have become a diligent sign reader in my adult life, and was very glad to learn of a free audio tour of the works via the OtoCast app. This was great – the descriptions for each work are read by their artist, and I highly recommend it.

A few sculptures of note:

A Cypher in Queens by Sherwin Banfield
Free Peddler by Antone Konst
Home(-) and Garden by Ronen Gamil

After exploring the park, I wandered around the surrounding blocks and was struck with recognition…I’ve been here before!

Leifer Brothers Steel

I noticed the Noguchi Museum which jogged my memory. My grandfather (may he R.I.P.) had taken me here some ten years ago. He ran a steel company back in the day (1930s-70s?), and I recalled driving around after visiting the museum with him, while he pointed out which building used to house his company, Leifer Brothers Steel.

If my memory serves me correctly – and I would say there is a 40% chance (or less) of that – this was the building:

Possibly the location of my grandfather’s steel company in the 1950s-ish

And…something else!

As I proofread this article, I did a quick search for “Leifer Brothers Steel”, and you know what came up? A web page from the opening exhibition for the the sculpture park in the late 1990s, thanking a myriad of donors…including Leifer Bros. Steel Co.! My grandfather was a very generous person as well as an advocate for the arts – of course, he would have supported this project. What a cool discovery!

Astoria Bookshop

At this point in my walk, I was starting to get a bit cold and it seemed time to point myself in the direction of the book store.

Astoria Bookshop did not disappoint! Another 10/10. The place is packed with books that have obviously been curated with the utmost care. I was especially taken by the graphic novels section and happily made multiple purchases. If there’s one thing I am very, very happy to spend money on, it’s books at bookstores.

Excellent haul at the Astoria Bookshop

From left to right, my purchases included:

  1. Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff (I learned about this through the C4AA‘s newsletter and the bookstore through their referral link to IndieBound instead of Amazon)
  2. Your Black Friend and Other Strangers by Ben Passmore (one of my 2019 goals is to learn to talk about race so this title caught my eye – I read the first comic and was like, I need to read this four more times)
  3. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Pénélope Bagieu (very enjoyable/adorable comics of bad ass womens’ stories – they are quick reads and I’ve already learned a lot of history)
  4. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib (this was a random pick up – very excited about this one! I love hip hop and have been meaning to learn more about its origins and the influential figures I only know by name)

Money well spent!

To tie up the day, I had some very tasty pho with my good friend / Airbnb mate at District Saigon on Broadway. Here are the remains:

These pho leftovers were packed up for consumption probably at a later date.