To Astoria

Our buddy Little Tom, who lives in Astoria, Queens, invited us out for a tour of his nabe on Friday night and Little David, Dr. Jeff, George, Matt, Nick and I attended. We started at Indigo (a restaurant/bar that stands out in Astoria because it’s not Greek), where OutAstoria, a local LGBT social group, was holding one of its meet-ups. The party was hosted by Dirk McCall, the executive director of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, who apparently lives in Astoria. Nice party, average age: half that of mine. Meh.Astoria, which has one of the world’s largest concentrations of Greeks outside of Greece, has a lively cafe culture, particularly along 30th Avenue, where (after clowning a few “Opa!” moments) we finally settled on Akti for dinner. Since some of us were fairly unfamiliar with Greek food, we decided to pretty much order everything on the appetizers menu and share. The food was fantastic and quite inexpensive. Akti (above) just opened this month and doesn’t appear to have a website yet. After eating, we wandered past the many jumping Greek bars and lounges, most of which had patrons spilling out onto the sidewalks. Some very tasty morsels were observed, truly. Steps after passing the last Greek diner, we turned onto Steinway Street and an invisible line had been crossed. The storefront signage changed into Arabic script and we were in Hookah Land. Or at least the Land Of the Godfather Of Hookah Lounges, where the Godfather himself rushed into the street to meet Dr. Jeff and welcome him to the Egyptian portion of Astoria. Some of the hookah lounges were just regular, posh-ish little bars, but some seem like bingo halls – big, largely barren rooms filled with long tables of people playing dominoes, with ginormous hookahs at the end of each table. It smelled wonderful in there, maybe because their most popular flavors are apple and strawberry-mango. No, really.

We finished our tour of Astoria at the Albatross, a lesbian bar holding its weekly karaoke night. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Lesbian bar, Queens, karaoke = nightmare on wheels.” But actually, it was much, much worse. It was too hot in the bar, the singers were trying to out American Idol (Week One) each other, and did I mention it was hot in there? But everybody did seem to know each other and at least a couple of the guys mentioned to me that the Albatross reminded them of their first hometown gay bars. Go if that’s the kind of vibe you dig – the Albatross has it by the barrel. For me, however, the only highlight was our own Little David taking the stage to belt out Billy Joel’s New York State Of Mind, his theater-trained voice suitably cowing the previous group of drunks that had destroyed some Backstreet Boys song.

It’s a bit silly that in seven years in Manhattan, I’ve only been to Queens a couple times and that was just to ride my bike around Long Island City, the first neighborhood across the East River from where I live. After all, Queens is a huge “city” of over two million and lays a mere single subway stop away from me. And on the way home I chided myself for leaving Queens unexplored all these years. But then there was a “problem” in the tunnel and that one-stop ride into Manhattan took 70 minutes and it was only that short because we finally gave up on the train and hailed a cab. Oh yeah, now I remember.