Previously abounding in Greeks-- after whom the only noticeable remnants are rows of Mediterranean joints and groceries, and occasional heavily gelled stallions blasting techno through the windows of their sports cars-- Astoria remains the embodiment of New York’s multiculturalism. Slowly but consecutively discovered by more and more scensters, this European stronghold makes me rejoice when I see the newly opened hotspots, and, at the same time, cry when I see the numbers on my lease increasing every year. Well, there is a price you have to pay for a neighborhood’s gentrification and in New York that price, like all the others, is high. Luckily for us, locals, Astoria’s broadly known nightlife landmarks end at the eternally overcrowded Cavo and Bohemian Beer Gardens, the latter remaining out of grace until next spring. So hurry up and get wasted in ambient and still affordable joints known only to the insiders, before immigrating Manhattanites transform the area into a nouveau Williamsburg.
Top Astoria Hangout #10-Ritmo's 60
3223 Steinway St,
Astoria, NY 11103
The rear part of a pink Cadillac hanging above the entrance to this margaritas temple promises a rockabilly feast, but don’t get fooled. The car was probably around when the owners of this Latino establishment sweated over the décor options. But instead of roller derby waitresses you can find a menu filled with most genuine Spanish drinks here. The margaritas are strongest in the neighborhood, and taste good. Which basically saves this Steinway Street watering hole, since the décor is not much better than an inside of a shady strip club (read: glittering or silver metal elements all over, black walls and tainted glass entrance). Ritmo’s is one of the places where you come for the booze. Still, it wasn’t 15 minutes since our arrival, that one of the employees betrayed a will to socialize. “What are you getting, vodka?” he asked passing by me and my friends, who we were all Polish. The communication did not go far beyond that, but, luckily, tequila is an international word.
Top Astoria Hangout #9-Athens Café
3207 30th Ave @ 32nd St
Astoria , NY 11102
Though Athens Café can boast of good mozzarella sticks (hey, it’s not that easy to make them not grease-soaked), you certainly don’t want to go there for food as centerpiece. Oh no sir, ma’am, you don’t. Athens Café’s food is so infamous, it actually became famous. Why are they still in business then? Their lattes and espressos rock, and there comes a time in life of every European-born immigrant when we curse a lack of real European coffee in New York. Athens Café really comes in handy when you crave an old world vibe and good, real café. Their drink selection is also good, though don’t try the house Greek wine—no matter how much the adorable waitress recommends it—unless you never had good wine in your mouth before. The street patio is always crowded with locals of all ages, but the modern, chic interior with an intriguing, orange-lighten bar that brings to mind a climbing rock, is also a decent place to hang out at. Too bad they are blasting that Greek techno so loud.
Top Astoria Hangout #8-Crescent Lounge
3205 Crescent St & B’way
Astoria , NY 11106
Turn the corner of Crescent Street off the bright and busy Broadway, and you’ll find yourself on a dark and quiet block, which seems completely residential. But only a few feet into it lies this dim, red-lighten lounge with large windows revealing a retro interior with antique-like, custom-made couches, plush armchairs, bookshelves and an old-school wooden bar. And, if not for the latter piece, you might feel just as if peeking into somebody’s living room. This gay-friendly spot hosts Monday karaoke nights and a weekday happy hour from 4pm to 8pm. The multiple shelves covering the walls hide an assortment of board games and books. That is, if you care to read or play Monopoly, while the bartender serves such liquoricious specialties as over 20 masterly martinis, as well as a good old row of beers.
Top Astoria Hangout #7-Club 21
3009 21st St & 30th ave
Astoria , NY 11102
The ten-to-six working day will deprive you of the best happy hours no longer, as at Club 21 the specials ranging from domestic beers to margaritas cost $2-3 until 9pm, every day. Club 21 might look like an average Irish bar, but it is neither really Irish nor really a bar. At least not only that. The shabby-ish front with a long, dive-like bar, some seating area by the walls and retro, slightly dingy décor alluding to the locales of 1920s, hides a menu with real beef goulash ($12) and grilled kielbasa ($8). It also features pork schnitzel, pierogies, potato pancakes and kebab. As everything in Astoria , this chill watering hole is an eclectic amalgam of European influences that clash into a cozy neighborhood hangout. Every Thursday, Club 21 hosts a jazz night, and Saturdays, a night with a dj, both starting at 10pm.
Top Astoria Hangout #6-Uncle George's Greek Tavern
3319 Broadway & 34th Street
Astoria , NY 11106
And, of course, what would a famous Greek neighborhood be without a genuine Greek restaurant? Uncle George’s is as real and as cheap as it gets. When visiting with my three friends, our bill did not exceed $45— and that including a bottle of very decent Greek wine and plates full of grub (there’s no other word to describe this food). So my grub took a form of a sautéed chunk of lamb with two plain, whole, boiled potatoes next to it—people should learn simplicity from the Greeks. You would never think such ascetic food can taste really good—but it does. Meanwhile, my petite friend who ordered roasted chicken got a… whole roasted chicken. Small one, but still. The beef goulash and a form of stuffed cabbage filled with vegetables (the only vegetarian option) was also surprisingly flavorful. In other words, the chef at Uncle George’s does not full around once he undertakes the responsibility of feeding you. And it is food and its prices, rather than the décor or ambience, that you visit this establishment for.
Top Astoria Hangout #5-Rapture Lounge
3427 28th Ave & 34th street
Astoria , NY
Rapture Lounge is the sort of a place where you assume the cute plush couches to be occupied by neighbors who know the entire biography of their bartender, and vice versa. Well, it’s not quite the case. This cozy lounge fills with a surprisingly large and diverse crowd on a weekend night. It might be the lighting—so low you can barely see your neighbor’s face—and the rustic yet homey décor complete with aristocratic armchairs and art-deco night lamps. Beside a really encouraging list of martinis, Rapture offers a decent menu of bar snacks like plantain empanadas, pierogi and flautas (small tacos), as well as salty and sweet crepes. But the extra points are gained by the creative drink terminology. The menu features such cocktails as Acid Trip, Easy Rider, Mexican Nightmare, Tie Me to the Bed Post or 1-800-FCK-MEUP.
Top Astoria Hangout #4-Brick Café
3095 33rd St &31 ave
Astoria , NY 11102
For whatever reason, Bosnian-owned Brick Café does not receive a lot of publicity. And too bad, because many people miss out on cozy, original décor and really yummy Mediterranean bistro food (like sautéed salmon with capers, tomatoes and garlic, $18, and a selection of pastas). Brick Café is touched up with elements like old iron, brick walls and heavy wood that contrast with antique leather sofas and create a jam of a living room smashed with a country kitchen. The large windows showing to the street and rows of wall mirrors bring to mind what’s best about European bistros. Sidewalk tables in spring (or autumn for the brave ones) set a relaxed mood and prove that Astoria is one of the last strongholds of the old world sympathy (or rather mercy) shown towards smokers. After dark, the interior turns ultra cozy and romantic with the rustic space lighten by small candles and Moroccan lamps. Meanwhile, the bar shields a surprisingly long drink list (cocktails: $6-19).
Top Astoria Hangout #3-Bungalo Lounge
Astoria , NY 11106
This slick, modern Asia inspired lounge filled with weak blue lighting, mirrors, soft plush couches and golden Buddha’s heads changes into a whirling hotspot on a late weekend night. But before that happens, it’s a sexy nest with tempting cocktail happy hours and intimate, low seats. The oozing background sounds range from Top 40, through lounge classics, to hip hop, reggeaton and latin beat, before they are turned up to thumping around midnight. “Bungalo has a nice feeling; upscalish yet very comfy with the booths for seclusion,” says one of the resident DJs, Randolph Hernandez.
The eclectic Astoria ambience is evident in Bungalo’s staff and guests, and the velvet rope spread before the door every night after 10pm adds an exclusive, though slightly overdone factor. That shiny bar will soon break your sobriety resolution with a selection of drafts, but most of all, high-octane cocktails and a good selection of hard liquor. Though the kitchen is not Bungalo’s focal point, the hot tapas, especially the crispy calamari, taste surprisingly good.
Top Astoria Hangout #2-Winegasm
3186 37th St & Broadway
Astoria , NY 11103
Personally, I don’t need anything beyond the name to be attracted to this artsy hangout on 37th Street. But there’s a lot besides it. Exceeding the wine bar boundaries, Winegasm offers a full food menu with creative appetizers like bacon wrapped prunes ($4.50). Mediterranean entrees include pan seared wild stripe bass gaeta and salmon with saffron rice and lemon dill sauce (both $19). The meats often come with wine sauces; and it’s always good to know that a cheese plate is around when you’re sipping currant-scented Cote du Rhone "Domaine de la Renjarde" ($9/ glass). This brick-walled, candle-lighten place is as open as it gets on the warmer days, when the patio melts with the interior beyond recognition. And Winegasm does not keep its knowledge to itself, holding casual and well-spirited wine classes focusing on wine terminology, regions and, of course, tasting. The class is taught by a house sommelier extraordinaire (doesn’t that sound impressing?). Thursday night wine tasting "Around the World in 7 wines" kicks off at 7pm.
Top Astoria Hangout #1-Locale
3302 34th Ave & 34th Ave
Long Island City , NY 11106
The decadent Chicago of 1920s has found its reverberating memorial on 34th Avenue, among the black and white art deco prints, padded bar stools, retro chandeliers and polished dark wood furniture. Except for the zeitgeist-enhancing décor, what sets Locale apart from many other Astoria cafés are its diverse wine list and a menu filled with yummy, multinational platters—especially surprising in such a small place. Chef Aldo pampers his patrons with appetizers like steamed mussels ($8.50) or home made mozzarella with olives and tomatoes ($8.50). Entrees include a variety of pastas, like the meat tortellini in a bed of four cheeses ($14.50) and all sorts of meat and poultry, often accompanied by wine sauce. If you are a declared beer lover, it’s worth to put that preference aside for one of the wines from a deliciously long list (the prices of wine per glass are wallet-friendly -- $6-7) or one of the martini dominated cocktails ranging from $8 to $12. And if the dinner by the candle light and French windows showing to the quiet street are not what you fancy, linger on the plush, antique purple canapés in the back of this stylish joint.