Last Exit to Astoria
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Love at first sight, the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd Station, last stop on the N and W lines, slicing under and through the New York Connecting Railroad viaduct—the line that links New York City and Long Island to the North American mainline via the Hell Gate Bridge—the trippy chaos of the city’s infrastructure.
Some context: The station is in Steinway, part of Astoria, and was once called Steinway Village, a company town founded by and for the Steinway piano factory. According to 1939 WPA guide, Steinway “was named for William Steinway, Manhattan piano manufacturer who in the early 1870’s established a branch factory here on a four-hundred-acre site along the Bowery Bay. He was motivated by the desire to remove large numbers of his employees from the influence of labor organizers and to provide additional production facilities. Around his plant he laid out a company town with a kindergarten, a free library, a bathhouse, a park, and athletic fields. The firm of Steinway and Sons still operates a factory in the neighborhood.” And it gives tours.
The station house. What it lacks in vintage elegance (ex: the East 180th Street station in the Bronx), it makes up in a building block structure of happy colors.
Elevated line stations are neighborhood tidal pools—they incubate, grow and protect retail life below—even more so in Queens, dammit—home to 2.2 million people speaking 160 languages, all of them trying to make a buck.
I love the ethnic stew—Yaar Indian restaurant (all-you-can-eat lunch buffet), O’Hanlon’s Irish bar (since 1939), Delicias Caleñas Colombian bakery.
I’ve never had a bad cup of coffee in a Colombian bakery, so in I went, ordered a cafecita and a sweet pastry.
Viaducts often have murals with worthy minutia——I’m guessing Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, and either Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra? I much prefer this to the photo-realistic murals popping up around the city.
A few doors down, 22-55 31st Street, beckons the entrance to a slew of 2nd floor businesses: the International Training Center (Jiu Jitsu, Mauy Thai, Judo), Azzazy Travel (specializes in Hajj—the pilgrimage to Mecca), Silver Age Comics, Blue Balloon Parties (Disney princess parties for little girls), an internet café, et. al.
First stop is Silver Age Comics, a dazzling display of super-hero covers. I’m more an Archie fan, so I purchase a Betty and Veronica (“friends forever”) comic.
Nextdoor is the internet café; I swooned for this mind-blowing five-seat game console. I have no idea what game this is.
After crossing a pedestrian bridge to the station mezzanine, a row of laminated glass art by Elisabeth Condon greets me. Sweet.
Back to the street and the four snowmen on Mike’s Diner facade.
On the west side of 31st Street sits Rose & Joe’s Italian bakery (I didn’t go in, but you can check out this rave from weheartastoria.com) and Pelicana, a Korean chicken chain with an all-you-can-drink soju deal (“all day every day”??).
Look up, and you’ll see Locked, part of the escape room craze.
Time to head east, following the NYCR, which cuts through the neighborhood like a Ferlinghetti poem.
Some other views of the NYCR decussating the area:
From 35th Street, approaching 23rd Avenue, massive red girders of the New York Connective Railroad (NYCR), and the quaint row houses in its shadow. A few blocks northwest, the big-walled railroad dwarfs this little clapboard.
Another view along 23rd Avenue. Wow.
A few feet east, a Mediterranean Foods ll (22-78 35th St), specializes in Greek gourmet...
My purchase: two cans of stuffed grape leaves, a container of smoked mackerel; should last me a week.
Biking toward the bay, in order to check out the Steinway factory and the massive Con Ed facility, I enter ramshackle 41st street…and spy in the distance a spire.
What is this Gothic beauty?...
...The Steinway mansion, it turns out, occupied in 1870 by William Steinway of Steinway and Sons. Marvel at how it occupies that hill, the mansion that time forgot. Here’s one history of the Steinway mansion. Just as amazing, I’m on this hill for 30 minutes, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and not a soul did I see.
A few blocks north, the massive Con Ed Astoria Yards plant. You may remember the transformer explosion here on December 27, 2018 that turned the night sky electric blue.
Back on 41st Street, an apt description of that event.