At the extreme southern end of Queens, Rockaway Beach is a stretch from New York City. It takes one train, two shuttles and an hour and a half to get to the Rockaways from midtown. The ride is one of the most incredible subway trips in the world, coasting above houses in southeastern Queens and zooming over two subway rails (and not much else) through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This kind of geographic isolation means two things – 1) NYC is the only place in the world where the beachfront property is dirt cheap; and 2) It makes for an incredible vacation, to get away from the city while staying in the five boroughs.
Which is exactly what we did, two weeks back. 3 couples, all close friends, rented a third floor 3 BR condo in the middle of the Rockaways for one week. 214 Beach 102nd street was 2 blocks from the beach, 5 blocks from the locavore-alicious Rockaway Taco Shack, 3 blocks from the A shuttle train at Beach 105, 3 blocks from a supermarket, but most importantly, miles away, both physically and mentally, from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Rent was cheap. How cheap? Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you how cheap.
We’d kick off each morning with an 8am swim. Return to the pad, drink the cold-brewed coffee and have a bagel, put in 3-4 hours of work – with most of the residents freelancing or working remotely, our dining area turned into a cute work station. Lunchtime meant either a fish taco or homemade sandwich, then it was back to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Evening meant BBQ or an adventure in Nassau county, looking for fried fish shacks and clam raw bars. Oftentimes we had beer o’clock in the afternoon. Vacation!
The Rockaways have an incredible history. Developed as a middle-class alternative to Coney Island’s Nickel Paradise, entire NY neighborhoods flocked to the Rockaways from the 1880s up to World War II. Irish, Jewish, Italian, and African-American families, with each group living in their own ethnic enclave in snug, sturdy bungalows. There were over 7000 of these Rockaway Bungalows – the standard unit of housing along the beach – which fostered a rare community spirit, bonding families regardless of ethnic lines.
Enter Robert Moses and NYC’s Urban Renewal era, circa 1950s. With highways leading to the suburbs and a plan to tear down the tiny bungalows and replace them with modern housing, the city started this project by ripping out the bungalows but not replacing them with anything due to budget restraints. 40 years went by, and although there is some new development in the Rockaways (notably Arverne by the Sea,) there are still miles and miles of wasteland along the ocean. Less than 300 bungalows remain.
As much as we wanted to rent a bungalow for our vacation, it proved impossible to find, so instead the Pink Palace condo sufficed. And boy did we vacation, without leaving New York City. Beach-time every day, with newly acquired boogie boards; Rockaway Tacos for lunch; friends jumped on the A train and came to visit; fellow NY adventurer Josh Bernstein and I drove to brand new Barrier Brewery in Oceanside, as well as a big feast at Bigelow’s New England Fried Clam Shack in Rockville Center; and Friday night a Next Shabbat sponsored BBQ dinner. All in all it was an incredible vacation, and one that become a yearly tradition.
By Matt Levy