The endless grey skies above were a nice match for the equally endless industrial wasteland spread out before us. It was Sunday afternoon and 15 cyclists were about to achieve, if not the impossible, than the improbable. We were going to set off on our two-wheeled machines and attempt to ride inbetween the borders of Brooklyn and Queens. It was ambitious, not for the length of the ride (an easy 8 1/2 miles) but for the audacity of it. Had it ever been done before? No-one knows, or, more probably, no-one has riden and lived to tell the tale.
Well, people probably have riden the route, but from what we’ve searched, no-one has told it successfully. So this was our objective: to ride our bikes along the zig-zagging border between Brooklyn and Queens. To skirt the edges of at least a dozen plus neighborhoods, and just as many zip codes. To see if things were really all that different in Woodhaven (QNS) as they are in Cypress Hills (BK). To stop for a pint of beer in the oldest bar in Queens. To roll through the neighborhood known as The Hole. To end at the end of the border between Kings and Queens counties.
We were off! Armed with a trusty Bike Map of NYC 2011 edition, the route was carefully plotted and configured so as to follow, as closely as possible, the border between Brooklyn and Queens. After about 5 minutes of riding down Onderdonk Ave, we had to veer off-track since an impenetrable freight railroad line interrupted our flow. Soon enough we arrived at the Vande-Onderdonk Farmhouse, the oldest Dutch stone farmhouse in NYC, and Arbitration Rock.
Arbitration Rock! The very name brings to mind historical delegations between warring communities! The story of the Rock is one of endless bickering and stone throwing between the English community of Newtowne (Newtown, now Long Island City) and the Dutch village of Bostwijck (Bushwick). So to settle the dispute, they picked a rock in 1788 and placed it as an arbitration point, using it to outline all borders between the communities, and eventually, Kings and Queens Counties. Mind you, this original 1789 border line is NOT the border that we biked. The original border cut through families farmhouses, so that their living room was in Brooklyn but their kitchen in Queens! In 1925 the city of NY decided to re-arrange the border so that it cut along street corners and not through houses. This was explained to us by the lovely docent at the Vande-Onderdonk Farmhouse. Then we were off again.
Flushing Ave, Seneca Ave, a wrong-way right turn against traffic (but dutifully following the border!) on Menahan street, L on St. Nicholas Ave, R on Gates Ave, L on Wyckoff, then Halsey, Eldert st, Irving Ave and to the cemetery. LUNCH BREAK! Incredibly fatty Puerto Rican food in a parking lot on Cooper, plus real Pina Coladas! Now the BK/QNS border runs right through Evergreen and Cypress Hills Cemeteries but we weren’t attempting to roll over headstones and disturb the RIPers, so we jagged through Highland Park and came out on the Cypress Hills side of Brooklyn, made our way to Eldert Lane, and down the border again.
Beer stop! Neirs Tavern, in Woodhaven, claims to be the oldest bar in Queens and one of the oldest in America. Opened as the Blue Pump Room in 1829, it has had many changes, in name and layout, but is still the same bar in the same building. Mae West performed there. Its the bar where the Goodfellas meet. They were gracious enough to let 15 thirsty bikers plop down in the back room and drink cheap beer, as a break from the exhausting route-following dictations of lead cyclist-in-chief.
Back to the border! Through Cityline/Ozone Park, East New York/Lindenwood. We came through The Hole – a netherland neighborhood half in Brooklyn, half in Queens and 30 feet below street grade. No sidewalks, no sewers. It floods every time it rains. Also known as the Gem streets for the beautiful names like Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald streets, it makes the irony of the economically and geographically depressed neighborhood all that more apparent. Through the hole we traced the border as far south as possible before it disappeared into a marshy inlet from Jamaica Bay and we were definitely in Howard Beach, Queens. A rousing success! From there it was through a bunch of Brooklyn neighborhoods – East New York, New Lots, to the terminal L station in Canarsie and the end of our ride.
By Matt Levy