Life In Motion
The New York Times wrote a fantastic piece about Long Island City last week, which documented the rapid changes to Vernon Boulvard over the past decade. Take a look at Christian L. Wright’s article:
“AT 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in late September, three men were sitting at the sidewalk tables in front of Tournesol on Vernon Boulevard. Pascal Escriout, the Frenchman who owns the bistro, was sharing a bottle of Bordeaux with a couple of friends — Robert Gonçalves, his partner in Domaine Wine Bar a few doors down, and one of the guys from Sweetleaf, the coffee house over on Jackson Avenue.
A young mother in aviator sunglasses and high ponytail came along, pushing a baby in a stroller, a toddler at her heels.
‘Hello!’ Mr. Escriout said.
‘That looks so nice,’ the young mother said wistfully, as she continued on her way.
Ten years ago, when Mr. Escriout arrived in Long Island City to open his restaurant, marked by a giant sunflower on a big sign on the side of the two-story building, there wasn’t much around apart from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Dorian Cafe coffee shop and a few places to get your tires rotated.
‘It reminded me of a village in France,’ said Mr. Escriout, sweeping his arm toward the trees and benches of Vernon Mall, a small wedge of a park that separates Tournesol (50-12 Vernon Boulevard) from 1 Vernon Jackson, the gleaming new steel-and-glass condominium across the way. ‘After 6 o’clock, there was almost no one on the street.’”
“Vernon runs parallel to the East River, which is as close as two blocks away. Along the banks, condominium towers continue to go up, but the waterfront is also home to the 12-acre Gantry Plaza State Park, with its front-row perspective on the Manhattan skyline. Old gantries and the enormous Pepsi-Cola sign hold fast as symbols of the area’s industrial and manufacturing history. Meanwhile, Vernon Boulevard is low-rise and old-time, a nice bridge to the neighborhood’s pregentrification past. The map may seem strange to a Manhattanite: 44th Avenue runs parallel to 44th Road, 11th Street is one block from 21st Street, and the building numbers read like a mixed-up Dewey Decimal system.
Many of the buildings lining the boulevard are clapboard or brick, some date back to the early 1900s, and lots of them house railroad flats, those long, skinny hallmarks of New York City living. Rents here are about half what they are in Manhattan, according to Eric Benaim, a Queens native who is president of Modern Spaces, a boutique real estate agency focused on Long Island City. Availability tends to be scant on Vernon Boulevard, but a renovated 700 square-foot one-bedroom near the intersection with 48th Avenue was recently listed for $1,900 a month.
Sales are competitive, too. For instance, a two-bedroom two-bath corner unit with a 174-square-foot balcony at 1 Vernon Jackson is on the market for $899,000, western and southern views included.
At street level, there’s strong evidence of the strata of time. The trolley cars of the 1950s are long gone, but auto body shops are now mixed in with trendy bars; the dusty old Delta Force Army Navy store (owned by Brian Adams, the head technician for the Gruccis, a k a America’s First Family of Fireworks) is a few doors from the new Snob nail salon (No. 47-34); a private social club sits across from the offices of Modern Spaces (No. 47-42).
The pedestrian flow is constant and active but never seems heavy, unless you count the Sunday of the New York Marathon, when the stampede comes right down the boulevard. And it’s not just on marathon day that you see every race, color, creed, day job and hairdo … plus dog walkers. It’s dog heaven around here, with at least six canine-centric businesses within a few blocks, and a dog run at 48th Avenue and Vernon that’s being overhauled and expanded.
“Queens may not yet have the cachet of, say, Brooklyn, but there is something effortlessly cool about Long Island City. In an old public school two and a half blocks east of Vernon Boulevard, MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue at the intersection of 46th Avenue) has brought contemporary art, not to mention an international tourist brigade, to the area. It certainly played a part in the $4 million renovation of the Court Square stop on the IRT Flushing Line.
M. Wells, the iconoclastic restaurant that lost a battle with its landlord and closed last summer, cast a light on the gastronomic possibilities. From pioneers like Tournesol to newcomers like the haute beer hall Alewife (5-14 51st Avenue) and Alobar (46-42 Vernon Boulevard), where a charcuterie menu is replacing the old Irish bill of fare, there is an eating and drinking boom at the boulevard’s southern end. There’s an audience for it, too. How else could Hunter’s Point Wines and Spirits (47-07 Vernon Boulevard) offer such a good inventory, host regular tastings and provide wine storage for customers?
The prevailing attitude of the neighborhood is: ‘If I don’t have to go to Manhattan, I won’t.’
At the beginning of October, Sarah Obraitis (a native of the borough) and her husband, Hugue Dufour (the chef who came from the Michelin-starred Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal), of M. Wells were negotiating a lease on a warehouse space not far from Vernon Boulevard. In spite of accolades from the fancy-food press, Ms. Obraitis and Mr. Dufour have said they have no interest in other boroughs. Instead, they want to continue to serve ‘Queens people.’”
A French bistro in the heart of Long Island City, Tournesol is one of the neighborhood’s most beloved restaurants – and for good reason. It evokes a classic, unpretentious European vibe. Old photographs line the walls, collectibles and glass bottles are placed half-hazardly in the windowsill, and hues of deep red and light mustard accompany the hardwood floors and tables (often a vase of sunflowers sits on the bar). On the menu is a selection of delicate soups, fresh paninis, flavorful salads, and light, delicious entrees. Think classic French dishes: croque monsieur, ham & cheese croissant, French union soup, steak frites, even a hamburger with foie gras. Go to their website for a full menu; we predict salivation.
The restaurant is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner. For anyone who likes French food, an intimate, authentic setting, quality ingredients, or just a relaxing glass of wine, we suggest Tournesol. Located at 50-12 Vernon Blvd. Website: tournesolnyc.com