#MonthlyPicks | August ’15 Picks by Debbie Van Cura
Finding a good place to eat is never a problem in Astoria. There is something for everyone. My favorite, however, is rooted in my Czech heritage. There is only one place to enjoy truly genuine Czech food, and that is at Bohemian Hall (29-19 24th Ave.). Sitting in the Beer Garden under the trumpeter elm trees (which by the way is the last authentic beer garden in all of NYC) is where you can enjoy the national dish of the Czech Republic: pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. Every bite is a delight, especially when washed down with a Pilsner Urquell (the original and finest pilsner on the face of the earth!). If you are looking for lighter fare or a quick bite,Michael’s Restaurant (33-17 Broadway) is always a good choice. The food is good, and the staff is extremely accommodating.
Window shopping along Steinway Street is always a treat. An eclectic mix of brand name stores and independent shops make Steinway Street a unique experience. You can never just look, though, you always come home with something. The shopping along Broadway is just an extraordinary. There you can find the unusual, such as the Broadway Silk Store (35-11 Broadway). This family-run store in the community for more than 80 years offers fabric, notions and jewelry. Well worth the trip. Walk down a bit farther to 31st Street and visit the Astoria Bookshop(31-29 31st St.). They carry the latest bestsellers and books on local history (written by the Greater Astoria Historical Society).
Many people pay good money to see the New York City skyline. In Astoria we can enjoy this for free at Astoria Park. Once the site where fashionable families like the Barclays, Potters and Hoyts had their homes, today the park attracts thousands of people looking for a cool breeze on a hot summer day or a dip in the oldest and largest pool in NYC. It was even the site of the Olympic trials in 1936 and 1964. Not all happy memories are associated with Astoria Park. OnJune 15, 1904, the congregation of St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church was on the steamer the General Slocum heading for a church picnic. The steamer caught fire, and more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, either were burned to death or drowned in the turbulent waters of the East River. There is a plaque along the shoreline in memory to those lost lives.
To learn about the history of Astoria one must visit the Greater Astoria Historical Society (35-20 Broadway, www.astorialic.org ). In addition to lecture series, they house a collection of more than 1,000 books on local and New York City history; they feature permanent and rotating exhibits of local historical interest and have an enormous collection of historic photographs. Do you know they have a door from the Blackwell family that was marked by an English soldier in the Revolutionary War? Stop by to see them and staffers will also direct to where Xerox was invented around the corner from them or to walk by the Matthew Model Flats (their story for another edition).
Debbie Van Cura is a lifelong resident of Astoria. Her family came to Astoria in 1922 and never left. She is the secretary of the Greater Astoria Historical Society and a former board member of the Bohemian Citizen’s Benevolent Society of Astoria (which owns Bohemian Hall) and the Variety Boys Girls Club. Teaching as adjunct professor at LaGuardia Community College in Urban Sociology, she can share her love of New York City with students from around the world. Although she lectures on the development of planned communities and what makes local streets work, her best known lecture is the Beer Gardens of Queens.