Many of us living in NY and most parts of the country have been quarantining and working from home since mid-March. We are tired. We are cranky. It is summer. And we want to play.
But I did not want to travel by plane or train. I searched for local VRBOs and they were either too expensive or a room in someone’s home. And then I stumbled across a hotel/VRBO in Rockaway Park. In Queens, so only a Lyft (or even short bus) ride away. No maid service – they do not clean the room until you leave. No lobby or check-in desk, so no running into a lot of other people.
I am born and raised in Queens, so I’ve been to Far Rockaway, Rockaway Park, and Riis Park a lot. But this was a chance to see something other than the beach and boardwalk and to be a tourist in my own borough.
The High Tide was perfect. A bed and a bathroom – that is all I needed. Each room is decorated by a different artist. I chose the room with a sofa. They all have small refrigerators (I guess except for the one room that has a kitchen). I booked a room for four nights – check in on Monday, August 17 and check out on Friday, August 21. The hotel is only two blocks from the beach.
I was trying to figure out if the room slanted or if it was just the ceiling. The piece was even because the fringe hung straight across.
The hotel is above a BBQ restaurant and during the normal times it must be noisy because there were earplugs in the room. The WiFi was incredibly fast.
Check in is 3pm and I got there about 5pm, so I after I settled into the room and wiped every surface down with hospital grade wipes, I looked for a place to eat. I decided to try Bungalow Bar on the Jamaica Bay side of the Rockaway peninsula. It was very breezy and I could have used a sweater – I had packed for summer only. Groups of people were there for the drinks. I was in a beach town, so I wanted seafood. The cooked food might be better but the East Coast oysters and lobster roll that I had were tasteless. With a glass of wine plus tip, the meal cost me $75.
The next day I slept in a bit. I got to Beach 97th Street about noon. It is not a wide part of the beach, so it felt a bit crowded as the day wore on but it was not as crowded as it would have been on a non-pandemic beach day. Everyone stayed at least six feet away from each other. Next to me was what looked like a boy band. And in front a woman who decided to go topless. The sand was cool enough to walk on. The water was warm. There was a slight breeze. And big waves. It was actually pleasant enough that you could lie on the sand all day and not even need the water to cool off. I only went into the water once.
There was a sculpture before you walked on a boardwalk. And a sign showing the high-water mark (9 feet) – that is how high the water from the ocean and bay covered the peninsula.
In all the restaurants, all the wait staff wore masks. Customers were required to wear masks until they sat down. Many people in the street were not wearing masks. And people wore masks coming onto or leaving the beach but took them off once they were settled on their blankets/towels.
I got an email from the company that ran the hotel asking if there was anything I needed. I told them there were no extra rolls of toilet paper in the room and when I got back to the room, there were two rolls in a bag hanging on my door. Since there is no front desk, all communication is done by email.
It was another cool night but not as cool as the night before. I decided to try another bay restaurant – The Wharf Bar & Grill, known for watching the sunset. It was crowded but since I was alone, I was seated right away. They were walking me to the back and I was wondering how difficult it would be to see the sunset and it turns out I had the perfect view. The view is the Marine Parkway Bridge, which connects the peninsula with Brooklyn. I could also see south Queens and Manhattan. There is also a pier (the bay restaurants have piers), where people were hanging out waiting for the sunset. The restaurant is not one you would stumble across – you have to know where it is and where you are going. The food was much better. I ordered fish tacos (saved one for breakfast the next day) and a steak sandwich. One Chardonnay, which surprised me as to how good it was, and two Ketel Ones on the rocks. $70 with tip.
So, it turned out that the week I chose for a beach vacation, the temperature was in the 70s and it rained on and off. I was up early but then there were thunderstorms, so I did some work in the room while I waited for those to pass. The weather report said it was going to rain again in the late afternoon but I lucked out. Once the sun came out in the late afternoon, it stayed out. I had cut my beach day short the day before because I thought I would have a long day at the beach on Wednesday. Oh well.
I walked down Rockaway Beach Boulevard to Beach 88th Street and Rockaway Beach Bakery. This place is worth stopping at any time you are having a beach day. I got a peach muffin, raisin cinnamon scone, and fancy BLT (rosemary focaccia, scallion mayo, and spinach). I sat on a bench and ate the muffin. There were only four people on the beach because it was still drizzling on and off. The beach is wider here and because it was so empty it felt like the ends of the earth. At one point it started raining hard enough that the five us put our umbrellas up and some other people who had been there left. A seagull was watching me – “I have to be here. Why are you here?” I went in the water while it was still cloudy, the water was warm and I had the ocean to myself. Heaven. As I said, it was about 4:30pm when the sun came out hard. More people showed up but it never got crowded because of the rain.
This night I decided to eat at the restaurant below the hotel and that was a good decision. Their food is very good. The tables are set up in the parking lot. RBQ smokes their own meat – Texas, Kansas, and Carolina style barbecue. I got the pulled pork jalapeño poppers, fried green tomatoes and smoked mozzarella caprese salad, and a brisket sandwich that I saved for lunch the next day on the beach. One double rum piña colada and two seltzers. With tip it was $65.
The next day was a perfect beach day and many others agreed. I got to Beach 97th Street a little after 10am (which is when the beach opens) and a lot of people had already staked out their spots. I still was able to find a spot close to the water and more than six feet away from everyone around me. I realized too late that I had forgotten to put in my contacts and I did not have my glasses, so everything was blurry but pretty. Once again, the sand was cool enough to walk on and the water was warm. There were no clouds and a constant slight breeze. The waves were not too rough and the tide was out, so I had to walk far out to get to the point before the waves break. I was able to do that and still be in water not past my waist. At Far Rockaway (I usually go to Beach 60th Street) the drop off happens before you can get too far out. My company had their Zoom staff meeting, which I took at the beach and my boss asked me about the nude beach (there was one at Riis Park but I do not know if it is still there).
I got back to the room at 4:30pm, showered and changed and had to decide on what would be my last meal in Rockaway. Too many restaurants to choose from! I chose the Uzbeki restaurant, Uma’s. (They have another restaurant in Puerto Rico!) In regular times, the restaurant has a rack for surfboards outside but now there are about six tables. I wish I had had my phone (it was in the room charging). The food looked as good as it tasted. It was very difficult to decide what to eat. They give you a big bottle of water and I chanced a Chardonnay again and it was also very good.
The green bichaki looks like a big bread version of a soup dumpling covered with sesame seeds. The spinach, chard, and onions were almost liquid inside and there was a strong taste of cumin. Their version of plov is made with beef instead of lamb. The meat was tender enough to cut with my fork and the sweetness of the carrots and Uzbek red raisins played off the earthiness of the beef with the rice, which had just the right amount of grease, acting like bridge between the two. With tip, $48 (I think – I did not record the price).
All photos were taken from the internet:
I went across the street for dessert – Mara’s Ice Cream Parlor. My first choice was a double scoop cup with chocolate peanut butter and Maine blackberry but they were out of the blackberry. I chose strawberry and then too late I saw the Maine blueberry. The ice cream was very good and I ate while walking back to the hotel. There is also a backyard where you can sit and eat the ice cream if you want.
Check out was 11am and I wanted to get breakfast before I left. A block away was Bernadette’s and they had a big wooden OPEN sign hanging beside the door and a chalkboard with Duck Benedict and a couple of other good-sounding dishes. I did not see anyone outside, so I opened the door and there were three men talking. One immediately yelled at me, “We’re not open! And you’re not supposed to be inside!” I closed the door, looked at the big wooden OPEN sign, opened the door again, and told him if he was not open, then maybe he should take down the open sign. Their food may be delicious – I have no idea – but based on that rudeness, I will never try them. There were nicer ways to speak to me.
I walked to the corner deli and got a baconeggandcheeseonaroll and a chocolate milk and was happy. $8.17, which surprised me. Rockaway is not a well-off area.
Getting away for a few days was worth every penny and very necessary. Being in a vacation mindset, I think I took some chances that I would not have taken at home and I was certainly around a lot more people than I am when I am home. We will see within the next two weeks if that was a mistake.
By Carene Lydia Lopez