Frank Sinatra must have been referring to a well-known Queens neighborhood when he urged listeners to direct their feet to the sunny side of the street. And he was probably in on a really good real estate tip.
Sunnyside, the quaint and affordable neighborhood in western Queens, is situated in a prime location just minutes from Manhattan, but seems like a world away.
Ask the locals, they’ll tell you: “It’s so close to everything but you don’t feel like you are; it’s the best of both worlds and that’s what makes it unique,” said Carmela Massimo, associate broker at Welcome Home Real Estate in Sunnyside.
Daniel Yi, a local business owner who grew up in the neighborhood, echoed her statement.
“It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s a neighborhood that’s so close to the city; it feels like a distinct Queens area in terms of the community and it being so diverse,” he said.
At the Lance Corporal Thomas P. Noonan Jr. playground, adults sit around reading, people-watching and catching up, and children and teenagers participate in games as the Empire State Building looms in the backdrop serving as a grand reminder that the charming nabe is only a few train stops from Midtown on the 7 train.
Settled snugly among Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside and Greenpoint, Sunnyside boomed after the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in the early 1900s. Back then, many Irish immigrants moved into the area.
Remnants of times passed still remain in the neighborhood by way of old street names which coexist with now numbered streets, pubs and old-timers, who while sitting playing chess at Noonan Park will not hesitate to pause and give short history lessons filled with nostalgia.
Now, the jagged Queens neighborhood is a brimming melting pot of Hispanics, Caucasians, Koreans, Chinese, Turkish, Indians, Romanians and Irish. And there’s a restaurant for every ethnicity.
The neighborhood is saturated with apartment buildings and multifamily homes along with single-families and co-ops, many of which sit on tree-lined blocks.
And a smaller exclusive enclave and historic district, Sunnyside Gardens — nestled more on the northern side of the area and runs from 43rd to part of 49th Street between Skillman and 39th avenues — features small but charming one-family homes, most in the form of two-story attached brick buildings.
The all-too-familiar parking problem that plagues many neighborhoods almost escapes this one.
In addition to street parking, a huge parking lot, which takes up the divider of Queens Boulevard, provides ample space for car owners.
Although new businesses on the main corridors of Greenpoint and Skillman avenues and Queens Boulevard are slowly transforming the neighborhood, it still holds strong its classic small-town-within-a-city Queens character by way of mom and pop businesses, vintage stores and small cafes which thrive despite Starbucks’ presence.
Yet at the same time it's okay with change, which, in addition to cultural, includes age diversity.
According to Massimo, in recent years many young professionals flocked to the neighborhood and new families often start out renting but soon move on to buy a home there.
"Just take a walk on Skillman Avenue on a Saturday or Sunday and you'll see parents with baby carriages, couples, dog walkers; you'll get a smile, a good morning. You'll get a very small town feeling," she said. "It is a true community and a welcoming one."
The jagged boundaries of the Sunnyside neighborhood begin around 35th Street to the west and extend east down to 49th Street. It is split down the middle by Queens Boulevard. On the south side of Queens Boulevard, the New Cavalry Cemetery serves as another marker of its eastern border. It is bounded to the north by the Long Island Rail Road tracks and the Sunnyside Rail Yard a little further north, and to the south by the Long Island Expressway.
Sunnyside is one of the most accessible neighborhoods in Queens.
The number 7 train, which runs above the main corridor of Queens Boulevard, stops at 40th/Lowery Street and 46th/Bliss Street.
Q60 on Queens Boulevard
Q39 on 48th Avenue
B24 on Greenpoint Avenue
Queens Library Sunnyside Branch, 43-06 Greenpoint Ave.
P.S. 150, 40-01 43rd Ave.
I.S. 125, 46-02 47th Ave.
45-15 44th St.
The 108th Precinct covers the Sunnyside neighborhood. It is located at 5-47 50th Ave. Though there were a rash of subway robberies last year, the precinct’s robbery numbers have seen a major decline in the past 20 years. In 1990, there were 1,372 robberies compared to 191 in 2012 — an 86.1% decrease. In light of last year’s robberies, extra cops were assigned to patrol the precinct area’s train stations during the day and at night. The murder rate in the precinct is also relatively low. In 1990, there were 16 murders; in 2012 there were four.
Sunnyside is filled with an array of restaurants that reflect the various ethnicities residing there, including Turkish, Romanian, Indian, Italian, Colombian and Peruvian, among others.
The Dog and Duck, 45-20 Skillman Ave. The first gastropub in Sunnyside, this quaint spot offers dishes like wild mushroom risotto, duck confit, and their signature Dog and Duck burger. A Sunday Roast is offered every week at 3 p.m. There’s also garden seating in the back and sidewalk seating during warm months. 718-406-9048
Salt & Fat, 41-16 Queens Blvd. Priding itself on American and Asian fusion food, this relatively new restaurant has been a big hit in the neighborhood. Menu options include truffled beef salad, oxtail terrine and Korean BBQ wraps. 718-433-3702
I Love Paraguay, 43-16 Greenpoint Ave. This is one of the few places to try authentic Paraguayan food in New York City. I Love Paraguay, or as locals call it, I Love Py, is a small, family-run business. 718-786-5534
An abundance of bars, pubs and restaurants make the area a hot spot for a laid-back night out.
Bar 43, 43-06 43rd St. Equipped with a party room, this neighborhood watering hole is a prime spot for late nights. And with flat screen TVs, it’s perfect to catch a game while getting down on the dance floor. 718-361-3090
Claret Wine Bar, 46-02 Skillman Ave. In for a down-tempo night that’s more elegant than unrefined? Claret Wine Bar should do the trick. There is live music on Saturday nights. 718-937-7411
Molly Blooms, 43-13 Queens Blvd. In an area once mainly populated by Irish immigrants, it’s no surprise that pubs both old and new carry on paying homage. Enter Molly Blooms, which serves up Irish cuisine along with various craft beers and happy hour specials. Owner Ciaran Staunton wanted a spot that would attract everyone from the community, which is exactly what it does. 718-433-1916
Many small businesses dot the neighborhood, adding to its family-friendly vibe.
Tiny You, 46-21 Skillman Ave. In an area that newly starting out families are rapidly descending upon, it only makes sense that a children’s clothing boutique enter the retail fray. Pick up an outfit for a regular or special day, and the jewelry and accessory options make for great baby shower or birthday gifts. 718-729-3032
Sunnyside Thrift Shop, 45-14 Greenpoint Ave. With $1 books, $3 scarves and everything in between, from clothing to shoes to housewares, Sunnyside Thrift Shop is a welcome alternative to the regular retail outlets. The store is neatly organized and most of the items are reasonably priced. 718-786-7780
Stray Vintage, 48-09 Skillman Ave. This charming vintage store, which many in the area regard as a gem, is a go-to spot for offbeat items. Many of the products sold are the creation of local artists, including knickknacks and furniture. The store is also known for its reputable vinyl selection. 718-779-7795
After you’ve toured the shops in Sunnyside and sampled food from the restaurants, here a couple of options on how to spend more time in the area.
Thalia Spanish Theatre, 41-17 Greenpoint Ave. Venture over to Thalia Spanish Theatre, which offers performances in Spanish and English. In May the comedic play, “Secret Weapons of Fat Destruction,” is set to premiere. It will run through the month of June. 718-729-3880
Bliss on Bliss Studio, 41-49 45th St. The small artist-run space showcases the work of local artists through art exhibits and events. Their 2013 Spring into Summer Invitational Series, providing a venue for traveling artists, began on April 21. The showcase includes work from Mideo M. Cruz and Racquel De Loyola. 917-767-9735
Sunnyside Greenmarket, Skillman Avenue between 42nd and 43rd sts From June to December, the Sunnyside Greenmarket, run by GrowNYC, flourishes on Skillman Avenue, offering a plethora of food choices from fresh vegetables, seasonal fruit and cheese to baked goods, freshly caught fish and wine. 212-788-7476
In September of last year, the tunnel to link Sunnyside to Grand Central Terminal as part of the MTA’s East Side Access Project was completed.
According to the MTA, Long Island Rail Road trains coming from the main line of the LIRR will travel through this pathway, giving commuters another outlet to reach the east side of Manhattan quickly.
A new LIRR terminal will be built underneath Grand Central Terminal and a new LIRR station is currently being constructed at the intersection of Skillman Avenue and Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside.
According to the MTA, the LIRR is set to start running through this pathway in 2019.
The ‘Salt & Fat’ of the ‘hood
Q&A with Daniel Yi
Daniel Yi, 28, is the owner and chef of the American and Asian fusion restaurant Salt & Fat, at 41-16 Queens Blvd. His business is one of the new establishments aiming to transform Sunnyside into a more go-to spot for foodies. He has lived in Sunnyside all his life.
How have you seen the neighborhood change in your lifetime?
It’s slowly evolving. Before it was mainly only pizza shops and pubs but now there’s a lot more restaurants and young professionals settling in. It’s getting there.
What made you remain in Sunnyside and open your business here?
It’s a friendly area and I have a lot of memories here. I wanted a neighborhood joint that was a little bit food forward because I felt Sunnyside didn’t really have that. I have regulars that come in three or four times a week and people from all over the city.
Are there any drawbacks to the neighborhood or things you’d like to see change?
There are no drawbacks really but I do wish that the locals would be more open, in terms of trying new types of food. Some of them are still hesitant but I’m trying to change that.