Rockin the Rockaways
When you think of a beach destination, you picture white picket fences and ice cream parlors. You see condominiums soldiering along the waterfront. You imagine clean white sand and patio seating. That's not the Rockaways.
An hour from Manhattan and a single subway ride means easy access for the millions living in the five boroughs. The Rockaways on a weekend is over whelming to the senses, to say the least. Gangs of college students guzzle hard lemonade and gyrate to blaring boom boxes. Shrieking kids, jocks with footballs, surfers, boogie boarders, chain-smoking models all camp together until planning your escape from the beach without touching another person's towel is like playing a game of Landmine.
Then you meet the locals and you realize how white and gentrified your own neighborhood has become. The local bar, Connolly's, sports a bizarre collection of semi naked sorority girls, tattooed bikers and grizzled long-timers. It's not uncommon to be missing a few teeth, to be sitting at the bar shirtless and barefoot. The occasional beer funnel is brought out.
And then you frequent places like Umas, a Williamsburg-esq restaurant with low lighting and farm to table ingredients. If you want to hang with the cool kids, you drop in for tacos and a watermelon margarita at Beach Surf Club. You might have to avoid the crack dealer, loitering in the side alley on your way there, but once inside you'll feel like you're back in Brooklyn.
To truly experience the Rockaway you must stay overnight. That means one of two choices - The Piper Inn or Playland. Playland is famous for its music scene (don't expect a solid nights sleep, the website warns) and shared bathrooms. If you're visting the beach to drop acid and groove away the night, this is your place.
If you want to hang with a long time local and feel the real vibe of the Rockaways, try The Piper. Pete the owner of 14 years, runs a ship-shape establishment. He'll drink a beer (or five) with you on the front patio, regale you with Rockaway history and little known facts about the neighborhood. He'll tell you he doesn't care what color your skin is, if you're good people, you're good people. The rooms are simple but tidy and even though the room rate will put you back a cool $200 you’ll feel protected from the general Rockaway craziness once you’re inside. As an extra plus, you can walk to the beach in two minutes and he'll let you keep your beer in the bar's industrial sized cooler for late night imbibing.
So, don't visit the Rockaways expecting a typical beach experience. You're just as likely to see a septuagenarian give a police officer the finger, as you are to see a long time surfer help a family get their oversized baby carriage through the door to a restaurant. It's not a place for the faint of heart, but if you want an authentic experience, then the Rockaways has it.