We’re heading into our third pandemic summer and thankfully, after this long Omicron winter and dreary BA2 spring, Rockaway Beach, New York’s best subway (and ferry) beach, is open on time this weekend. of Memorial Day.
Good kind of.
The boardwalk concessions promise to be ready for the big summer kick-off this weekend, but much of the physical reality beach part of Rockaway Beach will get off to a rocky start. Like, literally, there are tons of huge boulders everywhere, due to the construction of a necessary, but perhaps unfortunately timed pier.
The Parks Department’s official schedule of summer beach closures is a bit confusing. For much of July, some parts of the beach will be open for swimming and others only for sunbathing. This is subject to change as work on the piers progresses.
But what we do know for sure is this: As of this weekend, Beach 117th to Belle Harbor is fully open, with plenty of sand and lifeguards on duty, as are the beaches at Beach 86th to Beach 67th and Far Rockaway (essentially everything east of Ripper).
Between these two points, the situation on the ground is murkier. Last Sunday, some stretches of sand offered ample space to spread out and bask in the sun or curl up inside one of these personal tents; others were littered with massive stones and heavy construction equipment. And once you’re there, there’s really no way of knowing which beaches are officially “no access” and which are “sand and recreation access only”.
None of this seemed to deter the hordes who showed up for fun in the sun last weekend. For the most part, people just ignored the shy signs and barriers, and threw themselves where they could. And despite the danger of swimming here without lifeguards on duty, there were a lot of people out there in the waves. It remains to be seen how vigorously the no-swimming rule will be enforced by the park service in the future.
Patrick Kearns, a former Rockaway lifeguard who lolled on the sand around Beach 112th Street on Sunday, told Gothamist he thought the beach closures were “a real bummer. I think it would have been cool to have them. see rock piers finished before summer Seemed like they had made good progress, not sure what’s holding them back.
Open ocean or not, on the boardwalk and inland – by that we mean a block or two – there are plenty of great things to eat here. If you want to take in all that beach heading to Belle Harbour, take the MTA shuttle to the end of the line, Beach 116th Street.
There are a number of generic grocery stores between the metro and the sand here, where you can get a nice sandwich and a bag of chips for a picnic. Pickles and Pie has the best name and the most colorful sign, but their food is indistinguishable from the less flashy places on the strip. Other options on Beach 116th include Meat Up Grill for burgers, venerable slice shop Ciro’s for pizza, and Carvel for bland, icy nostalgia. And for anyone who’s health-crazed, there’s a new smoothie and acai-bowl shop called Baya Bar.
Beach 106th’s concession stand may not have official ocean access at this time — there’s a chain-link fence between it and the sand, though that could be easily moved — but it has two of the best places here for breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner. Those crazy hippies from Brothers are back with their unbeatable menu of amazing sandwiches, like the English Muffin Egg Sandwich with Pesto and the Open Kimchi Grilled Cheese, and four of the best smoothies I’ve ever had in my life.
Most of the Beach 106th real estate is owned by Maribel Araujo’s grand Caracas Arepa Bar, with its jaw-dropping headliners (De Pabellón, brimming with shredded beef, black beans, cotija and fried sweet plantains, is the stuff of legends), zippy empanadas and, finally, more booze.
Despite the untimely closure of the beach, Araujo is looking forward to this summer.
“I think it’s going to be awesome,” she told Gothamist. “We had a great start, Saturday was crazy, like a totally busy summer day, and we got our liquor license back. Everyone was in good spirits. When it’s hot, New Yorkers want go to the beach, and they’re going to find a way to do it, so Parks is going to have to deal with it. It’s people’s beach!”
The biggest change this summer is at the Beach 97th concession stand. Not so much with the vendors, with personal favorites like the wood-fired pies at Seany Pizza, the incomparable Peruvian seafood snacks at La Cevicheria, the chowder and lobster rolls at Red Hook Lobster Pound and the vegan delights at La Fruteria all back in Obliger.
But the space itself has undergone a full makeover, which will be unveiled this weekend, and word on the street is that it’s airy, bright and gorgeous. Oh and the ice cream wizards of Oddfellows join the fun here too. The plan is to keep this booth open year round, which will go wild in February.
Rounding out the boardwalk offerings, rock-n-roll Ripper’s burger shack is back at Beach 87th, and they’ve got their massive Hardbodies waiting for you—it’s the sexiest mountain of meat on the beach—and a new little bar inside. This place is always a party, and with this rare fully open beach on its doorstep, it should be crowded all summer long.
Just off the boardwalk at Beach 95th, the legendary “Irish surf bar” Connolly’s opens for the season this weekend with new owners, but don’t worry, those of you who have been coming here since 1962, they promised not to change anything, especially not this famous Frozen Piña Colada.
On Sunday afternoon, I hit the attractive “food court” on 96th Beach. Last year’s newcomer The Cradle, a West African place with Egusi and Efo Riro on the menu, was closed and Bernadette’s kitchen was weeded – they quoted a 40 minute wait for food – so I passed my usual bacon, egg and cheese here. Not open on this strip either: Gigi’s gelato, right next door, and Raquel Confections, specializing in gluten-free pastries.
The great Uzbek joint Uma’s, on Beach Boulevard near Beach 92nd, had a table available on the sidewalk, so I sat down and gobbled down a platter of their excellent Pelmeni – “Russian dumplings” stuffed with beef, topped with onions and yogurt sauce – which should be required to eat for everyone at least once or twice a summer. And if you’re looking for something cold, silly, and sweet, Mara’s Ice Cream across the street, with flavors like Peanut Butter Pie, Cookie Monster, and Muddy Boots, has you covered. Sit in the shady, sandy courtyard.
A little further up the boulevard, just off Beach 88th, is Tracy Oblosky’s stunning Rockaway Beach Bakery, now entering its sixth summer and continuing to kill it with some of the best baked goods available anywhere in town. If he has any Sticky Buns left when you’re there, pounce (they sold out at 8:30 last Sunday), but everything else is awesome too.
And talking about the oldies: Andrew Field has already started his 16th summer here, throwing his iconic Fish Tacos to a lively crowd at Tacoway Beach, located on this funky back patio at the Rockaway Surf Club bar on Beach 87th. I’ve probably eaten Field’s fish tacos (I also have one with chorizo and a watermelon or pineapple drink) more than any other restaurant dish in my life, and it still hits exactly right Everytime. It’s crunchy, tangy, shiny, juicy… for me, it’s the taste of summer.
Finally, if you want to get drunk by the bay with lots of local boaters, the Bungalow Bar at the far end of Beach 92nd is the place to be. In addition to alcohol, a full menu of “American classics” is available.