Last year the New York Times notably identified a large swath of Long Island City as being “built from scratch,” practically overnight, into a collection of monolithic residence towers and condominiums. The composite neighborhood of Dutch Kills, however – generally considered to have 34th Avenue as a northern boundary, Bridge Plaza North as a southern border, Northern Boulevard as its eastern side, and 21st Street as its western edge – suggests that Long Island City’s identity and future are yet to be determined.
Dutch Kills’ industrial past is present, both architecturally and in the form of so many trades that dominate its blocks, from auto repair, to iron and glass working, to industry lighting installation, and more. Small convenience stores and modest cafes – like Rosa’s – have opened up over time to serve workers and residents in this area. A handful of the old warehouses have been re-purposed into art spaces. There is an intriguing abundance of places of worship per square block. Newer bars and restaurants like Dutch Kills Centraal have begun to sparsely dot the landscape. And of course there are the ever rising hotels and glass box towers, being built beam by beam by workers, shadowing the one and two story residences where people have long resided.
Dutch Kills is one of those New York neighborhoods where you can stop and look and see the literal levels of historical development: its skyline is a boxer’s jagged-tooth grin of past, present, and future. And Rosa’s Cafe is very much a part of the past, present and future of Dutch Kills.
A cheerful, informal cafe with a tiny lunch counter and a surprisingly spacious table seating area, Rosa’s Cafe on 38th Avenue has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (6 am to 7 pm weekdays) to the workers, students, artists, and residents of Dutch Kills for 8 years now. “I guess you’d call this area up and coming,” the disarmingly kind guy behind the counter said to me the other day with a hint of a smile as he mentioned the intriguing presence of a notable French artist in the neighborhood. “There are things around here you that you don’t even know about – but they’re there.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say I’ve only stopped into Rosa’s for coffee and breakfast bites – I’m not really a breakfast person – like toast or a muffin. But they also have a full breakfast and lunch menu, a small Peruvian menu which includes a popular Lomo Saltado (marinated beef sauteed with tomatoes and onion and served with fried potato wedges), and neighborhood inflected fare like gyro, souvlaki and frappe, a frothy iced Greek coffee drink made from caffeine-jolting instant Nescafe.
More importantly, however, at Rosa’s they know almost all the workers, students, and neighborhood residents who come in, and they make anyone else including tourists from nearby hotels and people like me feel at home. Sitting at the lunch counter with a cup of coffee, listening to the staff converse easily with everyone who came and went made me realize that this daily exchange is what makes a composite Dutch Kills feel more like a cohesive neighborhood than anything else.
We need well-loved, welcoming neighborhood places accessible to all people like Rosa’s as much as Rosa’s needs a neighborhood growing and changing around it.
Dutch settlers began the formalized planning of New York City as we know it today, and Dutch Kills is thought to be one of the very first settlements in Western Queens. This is entirely, hyperbolically coincidental, of course, but perhaps it’s also a sign? To plan our urban spaces more carefully and intentionally. To not displace current businesses, workers and residents. To not throw artists out of their working spaces as we are doing at neighboring Five Points. To not build buildings that are all one sky-scraping height, that eclipse the sun, that preclude a more egalitarian view. But rather to let the past, present and future collide and collude to create a truly interesting, multifarious, mixed use New York City neighborhood.
And while you’re at it, stop into Rosa’s Cafe, sit up at the lunch counter (if there’s room), order a coffee, let your mind wander, and wonder all about the future of our city.