Astoria and Long Island City offer the itinerant eater many things. Quality cocktails are, by and large, not one of them.
Sure, there are plenty of watering holes where you can get a serviceable martini, but if you're accustomed to the more developed cocktail climate that runs through other neighborhoods of this city, you'll be disappointed. Specialty drinks, such as they are, employ artificially flavored vodkas and liqueurs more than today's drinker probably wants.
Fortunately there are some places where this isn't true. Though you're better served by drinking beer in western Queens (our beer culture has grown by leaps and bounds), should you elect to drink something harder, here are five bars and restaurants where you can do so.
They don't, by and large, offer the best drinks in New York City. But they're fun establishments that deliver some serious cocktails at prices lower than Manhattan's new growing standards. And they encourage lingering and conversation, without the pretension and rude service that occasionally plagues more popular cocktail destinations.
The Astoria and Long Island City Cocktail Map
The big dog in the area, and the only one on this list that's actually bar, not a restaurant, is Dutch Kills, which has been serving craft cocktails in Long Island City since 2009. Manhattan and Brooklyn residents know it as "that bar in Queens," which is fair—it's easy to argue that the borough's best cocktails can be found there, drinks that go toe to toe with any of Manhattan's cocktail destinations, all at a few dollars cheaper. If you go to one bar in Queens, make it here.
But let's dig deeper, to restaurants like The Astor Room, a subterranean passage to the 1920s beneath Kaufman Astoria Studios. Good live jazz can be found there, as well as a healthy pre-Prohibition respect for strong drinks and a post-vodka appreciation for amari.
On the rowdier end are The Sparrow, a gastropubby restaurant across the street from Astoria's overrated and frat boyish Bohemian Beer Hall; the Strand Smokehouse, a new beer, whiskey, and barbecue establishment fast earning a reputation for its drinks and genial crowd over its food; and Pachanga Patterson, a nouveau Mexican restaurant with an easy to drink tequila list that complements their bar snacks.
There are other bars and restaurants, of course, that have cocktail ambitions, but I've found their drinks unbalanced and overwrought compared to the smarter restraint of the destinations above. Click through the slideshow to read more about them, with tips on what to order.