[We updated this guide on January 15, 2017 to reflect notable openings and closings since last winter. Added: Rockaway Brewing Co., Beach Bistro 96, Whit’s End at Riis Park. Removed: Playland Motel and Whit’s End, Wild Feast]
Out where Queens meets the ocean, the community of Rockaway welcomes almost 8 million beach-goers in the time between Memorial and Labor Days. The peninsula can envelop one more thoroughly in the winter months, though, when the landscape comes at you through a soft glowing grey filter and the hordes that descended in the summertime have left in their void a desolate landscape that beckons introspection. August must-visits like Tacoway Beach and Connelly’s Pub have been shuttered until next year, leaving something more emphatically local, old-school, and intimate to be explored.
Here are the highlights of a winter visit to Rockaway, starting at 72nd Street and working our way out toward Fort Tilden…
*Important note: Business owners in Rockaway change their minds about days and hours of business with whimsical frequency. It’s always advisable to check ahead before going to the places listed below.
Rockaway Brewing Company
The beers are brewed mostly in a Long Island City facility, but this summer, the Rockaway Brewing Company opened this taproom in the place it’s named for. Coming soon: both a food menu and a smaller onsite brewery, where the company will test out new recipes, serving them up in the bar. Rockaway Brewing Co., 415 Beach 72nd Street.
This corner spot with huge windows houses a kaleidoscopic assortment of vintage and found items…bottles from Dead Horse Bay, designer dresses from decades past, a great selection of blankets, and weird old art. Zingara Vintage, 202 Beach 91st Street, at Rockaway Beach Blvd.
The delights of Uzbek cuisine found an unlikely home in Rockaway (the chef is married to a lifelong resident). Make sure you enjoy the manti under that cool glow of an endless reel of classic surfing videos. Uma’s, 92-07 Rockaway Beach Blvd, near 92nd Street.
The brick-and-mortar home for the clothing line of the same name opened last summer, showcasing a chilled-out sophistication as refined as it is down-to-earth. Owner Abra Boero also sells wares from other local designers and makers. Off Season, 92-12 Rockaway Beach Blvd., near Beach 92nd Street.
Bungalow Bar & Restaurant
Every beach town needs a Bungalow, that year-round waterfront spot that had the wherewithall to install a fireplace for the colder months. Solid food, solid drinks, solid view of Jamaica Bay. Bungalow Bar & Restaurant, 377 Beach 92nd Street, at Beach Channel Drive.
The 90st Street Surf Beach
It’s always fun to watch people do something you yourself would never partake in. Here, surfers happily brave water temperatures in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit for the possibility of catching a good wave. Beach 90th Street at the ocean.
Beach Bistro 96
Although the decor is a subtle nod to summer, this corner Brazilian spot feels decidedly cozy on a snowy winter day like the one on which we visited recently. If you go, we have to insist that you try the caju juice (made from the fruit that is attached to a cashew nut on the tree) and the mushroom quinoto (a quinoa spin on risotto). Beach Bistro 96, 95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd., at Beach 96th Street.
End of the A
End of the A started out as a mobile shop-in-a-truck a couple of summers ago. This year the brick-and-mortar spot opened, with an expanded mix of eclectic clothes and home goods. End of the A, 437 Beach 129th Street, between Cronston and Newport Aves.
Whit’s End at Riis Park
Whit’s End took over this appropriately end-of-the-earth space this winter from Wild Feast. After how many wrong turns and a growing suspicion that the place is an urban myth, arriving here is like stepping into a fairy tale. This winter, it’s bustling inside, with a full bar and food menu, including delectable pizzas. Outside, there’s a bonfire overlooking the ocean, waiting to be lit. Whit’s End at Riis Park, 16702 Rockaway Beach Blvd, at the end of what was once the world’s largest parking lot.
The farthest you can get from New York City without leaving New York City, Fort Tilden is just that, an abandoned Army fort on the water, with the requisite reclaimed nature, graffiti, and wide-open beaches. Eerie, beautiful and even in the summer, pleasantly crowd-free.
Other spots of interest:
Rockaway Beach Inn (dive bar, 88-22 Rockaway Beach Blvd, no website)
Sayra’s Wine Bar (wine and snacks, 91-11 Rockaway Beach Blvd)
Rockaway Roasters (coffee shop, 92-06 Rockaway Beach Blvd)
Chicks To Go (Peruvian food, 97-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd)
Community House (rowdy restaurant and bar, 101-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd)
Lola Star (Rockaway souvenirs, 1-74 Beach 116th St)
Roger’s Irish Tavern (historic dive bar, 203 Beach 116th Street, no website)