Though most reports indicate otherwise, gentrification isn’t a given in NYC. At the very least, it’s not always predicable. When I briefly lived in the far northeastern reaches of Clinton Hill in a new construction penthouse any notable restaurant or bar opened on Fulton Street, still technically the neighborhood but a full mile or more away, or somewhere in the burgeoning Bedford Avenue/Franklin Street strips of Bed-Stuy, locations with two separate advantages: proximity to established wealthier brownstone districts or where young tastemakers were taking over.
Then there are the obvious neighborhood trickles: Crown Heights because Prospect Heights and Park Slope are too expensive and Ridgewood with its Bushwick overspill eager to claim new borough status. There will be mixology and food halls and gastropubs to satisfy these newcomers.
Jackson Heights is none of this. (The other resistant neighborhood I have a connection to is Sunset Park–with the exception of those businesses moving into Bush Terminal, amenity-wise it’s the same as it was in the early ’00s.) I’ve read–and even deigned to participate in–threads on local message boards about why we can’t have nice things. And by nice things, I mean brunch and negronis. No one has called specially for negronis (and I don’t want to be associated with team brunch) but you know.
My theory is that the neighborhood is made up of a lot of older people and families, groups not known for being adventurous or free-spending, and the transitory residents aren’t recent graduates looking for fun before settling down in the suburbs but Latin American men, similarly aged, whose idea of fun translates to spending time with the likeminded at Romanticos or True Colors, not ramen burgers and wild ales at communal tables.
What is starting to happen in Jackson Heights, though, is an organic transition that respects tradition while nodding to changing tastes. Little Tibet, one of the many Himalayan restaurants supplanting the once Indian stronghold, has started differentiating itself by creating a late night (9pm till close) menu of snacky foods like fried momos, mozarella sticks swapping the usual cheese for paneer, and what is surely the break-out star, Tibetan burgers. The patties are formed from the beef filling used in momos, garnished with spicy mayonnaise, cilantro and crisped Durkee-like onion rings, then stuffed into a steamed and griddled tingmo.
Drinks? The Budweiser and similar brands are being phased out for South Asian replacements like Lion Stout and Kingfisher, as well as shareable bottles of Queens-brewed Transmitter S8 rice saison and Pretty Things Jack D’Or. Maybe the wine is next?
In a slightly strange twist, the only other place I’m aware of in the neighborhood serving microbrews is Unidentified Flying Chickens (R.I.P. East Village location) just one block away. Craft cocktails may be a ways off, but one more venue less reliant on Corona and we’ll have a trend.
Little Tibet * 72-19 Roosevelt Ave. Jackson Heights, NY