In a city of nearly nine million, I’m seldom solo—that makes sense. In a city of an estimated 24,000 eating establishments and more than 2,000 bars, it’s a rarity that I explore someplace new—that I can’t quite justify.
Here’s what I know: New Yorkers have an affinity for taking refuge in local sanctuaries—the coffee spots where baristas have our brew waiting for us, the restaurants where servers know just how pink we like our burgers, the pubs where bartenders know us by name, the pizzerias that await our impending appearance so they save us the last penne slice. Our Seamless accounts’ order histories are inundated with the same diner names; the owners at our bagel shops give us an extra scallion on sesame on our birthdays and the pharmacies know when someone in our families falls ill—not because they’re refilling their prescriptions, but because they get our holiday cards and we talk.
It’s an innate human tendency to fall accustomed to routines and, in a city like New York, it’s how we survive—it’s how we turn a place visited by an estimated 50 million tourists each year into a home. Our home.
I’ve lived in Manhattan for two years now, moving from the Financial District to the Upper East Side, and I’ve never been to Staten Island (which I could see from the bedroom of my old place); I’ve been to the Bronx but a handful of times but not once since having moved here; I’ve only recently started experiencing Brooklyn and I’ve been to Queens exactly three times. So, ego aside (my heart belongs to Manhattan), I opted to play tourist in my own city for one whole weekend, vowing to venture outside of my neighborhood niches.
I packed a backpack, took a quick seven-minute cab over the Queens Borough Bridge—which is just a few blocks from my apartment—and I checked myself into The Local in Long Island City, a place I’d never been before.
The Local describes itself as your New York home, “your best friend in New York but you get to sleep in stylish and clean bunk rooms instead of on our couch.”
Long Island City was never a place I’d tell visitors to visit, let alone stay, until now. It’s the westernmost residential and commercial neighborhood of the borough of Queens, and, while it’s certainly had its fair share of gentrification, its neighbors haven’t forgotten its long-obsolete stereotypes. Once home to infamous mobsters, Queens has today been dubbed the #1 destination in America in 2015 by Lonely Planet. And Long Island City has evolved into this sort of retro-industrial home to some of the city’s best food and the highest concentration of galleries, studio spaces and an overall thriving arts community.
Which is why The Local is an ideal fit, as, upon entering, you can scope out the works of rotating local artists hanging on its walls. Having checked into tens of hostels around the world in my 20s, I can’t say for sure just how authentic they are to the cities in which they’re based. As a New Yorker, I can confidently say that The Local is as real to New York as your best friend’s couch—except it’s not in a windowless studio of a six-floor walk-up in a neighborhood that bares no mind to early birds struggling to catch sleep.
But it’s certainly close. While a Manhattanite might tell you that Queens is a world away, it’s actually less than a 10-minute drive over the bridge, one stop on the N, E and 7 trains or two stops on the F train. In fact, when I checked into my four-bed dorm, the window looked out to the bridge and I could practically see my apartment across it.
None of the room options at The Local disappoint. Guests can choose from a four- or six-bed mixed dorm (all-female four-bed dorms are available), or a private double or twin room. Each room has AC and heat (a rarity in New York City) and its own bathroom, and each bed is equipped with an outlet, a reading light, under-bed storage and a towel. The white bedding is plush and I slept as soundly as I do at home… across the East River.
For those of you who aren’t coming to the City That Never Sleeps to sleep, however, there’s a hostel bar downstairs that’s open to the public, where you can take advantage of your one free drink ticket… and then stay for some more. Because The Local is just another Long Island City bar, guests can mix and mingle with New Yorkers, themselves, giving that much more credibility to the hostel’s name. The bar also hosts live concerts from local musicians, standup comedy, movie nights, trivia, drink and draw nights and wine and beer tastings, so, in true New York fashion, it’s always bustling.
The staff behind the bar, and the check-in desk, are all well-traveled globetrotters but a blend of New York natives and transplants. It actually gives the hostel even more New York-cred given that it’s become a melting pot in and of itself.
Additionally, The Local boasts free WiFi without a password (another rarity in New York City), shared computers in its study area and a fully stocked kitchen.
Trendy and true to its name, this hostel is a gem that exudes all those homey, local vibes I’d been so apprehensive to leave.
Of course, I didn’t end up needing that kitchen because I was fed exceptionally well during my weekend in Queens. I kept my promise to myself that I’d try new things and spent my afternoon exploring on a Queens Food Tour of Long Island City.
Check out more on my food tour experience, here, and for more information on how you can learn the layers of Queens, head on over to BQE Tours! Group tours are available in the tourist seasons, but custom private tours are available year-round ($125 an hour for a minimum of three hours and a maximum of six people).