Astoria to Hudson Heights: Why I'm missing my old neighborhood ... a lot

By Elle Bee  | August 30, 2013 - 8:58AM
As regular Brick readers know, our very own Elle Bee, who chronicled her real estate market adventures in Diary of a First Time Buyer, has finally moved into her new co-op. Below she shares her observations on her new neighborhood. Spoiler alert: It's not all good.
When I first moved to Astoria in 2005, I had been a dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanite for 12 years, rarely stepping beyond my island boundaries. I’d been to Brooklyn a few times to visit a boyfriend, I’d visited P.S. 1 in Long Island City once, but for the most part my outer-borough curiosity was limited to “Where’s Queens and do I need a passport to get there?”
But the combination of rising rent ($500 a month hike) and a bad roommate (well, OK, husband), led me to Astoria, where I knew a friend had lived happily for 15 years. 
Once I saw the size/price ratio, I was sold. I’d have nearly 900 square feet for $1,300 compared to my Chelsea digs of 500 square feet for $2,300. I moved into what I considered the first adult apartment I’d ever had: a gracious and spacious foyer, pre-war details such as arches and built-in shelves and a true eat-in kitchen. I had four closets—and things didn’t fall onto my head when I opened the doors...a sign of real maturity.
My apartment complex was comprised of two large H-shaped buildings flanking a leafy and landscaped courtyard. It was a pleasure coming home every evening, opening the wrought-iron gate and walking the path through the hydrangea bushes. 
I was equally charmed by the neighborhood with its Old World vibe, mom and pop stores and delicious and exotic food everywhere. I lived half a block from a clean, well-stocked C-Town grocery store that carried the full range of staples I desired—from fresh broccoli rabe to organic arugula. I indulged my ethnic palate at Trade Fair, where I was often one of a teeny handful of Caucasians amid a sea of Indian, Pakistan, Arab and Hispanic shoppers scooping up daal, ginger-infused condiments and strange, curled peppers.
My olives, feta cheese and fresh pita bread came from Euro Market, a store with an eclectic selection from Eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey and Italy. My tuna steaks came from a variety of local fishmongers. I bought organic chicken from the local butcher, I splurged on cheese from the trendy Astoria Biere and Cheese shop, and I scoured the esoteric bargain wines at Grand Wine & Liquors, where I could taste the world for less than $10 a bottle.
Foraging was just one of the many rewards of living in Astoria. Eating out was a sublime pleasure, too—from the honest cooking of a taverna to the aspirational wine bar or pub.
Rarely did I wait for a table (with the exception of the ever-crowded Taverna Kyclades, which served its waiting patrons wine) and service and food were almost always a pleasure.
A bottle of red and charcuterie plate at Winegasm was a fraction of the price of what I’d pay in Manhattan—and equally delicious. Seva, the local Indian restaurant, served huge portions and always filled my second glass of wine on the house. The owner of BZGrill often pulled up a chair to our table and pulled out a bottle of wine.
As people were priced out of Manhattan, then Brooklyn, many found Astoria. Each time my lease came up in the last four years, my landlord tried hiking my rent $500 a month. With each renewal term, I’d walk to his office, cock my head and say, “Really? Mr. Pappas, don’t you think $500 a month is kind of steep?” Each year he’d moan about taxes, insurance, repairs and say, “How about $100?” What could I say but “well, that’s better than $500?'
2011 was the last year I wanted to do that. And that was the year I began my home-purchase search. 
I ended up in Hudson Heights for a few reasons. No. 1, it had most of what I liked about Astoria: an Old World charisma, independent businesses, and good access to the waterfront and bike paths. No. 2, it was a real neighborhood with a street vibe. And, No. 3, I kept gravitating back to the neighborhood, drawn by either magnetic force or—more likely—by price. I felt like it was a sign from the universe.
Once I found a one-bedroom co-op apartment I could afford, I calculated the differences in my monthly nut between renting and owning: I would be paying about $250 less per month and own the place. That came at a small cost: $60,000 for the down payment. 
But. now, after six weeks of living in Hudson Heights, I’m more prepared to talk about the pitfalls than the charms. 
First of all, it’s LOUD. It seems as if everyone has a blaring radio, a brash opinion, a screaming child or a barking dog. My apartment is set back from the street a bit and overlooks a courtyard—something I thought would be an advantage. But, the sad truth is that the residents use the courtyard as a playground (even though a lovely and historic park and playground is a five-minute walk away) and the sounds of shrieking children travel up the shaft like an echo chamber and into every room that has a window. 
It turns out that the “quiet” side street I overlook is actually the exit ramp for 9A, so all day long, I hear trucks groaning to a stop and then idling while they wait for the light to change. 
Second, in my house-hunting haze, I grossly underestimated distances from my apartment to the places I frequent most: the post office (10 blocks away), the two decent grocery stores in the neighborhood (seven blocks) and the bank (seven blocks).
The nearby neighborhood pharmacy closed a few months ago, the other is seven blocks away and the sole Duane Reade—I never thought I’d be so glad to see one—is a 20-minute walk.
Subways? The A is only two blocks away, up a steep hill that I once thought reminded me of San Francisco and which now only wrenches my tendons. On a good day, I am 20 minutes from Grand Central. But, getting from northwest to southeast is a good 90-minute hike. On a good day.  Taxis? Rare.  In six weeks I’ve seen one Yellow cab, three of the new green cabs devoted to northern Manhattan as of Aug. 9, and a fleet of gypsy cabs with wildly unregulated prices. 
Dining. Sigh. My beau and I have found two restaurants consistently delivering good fare. But the Thai and Indian restaurants that excited me at first notice are a disappointment. 
The wine store I was excited to find across the street is chaotically arranged and overpriced (and I am a wine writer who knows what to expect). The grocery stores are expensive with trendy selections for the people living in fancy condominiums (yet, no broccoli rabe!). The high point seems to be a plethora of produce vendors on the street.
It's only week number seven, so I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons—and not be weighted down by them.  But as I plan renovations to the kitchen and bath, I find that one consideration moves to the front: What will the next buyer like?
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