You might recognize Christian Finnegan as one of the original talking heads on the VH1 series "Best Week Ever," as an ill-fated roommate from a beloved "Chappelle's Show" sketch, or from one of his many appearances on late night talk shows. He's hosted his own specials for Comedy Central and Netflix, released a comedy album, and launched a podcast for music geeks called "Audio Spackle." When he's not doing stand-up around the city, Finnegan can be found at QED, an Astoria cafe and event space owned by his wife, author Kambri Crews. Finnegan fills us in here on the pros and cons of Queens living, and how not to become a jaded New Yorker.
1. What neighborhood do you live in?
I live on the literal dividing line between Astoria and Long Island City. The zip code is LIC, but the vibe is definitely Astoria.
Western Queens is a great place to be these days. The area has always had amazing food, but it lacked what you might call "aesthetic charm." That's changed a lot over the past few years, but you can't help but worry about it going too far. Gentrification is like salt--you add a little and it tastes great, so you add more and suddenly the whole meal is ruined. Astoria has a lot of single-family homes and entrenched ethnic communities, so I'm hoping that acts as a bulwark against the horde of boutique condos.
2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?
I've been in Queens since 2001, so it's hard to envision living anywhere else--especially since my wife now owns and operates QED Astoria, which has enmeshed us in the community. We spend so much time at QED, the Ditmars area feels like our "neighborhood," whereas our apartment is the place we watch "Bar Rescue" and fall asleep.
Queens aside, I often daydream about the deep West Village. One summer in college, I was waiting tables at The Slaughtered Lamb (yeah, I know) and subletting a room on Jane Street. I'd walk home along West 4th around 5 am every day, and I'm convinced there's no prettier stretch in the city. Keep in mind this was the wee hours of the morning, so I was able to enjoy the beauty of West 4th and Perry without having to acknowledge the moneyed dickwads who actually live there. (I'm sure not everyone who lives along West 4th is a dickwad. 85 percent, tops.)
3. Do you own or rent?
We rent. We tried to buy in LIC years ago, but couldn't find anything that felt right. So instead, we took the money we'd set aside for a down payment and bought a little cabin up in Sullivan County. Buying an NYC apartment would have prevented us from becoming that most nauseating of cliches: the "jaded New York couple with a house in Catskills."
4. How'd you find it?
Just a regular ol' broker. My last move pre-dated Trulia.
5. What’s the one thing you love the most about it?
We have a three-bedroom, so my wife and I are each able to have an office. We're big on having doors to close every now and then. And my super is pretty much the nicest dude in the world. When you've lived in the same apartment as long as we have, that really matters.
6. If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?
We're right near the junction of Steinway Street and Northern Boulevard, so our immediate surroundings are rather fugly. You have to walk a good block or two before you feel anything resembling civic pride. Unless you have a deep abiding passion for PC Richard and Western Beef, that is.
7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.
8. Do you dream of old New York or prefer the current version?
Transplants like me fetishize whatever version of the city existed when they first arrived. For me, the real New York will always be the East Village, 1995--my first post NYU-dorm apartment. My romanticized New York is places like Brownies and No-Tell Motel, Sounds Records and Fez under Time Cafe. If you moved here more recently, you have your own touchstones, and that's fine. I'd like to think that QED has become a special place for people who have recently moved to Astoria. That's certainly our goal!
9. Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.
My favorite apartment had less to do with the actual space than the fact that I was sharing it with my best friend, who also happens to be my stepbrother. We spent three years living on 107th and Columbus which, for a downtowner like me, may as well have been Timbuktu. But that was the apartment where I started feeling like a real New Yorker, rather than a tourist staying at a youth hostel. We spent three years watching bootleg VHS tapes, eating Kennedy Fried Chicken, and laughing our asses off. It was my first experience living in an "uncool" neighborhood, and nothing could have been cooler.
10. And the worst?
Ironically, right around the corner at CPW and 108th. I lived with a 38-year-old aspiring DJ and his four dogs--two Rottweilers, a Pitbull, and a Labrador. One of the Rottweilers was named Caesar, and I was warned to never, under any circumstances, touch him--I believe my roommate's direct quote was "I don't need another lawsuit." Even worse, the apartment was infested with rats--they'd pour into the living room every night as soon as the lights went out. One night, I left my bedroom to pee before going to bed. I flipped on the light and watched seven rats scurry across the living room. Once the shock wore off, I went back to my bedroom, peed in a plastic bag, and tossed it out the window.
11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.
Bike lanes! I have a lot of gripes with Bloomberg-era NYC, but I will always be thankful to him for making NYC a more rider-friendly town. Unless I happen to be driving, in which case FUCK bike lanes!
12. What's your favorite spot in the city?
If you don't happen to be on West 4th and Perry at 5 am, I would suggest a stroll down 46th (or 47th) Street in Sunnyside, Queens. Trust me, it's about as pretty as it gets.
13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?
Look, I get it--Brooklyn is great. But just how up-their-own-butts are we going to allow Brooklynites to get? So merely as a matter of principle, I'm going to go with the condo. Plus, having a Fresh Direct room sounds pretty sweet. Call me shallow.
14. If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?
My wife and I spent a week in Ireland a couple of years back. I've never been a big heritage guy, despite being as Irish as a whiskey-soaked potato. But at one point I stepped off the tour bus in a small seaside village called Ballyvaughan and almost immediately thought, "Wow, this is it. This is the place." It was as if my insides were suddenly externalized. So I always tell my wife, if/when I fake my own death and go off the grid, look for me in Ballyvaughan.
15. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?
Support local businesses. See live entertainment. Drink at independent bars. And then if, after all that, you shop at Duane Reade every once in a while, don't beat yourself up about it.
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