“Where do you live?” is usually one of the first questions you get when you meet someone new in New York. When I answer “Roosevelt Island,” I always get a blank stare, followed by one of two responses:
“Where the heck is that?”
“Is that that place with the tram? People actually live there?”
Most people usually answer the question by rattling off important sounding cross streets, or insisting they love their Brooklyn neighborhood despite the horrific commute. So, the anomaly that is my little island throws New Yorkers for a loop. Allow me to explain: Roosevelt Island is a two-mile, narrow sliver of land that sits between Manhattan and Queens. It’s technically part of the borough of Manhattan, but it has its own name and zip code. I’ve met plenty of native New Yorkers who have lived in the city their whole lives and never even heard of it. Formerly home to both a state penitentiary and an insane asylum, the island’s got quite the history, but these days it’s home to a pretty diverse population of more than 9,000. And because of its small size, there’s pretty much only one of everything: one Duane Reade, one Starbucks, one dry cleaners, one grocery store, etc. And guess what the main street of the island is named? You guessed it: Main Street.
When my New York friends visit me or hear about the lack of typically New York-ish things in my neighborhood, they aren’t shy about questioning my decision to live on the island. Call me a romantic, but its quirkiness is just what I love about it: it’s got a story, it’s got personality, and it can be breathtakingly beautiful. A walk home for me means strolling along the water, getting a break from the city while at the same time taking a step back and appreciating the view of its twinkling lights. The aerial tramway that takes you across the Queensboro Bridge from the island to the city is a really unique way of looking at both NYC and Queens. And—wait for it—at one end of the island, there’s a lighthouse. A lighthouse! Come on, you don’t get much more storybook than that.
But I get why it’s not for everyone. Some people thrive on having New York’s noisy traffic and bars right outside their front door, or being able to have the prestige of a certain address. And don’t get me wrong—there are downsides to living on the island. Like, if the F train is down, the only other option is taking the tram over. And the fact that there is only one grocery store on the island means food shopping can get pricey. But every time I start to get frustrated with those aspects and think that after three years, maybe it is time for me to move, a walk along the water during a summer sunset or sitting with a book down by the lighthouse in the fall reminds me that me and this place were just meant to be together.
And each season, I’m seeing more and more that I’m not the only one enamored with the area. Pier NYC, a new, seasonal food-and-booze joint with cute little tables and umbrellas just opened down on the water this past weekend, and it’s drawing big crowds looking for a summer margarita with a great view. And with the island finally offering food truck permits, some fun foodie bites are coming our way, like the Italian mobile eatery Eddie’s Pizza. But while those are some great additions, I wouldn’t mind leaving the island just as it is. I work in the city and I party in the city—so for now, I’m just fine with leaving the Manhattan bells and whistles behind to come home to a little peace, quiet, and Roosevelt Island charm.