It Takes More Than Sand
Mark Sanders


This is not a beach in New York City.


One of the many things that is easily forgotten about New York City is that several of its boroughs give way to the Atlantic Ocean. With its tall buildings, traffic, public parks, rivers and 8.5 million residents, most tourists do not visit to spend time at the beach. There is plenty to do without sand and water.

Weekends can be a little quiet in certain parts of the city during the summer. Planes, trains, automobiles and buses ferry large quantities of city residents to beach destinations south and east. From Montauk to Rehoboth, restaurants, hotels and businesses in general thrive on the urban exodus.

But there are beaches in the City; both public and private. Sure they can get crowded on the weekends and you can't always swim, but they can cure the need for absorbing some salty air as well as snack on a funnel cake. But apparently that is not good enough.

Located among industrial ruins on a desolate stretch of Western Queens waterfront and six vacant blocks from the nearest subway stop, the folks at New York Water Taxi have created a new urban beach. Well, sort of.

After trucking in 400 tons of Jersey shore sand and spreading it over a 15,000 square foot dock, a beach is what they call it. There is no water access (which is prudent since the East River is not pristine) and the entire expanse is surrounded by concrete barriers with a six foot chainlink fence on top. But the location does have one advantage: an uninterrupted view of Midtown Manhattan which is haloed by the setting sun to its west.

Lured by the view, sand and the promise of $2 24-ounce PBRs, my wife and I decided to pay a dusk visit last weekend. After a disconcerting walk from the subway we found ourselves in a parking lot. At the far end we could see and hear a lot of people just beyond an open gate. The closer we got the stranger it felt, but sure enough there was sand.

We bypassed the bar (conveniently located by the entrance) and found a spot at a picnic table near the water, or should I say the barrier that separated us from the water. It kind of felt like arriving at a party where everyone there had a four drink head start and you need to play catch up. A man in a t-shirt that simply read "Shots" danced and stumbled. A table full of gay men flamboyantly snapped photos while knocking back Coronas. Another table filled with b-list frat boys kept a waitress busy and never stopped calling other friends who "had to join them at this awesome spot."

My wife went to the bar while I kept others from taking our seats. With shoes removed, I watched people and the sunset. It was pleasant. Twenty minutes later I finally had a beer (a 12-ounce PBR since the king cans were sold out) and my wife had a story about her ordeal.

Not prepared to handle the sudden popularity, an entire family was manning the the bar. Orders for individual beers had to be written down by the bartender and then promptly forgotten. Off to the side was a rapidly depleting margarita machine that was being restocked with mix and tequila by an apparently underage son who kept sampling. A mountain of empty Corona bottles littered the back bar. Hell was indeed breaking loose as one order after another was either botched or forgotten. The bar staff recommended ordering from the waitress for fastest service.

As water taxis, distant subways and full automobiles arrived, waves of new bodies would come through the gate. Half would stop at the bar while others tried to locate friends or find a spot to share at a picnic table. I could not believe the diversity of people. A livery cab driver and his date quietly enjoyed a beer and the view. Queens thugs knocked back brews and taunted each other. Hipsters looked generally confused. A lone swinger wandered the "beach" looking for a single woman to talk to (he finally settled on one half of a lesbian couple).

We decided to order food which was being cooked on open grills near the bar. With a little effort we flagged down our waiter and ordered another round of beers plus dinner. Fully expecting a delay, our food came first. We ate and waited for drinks. With each new surge in population, our waiter got more and more distracted. 45 minutes later I went to the bar and caught him as he was preparing another order. "I'll get you two Coronas because we ran out of Pabst," he said. Fine.

Throughout the whole experience I couldn't stop wondering if we were really at the beach. Sure there is sand, water and sun but I'm not sure the parts added up. And then there are the ever present New York Water Taxi banners which point to this urban oasis's real function: get more people to ride the boats.

After finishing the beer we decided that trying to order another round was probably pointless. In the darkness more and more people kept arriving. As we left, the man in the "Shots" t-shirt kept dancing.