By Connor Adams Sheets
Upon moving into the neighborhood, many Astoria residents pushing up against Vernon Boulevard, the Ravenswood Houses and the tail end of Astoria Boulevard tend to find what seems to be a serious lack of nightlife and social options.
They walk up and down the slowly revitalizing streets, past chicken restaurants, bodegas and old-school pizza joints, but can’t seem to find a drink.
They walk past the imposing, brushed-metal wall bathed in strange red light that guards 12-21 Astoria Blvd., perhaps wondering at the music coming from inside, but they just walk past as it seems to lack an entrance.
Then one day, the wall opens up and someone stumbles, laughing, from inside, revealing an enticing lair for the neighborhood’s nightcrawlers.
Hell Gate Social, they soon discover it is called, was named for the nearby rail bridge — the father of the three brothers who own the bar helped build the span.
Queens natives George, Konstantine and Gregory Rallis came to this end of town five years ago to set up a respite from the area’s drab warehouses, squat row-houses and crisp wind off the East River.
“We wanted to make it more of an escape — a lot of people want to know what’s going on inside,” George Rallis said. “People still to this day don’t know what’s going on in here ….”ï»¿
And the dimly lit, artistic-leaning watering hole has flourished despite — or perhaps in part because of — its covert location, keeping a sizeable contingent of regulars and attracting good crowds to its many events. The bar has no televisions, keeping the emphasis on conversation and social interaction. When a newcomer walks into the bar, the friendly bar staff will often introduce them to the other patrons to make them feel at home.
“It’s all about socializing. You don’t come here to watch the game or to play pool, you come here to talk,” George Rallis said. “People want to meet people, especially if you’re new to the neighborhood. You don’t have to know people here, you’ll meet them here.”
As Astoria residents Keri Barker and Kathleen Bradler enjoyed a few drinks on a recent Wednesday night at Hell Gate, their favorite bar in town, Bradler said she loves the events there, which range from Rock Band Wednesdays to open-mic Thursdays and Sunday outdoor barbecue and movie nights. Every couple of months the bar hosts a burlesque show with wacky themes such as science fiction and medical.
“It’s a nice local bar because a lot of regulars come and the bartenders are really friendly,” Astoria resident Keri Barker said while sipping a drink at the long bar which was hopping with young people on a recent Wednesday evening. “It’s an easy environment to get along in. Everyone knows each other.”
Featuring a rotating selection of well-priced, locally brewed craft beers, fine scotches and bourbons and specialty drinks like the Hell Gate Social Lemonade and Miller-ita, Hell Gate also features the culinary creations of George Rallis, who attended culinary school and turns out an evolving menu of standard and more adventurous fare.
With summer hours from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. Monday through Friday and 3 p.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday through Sunday, the place is a great location for after-work imbibing, with one of the latest weekday happy hours in town — 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information about Hell Gate Social, call 718-204-8313 or visit hellgatesocial.com.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.