Revamped Taste of Sunnyside draws raves for BID leader

By Bill Parry

Tuesday evening turned out to be a shining moment for the Sunnyside Business Improvement District and its fourth annual restaurant showcase.

Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Rachel Thieme wanted to make this year’s Taste of Sunnyside an outdoor affair, so she had a block-long festival tent pitched underneath the No. 7 subway line on Queens Boulevard between 45th and 46th streets.

“I guess you could say it was just a great experiment in the use of space,” Thieme said. “It was a challenge, for sure, but we wanted greater exposure this year and you can’t get more visible than that.”

And silence the critics as well. When the plans were made public in March, social media exploded with comments from skeptics who said the location was farcical. Too much noise from the 7, too much pollution from Queens Boulevard, too much pigeon dung they complained.

Thieme heard it all.

“To the critics I’d just say we really showed that you can make everyone happy,” she said. “All the feedback we’ve gotten has been totally positive.”

Jean Clancy, co-owner of Claret Wine Bar, had some trepidation.

“I was very skeptical of the idea, but this tent masks the sound of the train quite a bit –– this worked out very nicely,” she said.

Claret was one of 25 area restaurants and bars that set up around the perimeter of the 170-foot-by-30-foot tent and provided samples of food to more than 500 attendees.

“The goal was to promote the restaurants and the district as a destination for fine dining and I guess we did that,” Thieme said.

“There’s a real traction brought on by setting up a tent under the el,” Bar 43 owner Nick Murphy said. “A lot of people had questions about pigeon crap and stuff, but look at the interest, people are coming off the subway and checking us out.”

Aubergine owner Gary O’Niell said, “I think the tent was a great idea, It’s good to think outside the box, it’s probably garnering a lot more attention than in years past.”

Others agreed, including Pat Tunney, owner of the Copper Kettle.

“This is a breath of fresh air if there is such a thing like fresh air on Queens Boulevard. It’s vibrant and upbeat. People check it out and say what’s this doing in Queens?” he said.

Geographically, the boulevard runs straight through the neighborhood, creating a perceived divide in the community with the north containing Sunnyside Gardens, considered to be more affluent.

“I like the location because it’s right in the middle and it brings the northside and the southside together,” Quaint owner Tim Chen said. “I like the unity that this location brings.”

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said, “And let’s not forget the east and the west. I think it’s great for the neighborhood and everyone’s loving it. It’s nights like this that remind you that this is one of the best neighborhoods in the city.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.