One couple with roots in Queens is looking to provide visitors to Long Island City with a one-of-a-kind experience through the booming neighborhood.
John and Elissa Garay are the husband-and-wife team behind BQE Tours: The Brooklyn Queens Experience, a group providing walking tours in both Brooklyn and Queens that cater to what the duo calls “anti-tourists.”
Going away from taking visitors to “obvious” attractions and “spewing facts and figures,” BQE Tours introduce people to local artists, businesses and artisans and show “anti-tourists” how real New Yorkers go about their days.
BQE Tours officially launched in April and started with tours offered in DUMBO and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but recently also started offering tours through Long Island City.
“All [the neighborhoods] have the same history. Before, [in] old New York, the waterfront wasn’t the place to go,” Elissa said. “These neighborhoods have completely reinvented themselves.”
Although they currently live in Brooklyn, both John and Elissa were born and raised in Queens, and since they have South American and Greek backgrounds they knew they had to give their native and culture-enriched borough a place on the tour list.
“We wanted to give a little love to [Queens],“ Elissa said. “I feel that this year is Queens’ year to shine. I just feel that Queens is starting to come in its own. It’s more of an authentic experience that isn’t overrun with travelers.”
During the LIC tours, which last three hours and span about 2 and a half miles, participants stop at an artist’s studio to get an understanding of what it is to be an artist in LIC before making their way to a gallery and heading to a local microbrewery. As part of the “food and drinks component” of the tour, participants then stop at the LIC Flea & Food where they interact with vendors who “speak to the experience of what Queens is so famous for.” Afterward the group ventures out to local restaurants before ending the tour on the rooftop at the Z Hotel.
“That has been a great grand finale. You can’t beat the perspective from up there,” Elissa said about ending the tours at the hotel rooftop.
She also added that the goal is to keep each group at a maximum of 12 people in order to allow participants to really enjoy the experience of each tour.
“We definitely want to keep the tours intimate. We want participants to engage with locals that they typically wouldn’t,” Elissa said.
For now the tours, which take place on Sundays, are centered in Long Island City, but as time goes by the duo would like to expand tours to Astoria and Flushing. They would also like to provide more tours in LIC.
“I think Queens right now has a lot of food tours but they don’t have the cultural component we offer,” she said.
For more information or to schedule a tour, visit bqetours.com.