Joe DiStefano has spent 20 years writing about the food scene in Queens, and now he’s translating his vast knowledge of the borough into a guidebook that outlines more than a hundred interesting places to visit in the “World’s Borough.”
The book, titled “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss” will be released on Jan. 18, and is one of more than 250 iterations of the “111 places” guidebook series. DiStefano, who lives in Rego Park, began working on the book in January.
“I wrote this book because I was destined to and that’s only partly a joke,” he said. “I was born in Queens but I grew up on Long Island and I always had a fascination for Queens based on looking at the Unisphere on the way to my grandma’s house. Queens always held some sort of mysterious appeal for me.”
Though many of the places in the book are “near and dear” to DiStefano, the author said he “learned a hell of a lot” in the process of writing and researching the book.
In addition to its “staggering diversity,” the borough “is also steeped in history everything from the Quaker Meeting House to the birthplace to the american punk scene where The Ramones used to hang out in Forest Hills.”
While Queens natives will recognize some of the places mentioned in the book like Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City and the Beach 97th Street Concessions at Rockaway Beach, the book also includes unique and surprising sites.
DiStefano highlights the Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio at 71-01 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village. According to DiStefano, it’s the only taxidermy shop left in New York City and customers will see lions, bears and the owner’s late pet snake.
“We wanted to have a good balance of things in the book — everything from sort of classic pop culture icons like the Archie Bunker house in Glendale to really sort of quirky one of a kind things like in Long Island City, the zombie gnome bench.”
A Long Island City man who embarked on a surprise project for his wife — building a bench and installing it in a local park — turned the handmade design into a public endeavor. The bench now sits outside of their house flanked by unique garden gnomes and inscribed with the Charles Bukowski quote, “You are marvelous. The gods wait to delight you.”
The owner told DiStefano that he witnessed a nanny doing handstands on the bench one day.
“There’s a lot of character and a lot of characters in Queens,” he said.
DiStefano said that he also met interesting people while researching his book. A trip to Hollis to witness the Jam Master Jay memorial mural led him to In The Chair Barbershop, where a Run DMC street sign with autographs hung on the window.
While taking photos of the sign, the owner came out of the barbershop and struck up a conversation with DiStefano. The owner had gone to high school with Jam Master Jay and had him and other prominent Queens rappers autograph the sign for her.
“That was a real Queens moment,” he said. “There’s a story like that for almost every place in the book. Stuff like that that really speaks to the sense of community and neighborhood in Queens is really whats it’s all about for me.”
Photographer Clay Williams, who was born in Queens but raised in Brooklyn, took the “magnificent” photographs for the book, DiStefano said. Williams photographs food, drinks and events for The New York Times, Edible and the James Beard Foundation.
“I would say if you’ve never been to Queens, it’s certainly going to give you a deep dive into the borough’s culture, history and diversity and even if you live in Queens and you love Queens, you’re going to find something new to discover,” DiStefano said. “I know I did in writing it.”
The book is set for release on Jan. 18, 2018 by Emons Publishing and will cost $19.90. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.