City Island is an old yacht-building town on a little slip of an island that's been officially within the city limits of New York for more than 100 years now. To get there by public transportation, you take the 6 train to the end of the line in the Bronx and then hop on the Bx29 bus into Pelham Bay Park and across the bridge onto the island. The place has a strange hybrid feeling: Mix small suburban homes in a shore town with its main drag and little antique shops and galleries, keep the sight of water never far away, then add a good helping of rural backwater with its ramshackle elements and abandoned storefronts, and throw in the occasional city neighborhood feel.
I actually first read about it in a recent issue of Conde Nast Traveler, where it was listed as one of 101 islands to visit (Manhattan was another one), and since I visited Governors Island a few weeks ago, I've been on a lesser islands kick. As the writer of this Morning News article reminds us, NYC is an archipelago, like the Philippines or Hawaii, but on a smaller scale and closer to a continent.
Stopping off at the Nautical Museum, which is open 1 to 5 on Sundays, we were asked by the two old men in charge -- if you want to call it that -- whether we were from "the island" and we had to clarify: An island, yes, but no, not this one. The museum is free, but they have a donations jar -- to which we were asked to contribute if we saw anything we liked among the displays that chart the long history of boat building on the island as well as the social history of the place. The museum is housed in the island's former turn-of-the-century public school building, which also accommodates condos.
As one can imagine, there are lots of seafood restaurants up and down City Island Avenue, and they range from the full-service kind to very basic cafeteria style. At the southern end of the island, you can find two of the latter variety: Tony's Pier and Johnny's Reef. You get your deep fried fish at the counter and your cheap beer ($2 Buds at one) and you eat on one of the picnic tables outside, staring out at the Long Island Sound or the mass of seagulls hovering nearby or otherwise the mass of humanity around you. (So many people!) Sort of reminded me of what New York's old oyster bars might've been like back in the day, except open-air and nicer views.
If you're more in the mood for tea and scones, there's an outpost of Alice's Tea Cup, that Upper West Side tea room with the Wonderland theme. The wares at Alice's City Island, 296 City Island Ave., are just as good, but the place was practically empty this afternoon.
One of the more spooky features of the island is this dock, which has lots of signs warning you to keep away. It's where the ferry to Hart Island leaves from. Only prisoners from Rikers Island, Correction Dept. personnel and other city workers are regularly allowed to take the ferry: Hart is the site of a potter's field, where the prisoners bury unclaimed and anonymous dead bodies from NYC's morgues.