A Bronx Island Tale

Probably the two most well known Hollywood films set in the Bronx are ‘Taking of Pelham 123‘ and ‘A Bronx Tale‘. I’ve appropriated the title of the latter to suit this blog and I mention the former for good reason to. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘123’ in the film’s title does not refer to the 1, 2, 3 subway lines of NYC. Quite simply because those lines do not serve Pelham! It actually refers to the time (1:23) in the plot when the train departs Pelham! It is the no.6 train that serves Pelham and as I write this, a remake of the film is underway! A few Saturdays ago, I rode the 6 to its very last stop – Pelham Bay Park.

The Bronx is host to the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) experiment – the BX12 Select Bus Service or SBS. It runs from Inwood in upper Manhattan to Pelham Bay Park in north east Bronx and on alighting from our train, it was the very first thing that caught my eye!

Several frequently run bus routes – including the Bx12 on weekends – connect with the 6 train station and take riders into different parts of the park. But there’s probably no better way to explore this wonderful park than by bike! Miles upon miles of thickly wooded green ways (bike paths) are some of the most pleasing I’ve ridden in the city and the fact that they are uncrowded for the most part, makes them all the more inviting.

At 2700 acres, Pelham Bay is the largest park in New York City – over three times the size of Central Park! Through it runs a river (the Hutchinson) and within its limits are two golf courses, a public beach, multiple recreation areas, several small islands, meadows, marshlands, a wildlife sanctuary and a salt water habitat! So, on a casual bike ride, it’s not uncommon to spot, say, a wild turtle on the way!

The bike trail from the station to the beach is about 3 miles long and offers a mix of forests, meadows, coves, lagoons and closer to the beach, lovely vistas of Eastchester Bay.

Orchard Beach is a little over a mile long and is the only public beach in the Bronx. Built in the 30’s by the legendary Robert Moses, the beach consists of landfill and sand brought in from neighbouring Sandy Hook in Jersey and Rockaway in Queens. A charming crescent shape set in a bay of the Long Island Sound gives it a very natural feel and it is almost hard to believe that it was man made!

With only 6 beaches serving the 5 boroughs of NYC, weekends are especially crowded at Orchard Beach – sunbathers, swimmers, loungers, strollers, bikers, picnickers – you name it! But even on the most crowded days, there are a few quiet spots – some even tranquil enough for a session of Yoga!

Goose, Hog, Cat Briar, Two Trees, Hunter, Rat, Hart, Chimney Sweep – some of the more intriguing names of the many small islands (also known as Pelham Islands) surrounding the park. The more pedestrian amongst them – Twin, High and City! The last named being the only populated one and the largest among them. City Island is home to a largely nautical community of a little over 4000 people and stretches a mile and a half in length and a half mile in width. It is connected to the mainland by means of a beautiful 107 year old swing bridge.

Often compared to a sleepy New England fishing village, the island has several marinas, four yacht clubs and a few boat builders as well – credited with building boats that have competed in and won the Americas Cup! It is also home to the Columbia University Sailing Team. As can be expected, boats abound here and the first of many marinas greets you as you cross over from the bridge.

The island consists of one north south thoroughfare aptly named ‘City Island Avenue’ and several cross streets stretching no more than a block wide on either side – all of them ending at the waterfront. A dedicated fire lane between both lanes of traffic ensures speedy passage for emergency vehicles and at all other times is the perfect space for biking in the absence of a separate bike lane!

Leaving aside the boats, City Island is best known for its seafood restaurants and antique stores. No less than 30 eating establishments compete for appetites on this tiny island and are spread evenly across it. The handful of antique stores are concentrated along the middle of City Island Avenue and ‘Early Ruth‘ is one such, specialising in Antique Art.

Some scenes of ‘A Bronx Tale’ were filmed on City Island including one at Johnny’s Reef Restaurant – one of two seafood eateries at the southern tip of the island. We however chose the more rustic looking and less crowded ‘Tony’s’, located on a pier, across the street from it.

The island’s eateries are best known for their Lobsters but obviously we had missed the memo on that one! Instead, we ended up with a lot of food, which, save for the baked clams, was unremarkable. But a few chilled Coronas and the chance to sit out on the open deck, with seagulls for company, more than made up for the bad ordering!

Having conquered the southern tip, we headed back north once again but not without a detour to check out one of many inviting side streets. In sharp contrast to Manhattan, the tallest building on the island is no more than four stories high. The houses – all independent – are no more than two stories high. A lot of these, especially on the side streets, are graceful old mansions complete with verandahs, picket fences and manicured lawns stretching out towards the waterfront.

The more fortunate amongst them even have their own little stretch of private beach..

A thoroughly invigorating day of biking, good weather on our side, some truly fascinating places seen – all topped off with some yum ‘Lickety’ before we ‘Split’ 😉

‘Lickety Split’ on 295 City Island Avenue – a stopover I would highly commend! The storefront might seem small but the helpings are far from it. A bike friendly establishment, a cosy courtyard with seating and quite definitively my most enjoyable ice cream cone in a very long time!

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