Our four-part series takes a look at Rockaway Beach and how it gave New Yorkers an escape from the city — without ever leaving the city — during the first summer of the Coronavirus pandemic. All photos were shot during two bike-based, long weekend visits.


When I was a kid in 1980s Queens, the one beach we never went to was Rockaway. We all knew the song, but we were told never to go.

Fast forward to today. Post-Sandy reconstruction has resulted in a welcoming, sandy beach with a more resilient, concrete boardwalk. Dozens of small businesses have invested in the area, giving people new things to eat and more things to do.

Special thanks are due to the workers of NYC Parks. Despite ill-timed budget cuts, they kept the beach clean and the lifeguard chairs staffed throughout the summer.

The Hustle

Or, Innovation by Marginalized Peoples

New Yorkers make New York work for them. It’s no different at Rockaway Beach. Rockaway’s most obvious example of creative participation in capitalism: its ubiquitous nutcracker vendors. Nutcrackers are homemade cocktails that are semi-professionally packaged in sealed plastic bottles, then sold from coolers.


On our first day on the sand, it was right about noon when we saw the first vendor working the beach. I asked if he had anything whiskey- or bourbon-based. He had his own peach and bourbon cocktail for ten bucks. I didn’t expect it to be made with Maker’s Mark, or to have the strength of three drinks in one. But it was, and it did.

For nutcracker number 2, I went with a vodka-based punch from a different vendor. It had sort of a weird mouthfeel. I’d wished the other guy had come back, until I realized that I probably would’ve ended up on an IV if I drank another peach & bourbon cocktail and sat in the sun all day.

Spotlight on American-Chinese Food

I noticed another classic example of The Hustle, and a somewhat under-the-radar one: American-Chinese food. Look into its origins if you’re puzzled. American-Chinese food exists in almost every small town in the US, but it has been priced out of many NYC neighborhoods. However, it was literally under our noses (under our hotel room) at the Beach.

Having missed this classic comfort food for a long time, we grabbed orange beef and lo mein from Xing Xing, which shares a building with RBQ and the High Tide Hotel. Then we headed to the beach to watch the full moon rise over Fourth of July celebrations.

You’ll see other forms of beach hustle, too, like the people collecting old beach cruiser bikes to fix up, then sell or rent. The coolest thing about Rockway Beach: the energy of the city suffuses it, while at the same time it allows the city to chill out and cool off.

Check out the other pieces in our Rockaway Beach series:


Words & photos by Rob Bellinger
Published: 9/10/2021
Rockaway Beach visits: July 3-5 and September 4-7, 2020