Frank’s Guide to Rockaway: The Rockaway Hotel

It’s the end of July, and Frank has been having quite the summer vaca. Getting ready for the Olympics, skating around the city, keeping up with the times has kept us super busy. It’s glorious but it’s exhausting. We have managed, however, to make some trips out to Rockaway Beach to visit some friends of Frank, and we thought we’d share them- a guide to Rockaway, so to speak.

Summer’s winding down, so if you haven’t made it out there already, you definitely should. The first place we recommend you hit is The Rockaway Hotel. Started in 2010 by the Tubridy family, it’s become a generational lynchpin for the culture of Rockaway. We sat down with Terence Tubridy, Managing Partner, and Michi Jigarijan, Managing Partner and Chief Social Impact Officer, to talk about the hotel’s start, its pull on New Yorkers to Rockaway, and its goals for the peninsula.

Mars: Tell us about the hotel. How did it get started? How long has it been here? 

Kyle Knodell

Terence: The idea kind of spurred around 2010, 2011, when we saw a new influx of people coming into Rockaway. There were a lot of new restaurants opening. And to be honest, I was living in Manhattan at the time and I didn’t have a place to stay. So we just thought maybe like a 15 room hotel with a little taco shack would suffice. And it grew into a 50, 60 room hotel with multiple food and beverage. And it’s been magic ever since. 

Mars: So you said 2010. What has the evolution of Rockaway as a whole been like? I guess with the hotel and without the hotel, as a community? What’s it been like? 

Terence: Anything that we are involved in, we’re generational. So we’ve been here for generations, my family. And any project or restaurant we open, we usually do a classic. You know, we’re not very contemporary. We do an ode to the past. We want these places to be around so our kids’ kids will be working here or hanging out here. So you know that Rockaway has seen changes. I mean, which decade are we talking about? 80s and 90s were a little rough, a little tough around here to grow up in. And we all that grew up out here know what a hidden treasure this is. And I guess, you know, just like Pat Conlon, he’s a pirate, just like the rest of us. And we had this little hidden treasure and people started finding out about it, which is amazing because around the turn of the century and even the 50s, 60s, everybody came to Rockaway from the city. And so that kind of happened again, which was awesome to see. 

“We want these places to be around so our kids’ kids will be working here or hanging out here.”

Michi: And I think that that’s kind of where Terence and I met this intersection of me coming in and into the project about three and a half years ago and really waving the flag of “I’m not from here” and asking those questions and learning about the community from a nonlocal or off-peninsula person. And I think that those connections that we’ve been able to make together to help the community grow with the hotel kind of acting as this cultural hub, we’ve been able to make these connections of these little teacup empires that have already been out there for so long. There’s so many magical little spots in Rockaway that have existed for so long. And we’re hoping that they all come along with us and that we become that hub for them as well. So our role in the community has really been that connector. And it starts with a lot, you know, obviously with Terence’s whole family being here, and that trust has been everything for us. And then using art as another agent is really important. So having that in the community, both in public art and in the spaces, is the conversation that we’re having with the community on and off season. 

Mars: So then I guess a lot of people, whether they are from Manhattan or from anywhere else, really, that come here- How do you go about showing them all of that, all of the fixtures within the community? And showing off Rockaway and sharing it with everybody? 

Michi: Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s a sense of knowing already and then we help to provide the information, you know, with simple little things of making sure that we have partnerships already in place with locals and then obviously sourcing a lot of our local products from here and having those conversations. I’ll pass this to Terence because it’s all about the hospitality and this is a very curated, very personable place. And we take pride in that. And just talking to all of our guests and telling them is really where it comes from, because it’s that grassroots communication. 

Kyle Knodell

Terence: Starts with the little stories. Each day, like, “Hello, good morning.” And I think one of the things that you see, especially with a lot of the employees here, is everybody says hello. And we also want to engage with our guests. Local, nonlocal, it doesn’t matter you’re a guest. And what’s fantastic about this block is they call this the Old Boulevard. And the Old Boulevard here was, the tenement houses from the Lower East Side all used to come out to this area, 106, 108. Especially the Irish, and so that Irish hospitality is hopefully transcending into a much more diversified hospitality and inclusionary. And that’s, you know, where Michi and ourselves know how important the success of this place is to the community. So we cannot, we will not and cannot, let it fail. So it won’t. It’s a storied history of hotels out here. And we want to make sure that this place is going to be here for generations. 

Michi: For everybody. 

Mars: Yeah.

Michi: We want everybody to feel not only welcome with the hello when they come through the door, but also feel like they’re part of it. And that started a lot, not only with Terence’s generational roots here, but also with our conversations with different partners in the community. So we started a partnership with the school next door, for example, when we were under construction and taught all the kids how to do graffiti through a program with Art Production Fund. It’s called Art Sunday, and it’s a partnership between the Art Production Fund and Fort Gansevoort. And so we taught them how to do graffiti and then we wrapped the hotel’s scaffolding in that graffiti. So they felt like they were part of the building right from the beginning. So that’s an example of how we kind of connect those dots through programming that we partner with from the social impact as well. 

Mars: Was that on plywood or was it just on the metal scaffolding?

Michi: It was on the metal. We scanned all of their stuff and then wrapped it so it was actually up for like three months. So you’d see the kids out there taking pictures. And then after that we did the 16,000 square foot mural with Shantell Martin, who’s an internationally renowned artist. And then Pat Conlon’s doing the partnership with God’s Love We Deliver. So we’re really considering all of these questions of the community beyond just being a hotel. 

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Mars: How can we contribute also? 

Michi: Exactly. Exactly. Be part of that conversation and answer the questions of what the community needs, which is really important on these conversations that we’re having, you know, and those solid relationships. 

Mars: Yeah. To kind of rewind a little bit, go back to Hurricane Sandy, how was that for you guys? 

Terence: Well, I was living in Manhattan at the time, Lower East Side, but all of my brothers and my relatives were out here and some had major, major damage and some had just a little bit of flooding. I mean, for us, we did what we do, we’re a tribe out here. So we went to work. And we started organizing clean ups and, protecting- 

Mars: Taking care of your own. 

Terence: Taking care of our own. Our hospitality company saw how much money was being raised with the Red Cross, but we were boots on the ground. We didn’t see any of the Red Cross here. So we started our own fund. We raised $150,000 within three weeks and distributed it to local families that we knew, whether it’s helping pay for tuition, helping pay for mortgages, things like that. But Hurricane Sandy destroyed Bungalow Bar. And we weren’t sure if we were going to rebuild, but we had to, like it’s our responsibility to the community. Same thing with this. Even talking about art, the first art piece here is this building. How beautiful I think the architect and the designers did. And we’re able to make it even better. But Hurricane Sandy here actually didn’t hit this block too badly, it was pretty protected. And that’s why we like this building as well, because we are very storm resilient. We have generators. So unfortunately, if something happens again, we’ll be better prepared. 

Kyle Knodell

Mars: What do you see the future of Rockaway being like with you guys contributing and the influx of people from the city? What’s your goal and also what do you see it coming together as naturally? Kind of a big question.

Michi: I think Rockaway is a hidden gem, of course. Thousands of people get off that ferry every day. When the sun is out this place is an amazing vibe. And what I think our goal as a group is to think about it as a year long destination, not just in the summertime, and thinking about how this hotel can play a vital role in that growth. 

Terence: Exactly. With the winterization of Rockaway. And also I think for us is communicating like, speaking about climate change. There’s no carbon footprint to travel here and escape your reality. I think what we’re trying to build here and have is a transport away from your day to day and feel like you’re on vacation within your own city. We’re surrounded by natural wonders, we sometimes don’t open up our eyes around it. We sit in Jamaica Bay, 20,000 acres of natural preserve that the locals protect as their own. And then we face the Atlantic Ocean and the Jersey Shore. We see it. So for us, I think the future of Rockaway, especially in this post-COVID, but not really post-COVID, we’re taking one day at a time, standing by the principles that guide us, trying to be eco-conscious, art and community. And I think that will drive us in the right direction for what’s the next move, whether it’s here or whether it’s in Rockaway overall. 

Mars: What are some of your favorite places personally to go around Rockaway? Besides the Rockaway Hotel. 

Michi: I do, of course, love it here. But I love Fort Tilden. It’s an amazing beach that is really still hidden and not overcrowded. Not that I don’t love a crowded beach on a sunny day, but I really like doing walks on Fort Tilden. Yeah, that’s my favorite spot. 

Terence: A bird sanctuary, I like. I grew up playing man hunt in there as a kid. And then again you start to realize how beautiful the place is that you grew up in. As far as if we’re asking for a bar, restaurant, where you want to hang, I love every single place out here honestly just the same. Food’s good here, food’s good there. It’s all about the hospitality for me at the end, whether it’s the Harbor Light all the way down to the Rockaway Surf Club. It’s such a small, tight knit hospitality family down here that we do look out for our own. We have our own text messages. 

Mars: Like a group chat? 

Terence: A group chat. Like, “Oh, the Department of Health is down here, guys, heads up. Hey, don’t let this guy in, he’s a little too drunk.” 

Kyle Knodell

Mars: Sending a photo of Alex Corporan. 

Terence: Yes, Alex especially. Or Pat Conlon. But The Restaurant is one of my favorite places. It’s called The Restaurant. It’s on 88 street right by Hammels. It’s been there for fifty years. You could still get a great breakfast for like $9. And a great Greek salad. That’s where my father goes for lunch, it’s a great spot. 

Mars: Tell us about Connolly’s. 

Terence: Connolly’s. My father bartended at Connolly’s for Mrs. Connolly, and then my brothers and I all barbacked and bartended at Connolly’s when we were lifeguards in the late 90s, mid 90s. We’ve seen Connollys go through that evolution. It’s a gem of Rockaway. We hate to see that it might close, it’s getting sold, stuff like that. But Connolly’s, everybody from Rockaway really goes there. It’s a fixture, it grows on you. And they’re the ones that started the frozen drink trend. Everybody has frozens because Connolly’s had the right formula. Jeff and Carrie Ann, great people. They gotta do what they gotta do. Hopefully Connolly’s exists next year. 

Mars: Fingers crossed. Tell us about Tom Sachs’s work in the hotel. 

Michi: Well, I think we really approached the art program the way that we’re approaching everything. Thinking of the curation of the space was how people would walk in, be welcomed and really feel like they were part of something bigger or a story or narrative of something that’s not only communal but also self-reflective. I worked with a lot of local artists, not only here locally in Rockaway, but also in New York, who are also internationally renowned artists. And that’s just a testament to what a cultural hub Rockaway already is, being that Tom Sachs is a local out here surfing. And so it was a natural fit for us to have one of his pieces here, working with him was a delight. He’s amazing and a great artist and a good friend. I was just excited to be able to place it in a place that he felt good. So we worked together to place it and make sure that he was happy with it. And that’s the same with most of the artists here. All of the artists know that their work is here, they’re part of this process, and that’s really part of the hub of the communication. Roe Ethridge is also a local artist. Susannah Ray’s pieces are throughout the entire hotel as well. She did a series on the surf culture here that she’s been doing for the last 14 years, and she’s a local artist. The overall hotel’s curation is predicated on that.

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Michi: And then we’re sitting in Margie’s right now, which Terence can talk to the history of his grandmother. But when I was curating this with him and really looking at the storied history of Margie and her generational influence that she had running the space here, this is the exact footprint of her restaurant that she had, which is a testament to the generational pull that this place has. We wanted to tell the story through the art of what an influence she was to the community through her hospitality and how she was that connective tissue. Paying homage to that welcoming feeling. So the salon hang was really that idea of what you said when you walked in, you feel like you’re in someone’s really cool beach house, but not a hotel. It’s like a home. We wanted to create a home for people to come. And that’s what Margie, from everything that I learned from these guys, from meeting with everybody in their family, they were all about that. It’s about home. So when you come into the space, it’s really about interspersing her images with other images of local artists,  of illustrations, to give that testament. 

Kyle Knodell

Terence: There’s some hidden gems here, too. 

Michi: Yeah. There’s Five Brothers by Warhol that I sourced for this place, which is a direct conversation with the Tubridy family. There’s five brothers in that. They were Margie’s five grandsons, obviously. And so that illustration right there is Warhol. And that was really the pivotal, where I took the story. That and then the pictures of Margie herself. This is Margie on this yellow car right here with her pug. So cute. And then she’s also bookending the story over there with a really welcoming scene at the end.

Kyle Knodell

Mars: Any finger paintings from Terence? 

Michi: I would have really liked a finger painting from Terence. That would’ve been really good. 

Terence: I burned them all. 

Mars: Still time to recreate. What’s the skate scene like here?

Terence: Going back to Hurricane Sandy, it was like a blank slate for the community to help have a hand in what the community needs were. And there was a makeshift skate park there for years. And so the city really kind of let the community input on what needs are along the beach and the boardwalk. Because a boardwalk is not just a boardwalk. It is our main street. It’s where everybody says hello. Michi goes for a walk every day and is like “I meet new people!” 

Michi: I’m always meeting people on the boardwalk. 

Terence: Yeah. But it’s also a storm barrier to protect Rockaway. So those parks along shore from Parkway are integral. And just like the skate park. You talk about year-round activation, that’s something you could do in the spring, in the fall. And also get kids involved, active. I think a few years ago I was saying, you never see kids in the park playing basketball anymore, but you give them the skate park and that place is packed. It’s amazing. So I think speaking about parks and  the future of Rockaway, one thing that’s missing we talked about, was we have a partnership with Jamaica Bay Conservancy that put together the pieces of all the people that have a stakehold at Jamaica Bay. One of the things that we’re absolutely missing is Bay access. You have six miles of Bayfront that the public can’t use. And think about how many kayaks and how many stand up paddle boards. It’s starting to happen, but it would really be helpful to activate that more because the true gem of Rockaway is the bay, I say that all the time. I’m a bay man. 

Kyle Knodell

Mars: So our last and most popular question that we ask everybody and we have asked everybody in Rockaway, is what does it mean to you guys to be frank, to keep it real and authentic? 

Michi: Everything. 

Mars: Everything. 

Michi: Yeah. I mean to keep it frank is what we base everything on. 

Mars: The integrity of this entire hotel. 

Michi: Exactly. It’s based on keeping it frank and keeping it really real. 

Terence: Yeah. I think to be frank, since we’re sitting in Margie’s and she had all these sayings, just like a grandmother would- “you never stumble when you’re humble,” and just be kind. I think we had  a mantra of, let’s just not do business with assholes. 

Michi: That’s my mantra. That’s a strict, strict rule. 

Terence: Yeah, it’s a good rule. So that’s that for us. To be frank is to be kind. 

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