Tag Archives: Astoria

Astoria Lego designer featured in new documentary


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

Astoria resident Cody Wells is building his dreams one Lego piece at a time.

Wells is the Lego designer behind the company C3Brix — which specializes in Lego mosaics, portraits, models and figures — and in the past year has seen an increase in success, including being featured in the documentary “A LEGO Brickumentary.”

His love for Legos started at a very young age, when out of fear of ghosts, he created a “Ghostbusters” ghost trap. Since then he realized that if he could imagine it then he could build it.

However, transforming the love into a job didn’t happen until a few years ago when he was still in his home state of Missouri and was facing a difficult time in his life. He created with Legos as a way to keep himself happy and started noticing that after showing his creations to regulars at a local restaurant he worked at, that he was getting attention.

“I wasn’t making any money out of it, I was just doing it for fun,” Wells said. “I started pulling out the Lego and I’m like ‘I think I got something here.’ It’s the only thing that makes me happy.”

At the same time, he met Katie Proctor, an actress from New York City and now his fiancée, who stopped at the restaurant. After showing her one of his Lego creations — a DeLorean – on their first date, she suggested that if he was going to create Legos as a job that he should move to New York.

So in 2011, Wells made the move to Astoria and began studying everything that had to do with Legos and also pieces that could work with Legos such as Mega Bloks, Laser Pegs and Kre-O.

“I wanted to know every piece ever made so if someone says I want that made, I can make it the best that’s capability humanly possible,” he said.

A turning point in his life happened when he took a trip to the Lego store at Rockefeller Center and asked for one of his WALL-E figures to be put on display in its window. There he found out that the window was reserved for the Lego user group I LUG NY.

Almost a year later, he met two members of the group Brian Wygand and Will Smart — who are now his best friends — at the Lego store in Queens Center mall and found out they had been looking for him after seeing the WALL-E figure — which the Rockefeller Center store put on display without Wells knowing.

He was then welcomed to be a part of the group, filled with individuals he had aspired to be like and adds that he credits Wygand, Smart, Billy Murphy and Mike Bader for helping him feel like he was a part of something and not alone.

Although he continues to be a part of I LUG NY, Wells decided to go on his own with C3BRIX with the desire to not just display his creations but also allow children to interact with the Legos and also make a living.

“For me personally, I have to create because not only is this a source of income but I want to give [my kids] hope that you can fulfill your dreams,” he said. “I want to show my kids that there is more to life than the small town they grow up in.”

Since then Wells has been invited to participate in events such as the LIC Flea & Food in Long Island City, and was also invited to create four models for the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair.

While attending the BrickFair LEGO Convention, where he took home first place in sci-fi moves with his Star Trek Enterprise model, he and two other designers were approached by the filmmakers behind “A LEGO Brickumentary” and were interviewed on their craft. The movie, narrated by actor Jason Bateman, was released on Friday and on Aug. 2 Wells will take some of his creations to the Manhattan premiere.

He also creates portraits for families as presents, which resemble photographs, and takes orders on just about anything.

“Whatever you can think of my job is to make it out of Lego. Don’t call me for Lego, call me for something you like and them ask me to make it in Lego,” he said.

For now Wells, continues to make his creations out of his Astoria apartment, with his children coming to visit from Michigan where they live with their mother. Both his children — Colton and Cydney — have also tried their own hands at creating pieces, with his son at times assisting Wells.

He has also started a partnership with the Manhattan store Little Shop of Crafts to help expand its activities for children.

“It’s cool to have a dad that nobody else has, nobody else has a Lego designer job like he does. So it’s kind of cool to say my dad is a Lego designer in New York City,” his 12-year-old daughter said.

As his success continues to grow, Wells hopes to one day have a show such as TLC’s “Cake Boss” where he can take large orders from customers for special events.

And although Wells has no affiliation with the actual Lego brand, he said that he is thankful for what Lego has done for his life.

“I’m indebted to them for helping me through my childhood, I’m indebted to them for helping me create a career to influence my children and hopefully other children to follow their dream,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky few that did come to New York and believe the headlines that were told to me, and I’m living it.”

For more information on Wells and C3Brix, visit c3brix.com or www.facebook.com/C3Brix.


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Top five brunch spots in Astoria and LIC


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo via The Queens Kickshaw Facebook page

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

With jaw-dropping city views and an impressive roster of fun weekend activities and outdoor events, Astoria and Long Island City have become premier summer destinations in the city.

Whether you’re enjoying a concert in Astoria Park, browsing the LIC Flea Market, exploring art at MoMA PS1 or sneaking a peek at some of the area’s amazing open houses, kick off your weekend by fueling up at one of the neighborhoods’ top brunch spots.

LIC Market
21-52 44th Dr., Long Island City
718-361-0013
Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

This cozy eatery is part American bistro, part rustic general store, with exposed white brick walls, chalkboard menu and wooden, farmhouse-style bar. The menu at LIC Market is frequently updated according to season and freshness, with much of their produce picked within a day of serving.

Photo courtesy of LIC Market

Photo courtesy of LIC Market

Brunch favorites include the slow roasted duck hash ($14), dirty rice frittata ($12) and buttermilk pancakes ($14) served with homemade berry jam, toasted pumpkin seed butter and maple syrup. For those seeking lighter fare, the ricotta and pignoli salad ($10) is a bounty of fresh arugula, golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, orange slices and roasted shallot vinaigrette. Sip on the traditional mimosa ($8) or a cup of freshly brewed, organic coffee sourced from direct trade micro-lots and roasted in Long Island ($2).

LIC Market is also a purveyor of homemade delights, such as strawberry and black pepper jam, and roasted cashew butter, for sale in little glass jars and cans on its quaint general store shelves.

Bear
12-14 31st Ave., Long Island City
917-396-4939
Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Bear

This LIC restaurant and bar was founded back in 2011 by Executive Chef and Owner Natasha Pogrebinsky, who blends culinary traditions from the family’s native Kiev, along with Ukrainian and traditional French cuisine, to create flavorful, innovative dishes.

The dill poached potatoes ($5) and beet salad ($5) reflect Pogrebinsky’s Eastern European roots. A $15 prix-fixe brunch menu offers chicken kiev and waffles, as well as hearty borscht with a side of garlic and egg buns. Summer brunch favorites include the chilled tomato gazpacho ($9), farmer’s market mixed greens ($9) and tomato and onion sunflower salad ($7). All of Bear’s produce is locally sourced from farms in New York and New Jersey, as well as handpicked by Chef Pogrebinsky on weekly trips to the Union Square Farmers Market.

Unlike traditional brunch libations, the bloody mary at Bear is a feast for the eyes and palette, complete with a slice of candied bacon, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, jumbo celery stalk, pickles, and hard-boiled egg and olive skewer ($9).

The Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway, Astoria
718-777-0913
Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Photo via The Queens Kickshaw Facebook page

Photo via The Queens Kickshaw Facebook page

This specialty coffee shop and cider bar serves up delicious, flavorful brunch fare on weekends and special holidays. The Kickshaw’s ranchers’ eggs ($14) is a zesty mix of jalapeño cornbread, guacamole, pico de gallo and sunny side up eggs. Hungry Astorians in the mood to indulge would love the mac ‘n’ cheese ($12.50), a hearty blend of Gruyère, smoked mozzarella, French beans and caramelized onions.

The kitchen sink salad ($12.50) combines a colorful mix of mesclun greens, roasted red and golden beets, and sunchokes topped with blue cheese dressing. The decadent Mast Bros. Mocha ($5) or hot chocolate ($4.50) provides a sweet finish to this brunch outing. Espresso soda ($3.25) and cold-brewed iced coffee ($3.50) are refreshing options for warm summer mornings.

Sugar Freak
36-18 30th Ave., Astoria
718-726-5850
Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Midnight brunch: Friday and Saturday from noon to 3 a.m.

Photo via Sugar Freak Facebook page

Photo via Sugar Freak Facebook page

Astoria hot spot Sugar Freak specializes in festive, flavorful New Orleans fare served in a relaxed, homespun atmosphere.

Its brunch beignet sliders ($2 to $8) are a delightful mix of scrambled eggs with praline bacon and pimento cheese. The Sugar Freak breakfast ($14) is a generous platter of three eggs (any style) with homemade boudin sausage and grits in gravy with a biscuit. Waffle varieties range from sweet potato and cornbread to spicy Cajun-filled ($8) and are topped with your choice of specialty sauces, including bananas foster, chili honey, sweet and spicy condensed milk or raspberry (+ $3), oxtail grits ($15-18), chicken fried steak ($16) and the holy trinity ($16), a trifecta of fried oysters, shrimp and catfish, offer a unique spin on traditional brunch dishes. Pair them with the herb-infused green bloody mary ($10) or Creole lady marmalade, a potent gin martini with marmalade, orange liqueur and lemon.

Night owls who wish to indulge in brunch are in luck, as Sugar Freak offers a special midnight brunch to hungry late night crowds every Friday and Saturday from noon to 3 a.m.

Snowdonia
34-55 32nd St., Astoria
347-730-5783
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m  to 4 p.m.
Monday from noon to midnight

Photo via Snowdonia Facebook page

Photo via Snowdonia Facebook page

This cozy gastro pub is known for serving up Welsh-inspired dishes two short blocks away from the famous Kaufman Astoria Studios and Museum of the Moving Image.

Snowdonia’s small brunch plates, or “platiau bach ac oer,” include the laverbread and bacon ($6), a welsh bread made from fresh “laver” or seaweed, lemon zest and oatmeal with bacon. The traditional Welsh rarebit ($9) is a rich, melted three cheese blend served on toasted baguette. Brunch entrees include shepherd’s pie ($16), leek bacon and egg pie ($12), brisket and eggs ($15), and the half English breakfast ($15) featuring two eggs any style with vegetarian baked beans, welsh banger and chorizo sausages. The sticky toffee bread pudding ($7) and bourbon brownie ($7) are sweet compliments to the savory fare.

In addition to an extensive menu of craft beer and cider, Snowdonia also features specialty cocktails like the Welsh 75 ($11), a blend of New Amsterdam gin, muddled raspberry, ginger cordial, mint and champagne float. Snowdonia’s brunch dishes are also available all day on Mondays, providing a great start to any week.

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Astoria venue to host comedic watch party for first Republican debate


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Q.E.D.

One Astoria community space is making sure everyone knows that politics doesn’t always have to be serious — especially when it comes to who is going to be taking over the White House.

Q.E.D., located at 27-16 23rd Ave., will be hosting a Republican Debate Watch Party on Aug. 6 that will feature ongoing commentary by comedians John Fugelsang and Frank Conniff in the style of the TV comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The debate, which begins at 9 p.m. and will feature the top 10 candidates in the Republican Party, will be aired and hosted by Fox News as part of the channel’s Republican presidential primary debate coverage.

It will be held in Cleveland and will be the candidates’ first television face-off.

republican_watch_party_grande

According to published reports, eight candidates are likely to attend: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson.

While the debate is played on two large HD televisions, Conniff and Fugelsang will provide comedic and political comments.

Conniff hosts the monthly show Cartoon Dump at Q.E.D. and is also known for his role as Frank on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Fugelsang is the host of the SiriusXM show Tell Me Everything.

“The great thing about these big, live events is that people naturally want to experience them together. It’s usually through things like Twitter hashtags but it’s also a great opportunity to get out of the house and watch with everyone in a fun atmosphere,” said Kambri Crews, owner of Q.E.D.

Tickets for the watch party are $8 and include one drink and one slice of pizza. Additional food and drinks will also be available for purchase.

For more information, visit www.QEDAstoria.com or call 347-451-3873.

John Fugelsang and Frank

Comedians John Fugelsang and Frank Conniff.

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DOE leasing former Astoria Catholic school building for pre-K center


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

The site of the former Most Precious Blood Catholic School, which closed its doors in June after 58 years of serving the Astoria community, will now be used as a pre-K center, according to the Department of Education.

Students and parents at the school located at 35-32 37th St. found out in January that the school would be closing at the end of the school year due to drops in enrollment and the need for costly structural repairs. Even though parents and students rallied to keep the school open, the institution shut down.

However, according to the DOE, which has since leased the building, the site will still be used for educational purposes and there are no plans to change the use of the building.

In a letter to the Most Precious Blood community in January, Reverend William Krlis, pastor at Most Precious Blood Church, said that an estimated $5.5 million in structural repairs were needed for both the school and church. The school building needed about $2.55 million in repairs and work could not be done at the site while being used full time.

Although it is not clear what work has or will be done to the site, The Courier did notice scaffolding had been set up around the school building during a visit Wednesday morning.

The DOE said the school will be safe once students arrive in September.

The Diocese of Brooklyn declined to comment.

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Woodside resident to seek Assembly seat and ‘fight for the middle class’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Brian Barnwell

Brian Barnwell is looking to be the voice of a district he has called home all his life and one he says needs a big change and new leadership.

The 29-year-old Woodside resident and lawyer has announced that he will run next year for the seat in the state Assembly representing District 30, which covers the neighborhoods of Maspeth, Woodside, Middle Village and parts of Astoria, Sunnyside and Long Island City.

The seat is currently held by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, who was first elected in 1998.

“I just feel like it’s time for a change. I feel like we need some new energy where people are going to go out and engage the community and bring the community voices into the conversation,” Barnwell said. “Everyone is getting pushed out. The teachers are being thrown under the bus. The students are being thrown under the bus. The middle class is just being destroyed and we can’t take it for granted anymore. So I want to be the voice of the middle class, because I am in the middle class.”

Barnwell’s desire to run for office was fueled recently when he began working as the director of special events for Councilman Costa Constantinides, and experienced many residents coming into the district office complaining about various issues – including affordable housing.

This made him realize that there needed to be a change and he would be that change.

The platform of his campaign will strongly focus on helping individuals in the middle class and those vying to move into the middle class. With being a member of the middle class himself, along with his family, Barnwell said he has personal experience with the issues constituents face.

“The middle class is what made this country great. It’s what makes any country great. If you don’t have a middle class, you’re in trouble,” Barnwell said.

Barnwell’s platform – focusing on taxes, education and affordable housing – includes issues such as lowering personal income and corporate taxes; helping raise minimum wage; empowering teachers, parents and administrators in local schools and creating new curriculum based on districts; building more schools; and increasing the amount of affordable housing in the developing area.

For now, Barnwell will stay at Constantinides’ office until September, then he will hit the streets and reach out to the communities to see what issues the residents are facing.

“I want people to tell me what’s wrong with this district,” Barnwell said. “You’ve got to lead. You’ve got to be a leader. This why we elect these people to be leaders, not followers, and I want to be a leader. I don’t want to be a follower.”

Barnwell will hold his first fundraiser on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at The Brewery NYC, located at 49-18 30th Ave. in Woodside.

For more information visit Barnwell’s Facebook page or follow @Barnwell2016 on Twitter.

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Top five summer activities in Astoria Park


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

Astoria Park is an outdoor urban oasis along the banks of the East River in northwestern Queens. The nearly 60-acre park, located on 19th Street off Ditmars Boulevard, is one of the largest outdoor spaces in the borough, with splendid waterfront views of upper Manhattan, as well as both the Triboro and Hell Gate bridges.

The park is the perfect staycation destination for day trippers, tourists and neighborhood regulars. Here are our picks for the top five best summer events and activities in the western Queens green space.

Astoria Pool
19th Street

This art deco, Olympic-sized swimming pool is the largest in the city, making it the perfect place for city dwellers to cool their heels on a hot summer day. Astoria Pool is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Sunbathers can soak up rays on the poolside deck while swimmers enjoy splashing around in the shadow of the Triboro Bridge. The pool offers aquatics programs and swimming lessons for youths and adults, as well as a smaller wading pool for beginners.

AstoriaPark1

Photo courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation

Special Early Bird and Night Owl swim hours are also available through the Adult Lap Swim Program, which allows swimmers to focus on fitness and swim technique. First-, second- and third-place prizes will be awarded to men and women who have completed the most lengths until Friday, Aug. 7. For more information or to register, click here.

New World Queens Festival
Astoria Park Great Lawn
Saturday, Aug. 29, noon to 9 p.m.

astoriamusicandarts

Photo via Astoria Music and Arts Facebook page

This free outdoor festival presented by Astoria Music and Arts will feature over 60 musical acts and visual artists with the goal of raising eco-awareness. Artists range from bossa nova, reggae, ska, R&B, rock, psychedelic, Americana, indie, funk, blue grass and Afro-Cuban bands. There will also be DJs, a pie-eating contest sponsored by Astor Bake Shop and Little Club Heads, a family dance party experience for children 1 to 12 years old, a dance tent featuring Sol Dance Studios, a puppet show by WonderSpark from Raising Astoria, and a giant Kaiju Big Battle Monster. There will also be an on-site outdoor exhibit featuring the work of over 30 visual artists, sculptors and painters. The event is family- and pet-friendly.

Pack a picnic 

Butcher Bar

Photo courtesy of Butcher Bar

Escape the concrete jungle for an afternoon without ever having to leave Queens. With its jaw-dropping views of the city and the East River, Astoria Park is the perfect, picturesque picnic spot. Picnic essentials include a large blanket or quilt, sunscreen, a Frisbee, a good book, cloth napkins and trash bags for post-picnic cleanup. The key to a well-stocked picnic basket is to start with locally made, handheld favorites. Stop by Butcher Bar and pick up the “PBLT” sandwich ($10.99), featuring grilled smoked pork belly, the Philly cheese brisket ($13.49) or its saucy, braised pulled BBQ chicken ($10.99) topped with coleslaw, onions and pickles. Pair these delectable sandwiches with one of its all-natural sodas, lemonade or famous Butcher Bar iced tea.

Movies on the Waterfront
Astoria Park Great Lawn

Photo courtesy of the Facebook page of Give Me Astoria

Photo via Give Me Astoria Facebook page

Bring a blanket or a lawn chair and some ice cream and head over to the Great Lawn in Astoria Park this summer for the Monday night Movies on the Waterfront series organized by Central Astoria LCD. Check out “Frozen” (August 3), “How to Train Your Dragon” (Aug. 10), “Ghostbusters” (Aug. 17) and “The Incredibles” (Aug. 24) on a big screen under the stars. Movies start at 8:30 p.m. on the Great Lawn, located off Shore Boulevard between the Hell Gate Bridge and Astoria Pool. The series is sponsored by nearby Kaufman Astoria Studios and admission is free.

Pop an ollie!
Astoria Skate Plaza
Hoyt Avenue at 19th Street

Photo courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation

This 21,500-square-foot skate park is located at the southern end of Astoria Park, directly under the Triboro Bridge. Astoria Skate Plaza features multiple levels with stairs, rails, banks and ledges of varying heights and sizes. The park was created by Who Skates, a leader in municipal, urban skate park design, and features an open design that allows for a free-form style of skating. Although an attendant will be provided during official hours of operation, skaters will need to sign a special waiver with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation before hitting the rails.

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Astoria teen gets presidential treatment before heading to college


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Anthony Neciosup

For 17-year-old Anthony Neciosup, last week still seems surreal, as his dream to go to the White House and be in the same room as the president of the United States and the first lady became a reality.

The Astoria resident was one of about 130 college-bound students from across the country to attend first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative “Beating the Odds Summit” at the White House on Thursday.

The daylong event focused on sharing tools, strategies and resources the students will be able to use to successfully transition to college and in the end complete their time there.

“I was really thankful for it. It was my dream to go to the White House and I finally got it,” said Neciosup, who was invited to the summit through his leadership and work with the nonprofit Global Kids. “It still hasn’t hit me.”

During the event, the students were able to listen to a panel moderated by E! News host Terrence Jenkins and featuring the first lady, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, musician Wale, and Manuel Contreras, a senior at Brown University and founder of the Inter-Ivy, First-Generation College Student Network (1vyG).

As a surprise to the students, an unexpected special guest also took the stage to welcome and speak with them – President Barack Obama.

“It was surreal. Nobody was expecting him,” Neciosup said. “I thought people were cheering really loud for [Wale] and then I saw the top of Obama’s head and I started freaking out as well.”

The students at the event, who were sponsored by 70 nonprofits, represented a mix of urban, rural, foster, homeless, special needs and under-represented youth who overcame large obstacles to get through high school and ultimately make it to college.

IMG_8077

One of those 70 nonprofits is Global Kids, which Neciosup joined in his sophomore year of high school after seeing their work after Superstorm Sandy.

“For over 25 years, Global Kids has been committed to helping students from underserved communities in New York City and Washington, D.C., to succeed in school, graduate and go on to college through our youth leadership and global education programs,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, Global Kids’ executive director.

Neciosup, who graduated from Long Island City High School and will be attending New York University this fall, said being invited to the summit helped boost his confidence and has made him feel more prepared to enter college.

He added that as a first-generation college student in his family, he at times felt the fear of “not belonging” at NYU, but after speaking with Contreras and receiving tips from the panelist on how to overcome that feeling, his spirits were uplifted.

“The past few days have made me feel better about going to college,” Neciosup said. “And I’m telling myself that it is possible and I can do this and one day I can be an ophthalmologist.”

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Whitestone pageant queen pursues charity causes and higher education


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Margaret Skourlis

Whitestone resident Margaret Skourlis may be a pageant queen, but she’s a beauty with a brain and a killer resume.

The former Miss Supermodel USA-Petite was back on the pageant circuit this month as the New York representative in the national Ms. UNITE pageant, a charity event to benefit victims of domestic violence. While she did not raise enough donation money to place in the top spots of Ms. UNITE, Skourlis, 34, is a seasoned competitor who won her first title in the Miss Greek Independence Pageant as Miss Messina 2001, and has competed in a total of 15 pageants in her career.

“I’ve grown drastically in that [with] every pageant title I’ve held throughout my life, I was able to do different things to help different communities,” said Skourlis.

Although Skourlis herself has deep roots in Queens, having been born in Astoria and then moving to Whitestone at age 4, her father is originally from the Greek city of Kalamata and her mother is of Greek descent as well. The beauty queen promotes Greek tourism while competing in pageants in order to help stimulate the country’s economy during its current times of international debt and financial crisis.

Skourlis is also involved in giving back to the local Greek community by serving as the vice president of the Intercollegiate Hellenic Society, a nonprofit aimed at bringing together young people to promote Hellenic culture. The organization helps students get firsthand experience studying abroad and has a longstanding relationship with Montreal, a city that Skourlis has promoted in pageants in an effort to increase tourism.

“For years, we’ve been sending students to the city of Montreal, to experience the beauty of Montreal and to learn about the antiquity,” said Skourlis, who enjoys visiting restaurants and cafes in the old port of the Canadian city.

While the average person might feel satisfied if they had all of Skourlis’ accomplishments, she is always striving to learn more and broaden her own skill set. She is currently making her way through an online course with Harvard University to learn computer programing, but she already has a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and 16 certifications from Cornell University, along with paralegal, modeling and real estate sales certifications.

“When you meet different people you learn different things, but then getting background knowledge helps you change the world,” said Skourlis. “And my real goal is to be able to help the world and change people’s lives.”

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Astoria band captures audiences with unique electric beats


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Scott Nidermaier/NidermaierPictures.com

When Distoria takes the stage, audience members are left wondering how just three members can make so much noise and create such a unique sound.

In 2010, the Astoria alternative rock band was formed when frontwoman Helena Martin was invited to play as a solo act at B.O.M.B. Fest in Connecticut. Martin knew she wanted to make the performance special and decided to add a drummer, Cody Rahn, to her vocal and piano act.

“Immediately I said I don’t want to play by myself, I want to make this interesting,” she said.

That performance was Distoria’s first, although the group wasn’t complete until later, when Mor Mezrich joined as the bassist and audio engineer. Martin said that although she had always been involved in music on her own, she actually felt that working with other musicians allowed her to discover who she is as a musician.

The name of the group came after Martin’s younger brother was visiting her in Astoria and combined the names of Ditmars and Astoria after being told to get off at the Astoria-Ditmars subway station.

“I said that’s an awesome name, I’m going to write that down,” Martin recalled.

The trio began experimenting with electronic elements in their music, which makes Distoria what it is today, and in 2011 the band was called back to play B.O.M.B. Fest, which was headlined by musicians such as Snoop Dogg and Weezer.

Helena Martin

Helena Martin

According to Martin, it took the group about a year to learn about making the electronic tunes on a program called Ableton Live and to figure out how they would use it for Distoria. And even though they have found their unique sound, Martin said the group is always learning.

“We’re always learning, figuring out ways to do better,” she said. “It’s cool because as we uncover the limitations, the limitations let us push those limits.”

Along with their instruments, each member of the band plays an electronic element. For example, while playing the piano and singing, Martin also has a square pad in front of her that also creates sounds.

“Sometimes it sounds like there are a lot more people on stage than there are,” Martin said. “People say, ‘That’s crazy, how did you do that one song?’”

When it comes to what makes Distoria stand out from other groups, Martin said that when they hit the stage they do not just hit a play button at the beginning of the song. Each tune is either created on the spot or is physically turned on by a band member.

Because of all the different aspects of their music, the members are constantly rehearsing in Astoria, the neighborhood Martin and Mezrich call home, to make sure every beat works. Mezrich also owns his own studio in Astoria called Ears & Gears Recording.

Martin added that another thing that makes Distoria unique is that although they play hard rock music, which usually involved an electric guitar, the band does not have a guitarist. When audience members hear what sounds like a guitar, it is actually Mezrich playing his bass really high while Rahn hits bass pads on the drums to mimic the bass.

“We don’t have a guitar but we still rock pretty hard and pretty loud,” Martin said.

Martin writes all of Distoria’s lyrics from personal experiences. Her bandmates then help add the body and beats to the songs.

“If you listen to all the lyrics, you will know everything about me,” she said. “What I’m doing now with Distoria is what I’ve always intended but never knew that I intended. That’s what I always meant to have. It’s really exciting.”

Distoria released their first EP called “Periphery” in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped them fund the production of the five-song album, which can be found on iTunes.

They have also recently released a new single “Dark White” with a bonus track called “Lift Point.” A music video for “Dark White” is also slated to be released soon.

The band plans to have various shows in the fall and also hopes to do a mini-tour to local cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

In the future the group also hopes they can be part of large music festivals where more people can listen to their unique sound.

For more information on Distoria, visit www.distoriamusic.com.

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Cops looking for assailant who struck man in the head on Astoria street


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

The NYPD released on Saturday night video footage of a man wanted for smacking a pedestrian in the head with a blunt object on an Astoria street last month.

According to police, the attack occurred at 2:45 p.m. on June 17 in front of a location on 34th Street near 37th Avenue.

Reportedly, the perpetrator walked up to the 34-year-old man and hit him in the head with an unknown object, then fled the scene.

Officers from the 114th Precinct and EMS units responded to the incident. The victim was treated at Elmhurst Hospital for a laceration to the head.

Anyone with information regarding the suspect’s whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS, visit their website or send a text message to 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577. All calls and messages will be kept confidential.

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Astoria street to be co-named after late community leader


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The dedication and hard work of one Astoria community leader, who passed away earlier this year, will live on in the neighborhood he helped flourish.

The City Council unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would co-name streets throughout the city, including 30th Avenue between 30th and 29th streets, which will be named in honor of Dennis Syntilas, who died on Jan. 7.

Syntilas, 85, was a civic leader and community organizer in Astoria who helped bring the culture of Greece to Queens. He was the founder of the community-based organization Greek-American Homeowners Association, which helps connect Greek-Americans with government resources and promotes civic engagement.

“I am proud to honor Dennis Syntilas and his family with this street co-naming. His contributions to his community have been longstanding. Syntilas worked to improve Astoria by promoting Hellenic and Democratic values through his founding of Athens Square and the Greek-American Homeowners Association,” said Councilman Costa Constantinides, who co-sponsored the co-naming bill. “He is a great example of civic engagement and responsibility throughout our community. This recognition will forever commemorate his tireless work and contributions to our city.”

Syntilas was also one of the forces behind the creation of Athens Square Park on 30th Avenue, where the street will be co-named Dennis Syntilas Way. The park serves as a public space functioning as both a cultural center and recreational site with a playground, amphitheater and numerous sculptures of ancient Greek figures.

“If Dennis was with us today, he would be proud to see how well his dream has come to life. It is an honor to continue his legacy through the addition of Dennis Syntilas Way,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “He made so many sacrifices not just for this park but for our entire community and all the immigrants who made their way here over the decades.”

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Co-working company to open space in Astoria: report


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy PropertyShark/Ed Fahoury

A co-working company that has locations throughout the nation and around the world has set its eye on Queens for its next home, according to a published report.

WeWork, which provides individuals and groups with work space, community and services, has leased a 60,000-square-foot space at 35-37 36th St. in Astoria, the Commercial Observer reported.

The space, which has been reportedly leased for 15 years and is expected to open by early 2016, is located at Studio Square, which is also home to the Studio Square beer garden and Miami Ad School.

The six-story building is owned by the Vanbarton Group, which bought it last June for $29.2 million.

WeWork is also reportedly looking to lease locations in Long Island City.

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Top Queens hot dog spots for National Hot Dog Day


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

The hot dog has long held the honor of being one of America’s favorite summertime treats, taking center stage at cookouts, campfires and ballparks throughout the summer months. To celebrate this iconic food, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council designated July as Hot Dog Month, with Thursday, July 23, as National Hot Dog Day.

Whether you prefer your dogs boiled, grilled, barbecued or topped with everything from classic relish to more exotic fare like pineapples and sriracha, indulge in this summertime staple at some of the best hot dog spots in Queens.

Ben’s Best
96-40 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
718-897-1700

IMG_5570

Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

This gourmet kosher delicatessen has been a neighborhood staple, serving up classic deli fare such as mile-high hot pastrami on rye, kreplach and cabbage rolls for nearly 70 years. Their Empire National brand natural casing frankfurters are grilled to perfection.

Ben’s franks are served with choice of mustard, ketchup, relish and sauerkraut ($4.50), or topped with red onions, coleslaw, chili and even potato salad for just a dollar more. A can of Dr. Brown’s root beer or Cel-Ray celery soda makes the perfect pairing to this flavorful summertime feast.

La Perrada de Chalo
83-12 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights
718-639-6677

LaPerrada

Photo courtesy of La Perrada de Chalo

Established in 1995, La Perrada boasts the largest selection of authentic gourmet Colombian hot dogs in the city. The Iraqui ($4.15) is a unique salty and sweet mix of potato chips, eggs, pineapple, sauces and cheese. For tropical flavor, try the Al Gusto ($5) topped with Hawaiian pineapple, bacon, shrimp and eggs. The flavorful Criollo ($4.15) blends cabbage salad with pineapples, cheese, sauces and crushed chips for a crunchy treat.

Hungry patrons can go all out with the Showy ($4.15) topped with mortadella, onions, pineapple, cheeses and chips.

New York Dog House
37-06 30th Ave., Astoria
718-274-3647

NY DogHouse2

Photo courtesy of The New York Dog House

A quick trip to nearby Astoria will land you in the dog house — the New York Dog House that is. This popular eatery is home to a diverse menu of uniquely named signature hot dogs, sausages and bratwurst.

The California Dog ($8) features a Weisswurst sausage topped with avocado, lettuce, red onion and herbs. For a tasty experience, ride the Pineapple Express ($8), a mix of fresh pineapple, pickled onion and cilantro pesto on a hearty bratwurst sausage. For Wild West flavor, try The Cowboy ($9) a cheddar bratwurst topped with caramelized onions, crispy chipotle, bacon and homemade BBQ sauce.

Travel from the west to the Far East ($9), and enjoy a savory Num Pang sausage topped with homemade sesame chili paste, pickled daikon, scallions and roasted peanuts.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Ave., Astoria
718-606-8140

ButcherBar

Photo via Butcher Bar’s Facebook page

As the name suggests, this purveyor of delectable organic, grass-fed cuts of meat promises a savory experience for diners. Their sausage, peppers and onions ($11.99), with your choice of Butcher Bar’s homemade grilled hot, sweet or Filipino-style sausage, is a hearty alternative to the classic hot dog.

Dominick’s Hot Dog Truck
Woodhaven Boulevard at 67th Avenue, Rego Park

IMG_5588

Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

Head back to Rego Park and make a pit stop at Dominick’s. This bright blue truck has long been a local favorite, serving up classic steamed Sabrett hot dogs topped with their homemade sautéed onions or sauerkraut ($3) and chili cheese dogs ($3.25).

Wash down all this savory goodness with a can of classic White Rock cream, orange or black cherry soda ($1.25) or chocolate Yoo-hoo ($1.50).

IMG_5591

Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

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Astoria puppet goes through to ‘America’s Got Talent’ live rounds


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC

Updated 5:15 p.m. 

A one-of-a-kind act is returning to his hometown to take the stage at Radio City Music Hall vying to win $1 million and the heart of a former Spice Girl.Ira, a 32-year-old Astoria native, was one of only seven acts out of 20 to make it to live rounds on Tuesday night’s episode of “America’s Got Talent.”

Along with his soulful voice, the thing that makes Ira stand out from all the other singers and competitors is that he is a puppet. During his performances, the audience never sees the puppeteer.

According to Ira, he grew up in Astoria and lived there for about 29 years before deciding to make the move to Los Angeles with his mother, who wanted to chase her dreams of being a singer. However, the dream then became Ira’s and after just singing as a favorite pastime, he decided to take it to the big stage.

During his initial audition on May 26, Ira chose to sing Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful” and dedicated it to former Spice Girl Mel B, who judges the show together with Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel. However, at the end the singing puppet only managed to get three out of the four judges to give him a yes – excluding Mel B.

For his second performance Ira went back determined to win Mel’s heart but also said he wanted to continue sharing his talent and love with the world.

“Last time Mel turned me down and now this time I get a chance to win her heart, but that’s not the only reason I’m here,” he said during the episode. “After I sang and I saw all the smiles on all the people in the crowd I realized I do have a calling and that’s to sing and make people happy.”

Ira chose to sing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” dedicating the song once again to Mel B, and this time shared the stage with his mother – another puppet – who said the song really was talking about getting ice cream.


After the performance the audience stood up clapping for Ira and this time the former Spice Girl had a change of heart.

“I have to say this time around I definitely want to get it on with you,” Mel B said.  Ira told The Courier after the episode that he and Mel are planning an ice cream date.

At the end of Tuesday’s episode, which featured special guest judge singer Michael Bublé, Ira took the stage one last time to hear the judges’ decision that he will be going through to the live rounds that will begin on Aug. 11 at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

Ira said that he is excited to come back to New York City and might event take trip back to Queens to visit some friends and neighbors.

“I’m coming back and saying, ‘Hey Astoria and New York, I’m here and never forgot about you,'” he told The Courier. “I’m just so happy to come back to the Big Apple and show Astoria some love.”

Now that Ira doesn’t have to worry about getting Mel B’s approval, he said for his live performance, in which America’s votes determine who will move on, he will try to appeal to a broader audience and go with a “bigger and flashier number.”

“I just want to thank everybody that supported me so far, all the folks that are watching, that are following me on Twitter and Instagram,” Ira said.

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Celebrate the premiere of ‘Sharknado 3′ in Queens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Syfy

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

Batten down the hatches and grab some bites at one of several Queens locations holding special screenings of “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” tonight.

The third installment in the tongue-in-cheek, B-movie franchise, premiering at 9 p.m. Wednesday on the Syfy channel, finds the entire Eastern Seaboard battered by killer sharks propelled onto land by another epic storm. It’s up to the aptly named chainsaw-wielding hero Fin Shepard, played by Ian Ziering of “Beverly Hills, 90210″ fame, and his wife April, played by actress Tara Reid, to do battle with the sharks and save the East Coast.

The franchise is known for its numerous celebrity cameos, with David Hasselhoff and Bo Derek appearing in this sequel as Fin’s parents. Local celebrity appearances include Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, along with the cast of the “Today Show.” Former Queens Congressman and 2013 mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner also appears as the movie’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration director.

The kitschy “Sharknado” trilogy has become an annual event, with many throwing shark-themed viewing parties to both celebrate and jeer at the over-the-top events and deliberately bad dialogue the movies have to offer. Here are a few ways to prepare for “Sharknado 3” in Queens.

Arepas Café and Grill
33-07 36th Ave., Astoria
718-937-3835

Shark is on the menu at this Astoria eatery in the form of savory Venezuelan arepas. The cazon arepa ($6.50) features shredded baby school shark, a form of white fish, served inside a gluten-free corn flatbread with onions, tomato, cilantro and peppers. The Pabellon Margariteno ($13) includes shredded baby school shark with white rice and black beans topped with grated white cheese and fried sweet plantains.

Sek’end Sun
32-11 Broadway, Astoria
917-832-6414

While the fate of many of Sharknado’s protagonists may hang in the balance, rejoice in being on dry land as you sip on Sek’end Sun’s cocktail ship of fools [on a cruel sea] ($10), a dark mix of strawberry-infused bourbon, balsamic vinegar, vanilla and lemon bitters.

Okeanos Greek Seafood Restaurant
35-02 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria
718-777-8844

For shark served with Mediterranean flare, Okeanos also features grilled or pan-seared baby shark ($13.50) with a side of garlic potato dip. Pair it with the taramosalata caviar spread ($5) or octopus with onions, peppers and capers ($15.95) for a luxurious taste of the sea.

The Astor Room
34-12 36th St., Astoria
718-255-1947

Fans of Sharknado’s gory action scenes may want to kick off their evenings at this Kaufman Astoria Studio’s cocktail bar and try the aptly named Blood and Sand ($12) which blends Buffalo Trace bourbon and Cherry Heering with Cocchi vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice. Movie fans will marvel at The Astor Room’s cinematic history, as it once served as a commissary for Hollywood legends like Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and W.C. Fields while they filmed at the studios.

5 Burro Cafe
72-05 Austin St., Forest Hills
718-544-2984

Head over to Forest Hills and sip on this iconic eatery’s signature cocktail, The Shark Attack ($10), a potent blend of vodka, Blue Curacao, grenadine, 7-Up and lemon/lime. As a bonus, this specialty cocktail is often served with a small toy shark, usually bearing the grenadine.

Forest Hills Station House
106-11 71st Ave., Forest Hills
718-544-5000

As the Sharknado approaches, take cover inside this quaint pub located on the outskirts of Forest Hills Gardens and try the Dark and Stormy ($10), a spicy mix of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, ginger beer and lime.

Cozy Corner Tavern
60-01 70th Ave., Ridgewood
718-381-8397

This Ridgewood bar is hosting a special viewing party for the premiere of “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” The festivities begin at 7 p.m., when the bar will air last year’s “Sharknado 2: The Other One,” which was set in Queens and Manhattan. Then, stay tuned for the main event when “Sharknado 3” airs on every TV in the bar at 9 p.m. Cozy Corner also will be serving up Sharknado-inspired drinks, and shark-themed costumes and attire are encouraged.

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