NYC Sober Date Night: Little Egypt, Astoria Queens
New York City is full of fun neighborhoods that hold endless romantic possibilities for first dates, anniversaries, or just an evening out with your sweetie. But for people in recovery, dating can present some stressful challenges. With alcohol served at nearly every restaurant and nightclub in the city, temptation abounds. Going on a date (especially a first date) can be nerve-racking, but combine that anxiety with readily available alcohol being poured and served only a few feet away may prove to be more temptation than some sober folks are ready for. Enter the sober date night. In this series, we’ll cover New York City neighborhoods, restaurants, nighttime activities, and couples outings that don’t serve alcohol. Forget about the booze, go out and have some fun with your sweetie.
Little Egypt (Astoria, Queens)
Nestled on the stretch of Steinway Street between Astoria boulevard and 28th ave in Astoria, Queens, Little Egypt is the perfect neighborhood for a sober date. In the short avenue-and-a-half stretch, there are dozens of restaurants, lounges, hookah bars, dessert cafes, food trucks, and nightclubs to explore... and none of them serve alcohol.
The Best Non-Alcoholic Beverages Egypt (and by proxy, Little Egypt) is predominantly Muslim, and the Muslim faith prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Hence, restaurants and bars in little Egypt forgo alcohol in favor of less harmful (and more delicious) delicacies. Quench your thirst with one of the many famous Egyptian non-alcoholic beverage like black and herbal teas, rich Egyptian coffee, herbal drinks, and yogurt drinks.
Yogurt drinks are especially popular in Little Egypt, and those in the know favor yummy fruit-infused classics like mowz bil-laban (banana with milk), jawafa bil-laban (guava with milk), and sobia (coconut with milk, a personal favorite). If dairy isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there are tons of other options like tamrhindi (tamarind juice), qamar al-din (stewed apricot juice, it’s better than it sounds), watermelon juice, cantaloupe juice, and the ever-popular karakadey (hibiscus juice) or the incredibly sweet and refreshing qasab (sugarcane juice).
You don’t have to choose just one restaurant or hookah bar or lounge to sample these beverages and many more. Nearly every restaurant, hookah bar, lounge and nightclub in Little Egypt sports an extensive non-alcoholic drink menu, and each place has its own unique flavor and twist on the popular favorites. Grab your straw, order the ones that sound the most delicious and tantalizing, and compare notes as you work your way down the drink menu. Sampling these exotic and sensual flavors is a great way to share a romantic, adventurous experience with your sweetie.
Take it to the Streets In the spring and summer, one whiff of the air on Steinway street reveals a dozen tantalizing and delicious aromas. Lined from end to end with some of the best food trucks and Halal carts in New York City, Little Egypt offers some of the most incredible street foods imaginable. Sample delicious Egyptian favorites like kebabs (meat and veggies on a stick), tameya (falafel), fiteer baladi (Egyptian pizza), shwarma (spit-roasted beef, lamb, or chicken), kofta (minced lamb with spices), hawawshy (minced lamb sandwich), and many, many more.
It’s hard to recommend just one food truck in Little Egypt, so follow your nose and look for the long lines - it’s a good bet that if the locals are willing to wait in line for a food truck, that’s the one you want. If you’re not sure what to eat, ask someone! The people in Little Egypt are friendly and kind, and always willing to help a stranger sample local favorite foods. There’s nothing like a warm summer evening on Steinway street, smelling the delicious smells wafting out of the food trucks, watching the smoke billow off of the charcoal grills, and sharing a delicious snack as you take a relaxing stroll hand-in-hand with your sweetheart.
Hookah, Hookah, Hookah One of the mainstays of Little Egypt is the hookah bar (also known as shisha lounges). There are no bars that serve alcohol in Little Egypt, but hookah bars are the alcohol-free facsimile of the traditional New York City bar. Shisha lounges are a the perfect place to gather and have fun with friends, loved ones, and of course, a certain someone.
Hookah/shisha, though it is tobacco based, is a relatively harmless alternative to alcohol, especially when used sparingly and responsibly. Hookah/shisha is flavored tobacco, and most hookah lounges serve dozens if not hundreds of flavor combinations. To make matters even more interesting (and confusing at times), there are even hookahs that come with chopped fruit, milk, and juice “filters” for an even more flavorful experience.
There are literally dozens of hookah lounges on Steinway street, for every style and personality type imaginable. There’s a Japanese style hookah lounge featuring anime and manga artwork. There are nightclub themed lounges with flashing lights and loud music. There’s even a MEXICAN themed hookah lounge that serves tacos and burritos! Again, it’s hard to suggest just one hookah lounge on Steinway street, but there are some we prefer. Most hookah lounges serve food and drinks, so pick spot, settle in, order a hookah, some food, a couple yogurt drinks, and just… relax.
Fancy and Exotic Hookah: Layali Dubai Lounge - Featuring a huge main room, live music, belly dancers, amazing food, delicious beverages, and an extensive hookah menu, it’s no wonder that Layali Dubai is one of the most popular hookah lounges in Little Egypt. The restaurant changes over to a nightclub at 11pm, so if you’re in the mood to dance, stay late.
Relaxed and Groovy Hookah: Taj Majal - While smaller and more lowkey than Layali Dubai, Taj Majal has a charm all its own. The staff is polite and courteous, and the big round booths are comfortable and cozy, with plenty of privacy. The music is loud and the lighting is dim, so even though it’s small, it feels very private and intimate.
The Classic Hookah: Egyptian Coffee Shop - The self-proclaimed “first hookah lounge in America,” the Egyptian Coffee Shop is old school. A great place to hear old men arguing in Egyptian over a friendly game of backgammon, no trip to little Egypt is complete without a stop at Egyptian Coffee.
After Hookah, it’s Time for Dessert Little Egypt has lots of surprises in store, but one of our favorites is La Brioche, a French Patisserie nestled only steps away from the corner of Astoria boulevard and Steinway street. La Brioche features dozens of classic French pastries, Egyptian and Mediterranean desserts, coffee, tea, and more. It’s always crowded but it’s worth the wait. After and evening exploring Little Egypt’s exotic variety of food, drinks, and hookah, it’s the perfect place to grab a sweet snack and recap the evening’s finer (and more romantic) points with your bae.
With so many delicious, exotic, romantic options for you and your sweetie, Little Egypt is the perfect sober date spot. Enjoy the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of one of New York City's best alcohol-free neighborhoods.
-- Bryan Swift for Life Assurance Recovery, 2018