The recent announcement of Amazon’s HQ2 project coming to Long Island City has placed a new focus on a small section of the neighborhood that is rich in history. One of the best known buildings to fall within the HQ2 footprint is the Water’s Edge wedding hall and restaurant, a site that has been abandoned since its closure in 2015.
Water’s Edge opened in 1983, and for the next thirty-two years played host to an uncounted number of weddings, parties and power dinners. At the time of its opening, Long Island City was still primarily a warehousing and manufacturing district. The venue offered private access to stunning views of the Manhattan skyline that were hard to find anywhere else along this shoreline at the time. The restaurant reportedly cost three million dollars to construct. It was built on top of two permanently moored barges just off the rocky shoreline. Specializing in seafood, Water’s Edge offered entrees for $20 dollars, which is nearly $50 in 2018 dollars.
To compensate for the gritty neighborhood location, they offered a free shuttle bus service to midtown. They also claimed the restaurant was a mere five minutes from Manhattan. Perhaps that was the case in 1985, but you’d be hard pressed to make that time in today’s traffic clogged New York City.
In 1985, Water’s Edge played host to the wedding reception of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. Their small wedding of no more than 150 family and friends was notably low key in regards to celebrity guest, with only Paul Simon, Isabella Rossellini and Brian Setzer in attendance.
The original owners of Water’s Edge, Marika and Stuart Somerstein, eventually ran into a host of legal issues and by the late 2000’s, sold the business to Harendra Singh. Singh, who also owned restaurants on Long Island, quickly became one of Bill DeBlasio’s first big money donors – infusing his (then) long-shot campaign with $2,500 in 2010. In the months that followed, Singh and his family and friends raised an additional $33,000 for DeBlasio.
In return for these contributions, Singh clearly expected, and received, special treatment by the mayor’s office. The restaurant’s barge location is owned by the city, along with a nearby pier used by the restaurant. Singh wanted reduced rent and freedom from obligations in repairing the slowly decaying pier. He was arrested in 2015 for bribing former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto. By October of 2016 he pled guilty, and was cooperating with the FBI. He also pled guilty this past January in a new case of bribery involving the mayor’s office. Federal prosecutors declined to press charges against the mayor in this case, citing a higher burden of evidence required to prove a personal benefit to the mayor.
Amidst all of these legal troubles, the cashflow within Singh’s restaurants dried up. By the end of October 2015, Water’s Edge was closed. Employees simply walked off the job after not being paid for a month. At least one food vendor who was owed money dropped by to collect unused merchandise. Jilted brides threatened to remove Singh’s body parts. Another couple was forced to relocate their wedding at the last minute, likely losing out on the $10,500 deposit they paid for a Halloween wedding.
The summer after Water’s Edge closed I ventured over to see if it was accessible. While the front doors were padlocked, the perimeter around the building was wide open and un-fenced. At the rear of the building, I found several windows were smashed open. Once inside, it was readily apparent that “scrappers” (those who target disused buildings to steal copper wiring from them) had pilfered the place. Ceiling tiles were ripped out of place and lights dangled at crazy angles. Despite this destruction, much of the restaurant was surprisingly intact. The bar was even stocked with some leftover alcohol.
Abandoned locations draw a particular type of visitors. They usually fall into four categories: scrappers and thieves looking to steal whatever is left of value, graffiti artists looking for a unique place to paint with decreased risk of arrest, photographers looking to get some unique ‘decay porn’ shots, and homeless people. Little did I know, today would be a day I ran into one such person.
I proceeded up to the second floor and literally stopped in my tracks halfway across the large, empty room. At the far side of the room, I spotted a man laying nearly naked on the floor. He had a small camp for himself set up in front of an open door to a balcony facing the Queensboro Bridge. My first thought was, “Is he ok?” Thus, I listened closely and could hear him faintly snoring away on this hot summer afternoon. I decided against disrupting his blissful sleep, and instead took a photo or two before leaving. Here was this seemingly homeless person living in an abandoned restaurant with some of the best views of Manhattan to be found anywhere in the city. He was at once perhaps the poorest New Yorker in terms of monetary wealth, yet the richest in terms of living rent free in a safe dry space with a view that many pay thousands of dollars in rent for every month.
The restaurant is reportedly locked and fenced up as of late 2018. The homeless resident, much like it’s prior owners, was probably forced out. Locals speculate that the restaurant building itself is doomed, while the barge it sits on would make a likely location for Bezo’s helipad. Time will tell if it brings him the same bad karma as prior residents of this artificially created property.