THE WOODHAVEN BEAT
It was the end of an era on Sunday.
Tower Diner, a neighborhood cornerstone since 1993 that is housed in a historic Colonial bank building, was forced to shutter. The Queens Boulevard building is currently slated for demolition to make way for a new housing development.
The distinctive white clock tower has been an unofficial landmark in the neighborhood for generations.
“It’s an unofficial landmark,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “I grew up on 99th Street, and when my dad gave people directions to our home, he would tell them to look for the building with the clock tower.”
“I had a long wait for my table, and normally that would upset me,” she said of her final visit Sunday. “But this afternoon I was happy for the delay, because it gave me more time to experience the diner, with its warm and inviting classic decor.”
Longtime patrons had one last meal and took the chance to reminisce with staff, many of whom are regarded as extended family.
“The food was consistently fresh and delicious and the service was always excellent,” said Jane Firkser-Brody. “It is very disheartening to see yet another Forest Hills venue being destroyed, along with the charm and uniqueness of our awesome neighborhood.”
Tower Diner was opened by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi. Their sons Spiro and John worked in the business and later acquired it. It was the only diner of its kind in the vicinity, and became a go-to spot for dates, family outings, and birthday and graduation celebrations, as well as business meetings.
Tower Diner enticed the palates of notables such as Al Roker, Ti-Hua Chang, and Alonzo Mourning.
For the Gatanas family, who immigrated from Greece, Tower Diner exemplified the American Dream. They employed approximately 40 people, and gave back to the community with fundraisers benefiting St. Jude’s, sponsored PS 175 and Forest Hills High School sports teams, and donated Thanksgiving turkeys to local schools.
David Giwner moved from Manhattan in 2009, and called it his go-to diner in Forest Hills.
“I’ve never had a bad meal,” he said. “Losing Tower Diner is like losing a family member and a staple of our once great community. This is another piece of NYC history gone.”
Kevin Sanichara and his mother said the staff felt like a second family.
“I’ve been coming here almost every week for the past 20 years,” he said. “I will miss the ambiance and aesthetic of the old clock tower and the compass on the ceiling.”
For Matthew Semble, Tower Diner represents a big part of his life with his late wife Kathy Fogel.
“After Kathy’s passing, the employees and management reached out to me and my son Alex, and sent many meals during shiva and beyond,” he said. “There aren’t many businesses that had such a positive impact on our community.”
In addition to enjoying one last meal, patrons had the chance to sign a petition opposing the demolition, which will also include several small businesses and the Trylon Theater, which is currently home to Ohr Natan synagogue.
“I’m going to miss the diner, and especially the tower for which it was named,” said Michael Hennessy. “Hopefully the community will fight any further neighborhood destruction.”
“I strongly oppose the redevelopment plans for Tower Diner and the Trylon Theater,” added Jeffrey Witt. “We do not need nor want the type of the development being proposed. The charm and beauty that attracted people to live here is being destroyed.”
Last week, the Kiwanis Club of Middle Village distributed food baskets to the community ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The Middle Village Kiwanis has delivered food to over 1,000 families over the last 10 years, sticking to its core mission of helping one person and one family at a time and giving people something to smile about,” said Alphonse Gentile, a senior vice president at Cross County Savings Bank and event coordinator of the food drive.
The 10th annual food drive was held at a Cross County branch at 80-10 Eliot Avenue. Recipients of this year’s drive included United Methodist Church and St. Margaret Catholic Church, both in Middle Village, Notre Dame Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, and Saints Joachim & Anne Church and Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens Village.
“Everyone should be able to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, even when times are tough,” said J. Nicolois, who sits on the club’s Fundraising Committee. “Middle Village Kiwanis takes pride in collecting and distributing food for the holiday season.”
Owner reaches deal to buy building from landlord
Adrienne Whaley is the Executive Director of Queens Underground Film Festival and a symbol of creativity in Southeast Queens.
Hailing from a creative family in the equally creative neighborhood of Jamaica, Adrienne Whaley found herself immersed in the music of James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and LL Cool J.
After working in education for 13 years, Whaley decided to build a platform to promote a diverse group of creative minds.
“Growing up, I felt normal with all this creativity around,” said Whaley, who holds dual Master’s Degrees in education. “But growing up back then, they really discouraged you from going into the visual or the fashion arts as a minority.”
She opened her own studio in Southeast Queens, where she would hold community events like karaoke, movie nights, and sip-and-paint events, while also renting the space out to other community groups.
In October 2019, she launched the Queens Underground Film Festival, today serving as executive director.
The first Black History Month film festival was held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center in February 2020. The sold-out red carpet event was the culmination of Whaley’s vision and creativity, with guests and filmmakers flying in from across the country.
“What makes our film festival different is that we have movie shorts, music videos, dance and poetry videos, web series, talk show episodes, small business commercials and animation,” said Whaley.
When the pandemic took away live entertainment and festivals just weeks later, Whaley and the film festival went virtual.
When restrictions were eased, she organized a three-day event in her backyard last October. Thomasina’s Catering Hall in St. Albans hosted the organization’s film festival this past April.
Whaley says she is planning for next year’s Black History Month film festival to be both in-person and virtual, with the theme of “Black Wall Street.” Learn more at queensunderground718.com.
Tom Suozzi isn’t bolting Congress to join the incoming Eric Adams administration as a deputy mayor, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his sights set on changing jobs.
Adams extended the invitation to Suozzi the week before Thanksgiving, and Suozzi said he would take the holiday week to think about it. But he also added the caveat that he was also interested in joining an increasingly crowded Democratic Primary for governor.
Former governor Andrew Cuomo’s term was up at the end of next year, which means Governor Kathy Hochul will already have to defend the seat she was given when Cuomo left office in disgrace.
Other Democrats who have already announced their intent to run include Attorney Letitia James and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Suozzi’s announcement could be a problem for Hochul. Both Williams and James will run progressive campaigns, while Hochul would likely position herself as a more centrist Democrat to appeal to suburban and upstate voters.
The problem is that’s exactly the same space that Suozzi plans to occupy.
When Suozzi announced his decision on Monday, he said he would be running as a “common-sense Democrat” focused on working-class issues, such as lower income and property taxes and putting more cops on the streets.
He also said he was opposed to key issues that appeal to left-leaning Democrats. He is against a carbon tax in New York, saying that should be left to the federal government, as well as a bill that would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without a court order.
Suozzi has name recognition on Long Island, as in addition to representing Nassau and Queens counties in Congress, Suozzi served as Nassau County executive before he was sent to Washington by voters in 2017.
Republicans made several key gains in local elections last year, which shows voters are pushing back against progressive politics and leaning more conservative. Suozzi’s political record, as well as his stance on key issues like taxes and crime, would appeal to just those type of voters.
Unfortunately for Hochul, she was counting on those voters, as well.
And it won’t hurt Suozzi that he is already thought of highly by Adams, which will help with voters in New York City. An endorsement from Adams – still a long ways off! – would be a big coup for Suozzi and can only help him with voters who might have been leaning toward James or Williams.
It’s been a long time since New York City has had a governor and mayor who actually like each other, let alone simply show even a modicum of professionalism and respect.
Reports indicated that in recent weeks party strategists were urging Suozzi to steer clear of the governor’s race and instead focus on winning back his congressional seat, which is now seen as being flippable by Republicans if the incumbent were to leave it vacant.
House Democrats are already holding onto a tenuous majority, and replacing Suozzi with a member of the GOP will only exacerbate that issue.
When asked about just that at his announcement, Suozzi had this to say:
“Congress is great, and I’m hoping we’re gonna win the majority again, and we may not, we may, it doesn’t matter. I’m running for governor, because I believe that this is the job that I am made for. Everything I’ve done has prepared me for this particular job at this particular time.”
At least one Republican candidate has already announced they would challenge Suozzi in 2022. Kevin Surdi, an ER nurse, wasted no time in characterizing Suozzi’s decision as that of an incumbent who knows they don’t stand a chance at winning reelection.
“After the Republican tidal wave in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties, career politician Tom Suozzi sees the writing on the wall and is once again putting his ambition above his constituents,” the Surdi campaign said in statement. “CD-3 is red and he knows it.”
Next year is shaping up to be a busy one for Suozzi.
IN OUR OPINION
Flu season is just beginning in New York City, and already my two-year-old daughter, my wife, and I have all received our seasonal flu vaccination. I encourage everyone to join us to protect yourself and your community.
Every year, the Health Department works to make the flu vaccine easily available because the influenza virus can cause painful, and potentially life-threatening, symptoms even in healthy people.
In a typical flu season, roughly 2,000 New Yorkers die from influenza and pneumonia, and some of them are kids.
That is why we are recommending all New Yorkers ages six months and older get the flu shot, especially people who are most likely to get sick, including adults ages 50 and older, pregnant people, children ages six months to five years, and people with chronic diseases like diabetes.
The flu vaccine is safe and effective: Scientific evidence shows that it reduces the risk of illness between 40 and 60 percent, according to the CDC. If you’re 65 or older, ask your doctor about the high-dose flu vaccine.
I was proud to see a record number of adult New Yorkers get the flu vaccine last year. Over 1.4 million adults got vaccinated—the most ever. Our goal this year is to have another record-breaking year, and we are well on our way with 1,039,787 adult New Yorkers already vaccinated.
But despite our progress, we are still seeing troubling gaps in coverage. This is due in part to misinformation about the flu vaccine and mistrust in medical advice.
I want to make clear to New Yorkers that the flu vaccine will not give you the flu. Young and healthy people can become severely ill. And getting a flu shot will not increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
These are common myths, and we know we must address them in order to instill trust in the vaccine.
In addition, not enough children are getting vaccinated. Our data show that only 67 percent of children ages six months to five years were vaccinated last year, and this year’s numbers are also looking low. With children returning to schools and families out and about in our city again, it’s even more critical than ever to protect our littlest New Yorkers.
The flu vaccine is now widely available across the city for free or low-cost and regardless of immigration status. New Yorkers can find out where to get vaccinated at NYC.gov/FLU.
And if you still haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, you can get one at the same time as the flu vaccine. Remember that the flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t protect you against the flu. You need both!
Serious reactions to the flu shot are extremely rare. Common reactions may include mild pain, redness or swelling at the injection site or headache, fever and muscle aches.
As a doctor and a father, I wouldn’t ask New Yorkers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Flu activity usually starts as early as November and continues through late spring, and it takes a couple of weeks for your vaccine to kick in with immunity.
Now is the right time, so go get that flu shot today.
Dr. Dave Chokshi is the commissioner of the New York City Health Department.