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New Yorkers Have 10 Beaches to 'Wrap' Up On

August 30, 1987|BARRY ZWICK | Times Staff Writer and Zwick is a Times assistant news editor

BRONX, N.Y. — New York's a lonely town

When you're the only surfer boy around

--"New York's a Lonely Town," sung by The Trade Winds

It is simply not true that if you ask a New Yorker for directions he will invariably tell you to drop dead. On the contrary, he will be just as likely to say, "How should I know? I always take a cab!"

But if your destination is the beach, some street-wise gent from nearby Pelham Bay subway station will probably offer to point you in the right direction for only $2.

The beach in this case is Orchard Beach, New York's only full-service beach. You can rent a towel and a bathing suit or even a locker--if you're an out-of-towner. New Yorkers change right on the beach.

Orchard Beach is one of New York's 10 urban beaches. Six can be reached easily from mid-town Manhattan by subway and four more on Staten Island are accessible by bus. To visitors accustomed to the likes of Redondo or Zuma, culture shock is a distinct possibility.

Let's start with smoking. At Orchard Beach, bathers lay their towels flush against yours, and then they light up. Do they lift the corners of their towels and flick their ashes discreetly into the sand? No, they flick them onto you.

Properly Outfitted

While Orchard Beach isn't the Hamptons or even Fire Island, nonetheless you're expected to dress appropriately. All New York beachgoers, no matter how lowly their station, wear what they call a "wrap." Generally this is a loud print shirt or blouse with a terry-cloth lining; once upon a time we called it a cabana top. Then there are the socks. They must be black.

So how do you get to Orchard Beach? From mid-town Manhattan you take the Lexington Avenue local subway to Pelham Bay Park, the end of the line. Buses are waiting to take you to Orchard Beach in the bowels of the park, the biggest in New York.

Or, you can go by bicycle. Pelham Bay Park is the eastern terminus of the 4.5-mile North Bronx Bikeway, which begins at Van Cortlandt Park. Too sissyish for a tough place like the Bronx? Not at all. People even go bird-watching in Pelham Bay Park, and the park maintains a bird line-- (212) 548-7880.

At the southern terminus of the 6th Avenue local, as well as three other subway lines, lies Coney Island, the ne plus ultra of New York beaches.

First, a suggestion: Visit Coney Island after Labor Day. On hot summer weekends Coney Island is so crowded that bathers will not only walk across your towel to get to the water, they will often step on you. And if you stay past sunset, they will beat you up.

Gargiulio's, Coney Island's most popular first-class restaurant, has found a way to keep the folks around after dark. When you've finished your dessert, they ask you to pick a number between 1 and 90, then they shake a bag and roll out a numbered tile. If it's your number, your whole party's meal is on the house.

If you lose, a meal at Gargiulio's with a veal or chicken entree and a side order of pasta plus dessert and lots of house wine will set you back about $25, including tax and tip. It's two blocks north of the beach, at 2911 West 15th St.

Cheap Grits

On a budget? The old original Nathan's is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hot dogs are $1.45. Also available are pizza, buttered corn, French fries, hamburgers, fresh clams on the half-shell, corned beef and pastrami.

For each food item there is a separate line, and there is yet another line for drinks. Here at Surf and Stillwell avenues the riffraff, the ragtag and the Lords of Flatbush gather, and they queue up politely, like Englishmen.

They're watched closely by the police, who parade through Coney Island at night in phalanxes of six. That's a strong police presence, as there seems to be in all New York beach communities.

At Jacob Riis Beach in Queens, federal agents ride through the sand on horseback in groups of three. This beach is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, and is beautifully maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The sand is soft and clean. There's a boardwalk, a pizzeria and a beer garden. Pilots from nearby Floyd Bennett Field put on a daily air show. Surfing is allowed. You can take the C train from 8th Avenue in Manhattan, or you can park for $3 in the 10,000-car lot.

The police presence in nearby Rockaway Beach, patrolled by lone officers from the New York Police Department, is relatively subdued. Rockaway Playland was torn down in July, and the unsavory elements drawn to amusement parks have gone elsewhere. Condominiums, financed in part by Los Angeles entertainment figures, will be going up in its place.

Surfing is superb around 119th St.

5 Stops to the Beach

The A train, the 8th Avenue local, makes five stops in Rockaway Beach, but free parking is available on side streets and you might want to drive just because the ride is so interesting.

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