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A Local's Guide to City Island, The Bronx's Seafaring Small Town

A 25-year resident dishes on some of the best attractions and aspects of his beloved home 'hood

Nathan Kensinger

The People's Guide is a new series examining New York City's many, many neighborhoods, led by our most loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. This time around, we welcome John Doyle, a lifelong resident of City Island, save a few years in Pelham Bay and a college stint in Syracuse. Doyle is a member of the City Island Civic Association, and is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for NYC Council District 13.

What neighborhood do you live in, and how long have you lived there?: I've lived in City Island for the last 25 years. From birth to five years old, I lived in Pelham Bay.

What do you like best about the neighborhood?: City Island has a very small-town feel to it. I can't even walk up the block to the deli without running into and talking with someone I know. There's a real strong sense of community here. People are really proud to be from City Island (for better or worse). Additionally, with so many characters, there's always something to talk about.

What do you like least about the neighborhood?: The limitations we have with public transportation are troubling, though they may be on the way to improving. Furthermore, there's about 30 empty storefronts along City Island Avenue that could really use some investment.

How has it changed since you moved there?: Well, there wasn't cable TV when I moved here. Now we're waiting on FIOS to arrive. The new bridge coming in will be a big change, but at least we were able to compromise to get something we could live with. Finally, there seems to be a boom on residential development so I hope we can welcome those who want to come without driving up prices and displacing those who have already made a home here.

Decades ago, City Island made sailboats including several American Cup winners. Many residents used to work in those shipyards and the economy was somewhat self-contained. Nowadays, most people make their living by traveling into Manhattan.

What's the neighborhood housing stock like?: There are many homeowners and some rentals. It's overwhelmingly single family homes on the side streets though condos have become more common in the past twenty years.

Better for buyers or renters?: It really depends. Home prices, particularly those on the water, can go for over a million dollars. Even small bungalows are now going for between $300,000 and $400,000. That's certainly a change from when my family moved here in 1991. Rents have also went up, but they aren't unreasonable when compared to the rest of the City. I'd say real estate on City Island is certainly worth the investment.

Tell us something we don't know about your neighborhood: We have three art galleries (Focal Point, Starving Artist and Mary Colby) and a theater group that puts on several performances each year. We also have a wonderful nautical museum that's open on weekends to the public. It's actually housed in the same building as the old public school, P.S. 17. The theater group and nautical museum are maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers.

Hidden gems in the neighborhood?: Bistro SK, a french restaurant that opened in 2011, offers a brunch menu with unlimited Mimosas and Bloody Mary's for $25. You can't beat that! The owners are also wonderful people with many interesting stories.

Is it good for kids?: I grew up here, and I think it was a nice, safe place to grow up. P.S. 175, the local public school, is excellent and still ranked among the top within the Bronx. Seasonal sports are offered through the little league and Catholic church (St. Mary's) and there's a small community center that hosts teen dances for the kids on weekend evenings.

What's a beloved neighborhood joint?: There are many! Two that stick out to me are the City Island Diner, a favorite of the locals, and Johnny's Reef at the end of the Island.

Where are the best places to chill and/or experience the outdoors?: Well, we're attached to Pelham Bay Park so people can always walk over the bridge if they want to explore nature. Hawkins Park also provides a place in the center of the island for quiet reflection. There's an ice cream place right next door ("Lickety Split") so people can get something to eat and then just sit around and relax.

A close second would be going to the restaurant The Black Whale which is actually right across the street from Hawkins Park. During warmer months it has a large backyard that's sort of hidden from all that's going on on City Island Avenue.

Who wouldn't be happy here?: Someone who needed to be in the center of Manhattan

What's the final word on City Island?: City Island is one of the few neighborhoods in the city that has been able to maintain its authenticity in times of change. It's still home to many working class people, civil servants and such. I'm always impressed with how many people grew up here and then move back to raise their own children. It's surely the sign of a successful neighborhood!