Rockville Centre: Boom Town With Shops, Eats and Pubs Aplenty

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Rockville Centre firefighters protect the ninth most populous village in New York State.

The Village of Rockville Centre, located on the South Shore of Long Island in Nassau County, has been an ideal community since pre-colonial times, when it was a Reckouackie Indian settlement, and its allure for residents has continued ever since.

Over the centuries its growth as a hub for various trades, public services and transportation vaulted the modest-sized village (measuring just 3.4 square miles) into one of the county’s most successful and vibrant neighborhoods, attracting upper-middle class families and producing a lengthy and diverse list of celebrities, including Joan Jett, Sandy Koufax, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Amy Schumer and Howard Stern.

“Our mission [is] to make it the best community to live, work and play,” said two-term Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray, whose father, Eugene, held the village’s top job for a quarter century.

Dutch and English colonists settled the region in the 1600s, dubbing it “Near Rockaway,” which back then also included present-day Oceanside, Lynbrook and East Rockaway. Homes and businesses continued to spring up in the area and the hamlet was formally christened Rockville Centre in 1849, when businessman Robert Pettit named the post office in his general store after local Methodist preacher and community leader Mordecai “Rock” Smith. In 1867 it truly entered the modern era when it was connected with the Long Island Rail Road, and in 1893 it was officially incorporated as a village.

Today, the village is a retail and entertainment haven, with more than 400 shops, scores of dining options for foodies looking to explore, an abundant night life and bar scene, a generous assortment of parks and public spaces, and a palpable commitment to education and the arts. And while Rockville Centre has long been renowned as a great place to live, it’s also a fine spot to visit. Some suggestions for a rewarding RVC experience include: 

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The restored 1882 Phillips House holds one of New York’s finest small museums.

Historical Leanings

Sometimes – especially in space-constrained Nassau County – great things do come in small packages. For example, take the Phillips House Museum (28 Hempstead Ave., 516-764-7459, rvcny.us/PhillipsHouse), considered one of the top small-sized museums in all of New York State. A restored 1882 Victorian home furnished with period furniture, the Phillips House (once the abode of Capt. Samuel Phillips) is now home to the Museum of the Village of Rockville Centre, which depicts life in the village during the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection includes a vast array of antique kitchen and carpentry tools, as well as numerous period items that decorate the home’s restored Victorian front and back parlors, dining room and bedrooms. It is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment.

It’s tough to cruise through Rockville Centre without noticing the towering, ever-impressive stone façade of Saint Agnes Cathedral (29 Quealy Pl., 516-766-0205, stagnescathedral.org), built in 1935 to mirror 15th-century Norman Gothic style. It’s actually the parish’s third church on the site, which has been used for service as far back as the 1890s, but clearly, the third time was the charm. Stop in to bask in the architectural and spiritual grandeur of the place, taking note of the stunning stained-glass panes seemingly everywhere, particularly the Windows of St. Agnes. There’s more eye-candy in the exterior (which was significantly restored in 2016), particularly the eerie Gothic gargoyles that peer down from the corners of the Cathedral’s tower. 

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Scenic Tanglewood Preserve contains The Center for Science Teaching and Learning.

Wide Open Spaces

Aside from enjoying just the simple, natural beauty of Rockville Centre’s Tanglewood Preserve, the park is also home to The Center For Science Teaching And Learning (450 Tanglewood Road, 516-764-0045, cstl.org), which offers a range of educational activities and special events for kids and families. The center offers a year-round live animal exhibit, featuring birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, in a more intimate and interactive setting than your standard zoo. There’s even an outdoor butterfly and hummingbird garden, which you can explore in addition to the preserve’s 17 acres of ponds, streams, forests and walking trails. Don’t miss the Sunday Science program for kids, held two Sundays per month from November through March.

Another nearby bastion of precious natural tranquility is Hempstead Lake State Park (Lakeside Dr., 516- 766-1029, parks.ny.gov/parks/31), located at the village’s western edge. This well-equipped multi-use recreation area offers 20 tennis courts, basketball courts, children’s playgrounds, bridle trails for horseback riding, biking and hiking trails, shady picnic areas and a historic, hand-carved wooden carousel. There is also a picnic pavilion, available for hosting large parties. There are three bodies of water where fishing is permitted: Hempstead Lake – the largest lake in Nassau County – McDonald Pond and South Pond, all stocked with trout, as well as wild species like largemouth bass, chain pickerel, black crappie, perch, tiger muskies, carp and sunfish. Dogs are permitted, on a leash, in a designated dog-walk area. 

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Joan Jett rocked a sold-out hometown crowd at Molloy’s Madison Theatre on Apr. 26, 2013.

Arts & Entertainment

Rockville Centre’s Molloy College isn’t just a pillar of learning in the area; it’s also a strong supporter of local arts and entertainment, with the Madison Theatre at Molloy College (1000 Hempstead Ave., 516-323-4444, madisontheatreny.org) serving as the linchpin. The six-year-old, 550-seat theater regularly hosts a wide range of top-flight performers and artists, including notables from the worlds of theatre, music, dance, cabaret and comedy. Upcoming events include the 50+ Comedy Tour, The Rockville Centre Guild for the Arts/Leggz Ltd. NUTCRACKER, Billboard Live’s New Year’s Eve Concert, Sleeping Beauty (ballet) and jazz icon John Pizzarelli, who turns up in February.

One of the larger entertainment trends sweeping the nation is the rise of “escape rooms,” where you and a group of friends are (willingly) locked in an environment where teamwork, problem-solving and good old-fashioned ingenuity are required in order to secure your freedom. (At least, in the allotted amount of time.) Rockville Centre is home to one of the three local-area Challenge Escape Rooms locations (203 Sunrise Hwy, 516-888-0202, challengeescaperooms.com) featuring three different themed rooms: The Art Gallery, The Game Room and The Virus. Each room accommodates groups of up to 10 people and makes for an interactive, often head-scratching experience.

It’s crucial now more than ever to support local, independent bookstores, and you won’t have any complaints about doing your literary part at Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine (110 N. Park Ave., 516-764-6000, turnofthecorkscrew.com), owned by Borders Books expatriates Carol Hoenig and Peggy Zieran. The shop features an extensive wine list of small-batch vintages you can enjoy while leisurely reading in the store, as well as a café serving light meals and snacks. Turn of the Corkscrew also holds special events like concerts, talks, readings and book signings, helping to foster community and culture in the village.

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Bigelow’s fried clams and seafood offer an unsurpassed taste of RVC.

RVC after dark

Finally, Rockville Centre offers plenty of options for kicking back with a cocktail or pint and some fine grub after a busy Long Island day. Try Monaghan’s Bar & Restaurant (48 N Village Ave., 516-764-6372) for a touch of the  Irish; sample the seafood chowder topped with puff pastry, the Monaghan’s Shepherd’s Pie and the lobster quesadilla, washed down with a tall Guinness, or if you’re really adventurous, a mug of hot port.

Or, if your drinking/eating desires run south of the border, stop by Cabo (3A N. Park Avenue, 516-255-0065, caborvc.net), where the frozen drinks flow and the guacamole is prepared tableside. Their massive Coronita Margaritas are an undertaking worthy of the most seasoned imbibers, and all the better to compliment the first-rate nachos, tacos and fajitas. You might run into a bachelorette party or two, but who’s complaining? The more, the merrier.

The options don’t end there, either. A favorite among the after-work crowd is Lindsay’s (59 N Park Ave., 516-442- 3344), popular for its classy, upscale ambience, friendly bartenders and fine selection of reasonably priced single-malt scotch. Or for a more laidback, hometown feel, give North Village Tavern (40 N Village Ave., 516-766-0181) a whirl, where the food and drinks are equally appreciated and the large-screen TVs are either showing sports or music videos synched with the jukebox.

The best part is, if one spot isn’t your special happy place, there are several more in the immediate area you can stumble over to and try. It may be just 3.4 square miles in size, but Rockville Centre truly does have it all.

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St. Agnes Cathedral was built in 1935 to mirror Norman Gothic designs.

Where to Stay

Hampton Inn & Suites Rockville Centre
125 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre. 516-599-5700, hamptoninn3.hilton.com

Best Western Mill River Manor
173 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre. 516-678-1300, bestwestern.com

Where To Dine

Press 195
22 N Park Ave., 516-536-1950, press195.com

Tum Thai Cuisine
274 Merrick Rd., 516-543-5078, tumthainy.com

Front Street Bake Shop
51 Front St., Rockville Centre. 516-766-1199, frontstreetbakery.com

George Martin the Original
65 North Park Ave., Rockville Centre. 516-678-7272, georgemartingroup.com

George Martin Burger Bar
209 North Long Beach Rd., Rockville Centre. 516-208-6100, gmburgerbar.com

Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar
49 Front St., Rockville Centre. 516-766-7800, chadwicksrvc.com

Tony Colombos
208 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre. 516-678-1996, tonycolombos.com

Vines and Branches
80 North Park Ave., Rockville Centre. 516-608-2200, vinesandbranches.net

Bigelow’s New England Fried Clams
79 N Long Beach Rd., 516-678- 3878, bigelows-rvc.com

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Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray outside village hall.