Meet Astoria

James Avatar

If you hike around the streets of Astoria there is a good chance you have seen or heard James Avatar. James Avatar is a Bronx native who also lived in New Orleans in 2007 after relocating to run an afterschool music program he created. After a while his grant money started to dry up so he started working as a barker (a person who stands in front of a theater, sideshow etc. and calls out to passersby to attract customers) on Bourbon Street. In 2011 he moved to Queens to curate an exhibition at the Chelsea Arts Museum. Avatar described how his best friend took him to Queens Comfort in Astoria for the chicken and waffles. “I was instantly impressed having recently lived on that dish in NOLA and wanted to commend the head chef and owner, Donnie D’Alessio. He turned out to be awesome and we bonded instantly. He asked what I did and I told him stories of being a barker on Bourbon Street. He asked if I could do that for him. The rest, as they say is history.”

Amy James Avatar with Adams. Amy James Avatar with Adams. QS: Most memorable moments working in Astoria?

JA: Yeah… I got stories.

I performed the Heimlich maneuver on a customer. He’s fine thank goodness. I think we both almost passed out.

Another time a pregnant customer sent her friends to record a cellphone video of one of my “spicy” jokes to help her push during labor. The baby’s fine and probably has a good sense of humor. We’ll see.

Performing New Orleans jazz with the Hot Hand Band, outside in the rain, during the closing of the old location of Queens Comfort was a awesome memory.

Actress Amy Adams stopping by is another memorable moment.

QS: You are at a lot of Astoria venues. Who are some of your favorite performers?

JA: There are some extraordinary artists right here in Queens. Hosting various music events, I have been lucky enough to see them perform live, up-close and personal at places such as Raven’s Head Public House, Shillelagh Tavern, Passage Irish Bar & Kitchen, Joe’s Garage and Queens Comfort. The amount of diversity of the musical soundscape in this borough is staggering. There is something for everybody. Not enough space to list all my favorites on this page—here’s hoping that the Queens Scene does a music issue on some local entertainers.

QS: Any new projects on the horizon?

JA: In between booking music acts for the above listed venues and enjoying quality time with my best friend Maria, I have been writing a few projects. Can’t do it alone though, waiting for the right people who want to collaborate or invest in any one of these projects. I would also like to submit my after-school music curriculum to middle schools in Queens. I also have my hand in developing a couple of web series for YouTube, screenplays, producing entertainment podcasts, developing a multimedia theater production and performing with cover band, James Avatar & The Blacklist.

QS: What is your favorite thing about Astoria?

JA: It’s a vibe. A signature frequency of positive energy that runs throughout the streets of this hidden gem in NYC. People smile as they pass you by. Feels like the residents are genuine and OK with sharing the planet with each other. I am pleased to be living and working in the area and hope to assist, in any way, to help enrich the neighborhood in arts and culture—in what little spare time I have.

When I first started working at Queens Comfort, I was barking from the corner of Steinway Street and 30th Avenue. I was scared (yes scared—can’t afford to get arrested) that I was too loud for the neighborhood. Sure enough people came up to me telling me they could hear me from 3 or 4 blocks away. As I winced and took a breath to apologize, they put their hand on my shoulder and thanked me for waking them up on time for work.

QS: Any last words?

JA: Thank you for embracing me, Astoria!

Shout outs to these local establishments:

Donnie, Donut Diva & the Dream Team at Queens Comfort  Tim, Kaitlin, Rusty & Carmine at Shillelagh Tavern  Michael & Ursula at Passage Irish Bar & Kitchen  David and the crew at Raven’s Head Public House  Frank at 3Oth Ave. Business Association  Sorriso’s Salumeria  Gian Piero Bakery  Salsa In Queens dance studio  Ministar diner  Joe, Gloria, Tanesha, Audrey, Flor Alex #1 and Alex #2 at Joe’s Garage Bar  Virginia Morgan  Carmine Gonzelez, Salchi Drums, Amanda Durst, Eli Cure, Scott Borchert, Pat Daugherty, Christian Vasquez and The Blacklist Fans and Amy Adams.

When you see James at one of the above listed Astoria hot spots, stop and say hi. You can also reach him via email at or follow him on instagram @jamesavatar

—Melissa Mennona

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2018-08-01 digital edition