Historically, NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood has had a rough-and-tumble reputation, but was also a famously more affordable place for icons to live: Madonna, James Dean and Bob Hope to name a few, keeping them close to the Theater District. Today, there are high-rise condos on 42nd Street but the heart of Hell’s Kitchen still remains in the small businesses, restaurants, low-rise tenements, and performing arts professionals who continue to keep the neighborhood as diverse as ever. We asked Stephen Field, Concierge at Kimpton Ink48 Hotel, who has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 30 years, as well as a few other locals, to tell us their favorite HK gems.
Art For Thought
The 22,000-square-foot Sean Kelly Gallery blazed a trail when it moved north of 30th Street from Chelsea. Occupying two floors of a historic 1914 building, SKG has a dazzling artist roster including high-concept visionaries Marina Abramović, Antony Gormley, Terence Koh and Robert Mapplethorpe, whose thought-provoking work warrants a close looksee. Designed by award-winning architect Toshiko Mori, it’s a pioneer in the rapidly rising neighborhood adjacent to the massive Hudson Yards development.
There are few delights that rival the discovery of a truly great wine bar – you know, the kind that makes you change the way you think about wine. Hell’s Kitchen has been popping up with some that fit the bill in the last few years, Aria being one: an informal gem that’s great for dates, with rustic design cues, Italian-centric wines and small plates. For a convivial tavern atmosphere and some of the prettiest patio seats around, Medi Wine Bar is known for Mediterranean fusion cuisine and a diverse wine list focusing on lesser-known producing areas in the region. Explore the raw bar, charcuterie, cheeses, pastas, and regional entrees (the Grilled Portuguese Octopus and the Pappardelle al Limone are particularly stellar).
Casellula is small and quaint, frequented by mostly locals. Prepare to go around the world in 40 cheeses, with original pairings. The creative small plate menu is known for its grilled pork “Pig’s ass” sandwich and the Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
Eat the World
Originally settled by immigrant workers, Hell’s Kitchen is known for its potluck of different cuisines: Ninth Avenue from 57th to 42nd is lined with restaurants back to back. If rotisserie chicken is your thing, you’ll find your crispy-brown-skin Shangri-La at Pio Pio Peruvian restaurant. At kitschy, high-energy Tacuba Cantina Mexicana, the slow-roasted carnitas are the dish to order. Visit Añejo, owned by Angelo Zosa of “Top Chef” fame, and share some flavor-packed tapas, like mini pork belly tostadas, guacamole trio and short rib tacos. At Bocca di Bacco, get the carpaccio, branzino and a red from their list of Italian wines, and you might experience “Amore a prima vista” (love at first sight).
Instead of the typical tourist shops, Hell’s Kitchen is flush with small businesses carrying unique gifts. Founded in 1996 by two Broadway chorus dancers, Delphinium Home is a local favorite. They’re revered for their candles (in heavenly scents like Celery Thyme or Marseille Fig), unusual greeting cards, clocks and shower curtains. Fine and Dandy gives the modern man a bit of old-school shine. You’ll find ties, bow ties, handkerchiefs, scarves, neckerchiefs, suspenders, sock garters, spats, tie bars, collar bars, cufflinks, money clips, custom shirts, and more, mostly made locally in New York City. (It’s a treasure on a night when you need a tie or dress shirt on the fly and can’t make it to a department store.) At Domus Unaffected Living, owners Luisa and Nicki scour the world for the handmade and sustainable. Whether it’s a sari quilt from India, Canadian puppets made out of re-purposed sweaters, or seven-strand Wakami bracelets (that tell the story of how the Earth evolved, according to Guatemalan folklore), this is not your average import shop.
Don’t Tell Mama is the premiere cabaret spot in Manhattan and a throwback to another time when there were many cabarets with singing waiters throughout the city. On any given night for the price of a cocktail you can sit in the main room and enjoy live show tunes and piano playing: the perfect pre- or post- theatre stop off. Hibernia, an Irish bar only open eight years, is the kind of place where anything can happen. It might fill up with the Irish contingent from the neighborhood or half the chorus of a Broadway show might come and turn the place into an impromptu musical review.
Kimpton Ink48 Hotel has just undergone a major design transformation, giving it that artful brand of loft living only New Yorkers know best. The rooms are light-filled and offer unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, and new design details wink at the building’s origins as a printing house. The lobby will be completely reimagined with new furnishings, making it the go-to place for creatives and theater-goers to gather in Hell’s Kitchen.
What a wonderful written snapshot Stephen Field has captured of my old (18 years there!) eclectic neighborhood.
Two special places to guide guests to include The Clinton Community Garden on W. 48th between 9th and 10th. Just call in when someone is there, and they’ll let you in to see this volunteer oasis. It took a community that loved the Hudson to fight for access and the rebuilt pier at the end of 44th Street, opened in 2006 as part of the Hudson River Park.
It’s where Grace Kelly left to sail to her Prince in Monaco and where immigrants disembarked after crossing the Atlantic for their new lives. It offers views, sunsets, breezes, and a chat with locals tending the wildlife habitat garden at the entrance that was designed by this major Kimpton fan and reviewer.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Barbara! We’re thrilled to have your local knowledge, in addition to Stephen’s.
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