Hell’s Kitchen

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Mark Browne explores this historic and lively neighbourhood of central New York.

A district of New York that earned its intriguing moniker of “Hell’s Kitchen” in the 19th century, this neighbourhood on the west side of midtown Manhattan has a rich history that reflects the evolution of the city. Stretching from 34th Street in the south to 59th street in the north, 8th avenue in the east and the Hudson River to the west, the area was traditionally one of the toughest in New York and its development was heavily shaped by the characters that called it home, including dockers and gangsters of the infamous “Westie” gang in particular. The exact origins of the name “Hell’s Kitchen” are unclear but are believed to reflect its historic reputation as a place where mischief and vice were concocted!

A contemporary view

Nowadays, it is a bustling artistic and theatrical area with a wealth of bars and restaurants; especially on 9th Avenue. You can still find the traditional Irish bars that characterized the neighbourhood, but there is a lot more in the way of choice today. 

The famous Actors Studio training school, founded by Elia Kazan and famous for training everyone from Marlon Brando to Marilyn Monroe, is located here, and the district has become home to many working in the nearby theatre district. It has been the subject of extensive gentrification since the 80s but still hosts a culturally diverse multi-ethnic population, which you would expect in this global city.

While the district has seen modernisation, planning restrictions mean it generally does not feature skyscrapers and there are still many historic architectural gems lining its streets. Nor is it all concrete and bricks – its western side is now lined by the Hudson River Park offering paths for walkers, runners and cyclists and the neighbourhood is dotted with small parks including the DeWitt Clinton Park and the Hell’s Kitchen Park. There are even plans afoot to build a new park at 10th and 48th. All of these changes mark a significant departure from the era when it was first named Hell’s Kitchen due to overcrowding and lawlessness! Have not fear though, it still has some rough edges.

Its midtown location allows easy pedestrian access to the key iconic tourist attractions of New York including Times Square and  Broadway, as well as Central Park which sits to its northern border. Other easily accessible landmarks include Bryant Park featuring its Christmas market and ice skating in winter as well as open air movies in the summer and the Empire State Building. The new upscale Hudson Yards shopping and residential complex lies to its south.

Where to Stay

The newly opened Civilian Hotel, owned by Jason Pomeranc of Sixty Collective, is a great new destination hotel in the Hell’s Kitchen area which offers a fusion of accessible luxury,  functionality and design. Well located just off 8th Avenue, it is close to all the district’s amenities and those of the key neighbouring tourist hotspots mentioned above.  

The hotel has been designed to pay homage to both the theatrical and art worlds. Its walls are adorned with a specially curated art program – the Olio Collection, which features permanent and rotating works by emerging as well as established artists and photographers. This is accompanied by a bespoke collection of theatre artifacts throughout its public areas and the bedrooms have been designed to evoke vintage theatrical dressing rooms. 

The theatre concept is in fact reflected throughout the look and design of the hotel, with rich and luxurious fabrics being used in combination with brickwork and rawer surfaces reminiscent of the backstage. Many of the rooms offer great views across the Hudson River to Jersey City but these are even surpassed by the panoramic skyline views from the balcony of the hotel’s fashionable penthouse nightclub, Starchild. 

The hotel’s other entertainment venues include its excellent restaurant, the Rosendale Kitchen which features elevated American bistro cuisine to be savoured in the lively ground floor dining room or in the hotel’s secret garden, and the Rosevale Cocktail Room. This lounge features performances of live jazz acts and aficionados may be pleased to discover that the world-famous Birdland Jazz Club, named after its association with legendary jazz saxophonist, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, just a few blocks from the hotel, as are several other quality venues. There is also a more intimate library lounge known as the ‘Blue Room’ offering a more private haven in the heart of the bustling city. 

All in all a great part of town to get an authentic New York experience!