To quote that famous movie “Where do I begin?”
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Well, first I will start with our location, Hells’ Kitchen. There, I knew it would grab your attention. It did mine. Mary Clark, a local historian, relates several anecdotes about this colourful area of Manhattan.
According to Mary, the name --first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as "Hell's Kitchen," and said that the entire section was "probably the lowest and filthiest in the city." According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell's Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets.
Another version ascribes the name's origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil's Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, "This place is hell itself," to which Fred replied, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen."
Today Hell’s Kitchen has been transformed. Its southern boundary is Chelsea, while its western boundary is the Hudson River. The Eastern boundary overlaps Times Square and the theatre district and for us it was an easy walk. The northern boundary nudges the Upper West Side (made famous by the immortal movie West Side Story).
Our New York base for six days was a tiny, modern studio flat (described as spacious and commodious, but that is another story).It was situated in a recently converted building just off 48th and 9th. Our bijou apartment was on the fourth floor at the back of a five story building and relatively quiet for New York, a definite plus. However, go down in the large, shiny, stainless steel elevator and along the bright, narrow corridor with its brownstone feature wall and open the door on to the street and WHAM !!!
Immediately you are in the thick of it—“The real deal” as Phil (Popsrocks) told me when I asked for advice on planning this trip. Look left and right and you are surrounded by small family businesses, local delis, restaurants of every nationality and hardly a chain in sight. Amy’s Bread, just over the road, always has a good window display. This time of year the theme was Halloween. Amy sells fresh bread twists in a bewildering amount of flavours, pumpkin seed and raisin was one of my favourites or you can choose rosemary or seeded. Marry three bread twists with cream cheese and a huge French bowl of café au lait, take breakfast in the small café at the back of her shop and watch bread being made in the baking area. On your way out take a chocolate on chocolate cupcake to go—moist, fresh, flying off the shelves—divine !!
Amy’s Bread, founded in 1992 by Amy Scherber, can be found at 672 Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets.
This area is also called Clinton for those of you who want to appear snobbish. The name is nothing to do with Bill, although he did call his daughter Chelsea Clinton thereby gaining two areas of votes in one fell swoop. The name Clinton for the area originated in 1959 in an attempt to link the area to DeWitt Clinton Park at 52nd and 11th Avenue, named after a 19th century New York governor —but Hell’s Kitchen is the only name for me, so full of character and now so appropriate because you are in restaurant heaven and it is a seething mass of every kind of nationality imaginable. Somehow it epitomises all the hopes and aspirations of America in one neighbourhood and evokes that wave of second generation immigrants who moved into the centre from the traditional immigration areas.
Choose a different cuisine every night. We found some fabulous Thai food. There is Asian fusion or American up market cuisine. After that you can try Indonesian Rice Tafel, Italian, French, Mexican or Chinese. The restaurants sit side by side, cheek to jowl in long narrow establishments formed from the ground floors of buildings once owned by West Side immigrants—you will be so spoilt for choice that you won’t know where to turn.
This area is fast becoming the choice for up and coming actors, for trendy couples and the gay population. You have everything that you need from hardware shops, to pharmacists, florists and local corner shops. The local video store even sells T shirts depicting that famous Hell’s Kitchen mural that Chris (cr01) has used to illustrate this review. Sadly,the mural has been painted over now in an effort to convey a more upmarket image, but I spotted another on a restaurant wall. Grab a T shirt here if you can because you cannot buy them elsewhere in New York. The only shirt in Tony’s size was on the mannequin in the window, so we bought it, but if you are staying longer the owner of the shop will order one for you.
I had been warned. New Yorkers can be rude and are impatient when you cannot make up your mind. Not in Hell’s Kitchen. Another favourite breakfast spot (we had so many) was The Bread Factory. All of our servers were patience personified when we showed our ignorance and wavered over which was the best smoked salmon to team with my freshly baked bagel. Tony chose plain bagels with butter, but I had the whole works with pickles. Yum! I did give him a generous taste. Oh, and did I mention the patisseries?-To die for. As we paid our server asked us where he could get an accent like ours. “Try twenty years in England” was Tony’s reply. That caused a bit of mirth.
A few blocks down the street on is the famous Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, established in 1976.It has up to 170 vendors and is open every Saturday and Sunday 9 am- 6pm on West 39th Street. Here, what seems to be a large car lot during the week is transformed into a bustling array of stalls selling anything and everything from dainty china to Mickey Mouse ears. We even met a seller of Nepalese Art from Kathmandu. For a dollar you can take a shuttle to the Chelsea Flea market further down the Street.
For information go to www.annexmarkets.com.
Right on the corner of the Flea market is HK. This is a bright, modern restaurant featuring a large amount of chrome, black and white. It is usually packed to the gills on a Saturday. We came here on a weekday. I had a decadent breakfast of a fruit smoothie teamed with French cinnamon toast, decorated with fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries .
At first when we tried HK we found strange opening hours. I don’t think that we arrived too early. It is supposed to open at nine and it was shut. However, this meant we had the first part of our breakfast in the Cupcake Café a few doors away. (Store hours Monday to Friday 7 am to 7 pm). At weekends they open later. The Cupcake Café is run by a large, amiable, Irish American looking guy and the communal table is formed from a huge slab of white marble with rugged edges. I would love to know where they got it. The chairs and sofas look as they have come straight from the flea market—and the cupcakes? Well, there are rows and rows of them beautifully decorated with butter cream frosting flowers. Such a shame to eat these miniature works of art.
522 9th Avenue (at 39th Street)
I feel that I am far too drawn to the theme of food so I will diversify. Running parallel to our street is 8th Avenue where you can find the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street. The Pride of Manhattan Fire Station is also in this area. Almost all fire stations in Manhattan lost fighters in the September 11th terrorist attacks, but the hardest hit was Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue. Its proximity to Midtown means that the station deals with skyscraper fires and is reputed to be the busiest station in New York City. Fifteen of their firefighters died at the World Trade Center. Poignantly we saw the names of the men painted on the sides of their fire engines as they raced by to perform yet more rescues.
If you continue down 9th Avenue and head west to the river you come to the point of departure for the Circle Line boats leaving for their river trips. After your river trip, walk down from the Circle Line pier straight to the Heli pads to take a helicopter tour over Manhattan (This was my birthday present to Tony and it was stunning).
As you walk to the theatre district to the north, there are several theaters including Studio 54, the original home of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. Its closeness to Broadway theatres means that the neighborhood is home to some famous residents which have included Bob Hope, James Dean, Jerry Seinfeld, Sylvester Stallone and even Madonna. We passed the Actors Temple and Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church with its Actors' Chapel which also demonstrates that this a traditional area for show business people.
My aim in New York City was to stay in the thick of things, close to all the attractions, yet outside the commercialized mayhem and restaurant chains of Times Square. For us, the location could not have been better. Of course, you have to take all the usual precautions when in a large city and we did, but I never once felt endangered or threatened. What I did feel was vibrancy, a strong sense of community and a warmth that I had not expected.
Long live Hell’s Kitchen. May the developers never knock it down.
Many thanks to Chris for setting up this New York City, Hell’s Kitchen link for me and many thanks to all the members of Epinions who helped me plan this unforgettable trip.
Also many thanks to “Nosher” and “Hungry man”.Nycnosh.com produces reviews of local eateries, complete with photos. This greatly added to our culinary experiences and I shall be ever grateful. My only regret is that we could not try all the recommendations. I used food reviews written a couple of years ago but they still held good. http://www.nycnosh.com/
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