For years, Hell’s Kitchen was a neighborhood to be avoided. Its gangs — the Gophers and the Westies, among others — ruled the streets in the 19th and 20th centuries, committing brutal crimes and conducting seedy business inside local pubs. But today, the neighborhood is more known for its real estate and dining options.
The foodie destination, which is bound by 34th to 59th streets, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, has rows of top-rated restaurants, leafy brownstone-lined streets and good dive bars amid the fast-paced midtown hustle.
There are few traces of its grisly past — most of the tenements, factories and slaughterhouses from the violent era are gone, and the bars of old were either demolished or converted into new watering holes. But from the last remaining tenements to the old Landmark bar, it is possible to get a feel for the once largely Irish enclave, while still taking in its present.
To help you do that, we’ve crafted an agenda of the must-sees of Hell’s Kitchen, like the towering Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air & Space and the popular eatery Kashkaval Garden, from sunrise to sunset.
Start your day with a homemade pastry at Amy’s Bread
It may take a few minutes to get to the counter when you enter Amy’s Bread at 672 Ninth Ave., because it’s a popular breakfast destination. We promise it’s worth it when you get a freshly baked sticky bun (which Amy’s says is “the best in NYC”), melted swiss and ham croissant, or steaming cup of Seattle-based Fonté coffee. Take a seat in the cozy, brick-walled bakery and savor it.
Feel small aboard the Intrepid
Walk West 46th Street toward the Hudson River until you are face-to-face with the Intrepid Museum at Pier 86. The aircraft carrier, a National Historic Landmark, and its museum are home to artifacts, interactive exhibits and aircraft from the 1940s through the 1970s, including the space shuttle orbiter, Enterprise, from 1977. That’s not all; you can tour the Growler, a guided missile submarine commissioned during the Cold War, and the British Airways Concorde, a record-breaking plane that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in two hours and 52 minutes. Tickets are $33 per person, but New Yorkers with the Culture Pass can reserve free tickets.
After your tour, take a calming walk around Pier 84, which has kayak and bike rental stations.
If you want to skip the Intrepid or go museum hopping, check out Triton Gallery at 690 Eighth Ave., which is said to have the world’s largest collection of theatrical art and posters dating back to the 1920s.
Have a hearty brunch or lunch at Lilly’s Craft Kitchen
After a morning out on the Intrepid and a brisk walk through Hell’s Kitchen, stop into Lilly’s Craft Kitchen at 675 Ninth Ave. and order something off its everyday brunch menu. We ordered the tasty classic omelet with home fries, but there are a plethora of paths you could take, including bacon benedict, the breakfast burger, crispy French toast or steak and eggs. On weekends, Lilly’s brunch is $26 and includes unlimited mimosas, bellinis or Bloody Marys for 90 minutes. Drink up!
Take a tour of local history
We recommend taking a tour of Hell’s Kitchen to get the rundown on its history as a seedy sector of Manhattan.
Russell Wolin of Hidden New York Tours does an “Irish Gangs of Hell’s Kitchen” tour, which will take you past the warehouses and construction zones, like where the Javits Center is expanding at West 39th Street, to see some remnants of old Hell’s Kitchen.
This is old gang territory, Battle Row, where hundreds of gangsters pitched battles, including “Mallet Murphy,” whose weapon of choice was a polo mallet, according to Wolin.
Some say the neighborhood’s moniker came in the 19th century, when a rookie police officer told his superior that “This place is hell itself,” to which the veteran officer replied: “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”
If you head east down 46th Street from the Intrepid, you’ll come across the Landmark Tavern at 11th Avenue, which has been in operation since 1868, when it was an Irish waterfront saloon. Over the years, it turned into a speak-easy and later a favorite hangout for the Westies gang. Rumors are it’s haunted because of the deaths that occurred in the building, including a Confederate Civil War veteran who was stabbed and died in a bathtub, which is still there.
When you’re on Ninth Avenue, you’ll find some of the last remaining tenements from the 19th century between West 45th and 46th streets, which will give you a glimpse of what the streets may have looked like then.
Pick up charming tchotchkes at November 19
Clark Chung’s shop, November 19 at 461 W. 49th St., can be your next stop. Chung is a former fashion worker who left the industry to open his own store, first as an online shop, and is now celebrating the first anniversary of his brick-and-mortar location. Inside, you’ll find an eclectic mix of beautiful items — jewelry, vintage clothing, handmade glassware, indigo-dipped fabrics and locally made apothecary products. With home goods from Japan, India, Africa and Thailand and New York, his store is a showcase for artists but isn’t necessarily priced like a gallery. Prices range from $3 to $300, so the store can cater to anybody, he said.
“We always complain there’s nowhere to shop in Hell’s Kitchen. I wanted to fill a void,” said Chung, who also is a neighborhood resident. “This is one of the last neighborhoods that are not overly developed and there’s still a vibe — there are different ethnicities, a lot of artists live here. It’s a tight-knit community.”
Other shops we recommend include Fine and Dandy for men at 445 W. 49th St. and Thrift & New at 602 Ninth Ave.
Do dinner at Kashkaval Garden
Don’t worry about traversing the whole of Hell’s Kitchen to find the best dinner location — Kashkaval Garden at 852 Ninth Ave. is our first recommendation. Its simple Mediterranean-inspired menu has mostly cold tapas, a smattering of skewers, and in the cooler months, fondues, from Bulgarian Kashkaval (yellow) cheese and sheep’s milk cheese to truffle fondue and the classic nutty Gruyère and pungent Raclette. The atmosphere is dreamy for dates, with its brick walls and candlelit tables, but it is also low-key enough that you have to whisper because it can get pretty loud when it’s busy. Make reservations before you go — (212) 245-1758.
If Kashkaval Garden is jammed, try Hell’s Kitchen (754 9th Ave.), Briciola (370 W. 51st St.), Toto Ramen (464 W. 51st St.) or Taboon (773 10th Ave.).
Treat yourself at Schmackary’s
Yes, that is a large cookie you see — Schmackary’s at 362 W. 45th St. is a store devoted to the cookie. The amount of flavors is seemingly endless — The Classic chocolate chip cookie, Funfetti, Cookies and Cream, Maple Bacon, Red Velvet, the vegan/gluten-free Yogi Bear, the M&M-laden Monster, the Chocolate Explosion … it goes on.
According to the staff, the top three customer favorites are The Classic, the Funfetti and the Cookies and Cream (pictured above). The flavors rotate in and out on a daily basis, so you never know what you’re going to get.
Or get drinks at Rudy’s
Opened as a speak-easy in 1919, Rudy’s, a Hell’s Kitchen landmark, calls itself “New York’s most famous dive bar.” Head to 627 Ninth Ave., where you’ll find the giant pig.
“When you walk into Rudy’s, you can feel that there’s a million stories, a million souls, a million things that happened in this place,” its general manager Danny DePamphilis tells us.
It’s good for a night out without going to a club, where you can dance, drink and meet the neighborhood’s characters. The best part? It has $3 beers and $15 pitchers. And — brace yourselves — every drink comes with a free hot dog.
“We serve hot dogs but we don’t charge and we’ve been doing that for 30 years,” DePamphilis says. “As a dive bar, we keep the prices low. It’s a working man’s bar, and this neighborhood was always for the real blue-collar workers. Rudy’s is an anchor of the old Hell’s Kitchen.”
If you’re not into the bar scene, finish up your day by making your debut at Don’t Tell Mama at 343 W. 46th St. This nostalgic bar that has hosted stars like Kristin Chenoweth and Bette Midler is not only a piano bar, but has two cabaret showrooms, too. A pianist provides tunes for happy hour until 9 p.m., which is when the staff takes over until about 2 a.m. The staff has good chops and there’s an open-mic policy for anyone who wants to sing and lead the crowd. And if you feel like having a laugh, the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater is at 555 W. 42nd St.