Prior to the 1990’s Hell’s Kitchen had a reputation for being one of the more rough and gruesome places in mid-Manhattan. The Capeman murders of 1959, when a puerto rican gang member, Salvador Agron, killed two teenagers in a Hell’s Kitchen park, put Hell’s Kitchen in a negative light. When Paul Simon’s play “The Capeman” was brought to mainstream America, the story of these murders was only amplified, further shaping the reputation of Hell’s Kitchen. Following this, in 1961, the Broadway play “West Side Story[s]” illustrations of rampant gang violence in Hell’s Kitchen gave even more gravity to the idea of a gruesome reality existing in this part of Manhattan.
This reality that was being formed of Hell’s Kitchen made its reflection in the real estate market. Rents in Hell’s Kitchen were known to be some of the cheapest rates in mid Manhattan. This fact in combination with the numerous acting studios in the area, most notably Lee Strasberg’s west 44th street acting studio, made HK a haven for young actors. Following Strasberg’s Studio Budd Friedman opened his own comedy club also located on west 44th. Much like Strasburgs studio, Friedmans club, “The Improv,” became known as the best of its kind and attracted many other comedians to the area.
Although Strasberg has perished and “The Improv” has been replaced by more profitable enterprises, their legacies of performing arts remain in Hell’s Kitchen and give it the rich history it has today.
These legacies have fermented themselves into modern day Hell’s Kitchen. In terms of the comedy presence in Manhattan, it is now home to 14 of the most well known comedy clubs in the city. Including the world famous national comedy theatre. The acting presence in Hell’s Kitchen is equally as prevalent. The Manhattan Plaza, built in the 1970’s, is used today primarily for the purpose of housing artists. Of the two 46 story towers 70 percent of the apartment are designated for aspiring actors and actresses working in the area. In addition to this historical logic behind the acting presence in Hells Kitchen, geographically it is an ideal location for young actors and actresses to live and remain in close proximity to the neighboring theatre district.
Given the name “Hell’s Kitchen,” one can conjure that there are a vast array of dining options within this part of Manhattan. This is the just the case. In fact, urban spoon lists 691 restaurants in Hells Kitchen alone. Topping Chelsea, the upper west side, the upper east side, the financial district, and Murray Hill. This huge food presence in Hell’s Kitchen is celebrated every year in the “Ninth Avenues Association’s International Food Festival.” Since its inception in 1974 it has since established itself as one of the most anticipated and oldest festivals in the city.
Also on ninth avenue, but occurring more frequently every weekend, is the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. With 12 different thrift locations there is something for everybody. You can find men’s and women’s fashion, books, music, and even home furnishings for sale throughout the various sections of the market. As if the cheap prices aren’t enough of an incentive to shop here on the weekend, one particular section of the flea market, the “Annex Antiques Thrift Shop” actually gives 25 percent of its proceeds to HIV and Aids research.
The nightlife in Hell’s Kitchen is primarily aimed towards its sizable homosexual community. In fact, Hell’s Kitchen’s 24 gay bars gives it more than any other neighborhood in Manhattan. Some hotspots include Therapy and Industry on west 52nd street. Although Therapy is one of the more venerable joints in Hell’s kitchen, it is equally as frequented by the locals as Industry is. Therapy, known for its impeccable service and sleek design, is more geared towards a professional crowd. While Industry has a youthful and more casual ambiance. For the straight crowd, the Ember Room is a popular hotspot. Also, located on 52nd street, it’s central Manhattan proximity and very reasonable prices attract the more cost-conscious crowd from middle Manhattan.