Are you a Marvel Fan? Then you know Hell’s Kitchen as the iconic neighborhood featured in the comics and movies, home of colorful characters like Daredevil and The Kingpin. Spider-man has won, and sometimes lost, many a battle in Hell’s Kitchen.
Not a Marvel fan? Then you came to the right place. This article will tell you all you need to know about Hell’s Kitchen, including how it got that unforgettable name. Plus, it will answer the burning question. Is Hell’s Kitchen safe? With all those superheroes running around, it must be, right?
The Evolution of Hell’s Kitchen: From Gritty to Gentrified
Hell’s Kitchen is in a formerly gritty section of Midtown Manhattan, where tourists fear to tread. Of course, the neighborhood has cleaned up its shady reputation in recent years.
What in the past was a slum for poor Irish immigrants is now open territory for real estate developers drooling over the prospect of rebranding the neighborhood as an extension of the nearby ritzy and significantly more expensive Chelsea neighborhood, who have been attempting to make the new name ‘Clinton’ catch on.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Hell’s Kitchen has a poor but rich history.
The area started its slow crawl towards gentrification in the nineteen eighties. Before gentrification, the neighborhood was the base of operations for some of the country’s most notorious mobsters, who were especially strong during prohibition. A large part of the neighborhood was destroyed to make way for the Lincoln Tunnel in the nineteen thirties.
In the seventies, the docking industry, which had been thriving, was on the decline, falling victim to the steady march of progress, with many longshoremen losing their jobs to the advent of containerized shipping.
The first wave of gentrification was the result of official planning in the seventies when the city redesignated the neighborhood as a “Special Clinton District”.
The second wave came in the early 2000s, this time due to efforts by private developers. Nowadays, rents have increased above citywide averages and Hell’s Kitchen has transformed into an upscale neighborhood populated by affluent young professionals.
One not so fun claim to fame in the neighborhood is that the local fire station lost more firefighters than any other precinct in the city on September 11.
Famous Residents and Cultural Trivia
Given that Hell’s Kitchen is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Great White Way, many actors and artists have historically been drawn to living in the neighborhood. For those of you not in the know, the ‘Great White Way’ is a nickname for Broadway.
Fun Fact! That nickname was adopted in reference to the fact that Broadway was the first area of New York City to have electric lit neon advertising signs, starting in the early part of the twentieth century.
Some of the famous residents of Hell’s Kitchen include comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The comedian would meet with ‘Seinfeld’ co-creator Larry David at Westway Diner to hash out ideas for their now world famous sitcom, maybe even over hash browns occasionally. Plus, the original soup stand that inspired the ‘soup nazi’ episode was located in Hell’s Kitchen.
Madonna once said, describing her first record deal, ‘Who knows, if I hadn’t met Seymour Stein, I might still be a broke dancer living in Hell’s Kitchen.’ Bob Hope and James Dean also reportedly took shelter in Hell’s Kitchen at different points in their life.
Is Hell’s Kitchen Safe?
Hell’s Kitchen is a hell of a lot safer than it used to be. The neighborhood is patrolled by two New York Police Department precincts, the tenth and the eighteenth. Crime across all categories has decreased significantly in the past thirty years. More than seventy percent.
The violent crime rate, especially murder, is low but property crime rates are higher, especially robbery. In recent polls, about half of residents report feeling very safe in Hell’s Kitchen and the same percentage report that the police are very visible and respond quickly.
The most prevalent crimes, according to current police statistics, are grand larceny, burglary and robbery, though rates in these categories are still decreasing year over year.
Residents involved in the community believe that expanded social services and safe public transit will help the safety conditions in the neighborhood improve. Many block associations are part of a coordinated larger effort to address public safety called the HKNC, or Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Coalition.
In addition, the local police precincts offer Neighborhood Coordination Officers, whose contacts can be accessed on each precincts web page.
The Origin of the Name ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
So why is the neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen? Are you dying to find out? Well, there’s a few mythical takes on how that catchy moniker came about.
Some say it was named after a particularly vicious gang called the ‘Hell’s Kitchen Gang’, Others say it derives from a local German restaurant named ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Another explanation attributes the name to a quote from Davy Crockett.
The most widely-accepted explanation, and the most amusing, can be credited to the NYC Parks Department. It goes like this: A young rookie was watching a riot in the neighborhood along with his more seasoned partner and was heard to remark ‘This place is hell itself’. His partner replied ‘Hell is a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen’.
Officially, the term first appeared in a New York Times Story in September 1881, where a reporter writes about a particularly filthy local tenement house that the police call ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. And, just like this, the name stuck like a fat wad of gum to your hair.
Housing And Real Estate In Hell’s Kitchen
Though the neighborhood may never shed the name, it is shedding its reputation. Thus, the neighborhood real estate is becoming more expensive as the neighborhood becomes more upscale and safer.
The dominating characteristic of residential buildings in Hell’s Kitchen is that they are mostly classic New York City five story brick walk-ups. Walk-ups means only stairs, no elevator. Sounds bad, but it’s good exercise.
Some of the apartments are constructed in the old fashioned railroad style, where the rooms are stacked next to each other – kitchen, living room, bedroom, bedroom. This can be kind of annoying because you have to walk through one bedroom to get to another.
Due to gentrification and development, the landscape is changing. The main avenues are becoming populated with residential towers. Of course, this has dragged up prices across the entire real estate market in the area.
The boom along the main avenues like Eighth and Ninth Avenues began in 1989 with Worldwide Plaza, leading to the Hearst Tower and clearing the way for luxury living spaces like the forty-four story Link building, erected in the early 2000s.
Rental prices in Hell’s Kitchen have been increasing around 5% year over year and the current average price for a one-bedroom has shot up close to forty five hundred USD a month. A studio will cost around three thousand a month to rent. The recently designed, newer apartments will run you more than an apartment in the classic brick buildings, naturally
As of November 2023, sale prices are on the decline, about 8% year over year. Still, average median home prices can range between 800,000 and 1.4 million. And by homes, that generally means apartments, not free-standing homes.
There is an overwhelming difference in the rent vs. own ratio. Eighty percent of residents in Hell’s Kitchen are tenants, as opposed to just twenty percent of residents who own their home.
Dining, Nightlife, and Entertainment In Hell’s Kitchen
The borders of Hell’s Kitchen are 34th Street to the south, though this is disputed. Some claim the southern boundary to be 41st Street. However, everyone agrees on 59th street to the north, 8th avenue to the east, and ending to the west at the Hudson River.
With the new sleek housing and high-rises built on ninth and tenth avenues, naturally the major avenues – Ninth and Tenth Avenue – have become dining, retail and nightlife hubs. Since Hell’s Kitchen is smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, the diversity of cuisine is impressive.
In fact, forty-sixth street between eighth and ninth avenue is referred to as “Restaurant Row’ on account of the plethora of ethnic restaurants. Every year since 1974, the International Food Festival has been held on Ninth Avenue. It is held each May and is one of the oldest street fairs in New York City.
You can find restaurants serving specialty cuisines from A to V – Argentine to Vietnamese and beyond! Ninth Avenue especially is renowned for the selection of Thai restaurants. At last count, there were at least a couple dozen Thai restaurants along Ninth Avenue, one of the best being Pure Thai Cookhouse, located between 51st and 52nd Streets.
Recreational Spots and Cultural Centers
Besides shopping and snacking, Hell’s Kitchen is a point of interest for culture and entertainment. The Baryshnikov Arts Center, Alvin Ailey Dance Center and Intrepid Air and Space Museum all are located in Hell’s Kitchen. At the Space Museum, you can see a Concorde and a space shuttle, both on display!
There are also a number of recording and television studios in Hell’s Kitchen. You could easily bump into people like Sting, who recorded an album in the neighborhood. Progressive rock band Dream Theater even has a song named after the area. Give it a spin!
Parks and Recreation
…was a great TV series. Did you know? Amy Poehler, the star of that show, got her start as a founding member of Upright Citizens Brigade, whose theater was at one point located in Hell’s Kitchen, on Forty-Second Street.
The theater may be closed, but there’s plenty of parks and recreation to be found in Hell’s Kitchen, starting with DeWitt Clinton Park. First created in 1906, the park itself boasts a number of first and onlys. It held the first community garden in New York City and was the first park situated along the Hudson River. It is the only park to have lighted ball fields.
Inside the park you will find basketball courts, soccer fields, a dog park and a children’s playground. The park has even hosted a Quidditch tournament! Dewitt Clinton Park is located between Fifty Second and Fifty Fourth streets on Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues.
An alternative park is Hells Kitchen Park, which was built in the seventies over an abandoned parking lot, after residents complained about the lack of open spaces in the neighborhood. Recently the park has been reconstructed with new recreational play equipment, swings and decorative paving.
Finally, don’t miss the Hudson Greenway, a gem of the area. It is the most traveled bike path in the United States. It can be used for cycling or walking. A perfect place to race the sunset!
Transportation Options and Commute Times
If you desire a different form of transportation besides two feet or two wheels, you’re in luck. Again thanks to the strategic coordinates of Hell’s Kitchen, transportation is easy to access.
About thirty percent of Hell’s Kitchen residents use public transportation. Twenty four percent walk or bike and thirty six percent work from home. The average commute time to work is about twenty eight minutes.
The main subway line is the ACE train which runs along Eighth Avenue. Recently, the city also opened an extension of the 7 line which is accessible from Hudson Yards at 34th Street.
There are plenty of bus lines.The m11, 12, 31, 34, 42, and 50 lines, operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, all cross the neighborhood.
Besides that, if you choose to use your own vehicle, you have easy access to the Lincoln Tunnel. In addition, transportation from the nearby Port Authority Bus Terminal will help you with intercity and interstate travel.
It’s not a long commute to the major metropolitan area destinations. Travel to Wall Street is just thirty five minutes by public transport. Rockefeller Center is just fifteen minutes away by transit or on foot. Jersey City is only forty-five minutes away.
Or why not ride a horse? The stables for Central Park carriage drivers are situated right off the West Side Highway and it is not unusual to hear a horse whinny in the neighborhood.
Conclusion: Is Hell’s Kitchen Safe?
Hell’s Kitchen has really turned around from its long held reputation as a crime-ridden area and has evolved into a desirable neighborhood brimming with upscale young professionals and Wall Street white collars.
Hell’s Kitchen has matured into an ideal destination in New York City, thanks to a balance of safety initiatives and a lively climate. It’s a hot hood! And you know what they say: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of Hell’s Kitchen.
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.