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12 places to eat, drink and party in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City

12 places to eat, drink and party in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City

Bar tenders at Rise in Hell's Kitchen

Many gay travelers to New York City think the bulk of the city’s gay scene is based around Chelsea. Iconic bars such as the Stonewall Inn and Ty’s are based there, it’s true, but in recent years, an alternative scene has sprung up around Hell’s Kitchen in midtown Manhattan.

Hell’s Kitchen (or simply HK) has a rich history. Defined largely by its diverse immigrant populations, it was, for many years, one of the rougher parts of midtown Manhattan. The musical West Side Story, reflecting tensions between specific populations, was set here,

Like everywhere in Manhattan, it’s not been able to resist creeping gentrification. That said, it retains something of a grubbier feel. It’s perhaps not surprising that several gay bars have moved in and made it home.

Ultimately, it remains a food lovers delight, with cuisine from all around the world packed next to one another at ‘hole in the wall’ eateries and larger establishments. It’s also hugely popular with the pre and post-theater crowds from nearby Broadway.

I took a food tour with Manhattan Walking Tour. ‘Away from the tourist restaurants of Times Square, it’s hard to eat badly in New York as you just wouldn’t stay open. Everyone’s a food critic these days and posting reviews online,’ said Garry Zafrani.

For those paying a visit, here are just a few things to enjoy in the area.

Amy's Bread
David Hudson

1. Amy’s Bread

Opened since 1992, this Hell’s Kitchen staple (672 9th Ave.) delivers exactly what it says on the tin: bread, pastries, sourdough, croissants, muffins, cheesecake and cake. The long, narrow room is dark and cool, with a mosaic tiled floor, painted wood paneling and exposed brick. It’s very New York and definitely worth skipping Starbucks for. I enjoyed a deliciously chewy, long and thin, chocolate sourdough bread roll. amysbread.com

The 'LGBT' at City Sandwich
The ‘LGBT’ at City Sandwich City Sandwich

2. City Sandwich

A small, Portuguese-inspired sandwich shop (649 9th Ave.) that uses meats and cheeses from neighboring suppliers. The freshly made bread is made from Portuguese flour.

All the sandwiches are named after people, and I can personally vouch for the ‘Rob’: pan-seared smoked ham, sautéed kale and onions, garlic, melted mozzarella and balsamic mustard ($9.95). There’s also a special ‘LGBT’ sandwich with Linguica spread, Goat cheese, Bacon, Tomato, sautéed onions and seasonal lettuce. citysandwichnyc.com

Vynl
Vynl

3. Vynl

A kitsch and camp diner that’s very popular with the local LGBTI crowd.

Vynl (756 9th Ave.) lives up to its name, with old records attached to the walls and tables and menus decorated with classic album covers (I sat at the Never Mind the Bollocks table!).

The menu is a diner-ish selection of all-day breakfasts (a ‘Chelsea Boy Special’ of chicken breast and scrambled eggs whites is a nod to the local muscle brigade), burgers and some Asian dishes. Cheap, cheerful, and popular for weekend brunch.

schmackarys | Instagram
Schmackarys schmackarys | Instagram

4. Schmackary’s

Schmackary’s (362 W 45th St.) offers a bewildering array of freshly-baked cookies and coffee. Artisan cookies include green tea, ‘Funfetti’, maple bacon (yes, really) and pumpkin spice.

Sat here nibbling on a cookie at 10.30pm, while staff blasted out ‘Seedy Films’ by Soft Cell over the store stereo, I wondered why there wasn’t somewhere like this in Soho, in my home city of London.

A donut sandwich from Holey Cream
A donut sandwich from Holey Cream

5. Holey Cream

Another discovery courtesy of my Hell’s Kitchen food tour. Holey Cream (796 9th Ave.) makes ridiculously large ice cream donut sandwiches. If no meal is complete without a sugar rush climax, you’ll have fun choosing from the many flavors and combinations.

6. Boxers Hell’s Kitchen

A sister venue to the larger Boxers sports bar in Chelsea, Boxers HK (742 9th Ave.) offers sports on over 20 video screens and a wide variety if beers. It also features a large roof terrace that pulls in crowds during the warmer months.

Flaming Saddles
Flaming Saddles flamingsaddlesjacqui | Instagram

7. Flaming Saddles

When Flaming Saddles (793 9th Ave.) opened in 2011, it wasn’t the most obvious choice for a gay hit. Launched by a country’n’western loving straight couple, it shamelessly peddles Western saloon kitsch with Coyote Ugly camp appeal. Hunky cowboys dance on the bar top and the jukebox is crammed with country classics.

However, it proved an instant success and packs them in at weekends. A sister venue has since opened in West Hollywood.

8. Therapy

A particularly large and unusually stylish gay bar for this part of town. Therapy (348 W 52nd St.) is decked out in wood and brickwork: the leitmotif is chic, cozy and sumptuous. Candlelight (real and electrical), adds to the warmth factor, or certainly did on the October evening of my visit.

Mirror balls hang from the ceiling atrium and a small stage area upstairs plays host to regular drag cabaret – which you can enjoy with a meal. There’s a decent food and cocktail selection, plus booths on the first floor for a more intimate gossip session.

Atlas Social Club
Atlas Social Club

9. Atlas Social Club

A dark and dive-y, long and narrow establishment. Old photographs of boxers gracing an entire wall and boxing gloves hang above the bar. With low-wattage bulks providing dim illumination, there’s something a little antique and ‘horror’ video game about Atlas Social Club (753 9th Ave.). That said, this perception was lessened by Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly playing on one video screen and Olivia Newton John singing (Let’s Get) Physical on the other!

10. Rise

A relatively new kid on the (Hell’s Kitchen) block. Rise (859 9th Ave.) was opened in late 2015 by John Blair, Beto Sutter and Ted Arenas. The contemporary, box-like venue has exposed ceiling beams, brickwork, huge video projections and a wall-full if different liqueurs. It felt buzzing, even on the Monday night of my visit.

11. Hardware

Another long, dark bar, with a dancefloor and DJ box in a room at the back. Despite its name, Hardware (697 10th Ave.) isn’t a hell-for-leather cruise spot, but attracts a more mixed and – on the night of my visit – messy crowd (hey, it was Saturday night!).

There are frequent drag shows and a coterie of drag hosts. Weekend staple, Slay Saturdays, is busy – helped by there being no cover charge.

The Queen The Ride Experience
The Queen The Ride Experience Experience The Ride

12. Queen The Ride

In terms of unique New York City experiences, Queen The Ride ticks all the right boxes. Picture riding around the Times Square area of Manhattan in a special designed coach with extra-large side and roof windows.

A drag host points out the sights while a barman dishes up bottomless vodka and soda. The coach pulls up for surprise drag performances from street entertainers – all of which we watch from the comfort of your seat via in-built speakers (goodness know what the tourists outside made of it all but most had bemused smiles).

All of this still pales in comparison to the neon and LED-lit splendor of Times Square itself.

The ride takes place on one Saturday a month, and picks up and drops off in Hell’s Kitchen. For more details, check experiencetheride.com

Ninth Avenue Saloon
Ninth Avenue Saloon Facebook

Also worth checking out: Long-running gay bar 9th Avenue Saloon, Becco (popular Italian offering a daily, home-made pasta buffet), Thai-inspired Yum Yum, Nizza, Esca, Gazal (a small hole-in-the-wall specializing in druse cooking) and Toto Ramen.

Accommodation

David Hudson stayed at Yotel New York. Situated at 10th Avenue and West 42nd Street, it’s ideally located just a couple of blocks south of Hell’s Kitchen and five-minute walk from Ninth Avenue, where you’ll find many of the restaurants and bars mentioned here.

Yotel New York
Yotel New York Yotel

Opened in 2011, Yotel New York has become one of midtown Manhattan’s most popular hotels. Ultra-modern, with 713 space-age cabins that economically utilize every inch of space, there are also large communal areas, such as fourth floor ‘Mission Control’.

This features one of New York’s biggest roof terraces. Further amenities include a gym and robot-operated bag concierge.

Room prices fluctuate according to demand and season (from $179 at time of going to press). For the best rates, check yotel.com

Getting there

Norwegian recently expanded its long-haul network with the launch of a second daily flight to JFK from Gatwick. The additional service will allow passengers to arrive into JFK first thing – perfect for a day of sightseeing or business meetings.

Norwegian fly a twice daily direct service between London Gatwick and New York JFK International Airport. Flights are operated by a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and economy. Fares start from £149($196/€169) one way/£259 ($341/€293) return in economy and £419 ($552/€474) one way/£759 ($1,000/€859) return in Premium including all taxes and charges.

To book visit www.norwegian.com/uk or call 0330 828 0854

More information

New York City has been chosen to host World Pride 2019, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Expect more details about this historic Pride celebration to be unveiled throughout 2018 and early 2019. For more information about holidays in New York, and things to do, check www.nycgo.com

See also

How to do New York on a near-zero budget