Living in Hell's Kitchen
Hell's Kitchen is a vibrant, popular neighborhood that is rich in history. Decades ago, it was a seedy area for artists and actors to live for cheap (and before that, it was a violent stomping ground for gangs). Today, it only has a trace of that grittiness left, but its artistic, soulful energy remains, even as it becomes increasingly popular. Ninth Avenue presents some of the best eats in Manhattan, and the food and entertainment of the theatre district are definite draws in the southern section of Hell's Kitchen. The area's exact borders are hard to pin down, but very generally speaking, they are: 34th Street to the south, 8th Avenue to the east and 57th Street to the north (the western end of the neighborhood is water).
For Manhattan, Hell's Kitchen housing can be a bargain. It is not impossible to find a studio or even a one-bedroom apartment in Hell's Kitchen for $2,000 and under. Many of the buildings in the area are very old: lop-sided staircases and warped floors are commonplace (and can be cute) in cheaper dwellings. However, before signing a lease for a seemingly under-priced apartment, be warned that Hell's Kitchen has a bed bug problem that is rumored by residents to be worse than in other areas of the city, so do some Googling to see if it affects the property you are looking at. Conversely, there have also been a great deal of new luxury buildings springing up in the neighborhood with the trademark all-glass look; apartments in said buildings are generally very expensive, although they offer unbeatable views.
Hell's Kitchen has a vibrant, diverse population with a discreet neighborhood-y feel. Due to its relatively low rents, the area is especially popular amongst recent graduates and young professionals who like to go out and enjoy the area. However, because many buildings in the area have rent-control, there are also a great deal of long-time Hell's Kitchen residents who are of all races and nationalities. The neighborhood is especially gay-friendly and many gay couples can be spotted together on 9th Avenue.
Despite the neighborhood's notorious violence in previous decades, Hell's Kitchen is a generally safe neighborhood today. Because of the busy nightlife, people are out and about well into the night (even on some weeknights) that sends a sense of safety while walking home.
Parks and Recreation
With Central Park starting at 60th Street, Hell's Kitchen is a stone's throw away from NYC's largest park. 'Hell's Kitchen Park' is on 10th Avenue between 47th and 48th Street has a playground for kids, and volleyball, handball, and basketball courts for the older set. There are lots of independently owned and small gyms in this area, although those looking for deluxe can find an Equinox Gym in nearby Columbus Circle (10 Columbus Circle). City Climbers Club of New York on 59th Street is a popular climbing gym that is more low-key than one at the Chelsea Piers.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
Hell's Kitchen's nightlife offers something for everyone. If you are in search of the fratty, beer-chugging scene, there are several pubs in the high 40's to the low 50's on 10th Avenue (and some on 9th Avenue) servicing this clientele; if you can't find these bars, just listen - they're loud! There is also a swankier scene (try Zanzibar on 9th Avenue and 45th Street) and more low-key places (like Valhalla at 54th Street and Vintage at 51st Street, both on 9th Avenue).
Naturally, the theatres are a major draw for this area, with small independent theatres and the gems of Broadway lining the eastern end of the neighborhood. The TKTS booth in Times Square sells half-price tickets for theatergoers willing to wait to buy their tickets until the day of.
Shopping and Eating
Hell's Kitchen offers a wide variety of ethnic food, including Indian, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Mexican, and French. For excellent Italian fare (and a very cheap weekend brunch), try Roberto Passon on 9th Avenue and 50th Street. For a great spread of sushi and cocktails, try Sushi Damo on 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues (for cheaper sushi, try Go Sushi on 9th Avenue and 51st Street). The 9th Avenue Pizzeria between 52nd and 53rd is cheap and fast, and rivals the best in town. Shopping is not Hell's Kitchen's strongest point, although there is a Ricky's, a PetCo, and a pet shop that always has puppies in the window for ogling (Pocket Pooches, 9th between 50th and 51st). While the offering of boutiques and clothing stores could be better, the vaunted designer stores of 5th Avenue are just a 15-minute cross-town walk away.
Hell's Kitchen is serviced by several subway stops: 59th Street/Columbus Circle (1,A,C,B,D), 50th Street (C), 50th Street (1), and 42nd Street (1,2,3,7,9,S,R,W,N,Q). Cabs are easy to catch on 8th and 9th Avenues and traffic moves relatively quickly. Buses run cross-town on 57th Street, and the M11 services 9th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue. (Full disclosure: this writer has never used the bus, largely because the subway service in this area is exceedingly convenient and easy-to-use).