Exploring Hell’s Kitchen

By Samantha Nicholson

Every non-native resident of New York City remembers their first visit to Times Square. You will notice the flashing neon lights, mobs of people, huge megastores, and often the Naked Cowboy standing in the middle of the street.  After this initial visit, you will most likely try to avoid Times Square at all costs. But don’t discount the neighborhood surrounding it. There is a wealth of activities to do and things to see in the area surrounding Times Square. This neighborhood is known as Hell’s Kitchen.

Despite its name, Hell’s Kitchen is not some slum in the middle of Manhattan. In fact, it is a hotspot with tons of restaurants, bars, and theaters. It generally refers to the area between 34th and 57th street.   If you’re into celebrity-spotting, many actors call Hell’s Kitchen home due to its proximity to the Broadway theaters and Actors Studio training school.  Former residents include Madonna, Bob Hope, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sylvester Stallone. Countless novels have been based in the neighborhood; such as Sleepers, Sinners’ Ball, and Old Flame. Exploring Hell’s Kitchen should definitely be on your to-do list during your visit to NYC.

You’ll want to visit the historic Radio City Music Hall (1260 Avenue of the Americas). Its nickname isThe Showplace of the Nation, and this couldn’t be more accurate. For a long time, it was the leading tourist destination in New York City. The venue’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the annual holiday show featuring the Rockettes, attracts thousands of audience members for year. But the venue is busy all year long, as it is a frequent site for awards shows, concerts, and even sports events. Movies premiers also have occasionally taken place there. Even if you don’t go inside Radio City Music Hall, you’ll want to take a picture in front of its famous neon-light sign.

If TV is more your thing than live Broadway performances, try getting free tickets to see The Colbert Report, which films at 513 W 54th street. The live taping isn’t limited to what you actually see on television. There is a hilarious warm-up comic that takes the stage before Colbert goes on. If you’re the shy type, you might not want to sit front row; the comic tends to pick on certain people relentlessly. Colbert then comes out and does a short question-and-answer session before the taping begins. He does this out of character, and the difference between his television personality and real-life persona is somewhat shocking. I watch the show on a regular basis, but seeing it live is a completely different experience that all Colbert fans should try to do at some point.

The B.B. King Blues Club and Grill (237 W 42nd st) is a huge venue (550 seats!) which features big-name acts on a regular basis. Despite its name, you’ll find a lot more than blues at this restaurant. B.B. King features pop, rock, and funk acts regularly. But beware: the tourist-targeted pricing makes this an expensive night out. However, you’ll get to watch some amazing talent and enjoy high-quality food.

A personal favorite is Johnny Utah’s (25 W 51st street). This restaurant/bar features Manhattan’s first mechanical bull, which always has a long line of eager riders waiting to hop on. Its location makes it a great place for happy hour, as many large office buildings surround the venue. Mixed drinks start at $5, and beers start at an amazingly cheap (for Manhattan) $2. The food isn’t anything spectacular, but Johnny Utah’s relaxed western vibe will have you ordering BBQ wings and curly fries. They even offer fried pickles! But make sure you head here early for the most fun; the place empties out around 11 or so.

The famous play “West Side Story” depicted Hell’s Kitchen as a turbulent neighborhood. After a tour of Hell’s Kitchen, you will realize that its historic gritty reputation is no longer true. The neighborhood’s history may be tied to the criminal underworld, but today it is known for its luxury condos, hip restaurants, and trendy boutiques.

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