Having a hell of a time in Hell’s Kitchen

Eighth Avenue (Hell's Kitchen) outside the Hampton Inn Manhattan - Times Square North
Eighth Avenue (Hell's Kitchen) outside the Hampton Inn Manhattan - Times Square North
Eighth Avenue (Hell’s Kitchen) outside the Hampton by Hilton Manhattan – Times Square North

Hell’s Kitchen is a perfect locale for a Hampton by Hilton Seekender staycation in New York City.

Before heading west to work in California’s Silicon Valley a year ago, our son lived on West 56th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. His apartment in Hell’s Kitchen was about an hour from our home in the burbs.

Yes, he’s our #1 (and only) son. But another reason we loved visiting him there is because we fell in love with his neighborhood.

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”

(You certainly can’t—especially if you no longer own the same apartment.)

So … when Andrew told us he was coming back East to visit, we decided a NYC staycation in his old “hood” might be the next best thing. It allowed us to reconnect and rediscover some of his (and our) old haunts together, while we played the role of tourists in the Big Apple. 

A place to rest our heads

Reception Desk at Hampton Inn Manhattan - Times Square North
Welcoming Reception Desk at Hampton by Hilton Manhattan – Times Square North

There isn’t a more perfect spot than the Hampton by Hilton Manhattan – Times Square North for a #Seekender weekend rendezvous. Located in Hell’s Kitchen on Eighth Avenue, between 50 and 51st street, it is in the heart of the vibrant Theater District.

Heading north, it’s only a short walk to Columbus Circle and Central Park; and south, to Times Square. It’s a hub for public transportation, but enough attractions are within walking distance that we could experience the pulse of the city by foot.

Our Hampton by Hilton “pied-a-terre” allowed us to enjoy two nights in the city, knowing we wouldn’t have to drive or home or commute on public transportation. Even though we were close to home, we felt like we really were on vacation: We were empty-nesters visiting a new city with our son from California.

What the hell is Hell’s Kitchen?

Hell’s Kitchen (now called Clinton or Midtown West) was once a gritty, dangerous, run-down neighborhood. According to Manhattan Unlocked (a terrific blog that details the history of the borough). It got its name after the Civil War when Irish and German gangs lurked in the hallways of tenement buildings and threw stones at unwelcome passersby from the rooftops.

Over the years, the area was cleaned up and redeveloped with corresponding spikes in the costs of living. Gentrified, yes, but Hell’s Kitchen hasn’t lost its character.

Building restrictions limit many of the buildings on the tree-lined streets to six stories. In addition to housing Restaurant Row (in the theatre district), the neighborhood plays host to a slew of shops, bars, and ethnic restaurants on Ninth Avenue. A large proportion of these businesses are family-owned and operated. The area maintains the patina of the past but always offers something new.

Where is Hell’s Kitchen?

The loose boundaries of Hell’s Kitchen are 34th Street on the south, 59th Street on the north, Eighth Avenue on the east, and the Hudson River on the west.

A few of the things we did and saw in Hell’s Kitchen:

Walk through Times Square 

Times Square, Crossroads of the World
Times Square, Crossroads of the World

Times Square, the second most visited place in the world (after the Las Vegas strip) is just a short walk east from Hell’s Kitchen. No matter how many times we’ve been to the “Crossroads of the World,” the number of people, cars, and billboards in that one concentrated area always awes us.

The TKTS ticket booth housed at Duffy Square (at the north end of Times Square) releases same-day discount tickets for Broadway shows, and music and dance events. Times Square is also home to Madame Tussaud’s Wax MuseumHard Rock Cafe and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We were tempted to wait on the long lines for TKTS theater tickets but decided to just keep moving!

Bumping into Robin Williams at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
Bumping into Robin Williams at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
The lines at TKTS, Duffy Square
The daunting lines at TKTS, Duffy Square

Visit Central Park 

View from Central Park
View of the skyscrapers on 57th Street from Central Park

A place to stroll, a place to picnic and play, a place to meet up with friends or go it alone, Central Park is an urban oasis—filled with gracious trees, artful landscaping, breath-taking architecture and striking city views.

Andrew knows every nook and cranny of the park so he was a great guide. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Central Park encompasses more than 843 acres of city-owned land. Elegantly designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and English architect Calvert Vaux, it’s not surprising that it’s become one of the most filmed and visited locations in the world.

For New Yorkers who live in Hell’s Kitchen, it serves as one big backyard. A free Central Park app, available on Google Play and in the iTunes App store—and a pair of good walking shoes—are all you need to explore the expansive park on your own.

Tour the Top of the Rock

Manhattan looking north from Top of the Rock
Manhattan looking north from Top of the Rock

Another short walk east took us to Top of the Rock, the observation tower atop Rockefeller Center. After we rode the elevator up to the 67th floor (in 43 seconds), we walked around the deck of the top three floors of the building and took photographs. A great spot to capture iconic 360-degree city views, we were surrounded by visitors from all over the world.

View of the Hudson River looking west from Top of the Rock
View of the Hudson River looking west from Top of the Rock
Art deco architectural detail at Top of the Rock
Art deco architectural detail at Top of the Rock

Take a Peek at TurnStyle

Turnstyle, the food hall under Columbus Circle
Turnstyle, the food hall under Columbus Circle

Food halls (AKA food courts) are hot in NYC and elsewhere but TurnStyle is New York City’s newest subterranean food hall so we had to take a peek. Located at the subway station beneath Columbus Circle, it includes 39 vendors (mostly small restaurants and other food emporiums) who were carefully chosen to fit the needs and demographics of subways riders and locals.

Doughnuttery (TurnStyle) makes bite-size donuts rolled in various sugars
Doughnuttery (TurnStyle) makes bite-size donuts rolled in various sugars

Only open since April of this year, the developers deliberately limited rentals to large food chains in favor of small, local businesses. With good lighting, whimsical graphics and bright white columns (that are cleaned regularly) it has totally transformed the once grungy train station at 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

Live musician in the TurnStyle food hall
Live musician in the TurnStyle food hall

Sidle down Ninth Avenue 

Referring to Hell’s Kitchen, the Village Voice once wrote:

“No New York neighborhood offers a denser collection of restaurants, aimed at theater-goers, tourists, local neighborhood types, Times Square office workers, and budget-conscious diners of every stripe.”

The choices of every ethnic cuisine imaginable on both sides of Ninth Avenue can be overwhelming.

Visiting the area so many times over the years, we have tried many of these one-off eateries and have never been disappointed. One of our favorite spots for a casual bite has always been the Renaissance Diner. When we got to the door this time, we learned that the place had been sold a few months earlier after 25 years in the same location. More evidence that New York never stays the same, always reinventing itself.

We regrouped and stopped at another diner that we found equally charming, tasty and reasonably priced, Georgio’s Country Grill. To survive among the competition with any longevity, you have to please the customers. We’ll be back here again.

Intimate, eye-catching interior at Georgio's on Ninth Avenue
Intimate, eye-catching interior at Georgio’s on Ninth Avenue

*More about our NYC #Seekender weekend to follow in upcoming posts.

Disclosure: As a member of the Seekender team, our weekend getaway to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan was sponsored by Hampton by Hilton but all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Given its convenient location, Hampton by Hilton Manhattan-Times Square North is an excellent value if you are planning a trip to NYC. We wouldn’t hesitate to return to this property again!

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  1. Thanks for some great information – we’ll be visiting New York (first time ever – so excited) in a few weeks, so you’ve given us some great suggestions! This looks like a great staycation too 🙂

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