Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hell's Kitchen: my new home

I signed a lease Friday, and I'm moving to Hell’s Kitchen next week. (Pix soon.)

I had two big reasons from the outset:
  1.  Get closer to the city.
  2. A second bedroom for an office in a real room with a real door, and room for two tables for writing vs web. That worked really well in Denver. I need it badly.
I found a great apartment in a cool building in a great spot: in midtown, a five-minute walk from Times Square, which sounds horrifying, but that crap ends abruptly and HK is completely different. This is where friends said I belonged a year ago, but I had to test out the Upper West Side. They were right. The UWS is OK, but feels a bit far, and not at all my people. Somebody else’s neighborhood. This feels like home.

My place overlooks a garden on a quiet tree-lined block. My office is in the back, which is not perfect, but two big windows, southern exposure and no close high-rises. So lots of sky, tons of light, and trees below. It will easily fit my desk and a table with lots of breathing space, also crucial. 

One window opens onto to the (sturdy) fire escape, which I easily clambered out to on my first visit. I plan to write out there sometimes. My econo-balcony. I love the feel of it, can't wait to write in there, which was my #1 priority.

(And when friends come, I can collapse the table and inflate the air mattress in its place for a guest room.) My bedroom is small, but will fit a queen bed with room to get around it, which is all I need. I'd much rather have the space in the office. It's got just one window with a different angle onto the garden. Key things for sleeping: easy make really dark and pretty quiet.

It’s a pre-war building with high ceilings, exposed brick, hardwood floors, crown moldings, and lots of character. It’s a big living room for NY, especially with no wall to the kitchen. I only share one wall with one other apartment, and windows facing north, south and west for great breezes.

Finding a new place in NYC is quite the adventure. I spent weeks looking, and still ended up paying a broker. I thought I was headed to Chelsea, but finally accepted it's just too expensive. I would have to sacrifice the office or live in a dump. (I checked out quite a few sad little tenements.)

Hell's Kitchen is just one neighborhood north, but felt too warehousy. I‘m kinda over that. But once I spent time looking there, I started falling in love with the place. I’d only been to the edges, or passing through late-night from place to place on some previous trips. The heart of it is packed with brownstones and new restaurants and clubs and has got great charm and character. And it’s also become homo-central, as the gayboys were priced out of Chelsea as it gentrified. (Which explains all the hot clubs and restaurants and shops and so forth.) They are chasing us northward.

Mobility is huge to me, I'm already a subway hound, and the access is amazing. I had to give up walking to my gym, which was a deal-breaker initially, but I finally let that go. It’s half the subway ride I take now to get there. 

The gym-walk is less about walking there than being walking distance from there. And from members. Gyms are one of the nuclei of a gay neighborhood/life, with the homes, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, dentists, dry cleaners, etc. radiating out from there. This is a Chelsea gym, and I’ll be a Hell’s Kitchen guy, so that part of my life won’t reinforce. It's a different neighborhood with its own nucleus, one click uptown. I think a lot of members “commute” from Hell’s Kitchen, though. Haha. I could switch to Gold’s Gym, just a few blocks from me, but I tried it last summer and didn’t love it. Not really my crowd.

I actually ended the same distance from Central Park—just in a different directly. And if I ever do go to a Broadway show—I’ve been to a few off-Broadway plays, but have yet to see a musical or even a Broadway play—I’m just blocks from some of the big theaters.

Now I have to figure out furnishing it. Yuck. Good thing I have gay friends. Haha. A few of them will be in heaven, I think. A whole new place to outfit from the floor up, shopping with somebody else’s money. Hopefully not too much money. That makes me nervous. And for me, shopping and decorating are a chore. (I predict no paint will hit those walls, even if I stay 20 years. Have I ever painted a wall? I think only when a roommate or boyfriend initiated it. I helped Gregg paint his walls. That was fun.) I gave all my stuff to charity in Denver, and the sublet was furnished. About to start from scratch again after to many years.


I wrote all that on the plane to Tucson Friday, right after I signed. I was mostly excited, mixed with stabs of buyer's remorse: terrified I'd blown my budget and/or moved to the wrong place. 

But spilling all that really turned it around. I gathered 20 pages of notes on all the places, and assessed a big list of factors and got most of what I wanted, especially the big ones. It was reassuring to see it all enumerated for myself. And it helps that I've moved so many times and tried out different situations, figured out what I like and what's important.

And Tucson took all my energy—two events, and lots of prep for the second one—and I forgot all about it. My mind came back to it on the plane home, all refreshed and happy, all the fear behind me. For now. Just a lot to get done.

This place has a few flaws, and I guess I’ll see whether they turn out wear on me evaporate. I’m sure I’ll discover others I was oblivious to, which will irk me, but you can't think of everything.

Moving to NYC was the first time in my life I felt like I'd found my home. It wasn't quite there up on the UWS, but this feels much closer. Maybe even there.

Thursday Update:

A friend just texted a photo of my neighborhood, taken nearby my place, which I added to the top of this post.

It was shot from 11th Ave (right near the Hudson) and 46th looking east. You can see the stark contrast between Hell's Kitchen—the low-rises in the foreground—and the high-rises of midtown rearing up right behind it.

(Labels are in flux. People use "Midtown" different ways, often broadly enough to include everything between Downtown and Uptown, including Hell's Kitchen.)

(For perspective, the Empire State Building is about 10 blocks south in that clump of high-rises. Hell's Kitchen also extends further north and south, but that's cut off.)

The foreground shows the grittier edge of HK, where it's warehouses and industrial/shipping plants close to the docks. You can sort of make out how it gets more brownstoney each block east (further from the camera).

BTW, West Side Story was set in Hell's Kitchen, to give you an idea of how rough it used to be. It was gentrified in the 90s/00s and that's all changed now.


  1. Mazel tov on finding a new place! Hell's Kitchen ain't too shabby these days. Be well and enjoy.

  2. Thanks, Leigh. I hope to get in there to take some measurements today. Very exciting.

  3. I lived in Hell's Kitchen from '06 to '07. Even then it had been dubbed "The New Chelsea", since we noticed then that the gays were migrating north. If and/or when I ever get another place in the city, I'd go right back to the Kitchen, as I have always connected with the west side of Manhattan more than the east, and HK is a perfect midpoint. Good luck; I'm sure you'll love it as much as I did/do.

  4. Congrats on having a home. And an office. Much needed.

  5. I like the Hell's Kitchen area. There is so much to do in that area and at the sametime calling it home.

  6. Good hood for gay friends!