Self-Guided Tour of Hell’s Kitchen
Currently known for Off Broadway Theaters, chic restaurants and luxury condominiums, Hell’s Kitchen is now as safe as any place in Manhattan, but it was one of the last areas to be tamed. Sometimes known as Clinton or Hell’s Canyon, it’s still best known as Hell’s Kitchen, a name bestowed for its reputation as a hotspot for crime, poverty and civil unrest.
While nobody is certain exactly how the area got its name, one story attributes it’s particularly memorable moniker to a policeman known only as Dutch Fred the Cop who once said, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”
Running from West 34th Street to West 57th Street, and from 8th Avenue across to the Hudson River, Hell’s Kitchen is currently undergoing a transformation as skyscrapers fill the previously sinful streets, but there’s still ample history to be uncovered, if you know where to look.
Click here for a larger interactive tour map.
Duration: this self-guided tour should take you between 90-120 minutes to complete.
Distance: this Hell’s Kitchen tour route is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km).
View this tour as a PDF to download to your smartphone.
TIP: Some of the stops on this self-guided tour, such as the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum are included on the New York Pass. Find out if any of the New York tourist passes are worth the money.
Stop A – The Windmere – Corner of 9th Ave & 57th Street
Built in 1881, the Windmere is the second-oldest apartment block in Manhattan. In 1980 as part of an effort to empty and redevelop the site, then-owner Alan B. Weissman ripped off doors, moved in prostitutes and sent the tenants death threats, however failed to force them all out. In September 2007 the fire department evacuated the remaining seven residents from the building, citing dangerous conditions. It’s now a heritage listed building, and in 2008 the New York Supreme Court ruled that the owners of the building must repair it.
The previous location the Hit Factory recording studio, where artists including Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Stevie Wonder all recorded seminal albums, this is also the site where 50 Cent was stabbed. It’s since been transformed into luxury condominiums with the slogan, “Live in the House That Rock Built”.
Stop C – The Colbert Report and The Nightly Show – Corner of West 54th and 10th Avenue
Stop D – Home of the Central Park Horses – Between West 52nd Street and the Hudson River
Have you ever wondered where the horses used in Central Park spend their evenings? Well it’s right here at the Clinton Park Stables and others nearby, located in Hell’s Kitchen along the Hudson River. Following a series of collisions between cars and the horse-drawn carriages during their journey between the stables and Central Park, there were calls for the banning of the carriages.
Stop E – The Daily Show – 733 Eleventh Avenue, between West 51st and West 52nd
The Daily Show, the satirical news program where many young Americans get their news and which also has a larger audience than most actual news programs, has been taped in this studio since 2005. Following on from the departure of long-time host Jon Stewart in August 2015, it will again be recorded at this location in front of a live studio audience featuring new host Trevor Noah.
Stop F – Hudson River Railroad – Death Avenue – 11th Avenue
Local trains in New York City haven’t always been underground, and from the 1850s to 1930s trains ran along several of the avenues, including 11th Avenue. It wasn’t the best of rail systems, as it ran along the street and required cowboys to ride ahead of the trains to shoo pedestrians, horse carriages and later cars out of the way. There were so many accidents that 11th Avenue came to be known as Death Avenue.
Built in 1976, the Hudsonview Terrace apartment tower was the scene of one of Irish gangster Jimmy Coonan’s most grisly killings. On January 18 of 1978, Coonan and two associates used the bath in one of the apartments to dismember Rickey Tassiello, a small-time gambler, and then hauled out the pieces in garbage bags.
Stop H – The Capeman Murders – Matthews Palmer Playground, West 45th to 46th, between 9th and 10th Avenue
In 1959 Salvador Agron mistook two teenagers for members of an Irish gang called ‘The Norsemen’, who were supposed to show up for a gang fight with his Puerto Rican gang, ‘The Vampires’. Agron stabbed the two teenagers to death in this park and was sentenced to death himself, which made the 16-year-old the youngest person ever to receive the death penalty in New York. While in prison he became a born again Christian and had his sentence commuted to life. Paul Simon wrote the musical ‘The Capeman’ about Agron.
It was in this building in the 1920s that Harold Ross began the publishing institution known as ‘The New Yorker’. Frequent visitors to this building included literati such as Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, Harpo Marx and other members of the Algonquin Round Table.
Stop J – Row of Tenement Buildings – 9th Ave between West 45th and 46th Streets, on the east side of the street
A fine example of the immigrant housing of the mid 1800s and early 1900s can be observed in this still intact row of tenement buildings. Most of the tenement buildings in Hell’s Kitchen were demolished during construction in the 1930s to 1950s, which included the building of the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey.
It was often said that during Prohibition, from the 1910s to 1930s when alcohol sales were illegal, that there were more speakeasies than children in this predominately Irish Catholic area. Now known as Restaurant Row you’re able to get a decent meal and drink here without breaking the law, but it was the previous location of numerous speakeasies. For example, the long-popular Barbetta is on the site of a previous speakeasy.
Stop L – Worldwide Plaza – West 50th, between 8th and 9th Avenue
Zoning laws had long restricted the maximum building heights in Hell’s Kitchen, and following the relaxing of these restrictions, in 1989 the Worldwide Plaza was the first skyscraper to be built in this area. After the September 11 attacks the laws were further relaxed, which lead to a building boom and rapidly rising real estate prices. For example, the Hampshire Hotel Group bought an old Motel in the area for $9 million in June of 2004, and sold it in August of that same year for $43 million.
Given its proximity to Midtown, this fire station specializes in skyscraper fires and rescues. While almost all fire stations in Manhattan lost firefighters in the September 11 attacks, the station with the greatest loss was Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue, which lost 15 brave men. Memorials dot the station’s exterior walls and a granite memorial is in a park to its north.
Stop N – The Disappearing Judge – 330 West 45th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
This is the former site of Billy Haas’s Chophouse, where in 1930 Judge Joseph Crater stepped out of the restaurant, into a cab and vanished forever. The unsolved mystery made him one of the most famous missing persons of the 1900s, and for decades ‘pulling a Crater’ was common slang for disappearing without a trace.
Built by Ely Jacques Kahn in 1928 at the very height of the Art Deco movement, this is one of the finest examples of this type of architecture in the city. For a bonus treat, take a peak inside at the spectacular polychromed lobby. Don’t let the security guard put you off, they enjoy the company.
Stop P – Rudy’s Bar & Grill – 627 Ninth Avenue, between West 44th & West 45th
Hell’s Kitchen is well-known for its supreme drinking holes, and this dive bar with free hotdogs and some of the cheapest liquor in town is one of the oldest and finest. Look for the dapper pig out the front, and the friendly if rowdy locals within. This venue has supposedly been a speakeasy since 1919, and the favored drinking den of writers, actresses and gangsters including Norman Mailer, Drew Barrymore and Al Capone.
Now The Producers Club and available for hire, back in 1963 Budd Friedman opened this establishment as The Improv and it quickly became the premiere comedy club in New York. The Improv launched many careers, mostly notably that of Jerry Seinfeld, and often featured in the show about nothing. While no longer at this location, The Improv is now a national chain of comedy clubs. Fans of the TV show Seinfeld might be interested in our self guided tour of Seinfeld sights.
Click here for a larger interactive tour map.
Stop R – The Actors Studio with Bonus Ghosts – 432 West 44th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues
The Actors Studio is an organization for professional actors, theatre directors and playwrights best known for its work refining and teaching method acting since the 1930s, based on the innovations of Constantin Stanislavski, and is currently run by Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn, and Harvey Keitel. According to many previous tenants, the brownstone next door is haunted and these stories have some basis, as old plans indicate that this site was once a potters field – an unmarked graveyard for the poor and sick.
Stop S – Mr Biggs Bar and Grill – 596 10th Avenue, corner West 43rd Street
The previous site of the 596 Club, which was owned by Jimmy Coonan, head of Irish gang ‘The Westies’. In 1977 he and his crew murdered and dismembered loan shark Ruby Stein here, and Ruby’s torso was later retrieved from the East River. Other macabre stories include tales of jars behind the bar that held the severed fingers of people who’d crossed the Westies, and one particular night, when gangsters reportedly rolled a severed head back and forth along the bar.
Stop T – Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – Pier 86 on the Hudson River at the corner of West 46th and 12th Avenue
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a military and maritime history museum which includes the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, the submarine USS Growler, a Concorde SST, a Lockheed A-12 supersonic reconnaissance plane and the Space Shuttle Enterprise among many other stellar exhibits.
Stop U – Gang Violence and Battle Row – West 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue
In Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book ‘The Gangs of New York’ (the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film of the same name), Asbury called the Hell’s Kitchen Gang ‘a collection of the most desperate ruffians in the city’. From the 1850s to early 1900s they fought constantly with the police and rivals like the Gorillas, the Parlor Mob and the Gophers. The block of West 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues saw so much fighting that it was nicknamed Battle Row.
Stop V – The Javits Center – West 34th to West 38th Street, between 11th and 12th Avenue
The controversial and revolutionary space frame structure was finished in 1986, and is the twelfth largest convention center in the USA with 1,800,000 square feet of space. Every year it hosts the New York International Auto Show and the New York Comic Con.
Stop W – Hudson River Redevelopment Project – West 30th to 34th Street at 10th Avenue
The most prominent real estate project in Hell’s Kitchen, when completed it will consist of a new subway station and 16 massive skyscrapers, which will contain more than 12,700,000 square feet of new office, residential, and retail space. Ground was broken on this project in 2012, with the first tower expected to be completed in 2015.