The latest in our series on the neighborhoods of New York City. Click here for the last one on Park Heights.
Hell’s Foyer, with all its restaurants, bars and theaters, might just keep you occupied enough to never enter the kitchen. That is if it can continue to keep it real, given the tourist hordes to the east and the waterfront development to the west.
A small strip of a neighborhood hinging on the West 40s, Hell’s Foyer is a sort of locus for greater Manhattan: midtown office space blocks away, Chelsea art galleries to the south, more theaters and restaurants in to the north, and, of course, the defining characteristic of the neighborhood, the restaurants and bars lining Ninth and 10th avenues.
“Of all the places I’ve lived … I like it a lot,” said Daniel Byrd, a Pilates instructor and aspiring performance artist who has lived in the neighborhood since August. “I have a lot of friends who live here in the neighborhood. I feel the only downside is the amount of tourism.” Mr. Byrd notes the hardest part of his commute is the fight through tourists to get to the subway in the morning.
Eighth Avenue, the neighborhood’s eastern boundary, sees some of that Times Square tourism runoff. That square’s namesake newspaper has its Renzo Piano-designed offices on the street, and there’s a Gray Line tour bus storefront on the avenue, too. Just a block over, though, on Ninth, the crowds thin and the neighborhood’s red-brick apartment buildings, restaurants and bars thicken.
“The neighborhood probably has more places to eat and drink than anywhere in the world,” said Antone DeSantis, who, with his wife Holly, owns Bis.Co.Latte on 10th Avenue. Mr. DeSantis was lecturing a food tour on the finer points of biscotti a few minutes before The Observer spoke to him. “It’s not Williamsburg,” he said. “The neighborhood is filled with different people. A lot of theater people. It’s great for artists.”
“For me, in my mid-20s, gay, living in New York,,” Mr. Byrd said earlier, “we have so many bars and places to go in the area.”
Bis.Co.Latte is, according to Mr. DeSantis, the neighborhood coffee shop. He opened it nearly four years ago because, as he puts it, he “couldn’t get a good cup of coffee anywhere in the neighborhood.” Up and down the block the neighborhood lives up to Mr. DeSantis’ billing. Next-door there’s a Mexican restaurant. Up the street there’s an Ethiopian restaurant. Irish pubs pop up every few blocks; barbecue joints, too.
As Mr. DeSantis outlined the rest of the neighborhood for The Observer before a customer sitting to the left chimed in, “I live in the neighborhood, too.”
More and more people do, after all. The high-rise developments on Hell’s Foyer’s southwestern edge have brought thousands of new residents to the area. But will these immigrants change for the better or the worse a neighborhood that in just the last few years has gotten its reputation in order?
“One hopes not,” said a New Yorker who commutes to Hell’s Foyer for work most weekdays. “It seems unique now. It would be sad if that changed, if it became too much like Times Square.”