Escape from the UES: Goodbye douchebaggery, hello Hell's Kitchen

By Kelly Kreth  |
March 30, 2012 - 10:23AM

When I first moved from New Jersey to Manhattan in 1999 the biggest, cheapest apartment I could find was a “two bedroom” in Hell’s Kitchen for $1,250. 

I use quotation marks because it was two tiny rooms that were essentially the hallway with little partitions, one of which had a loft bed built into it. I hung a TV from the ceiling, painted the loft bed red, and was happy there for four years even though the area was still not that popular.

I ended up getting married and moving to the Upper East Side; I was sad to leave the area and longed to move back, but when I got divorced a year later the biggest, cheapest (that is my sole criteria in apartment hunting: big and cheap) unit I could find was on York Avenue.

I lived on York Avenue in the 80s in a huge, rent stabilized junior four paying an obscenely low rent ($1,450-$1,600). It had tons of storage space and a wall of closets. But I hated the area.  

The train on Lexington was so far away I made up for my cheap rent by having to take cabs everywhere. Friends would never want to make the hike so far east and there were no cool hotspots to go to even if they did.  

The area was boring, sterile and over the course of time something about it seemed to draw weirdos to me so much so I coined it “The Bermuda Triangle of Douchebaggery”.  

When I first moved there a man I had been seeing for two years cheated on me with a woman across the street from me. More recently, the same scenario occurred again.

When a creepy faceless neighbor in a building facing mine sent me e-mails on Christmas morning saying he had been watching me for months from his bedroom window that apparently looked directly into mine, could see me through my window in various state of undress, and wanted to go out for drinks, I knew it was time to go.

My criteria was big (must have tons of closet space), a max of $2,000 per month and not on the UES, for the aforementioned reasons. I also didn't look in Harlem because of safety concerns or anything further east than Avenue A because of transportation problems.

I told agents my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan is Hell’s Kitchen and that is where I’d most want to be. Still, the area had changed considerably since I had first lived there and because of its increased desirability, rents were also higher.

Most balked and said I’d never find what I was looking for at that price point. I saw about 30 apartments in the area and finally settled on a convertible two-bedroom on Tenth Avenue in the West 40s.

I knew I’d miss my ample closet space, so I actually convinced by landlord to let me gut one bedroom and turn into a walk-in closet to make up for lack of it (the landlord agreed after he realized that a queen bed couldn't fit in either room).

The closet is now my favorite thing about the apartment and I’m pretty sure I’m the only woman in a crappy rental that has a whole beautiful room devoted to a walk-in closet and dressing area! Friends come and marvel at it.

Now that I am all settled in, have unpacked my 147 boxes and have had a chance to re-explore my old hood, I’m loving it. It feels way more like being in NYC than being stuck in Siberia, a.k.a. York Avenue.

There’s more noise, more dirt and more grit, but that suits me far more than baby strollers, an endless supply of dry cleaners and no nightlife.

On weekends my area is buzzing, but I have no problem tuning out the noise from the downstairs bar at bedtime--I don't even use earplugs.

I’m grateful there are far more cool eateries and bars here than on the Upper East Side and there is a far more frenetic vibe, which I've always associated with the real NYC.

I do miss knowing the locals, but in time that will come. Also, while I miss the cheap nail salons, being able to get white fish on a bagel hot out of the oven from my corner bagel place, and the free public pool at John Jay Park on East End, I now love walking my dog down to the pier on 46th Street, discovering interesting places tucked away on the side blocks and being able to get home quickly at night without having to take a cab.

And best of all there is nothing across the avenue from my building, so no peeping Tom neighbors!

Transitions highlights New Yorkers’ first impressions as they transition from one neighborhood to another.  Want to tell us your transition story? Drop us an email.


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Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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