From Murray Hill to Pelham Bay: Gaining more space for one-third the rent

By Kelly Kreth  |
July 23, 2020 - 2:30PM

"From an outsider’s point of view, people are friendlier in the Bronx. People will easily talk to you," says Antoine, who moved to NYC from France.

Adam Moss/Flickr

In order to meet his goal of cutting his rent by one third, Antoine, originally from France, moved from a studio in Murray Hill to a one bedroom in Pelham Bay, an area about which he knew almost nothing. Now, three years later, he still finds the long subway ride to Manhattan a real drag, but the neighborhood’s friendliness and sense of community has grown on him. Here’s his take how the areas compare.

I’m originally from Lyon, France. I moved to New York City 13 years ago to live on the Upper East Side. After I got separated from my wife, I moved to Murray Hill. I lived there for three years before moving to Pelham Bay in the Bronx.

In Murray Hill, I lived in a very large studio in a prewar building. It had great closets and a long, large living area. It also fit a queen-sized bed and a huge dresser plus a love seat. Even with all that furniture, I still had plenty of room. My one real estate deal breaker is living in a building without laundry. Thankfully this one had a great laundry room.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

My favorite thing about living there was the location. I could be in either Midtown West or Downtown in no time. Transportation was never a problem: There were subways and buses near my building and I could also bike or walk to many destinations.

Bars and restaurants are everywhere in Murray Hill—and there is also great access to healthy food. The Green Market in Union Square was my go-to for shopping and there was also a Fairway close by. While I never picked a favorite, I enjoyed the diversity and quality of bars and restaurants in the area.

However, I eventually wanted to save money: My goal was to slash my rent by one third, so I decided to move. Searching online, I found an apartment online that seemed suitable in Pelham Bay in the Bronx. I didn’t know anything about area, but it seemed fine.

I didn’t rent it right away; I kept thinking I’d find something better later. Well, it was a hard lesson learned: Nothing better came up. It was pure luck I was able to sign my lease just two days before my Murray Hill lease expired.

So here I am living in Pelham. My one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx is in a post-war building that is not very well designed. It’s small like the one in Murray Hill, but thankfully the apartment itself is large—big enough to fit a king-sized bed. My kitchen and living room are the same room, but it fits a dining table. This apartment doesn’t have much closet space so I had to buy a few pieces of extra furniture for my clothing and other things.

Pelham Bay is like a small village and I live next to the main avenue where most of the stores are. It’s like living in a time capsule. Things don’t appear to have changed much from the ’80s or ’90s. The bakeries make things that you don’t see any more in Manhattan or at least they’re done differently there, with a more modern twist. Italian and Irish traditions are strong. The bars are what I think of as “people’s bars” —or what might be called “dive bars”—just places to grab a drink. Not like a lot of Manhattan bars that have mixologists and serve fancier drinks.

The food in Pelham is definitely the biggest disappointment. The quality you’re used to when you live in Manhattan doesn’t exist in the Bronx, or at least not in my area. I have Key Food as my grocery store nearby. This chain seems to be everywhere in the Bronx. If you want to find healthy items or certain brands you are used to in Manhattan, you really have to search. The good thing about the area is that your dollar buys far more than in Manhattan, particularly in Murray Hill.

I also have not found any good restaurants in Pelham Bay. There is a pizza joint called Mangia I like. But overall, eateries here seem to be more about quantity than quality here. But that appears to be changing. There’s a new place which just opened called Novelty Eats, which seems to be trying to bring in a city vibe. People seem to be responding well to it, even though it’s just a burger place.

I recently went to Little Italy in the Bronx to eat at Zero Otto Nove. I liked it but it’s a bit too far from where I live to go often.  

I’m lucky to have my gym, Planet Fitness, close by. It helps me keep my sanity for less than $11 a month. In Murray Hill I was an Equinox member but that was far pricier and frankly, it’s not for me anymore.

Pelham Bay is far from the city and the only way I can get my friends to visit is if I have a party at my house. There’s nothing much to do in this area except go Irish bar hopping, but I haven’t bar hopped in years. So if I want to socialize I have to head into Manhattan. However, I’m on the 6 line, which is dreadful when it is a local train. There are 20 stations in the Bronx, and I’m the next to last stop. It can take almost an hour to arrive at 125th Street. 

I only use taxi services when I’m in Manhattan, and it’s late in the night. Monthly transportation charges are definitely more expensive than when I was living in Murray Hill because even if I was out late I could usually just walk home.

Overall the biggest difference between the two neighborhoods is the culture. There is definitely a sense of community in Pelham. One of the managers at my deli told me they hire youths from the neighborhood in the summer for extra help. They’ve known these kids since they were babies. That’s another change from my old neighborhood. I don’t think a lot of employees in Manhattan stores are from the immediate area.

From an outsider’s point of view, people are friendlier in the Bronx. People will easily talk to you, and I noticed I have let go of my phone more to be open to that. In this part of the Bronx, you can’t be anonymous like you can be in Murray Hill, and at first it was hard to deal with but now I think that it’s a good thing. Here, neighbors talk to each other in the building and also if we see each other in the street. Still, I try to stay away from the Saturday crowds just like in Manhattan.

When I moved, I essentially moved for economic reasons. Now although that is less of a concern, I’m not sure I want to go back to Manhattan. The Bronx is definitely growing on me. 



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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