Boston native Kerry Byrne woke up one morning last spring and resolved to move to Manhattan, a place he’s loved since he first visited as a teen. Last May, undeterred by the pandemic, shutdowns, curfews, and protests, he landed in a Hell’s Kitchen studio. He's got a surprising take on living in NYC—even public transportation. Here’s his story.
I am a lifelong Bostonian, with the real-deal Boston accent to prove it—the kind they can’t fake in Hollywood! I have been fortunate to explore the world as a food and travel writer, including nearly two decades reporting for the Boston Herald, plus many other outlets. I also spent many years covering the NFL.
Most recently my focus is my hospitality consulting company, KJB Trending Hospitality, working with the best chefs and restaurants in Boston, with a focus on immigrant chefs. Thankfully my clients survived 2020 better than most. I even helped open three new eateries last year in Greater Boston, including a huge, new high-end steakhouse, Alba on 53. Easily the biggest, most successful opening in New England last year.
[Editor's Note: We’re introducing Brick Underground's new series The Newcomers, which features first-person accounts about why a renter or buyer decided to take a chance on NYC and live here now. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
However, because I can work remotely, I started exploring the idea of moving. I could keep my Boston clients and expand my horizons. I’ve been obsessed with New York City—Manhattan specifically—ever since visited as a teen. I grew up with a National Geographic map of Manhattan next to my bed. I’ve always been a New Yorker at heart.
I loved the chaos, the crowds and the energy that seems to flow so effortlessly. It’s a sharp contrast to cramped Boston, which has narrow, winding streets and terrible public transportation. Boston always feels jammed up and slow. Manhattan, despite its much greater size, is much easier to navigate and get around. Things move in Manhattan!
So, this May, I honestly just woke up one day last spring and said “F--k it! I’m moving to Manhattan.”
Betting on NYC's future
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I knew this is a city in crisis, a place that was going to need creative people who believed in New York City to help it get back on its feet after all the “good time Charlies” split town at the first sign of trouble. I was frustrated from afar that so many people fled. I wanted to be one of those folks who put their faith in New York City when it was down and out. Anybody can move here during the good times and fun when the champagne is flowing. The fighters move here in the bad times and make their own champagne flow. Those are the people who are going to shape the future of the city.
I called a buddy of mine at Sports Illustrated and asked him for leads on apartments. In a twist of fate, a colleague at his publication had just asked him that morning if he knew anyone looking to sublet a studio. The timing could not have been better. It was meant to be!
I moved into her apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, right by Times Square, which I feel is the center of the world on May 31st. This was certainly not the best day to move amid a pandemic, shutdowns, protests, and curfews. However, within days, I had started to make a new group of friends, hanging out drinking beers on the street outside McQuaid’s Pub on 11th Avenue after work. My mom always joked, "You'd talk to the rats in the subway." So, I’m a talker! I now have a whole group of about a dozen friends I hang out with regularly, pretty much all of them in my nabe.
My apartment is a cute and cozy studio. I happily traded size for location. It’s much more affordable than I ever imagined at just $1,700 per month. So much less than I had planned to spend, too. I think I got a couple months free rent. I honestly don’t remember. But it’s so affordable it doesn’t really matter. It even has laundry facilities in the building.
My elevator building was built in the 1980s. It’s not fancy but I have a little balcony just big enough for two or three people to enjoy coffee or a nightcap. I can even see the lights of Times Square from the balcony. The outdoor space sold me on the unit. I love being able to step out for fresh air, admire the snowfall, listen to the life on the street late at night—yes, there is still some street life—or watch the mounted cops on horseback clip-clop past my balcony each morning.
The Eighth Avenue end of my street is, well, seedy; the Ninth Avenue end is right out of a “Friends” episode with bars, restaurants and even a cute little local neighborhood coffee shop, Grind NYC. It just opened last year during the pandemic. It was good to see something new come to life, a sign of hope.
I love exploring the city. There are too many other places to mention. I’m a hot wing aficionado, so we eat wings at Hellcat Annie’s on 10th Avenue. I’m always diving into different Asian options. Here in my neighborhood I like Ollie’s Sichuan on West 42nd, Tim Ho Wan on 9th (which I coincidentally wrote about years ago before I moved here) and, on 8th, Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen—the little restaurant named for like everything on the menu.
I head down Greenwich Village for Murray’s Bagels. I shop for vinyl at RPM Underground on West 54th and books at The Strand on Broadway in the Village; I bought my first bass guitar at Sam Ash on West 34th. I do my shopping at the Food Emporium on West 42nd and the Big Apple Meat Market on Ninth at 42nd. I love the little butchers in the area.
And I cannot resist the pumpkin donuts at Amy’s Bread on Ninth Avenue. I’ve spent more than two decades as a food writer, and those donuts—more a cake than a donut—are some of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I even filed an official Pumpkin Donut Protest when Amy’s ran out of them a couple months ago.
Center of everything
As for traveling around the city, I have an entrance to the A, C, E, and 7 lines at the 42nd Street/Port Authority station literally steps from my apartment. I’m an easy walk to Times Square Station, Bryant Park station, and can walk to Penn Station in about 12 minutes. So, I can pretty much be anywhere in the city within minutes. Anywhere in the world, really, without setting foot in a car, cab, or Uber.
I have no official commute, but I do travel back and forth to Boston each week to see clients there. The flights have been as cheap at $17 each way! Amtrak is not much more expensive. One day last summer, when almost nobody was traveling, I went door to door from my apartment in Manhattan to my old home in Boston in just over two hours. Unbelievable! That will likely never happen again.
My last home in Boston was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom World War I-era colonial with driveway, garage, and a front lawn. It was a short walk to the subway and the beach. But I don’t want “stuff” in Manhattan. I want experiences. The studio suits my current lifestyle perfectly fine.
I do, however, miss driving my big ol’ pick-up truck! I keep it parked at my parents’ house or my old house in Boston. I drive it when I get back there. But there’s absolutely no need to have it here. I enjoy walking everywhere. It’s actually kind of liberating not to have a vehicle to worry about.
I was a big cyclist in Boston, commuting to work for years on my bicycle on terrible streets for cycling: narrow and dangerous, and with very angry aggressive drivers. It’s definitely easier to bike around Manhattan, though more chaotic. There are more things coming at you from all angles. And the cars move much faster. But at least bikes are part of the commuting culture of Manhattan. People here are aware that bikes share the road with them.
'Manhattan is livelier'
Everything else is better in New York City. Access to everything is better, even amid the shutdown, Manhattan is much livelier than Boston, which is still a total ghost town right now.
I came here in the hopes of drumming up business in NYC and I’ve already picked up work and clients!
In general, I find New Yorkers much friendlier than their reputation. I find everybody in NYC very engaging and willing to talk. I even talk to the homeless people around the area. They often have great stories. Some of them had and have quite interesting lives. My theory is that it takes a certain kind of person to move to New York City. Usually very outgoing people or ambitious people do well. Wallflowers don’t move to New York City. I fit in perfectly!
I’m here for the foreseeable future and have no intention of going anywhere. I might retire down south when I get sick of winters in the Northeast. But until then, New York is stuck with me!
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