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10th Ave in Hell’s Kitchen was a different world back in 1996. “I remember every day of construction, a homeless person would put their head in our door like, ‘What are you thinking, building in this neighborhood?’ There was nothing here,” laughs Bruce Horowytz.
He and Scott Hart were among the original Hell’s Kitchen pioneers. They originally had three bars/restaurants in the neighborhood: 44&X, 44 1/2 a couple of doors down, and the 10th Avenue Lounge – “which is really dating ourselves!” says Bruce.
Now, only the jewel in the crown remains: 44 & X – a glorious, flower-filled mecca on the corner of W44th St – 10th Ave that plays host to everyone from Michael Bloomberg and Rosie O’Donnell to Gayle King and Broadway royalty like Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming.
But back in the day, the street was just parking lots – everywhere a parking lot. That, and a trans club called Edelweiss, down the street under the Market Diner. “It was really pretty wild,” says Scott. “A different time.”
The couple – who live just a couple of blocks from the restaurant, have watched as the neighborhood has been transformed.
“We’re two nice Jewish boys, from Long Island and Bergen County. We both grew up outside the city, but every weekend came in with our parents for theater or dinner or whatever.
“We first lived in the Strand when it was built, in ’92. I was in the food service industry,” says Bruce. “Scott was in the garment industry, then a stockbroker. But we were always getting in a cab to go for dinner and we couldn’t understand that. We loved our neighborhood, but there was nothing here. Going to 42nd St was taking your life in your hands – it was triple X porn theaters, and that one hot dog guy.”
“Most of the people on the street were drug dealers or prostitutes,” says Scott. “But in those days we knew them by name and they were very nice. They were very respectful.
“When we first opened up – it must’ve been ’96 or ’97 – there was a local prostitute. She never came in, she never bothered us. And we had blue Christmas lights on a tree outside. One day we were in the back of the bar and I looked out and saw my lights were blacked out. I walked out front and this homeless woman had unplugged our Christmas lights and plugged in a blow dryer – she had a comb with three teeth in it, doing her hair.
“I was like, ‘You know what? Do me a favor, we open at 4pm. If you’re going to do your hair, do it before then because I don’t want my lights put out.’”
“The old Westies were still around,” says Bruce. “Paulie, the ice guy, used to sit us down and tell us all the stories. ‘There’s bodies over there. I got bodies over there.’ And every time they built one of these high rises, sure enough, they always found bones. He’s like, ‘This place is filled with bodies.’ It was Good Fellas.”
Celebrated for the food, obviously (the mac and cheese is carb heaven, the crispy sea bass is divine, and Bloomberg always orders the short rib), they’re almost as famous for their floral displays.
“That’s my husband,” says Bruce. “And I fight him every week. I’m like, ‘We’re spending so much on flowers!’ It’s a huge expense. But he buys them all fresh, down on 28th St.”
And there’s the Broadway-themed cocktails, like Tequila Mockingbird and Jagged Little Peach (got to love that wordplay).
The pre and post-theater crowd is a big part of the business – the couple have invested in shows themselves (Dear Evan Hansen and Magic Mike are two of theirs). And SpongeBob SquarePants was created on one of their napkins on table three.
The secret of their longevity? They believe it’s the quality of the food, and their dedication to the business. They’re at the restaurant every night – “our life is not outside of here, this is our life,” says Scott. “That’s the joy of owning a restaurant.”
“We always say it’s the lowest form of showbiz,” says Bruce, “and the show has to go on every night.”
“I always feel very blessed,” says Scott. “As a kid coming from Long Island to the city, you think, ‘What’s a neighborhood?’ In the suburbs, you know every person on your block. But I know every person within probably 15 blocks of here. That’s been my real privilege – it’s kind of cool.”
This interview was originally scheduled to appear in the April 2020 “Best of HK” issue of W42ST magazine, which was shelved because of COVID-19.
UPDATE: Scott and Bruce opened 44&X on July 1 after 4 months . Here’s a quick video shot the day before the opening.