Floridian Davis Janowski is a technology editor but also works as a history-loving kayak guide and instructor at Manhattan Kayak Company. Davis has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for more than two decades — this is his West Side Story.

Davis is a kayak guide and instructor at Manhattan Kayak. Photo: Phil O’Brien

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I did the reverse of many, having been born and raised in Florida before meeting my wife and immigrating here 23 years ago after graduate school.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
I arrived in New York with dreams of writing or editing for National Geographic or another big outdoor publication but found out over the course of a few months that nepotism or knowing someone powerful and/or combined with the right schools, a modicum of talent + extreme narcissism tended to = the keys to those kingdoms (much like Broadway or many other careers in New York City for that matter). It was a recession and I needed a job, so I had to expand where I looked.

Eventually, I got my foot in the door at PC Magazine after taking an editing test and doing well enough to be called in for an interview. While it was not the most glamorous of beats, I landed an associate editor’s job running the Internet Infrastructure team and spent another seven years there in several roles until it went into decline. The publication had been through a few owners at that point. I learned far more there than in college and grad school and it still remains the best and most talented team of people I’ve ever worked with. From there I was recruited into covering a far different technology beat at an industry trade publication. Fast forward and I’d worked for two different startups and a stint as an industry analyst (a miserable time) and I’m now back as a technology editor for an industry publication in financial services.

Sanity maintenance really comes in the form of my second job as a kayak guide and instructor who loves history at Manhattan Kayak Company, which is based here in Hell’s Kitchen at Pier 84 adjacent to USS Intrepid. I’ve created a series of four history tours where I first show our clients a slideshow of what the waterfronts used to look like over the centuries and most recent decades, and then take them on the water to see what is left and let them imagine what used to be. These include midtown and downtown on the Hudson River as well as across the river in Weehawken/Hoboken and Jersey City. Very few people really have any notion of how many lives have been lived here over the millennia. Almost every single one of us here in Manhattan are the result of immigrants coming to these shores and everyone that has arrived here since the First Peoples has only arrived since around 1624 — and yet think about how the city has remade itself over and over again since then. The same is true of the waterfront and the areas adjacent to it. Even here in Hell’s Kitchen.

Davis showing his clients a slideshow of what the New Jersey waterfront used to look like. Photo: Phil O’Brien

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
My favorite New York minute was not a minute but a long series of minutes stretched over a few months — my daughter was born premature and had to stay in the NICU at NYU for over a month. So, the first favorite moments were when she and her mother survived her birth and then whenever she had a milestone — and finally when we were able to bring her home.

There were other memorable moments though, both tragic and inspiring. Three of them occurred on the same date, two the same day. September 11th, 1999 was my wedding day. We all know what happened two years later. On that day I was with my wife, also a journalist, down at Ground Zero when the second tower fell. I recall feeling the ground shaking as it began falling and shoving my wife who was facing away from it interviewing someone, and telling her to run. After shaking off the dust I wanted to see how I could help and she needed to get back to work. I ended up carrying a box of bottled water down to the pile with a parade of other volunteers and hearing first responder beacons beeping and not knowing what they were at first. The dust and smoke still hung in the air like fog but it was hard to breath and the living first responders ushered us away to better air and safer ground after making our delivery. Other moments followed…helping set up a first aid triage area for survivors in Foley Square but within a couple of hours we packed it up after being told there would be no walking wounded, most anyone inside were likely dead — as proved to be the case.

The most memorable moment of the day, and one that still gives me shivers when I recall it happened in the late afternoon/early evening. We had packed up the first aid supplies and walked them from Foley Square to Manhattan Community College and were standing on the long balcony-like walkway overlooking the West Side Highway and the Hudson. There was a line of ambulances and fire engines from all over the city and surrounding areas both to the south and north. Suddenly, we felt the building shake a little and a few moments later a huge cheer went up that sounded like a low roar and reverberated off the buildings. It was a while before we knew what happened. Tower 7 had finally fallen, it had been hit by debris earlier and been burning all afternoon and deemed unstable — the first responders had been kept off the pile because of it — now that it had fallen too they could return and resume the search for the living and dead in the pile at Ground Zero.

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
It’s home. We raised our daughter here, she attended elementary school here and we’ve lived on the same block in HK since we arrived. We also did not leave during the pandemic. We have seen the best and the worst of people over our two-plus decades. I watched the waterfront change from a place of drug deals and prostitution when we first moved here to a beautiful park where thousands of tourists visit daily (not always my favorite part but good for the economy). And that area has become one huge playground for me and an escape from my day-to-day.

Davis’ superpower is his imagination. Photo: Naty Caez

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
None. I work hard. I play hard. I guess the closest thing to a superpower is my imagination, which I’ve used to create the history tours I discussed above.

What else should we know about you?
I’m a longtime volunteer with Billion Oyster Project (@billionoyster) and have kept, maintained and monitored oysters at Manhattan Kayak Company since 2015 with other volunteers. We want to bring oysters back and make them as integral a part of New York Harbor’s ecosystem as they were for millions of years before we non-native New Yorkers arrived and over-harvested them (they were one of New York City’s first big exports) and then largely wiped them out with dredging, landfill, construction of piers and pollution. A healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day. So, a lot of oysters equals cleaner waters.

Davis’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

Manhattan Kayak Company — Pier 84 Boathouse in Hudson River Park near W44th St and 12th Ave
It has become my second home. I was there to greet them when they first relocated to Pier 84, towing their kayaks and paddle boards via kayak as they moved from their previous location at Pier 66 in 2014.

I had been paddling folding sea kayaks up and down the Hudson for more than a decade by then but had grown tired of carrying them up to the 79th Street Boat Basin or to the 59th Street when it was completed. So, when MKC arrived at Pier 84, I immediately became friends with the owners and managers and they got used to me assembling and launching and landing my boats there, just two long blocks from my home here in Hell’s Kitchen.

David Janowski on the Hudson River
Davis Janowski out on the water with Manhattan Kayak Club. Photo: MKC

Eventually, they asked me to work as a guide, which I love! It has been three seasons now, all year round and I’ve created the history tours I’ve referenced above and get to share them with friends and strangers alike, which is a real pleasure for me, and they have been well received.

It is just a phenomenal place and atmosphere. We offer kayak and standup paddle board training from the basics through to more advanced skills. And once people are ready we take them on trips throughout the harbor, up to Yonkers and the Palisades, to several other spots along the Jersey side of the river, down to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island — even Red Hook Brooklyn and Coney Island — and the big enchilada are the multiple Manhattan circumnavigations we do every season.

There are plenty of events there as well and one of our managers has really greened up the exterior with beautiful plants and shrubs, from roses to tomatoes, and the interior is warm and inviting year-round.

Tabata Ramen — 540 9th Avenue (bw W39/40th St)
Sure, it is on the neighboring block next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 9th Ave. — that’s part of the charm. OK, that’s not true, there is nothing charming about this area but it is quintessential, nitty gritty, Hell’s Kitchen.

And the ramen is outstanding. Sutamina Ramen is my favorite and my go-to but I’ve tried them all. I was very sad when they shut down during the pandemic but they are back! And just as good as ever.

Clinton Community Garden — 434 W48th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
We were on the wait list for a back garden plot for seven years. This beautiful spot feels somewhat hidden, along W48th street close to 10th Avenue. Anyone can visit the front garden when it is open and can buy a key for it for when no members are around to mind the gate.

I’ve now been planting vegetables and volunteering there for six years. And have introduced the idea of gardening to my daughter. It is a wonderful oasis amidst the rush of the city.

Il Melograno — 501 W51st Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
We have been eating at this Italian restaurant on 51st and 10th Ave since it opened. It is fresh and laid back and we have entertained a lot of friends here. It does not feel as un-authentic or hurried as some of the 9th Avenue Italian restaurants that cater to the Broadway show crowd feel.

Davis says Mr. Biggs is a quintessential Hell’s Kitchen bar and grill. Photo: Naty Caez

Mr. Biggs — 596 10th Avenue (corner of W43rd St)
A quintessential Hell’s Kitchen bar and grill that it lacks the poser-like feel of some of the gentrified spots along 9th Avenue, a block away. It also has history. I’ll let you read up on that yourself.

Little Pie Company — 424 West 43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
This one is for my wife, who has satisfied her sweet tooth here for 23 years. Yes, it can be legitimately accused of being expensive but it has remained high quality all these years. We look forward to pumpkin at Thanksgiving, apple pie anytime and many other sorts of cakes and pies. I personally love seeing Mr Wilkerson setting up the Christmas window display each year, especially when small children walk by.

Romeo & Juliet Coffee — 555 W42nd Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
A friend of Colombian ancestry first told me about this place and it has become my go-to spot for business meetings since the pandemic. I not only love their mission of bringing their coffee directly here from Colombia but it is muy bueno, as are the various things under the counter, including the enchiladas. Sure, the view out onto W42nd Street is not the most photogenic but inside, inside it is inviting, the staff warm and the decor funky cool.

Davis loves Romeo & Juliet’s mission of bringing their coffee here from Colombia. Photo: Naty Caez

You can follow Davis on Instagram @davisjanowski. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations. You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.

Join the Conversation


  1. WOW DAVIS‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️
    WHAT A SUPER GUY YOU ARE‼️‼️I grew up in Miami/ Kendall. Moved here with a great singing job 38 years ago. My husband was born and raised in Hells Kitchen…. THE STORIES HE HAS TO TELL‼️ LOVED YOUR INTERVIEW PIECE‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️

  2. Bravo Davis! Loved catching up with you through this wonderful article.
    Life’s and adventure, and you make the most out of it. Congrats🤗! Juliusz

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