Texan-born marketing strategist Gino Hawley has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for around 14 years — “It offers the best of both worlds,” he says. This is Gino’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in Texas. I moved to New York City almost 20 years ago after a two-year stint in South Florida. I initially landed near the Lincoln Center area, where I lived for the first six years before moving to Hell’s Kitchen, which I’ve called home ever since.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job was a part-time bank teller, during my last two years of college. Today, I have my own marketing business, Principal Brands, which I started in 2013. I work with small to mid-size business and organizations, helping them to develop, manage and position their brand(s). I work with clients in a variety of industries who are seeking content, digital and PR strategy services.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
I remember it very well. The day I moved to New York. I flew into LaGuardia from Florida with a couple of suitcases (my furniture would be arriving a week later) and many hopes and dreams, like most people who come to NYC. As I got into the yellow cab at the airport, I was beguiled by the very thought of finally fulfilling my lifelong dream of living in Manhattan. In fact, my level of excitement was likely unnerving to the cab driver, but he was a good sport, pacifying me by answering all my questions — from the moment I got in his car until he dropped me in front of my building. In that short 40-minute ride, I was learning so many things about the city, like even number streets go east and odd number streets go west. But the “NY moment” didn’t hit me until we were driving through the tree-lined streets of the Upper West Side in the middle of April with the windows down and a spring breeze hitting my face. New York State of Mind by Billy Joel literally comes on the radio right then and there. That was the “defining” moment or sign, if you will, when I knew I was where I was meant to be.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Hell’s Kitchen offers the best of both worlds … one moment you can be walking down a block lined with brownstones giving that neighborhood vibe you normally find on the UWS, and then steps later, you find yourself on 9th Avenue with a long stretch of restaurant and lounge options before you, not to mention a variety of international cuisines. Hell’s Kitchen is steps away from the theater district, Central Park, and Hudson River waterfront, as well as an array of retail shops from small independently owned stores to major retailers like Nordstrom, Kiehl’s and Williams-Sonoma to name a few. It truly is one of the most ideal locations to live in all of Manhattan, when it comes to conveniences and easy access to everything. The bonus for me personally is the LGBTQIA community is largely represented in our neighborhood, between its bars/lounges, gay-owned establishments, and the residents themselves.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I have a knack for capturing the best qualities in anything or anyone with my camera. Whether it’s a person, inanimate object or scenic landscape, I always seem to find the beauty in the subject before me. There’s nothing more satisfying than evoking emotion in others through my photography.
What else should we know about you?
Travel and photography are my passions. I love to travel, particularly outside of the United States, to learn about different cultures and capture the beauty of a country and its people. Africa, which I’ve visited twice, and Cuba stand out the most — the people are so warm and friendly. I’ve also been fortunate to go on safari on two separate occasions. Nothing compares to being immersed in the natural habitat of wildlife. Witnessing and capturing images and video of majestic moments among these fascinating creatures — just feet away from you — is one of the most surreal and gratifying experiences of my lifetime.
Incidentally, I happen to be an animal welfare advocate and a strong proponent of getting horses off the streets of NYC. I’m very grateful for NYCLASS and all the work they do.
I enjoy cooking at home, doing brunch and dinner with friends, and exploring our city’s neighborhoods alone with my camera while listening to my Spotify playlists. I have a great appreciation for many genres of music — everything from the 60s to current day, which I suppose is why I tend to be nostalgic a lot of the time.
I also discovered during COVID that I’m decent at caring for plants. I never had a living plant in my home until the pandemic hit. Today, I have more than 10 happy and healthy plants and trees in my apartment.
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Gino’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Huascar & Company Bakeshop — 453 W54th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
This is one of Hell’s Kitchen hidden treasures. Because it’s so small, it’s easy to miss; but when you happen upon it, you will find pure bliss as soon as you step inside. The owner is the winner of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, and the entire staff is super friendly. They have a variety of creative concoctions, all made from scratch daily, including cakes in a jar, extraordinary cupcakes, macarons so good you’d think they’re from Paris, and a key lime pie that is out of this world.
Bocca di Bacco — 836 9th Avenue (bw W54/55th St)
While the food is great, the staff and service are why I always return. I’ve been going to the location on 9th Ave between 54th and 55th (both the old and newer location) for more than 10 years. Their bottomless brunch is a hit and has become increasingly popular over the years. Yet regardless of what time of day you go, you can count on good food, drinks and service. Whether you choose to take a date, go with a group of friends or just sit at the bar alone — where you’re bound to strike up conversation with just about anyone if you’re in the mood — Bocca di Bacco is a sure bet.
Steve’s Editing Barber Shop — 446 W50th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I’ve tried a number of barber shops in the HK area over the years, and Steve’s Editing by far is one of the best. I’ve been coming here religiously for more than seven years now. Steve, himself, always makes you feel right at home. He is friendly with everyone who walks through that door. He takes his time on each customer as though they’re his only client, making sure you get the best cut possible. He is meticulous, consistent, and very affordable (so tip him well). He takes appointments but walk-ins are welcomed. He and his wife are also fellow Hell’s Kitchen residents. Go see Steve. You won’t regret it.
The Marshal — 628 10th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
If you’re seeking quality farm-to-table dishes, look no further than The Marshal. Regardless of whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can always count on fresh ingredients and extraordinary dishes. The menu offerings are intriguingly creative. The food presentation is always on point, which is why often times you see patrons taking photos with their phones. The place is small and intimate, but that’s part of its appeal. The staff are always attentive and friendly. I’d say The Marshal is one of Hell’s Kitchen’s shining stars.
Don’t Tell Mama — 343 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Whenever I have guests in town, this piano bar is one of the places I take them to, and it never disappoints. In fact, friends that I’ve introduced it to, make it a point to include DTM on their agenda when they’re back in the city. The staff not only serves food and drinks, but they also serve the best entertainment. You will find the bartender making your drink, while singing Popular (from Wicked) on the microphone at the same time. They are all talented singers and actors, who make this piano bar one of the best in Manhattan… and they take requests!! Be prepared though because sometimes you will find a wait outside the venue, especially around the time shows let out on Broadway. If you can, plan accordingly so you can secure your seat at the table.
Ardesia — 510 W52nd Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
This is the perfect place for meeting a friend or two. The wine selections, food menu, ambiance and staff collectively score a 10 out of 10. And did I mention they have a full bar too?! This is one of my happy places not only because it is conveniently located to my home, but it has a great vibe to it. It’s warm and welcoming. They also offer outdoor seating during the warmer months. I highly recommend this place.
DeWitt Clinton Dog Run — 11th Avenue & W54th Street
Although I don’t personally have a dog, I do often watch my best friend’s dog, Bentley, who is like my own dog. The DeWitt Clinton Dog Run is a great place for large and small dogs alike. They have two separate enclosed areas for each. The park is always well-maintained and is a great space to escape from the city for some peace and the requisite dogs barking here and there. It’s also a great place to meet fellow neighbors who are dog owners. It’s been a while since we’ve been, but I certainly have many great memories from all my visits over the years.
La Bergamote — 515 W52nd Street (bw 10th/11th Ave)
Serving as a storefront and restaurant, this French bakery is frequented by not only local neighborhood residents but tourists as well. Popular for their almond croissants, La Bergamote has a variety of pastries and a well-rounded brunch, lunch and dinner menu loosely true to French cuisine, in most cases, with an American twist to it, if you will. I sometimes pick up a few pastries to take to a friend’s home that I’m visiting in the City, and before you know it, weeks later they tell you they’ve made a trip to Hell’s Kitchen specifically to go to La Bergamote.
El Centro — 824 9th Avenue (bw W54/55th St)
If you’re looking for some delicious Mexican food and great cocktails in a lively and fun atmosphere, El Centro is the place for you. They’re quick, efficient and consistently delicious. My personal favorites are the chicken nachos and their margaritas (some of the best in the neighborhood IMHO), but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu and everything is reasonably priced. They’ve been a staple in the neighborhood for some time now and with good reason.
Cellar 53 — 785 10th Avenue (bw W52/53 St)
I realize there are lots of options when it comes to purchasing wine and liquor, but one thing that stands out about Cellar 53 is that the staff is always happy to help, whether you have questions or need a recommendation. They’re always very friendly and remember you each time you visit. While they do deliver, part of the experience of walking through their well-kept aisles of libations is what makes visiting their store so special. Whenever I host gatherings at my home, Cellar 53 is my go-to, because they always give me the perfect recommendations based on what I’m cooking or who I’m entertaining. They’re also dog friendly, offering treats for pups and a bowl of water outside during the heat of the summer.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
There’s a sense of pride in our community. The camaraderie is apparent to anyone who lives here. Whether it’s the Hell’s Kitchen Neighbors Facebook Group, your magazine (W42ST) or the residents in my building, everyone is always willing to help one another, however they can, and engage with each other in social settings. This may be the case in other Manhattan neighborhoods, too, but nonetheless, I’m happy to call Hell’s Kitchen home.
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.