Theatrical dresser and costume designer Meredith Benson has lived in the same Hell’s Kitchen apartment for over 20 years — and worked on Broadway productions for 19 of them. She is also a huge fan of live music. This is Meredith’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I went to junior high and high school in northern New Jersey and my father worked in lower Manhattan so I came into the city a good bit growing up. I went to Furman University in South Carolina for college and interned at Soho Rep in Tribeca the summers after my junior and senior years. I was interested in staying down south after college but wasn’t finding any work with my theater major so moved back home. Through the friends I made at Soho Rep, I started finding theatre jobs and eventually landed one paying enough to move out of my parents house and into NYC. I was looking for apartments with my good friend/hairdresser who I met at my internship and he was dating a great guy, Michael, who lived in Hell’s Kitchen. Michael knew someone had just moved out of an apartment a floor above him (the top floor of a five-story walk-up) and suggested we jump on it. I moved into that Hell’s Kitchen apartment 21 years ago and have been there ever since — and Michael is still my neighbor which makes me very happy.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
Out of college, I started working as a costume designer at tiny theatres around town. I think the first one was a slightly questionable but endearingly ernest musical adaptation of Willa Cather’s novel, O Pioneers! at the Producers Club. I was asked to stick around and run wardrobe on one of those shows and that is how I learned about being a dresser. I’ve been working in wardrobe ever since. I’ve been working on Broadway productions for the past 19 years and feel incredibly lucky to be a part of that wonderful community. Currently, I’m a dresser on Some Like It Hot. Come see it! Its a fantastic show!!
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Most of my favorite NYC moments surround seeing live music. I love that everyone plays NYC so I’ve been thrilled to see so many of my musical heroes here live — Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lisa Marie Presley, George Michael, Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard, Janet Jackson, Dolly Parton…
Lincoln Center’s outdoor summer programming has been particularly magical through the years — Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Booker T Jones, Ronnie Spector, Leslie Gore, The Collins Kids!! I mean, c’mon – I never thought I’d get to see these folks play live, let alone 13 blocks from my apartment!! How cool!!
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
When I moved into Hell’s Kitchen so many years ago, I really knew nothing about this neighborhood. But with each better job I got, the closer I got to home. I love working and living here — every time I walk out the door, I run into someone I know! Being able to come home for dinner on two show days is a big deal to me. Its a very convenient neighborhood to get anywhere else in the city from. And I love living on the same street as the Brill Building! The sheer volume of incredible music to come out of that building is bonkers!! What history! And I enjoy watching the sunset over my home state of Jersey!
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
Hmmmm, its not very hidden, as most people who know me know I can recite almost any fact about Elvis Presley you could ever want to know!
What else should we know about you?
I’m a collector of all kinds of things, which is a rough thing to be with the size of most Hell’s Kitchen apartments, mine included! One of my favorite things to collect are tiki mugs. I have 114 displayed in my apartment- and another 45 or so in my storage unit, also in the ‘Kitchen! And don’t even get me started on dresses and purses! Yikes!!
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Meredith’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Beer Cheese — 677 9th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
Well, its in the name! Not much beats that combo! I’ve been frequenting this spot since it opened and the staff is always kind & helpful and know their beer! I was wanting to celebrate Elvis’s birthday with a beer representation of his favorite peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich and Hector tracked down and ordered a peanut butter beer for me!! Yum!
Rudy’s — 627 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
I love history and this place has plenty! The prices are amazingly reasonable and you get a free hot dog with every round! You can’t argue with that deal!! And its always full of an eclectic cast of characters, no matter what hour you visit!
The Rum House — 228 W47th Street (bw 7th/8th Ave)
Maybe technically just outside of Hell’s Kitchen, I really enjoy the vibe of this place. I’m a big fan of rum and this place is full of it! They make some great drinks and they also have little jazz combos playing nightly. It has the feeling of stepping back in time, which I just love about it!!
North River Lobster Company — Pier 81, W41st Street
I like any activity that reminds me I live on an island! And I love lobsters and boats! A great, relaxing way to spend an afternoon!
Beer Culture — 328 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
If my boyfriend isn’t at home or work, I know to find him here! The staff are delightful, they certainly cater to their regulars and the beer selection is great! Also, shuffleboard!!
The Waylon — 736 10th Avenue (bw W50/51st St)
After my favorite bar, The Rodeo Bar, closed, I was hard pressed to find a place where I could get a bucket of cold Lone Star beers in this city. Then along came The Waylon. It’s got my Lone Stars, along with a bartender who knew to give me the bottle caps without my having to ask! (They have fun word puzzles on them.) Add a cute backyard, some delicious deviled eggs, a jukebox full of great old country and make it around the corner from my apartment — score!!
Gallagher’s Steakhouse — 228 W52nd Street (bw Broadway/8th Ave)
I love a steakhouse! My boyfriend and I mark all big occasions with a visit to one of NYC’s classics and Gallagher’s has certainly been the site of more than a few birthdays, Valentine’s and Christmases. The staff go above and beyond, the steaks are incredible — and the bartenders make a mean Blood & Sand!
Hurley’s — 232 W48th Street (bw 7th/8th Ave)
I have watched a lot come and go in my 20 years in this ‘hood but this place has stood the test of time, with good reason! Its a staple of the theatre community. I have thrown and attended countless parties here through the years so it is definitely a place full of happy memories for me!
Mom’s — 701 9th Avenue (corner of W48th St)
This place has been a delicious addition to the neighborhood! I enjoy its kitschiness immensely and I appreciate that one can get a yummy brunch here every day of the week!
Poke Inn — 357 W49th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I pick up dinner here once a week. I was so excited when it arrived in our neighborhood. Fresh & fast — I just love it!!
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.