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Part-time Hell’s Kitchen resident Leanne Buckley is a retired public school music teacher whose love of Broadway led her to volunteer at the TDF autism-friendly performances. “There is just nothing like it,” she says. Here’s Leanne’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I’ve been in the neighborhood as a part-time resident since 2016. I grew up about 75 miles outside of the city in Connecticut and still have my primary residence there with my husband, Mark. My parents fostered a love of music and musical theater, so as a kid I came in a few times a year to see shows. Hell’s Kitchen and the theater district were a bit different then, but still an exciting place to visit. As an adult, I continued coming in for shows and was drawn into the energy of NYC. The need to have more of the city in my life turned day trips into long weekends. My husband and I fell in love with Hell’s Kitchen the first long weekend we stayed 15 years ago. We continued to stay in this neighborhood, exploring more and more of it each time. After eight years of visiting for long weekends, we decided to take the plunge and get an apartment we would use as our second home. It took a year to find a place in our targeted area, but our hard work, persistence and luck paid off. Seven years later, we are still loving our studio apartment and all this neighborhood has to offer.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
As a teenager, I did many babysitting jobs for family friends. That experience helped foster my love of teaching. Though I have been retired for two years now, I worked for 30 years as a public school music teacher in CT, servicing PreK to 2nd grade. To be able to share my love of music with thousands of children throughout my career was quite fulfilling. My teaching career and love of Broadway has led me to volunteer at the TDF autism-friendly performances. This is such a rewarding experience. To be able to help facilitate an inclusive, judgment-free Broadway experience for families is so important to me, as theater should be accessible to all. There is nothing better than to see the smiles on these families’ faces as they enter the theater. I get choked up each time the lights dim and the audience starts to cheer. There is just nothing like it. I look forward to the next time I am called to volunteer.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
This is so hard to answer, there have been so many. My all-time favorite was when I did an improvisation duet with Bobby McFerrin at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Bobby had come out into the audience, looking for someone to repeat a small melody he would then improvise over. He had approached my husband who signaled to me. Mr McFerrin offered a melodic line for me to repeat, but I decided to create my own. The look on his face was like — OK, game on — and there we went, creating this wild improvisational duet. It was such a rush to be able to perform with this improvisational master.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
In such an imposing city, Hell’s Kitchen offers an intimate, friendly, creative neighborhood. There is just so much to love. There are so many choices for live music and theater performances. The food is amazing. You could enjoy cuisine from a different country each night of the week. The most impactful part of this neighborhood though, are the people. I love that as I walk through the neighborhood I always bump into friends and neighbors. Sometimes it’s just a passing hello or first bump, sometimes it’s a longer sidewalk conversation. When we have friends visit, they are always amazed this happens. That is what makes this community so special. There is also a shared appreciation for the arts which, given my past profession, is paramount for my existence. It’s so nice to live in a community (even part-time) that understands and appreciates this, it really gives me a sense of belonging.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
My hidden talent is identifying what cookie Schmackary’s currently has in the oven from down the block. OK, well sometimes that is.
My real hidden talent is wheat-free, dairy-free baking. I have always loved baking, but when I developed a wheat and dairy allergy, I could no longer enjoy my family recipes. It took about a year of experimenting with different flours and dairy-free butters, but I have finally found the right combination to make these baked goods have the taste and texture of “regular” cakes and cookies. Where this will take me (other than to the gym) who knows?
What else should we know about you?
Mark and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this July!
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Leanne’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Landmark Tavern — 626 11th Avenue (bw W46/46th St)
Landmark Tavern is my happy place. Their food is delicious. I always look forward to Mondays when I can get down to Landmark and play in the Irish Seisiún run by Don Meade. The owners and servers are so supportive and kind.
The Brazen Tavern — 356 W 44th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
What an amazing space. I love the room with the fireplace. It’s the perfect place to sit and chat. The food and drinks have always been fantastic. Brazen always has the best bartenders and servers. I love bringing friends here and then bumping into more friends. There have been many late nights filled with laughter.
Nams Nail Spa — 451 W 46th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I’ve been with them since the beginning. The owners are so personable. The staff is always so accommodating. They make you feel like a queen while you are there.
Birdland — 315 W44th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Love live music? Love jazz? This is the place to go. Birdland has a selection of performances nightly to suit anyone’s taste. The talented musicians that play here are top notch. Come for the jazz and bring an appetite, as their food is delicious and their cocktails are expertly made. It’s a great experience, from the time you are escorted in, to the end of the performance. It is one of my big recommendations when anyone asks what they should do while in the area.
MPHC — 482 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I love swimming and the MPHC pool is perfect for this. It’s kind of surreal to swim and look at all the skyscrapers. The staff is always friendly and courteous.
Beer Culture — 328 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
What a fun place. The beer choices are astounding. The bartenders are so knowledgeable. You describe the taste you are looking for, they will find the beer.
Hair 2 Stay — 328 W44th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Hair 2 Stay on 44th is my go to hair salon. While walking around the neighborhood one day I stumbled upon this little gem of a salon. All the stylists are professional, talented and fun. They do a beautiful job coloring, cutting and styling. They know exactly what your hair needs to look its best.
UT47 — 358 W47th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Hands down the best place to get a vegan grilled cheese on gluten-free bread, and tomato soup. Delicious.
Schmackary’s — 362 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
You can smell it down the block and it’s heavenly. Everything there is delicious. The vegan, gluten-free cookies are the real deal.
Piccinini Bros — 633 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
I am so glad Piccinini Brothers opened their butcher shop up for retail business. Their products are tastier and fresher than any other place I’ve purchased meat. They vacuum seal everything which makes it easy to store and keep fresh. The heritage turkey is a must for my Thanksgiving meal. Though I haven’t purchased the dry-age beef yet, it looks amazing. The staff is kind and helpful.
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.