Lena Grotticelli is a Senior Editor for TAG24.com. She has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for more than 10 years – and is happy to share some neat hacks for cut-price Broadway tickets. This is Lena’s West Side Story.

Lena Groticelli Times Square
Lena at an empty Times Square during the pandemic. Photo supplied.

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in New York on the East side but grew up outside in upstate New York and New Jersey. I’ve now been back and in my same Hell’s Kitchen apartment for just over 10 years, while traveling about half the time to Europe for both work and fun. 

I always think about moving out of New York City, or of heading across the water to live in Jersey for more space, but something about the city and neighborhood just won’t let me leave.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job in New York was teaching ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park. I then worked for Figure Skating in Harlem, a non-profit providing educational support and skating instruction to underserved girls in Harlem. I spent a lot of time working in NYC bars in/near the East Village and had a short stint at W42ST, the best publication in the Big Apple 😉 Now I’m a Senior Editor for TAG24.com, a news site for young readers. 

Lena Groticelli skating
Lena’s introduction to working in New York was through ice skating — and pulls on her skates wherever she is in the world. Photo supplied

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Favorite or most New York? My most memorable moment in New York by far has to be the time a cockroach crawled into my boot inside a subway car. A man looked deep in my eyes and said, “If I tell you something, will you promise not to freak out?” I thought he was about to tell me he was a time traveler or predict my future. Instead he said, “There’s a cockroach in your shoe. It beelined off the platform, into the train, and crawled directly inside your boot.” I calmly took shook it off on the crowded train, and he helped me stamp on it. Who said New Yorkers aren’t nice? 

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love its proximity to everything. It’s five or so minutes to any subway line that runs reliably day or night. Five minutes to Times Square, tourist attractions, and the center of the world. Five or so minutes to walk on the water. Five minutes (or less) to the world’s best theater and any cuisine of restaurant you could want. 

I also spent lots of time going to musical theater auditions, and Hell’s Kitchen was the absolute best location to be in. I could wake up with the sun to sign in and put my name on an audition list, then instead of waiting in a crowded holding room in Ripley Grier or Pearl Studios, come back to my apartment to get ready and warm up, then walk the 10 minutes back. I had so many theater friends who ended up doing the same, that my apartment became it’s own little holding room for musical theater auditions. 

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
My superpower is connecting different amazing humans together. My hidden talent is being able to name the 50 states in alphabetical order. 

What else should we know about you?
My absolute favorite moments that happen annually in Hell’s Kitchen are Pride Sunday and the 9th Avenue Food Festival. And my favorite daily moments are looking out my fire escape.

The best New York City hack is dollar pizza — and if you look, you can still find a slice for $1. There is a place in Hell’s Kitchen, on the SE corner of 42nd/9th Ave, where you can grab one if they still have them.

The other is that you never never have to pay full price for a Broadway ticket, ever. If you’re in Hell’s Kitchen, you can always walk up to the box office day-of for a discounted ticket and can always avoid online fees if buying in advance. It works out much cheaper than any online ticket deal. Also, nearly every show has a rush policy and its easy to get rush seats or win the lotteries when it’s not holiday time or school break. Only a very select few shows, that are super sold out or have a star lead performer, are outliers. 

Lena’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

All Seasons Body Work — 594 9th Avenue (bw W42/43rd St)
Every time you step foot inside, it’s such a “treat yourself” moment, and worth it. I’ve always had an above and beyond massage here. The price is super reasonable and they accommodate any type of massage or combination you could want. You can walk in anytime, and they’re open late. A great way to hit refresh on any week. 

North River Lobster Company — W41st Street and 12th Avenue
Does this count as Hell’s Kitchen if it’s on the water? Technically. This is my number one recommendation of what to do in New York, even though it’s a very “not New York” type of thing to do. It’s a short getaway, you see the city from a different viewpoint, the atmosphere is always relaxing and positive. It feels nice to make the effort to walk away from the bustle and to the water. Now, it even sails down past the Statue of Liberty on some sunset sailings, which is magical. I think it’s more worth it than a tourist boat as well, because it’s a floating bar, indoor/outdoor, and great seafood! 

Sushiva — 615 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
My favorite sushi in Hell’s Kitchen. Their “Sushi for two” (or Sashimi for two) comes in a huge sushi boat. It’s a fun and beautiful presentation, and you can’t beat the price for a dinner (let alone for sushi) for two people — and it’s such a large amount of food! Plus, they’re open late and you can always walk in. Fish is excellent and smooth as butter. 

At Nine Restaurant — 592 9th Avenue (bw W42/43rd St)
Cozy and small but beautiful light-up decor. If you’re a peanut or peanut sauce lover, you must try the @Nine dumplings — they melt in your mouth. 

Alfie’s — 800 9th Avenue (bw W53/54th St)
I’m always in search of a super dimly lit bar, and Alfie’s is the one I’ve found in Hell’s Kitchen that always hits the spot at night with the ambiance. They have nice cocktails, a great beer and food menu (the charcuterie board is huge!), and is a great meeting place for a group or with a friend. 

Himalayan Nails & Spa — 404 W47th Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I’ve always had such a relaxing pedicure here. They give you free wine with your service — what could be more relaxing than that? Also, they’re open later hours, which is great for after a late weekday work night. 

Rudy’s — 627 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
It’s just an absolute staple as far as dive bars go. I always tell tourists to hit up Rudy’s for a real and time-tested New York experience. The cheapest cheap beer in the city, plus a free hot dog with each drink. You can’t not talk to the people next to you at Rudy’s, and I usually end up meeting people both from the neighborhood and all over the world.

Beer and free hot dogs at Rudy’s. Photo supplied.

The Ritz Bar and Lounge — 369 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
The only reliable gay dance club in Hell’s Kitchen seven nights a week. When other gay bars are empty, there is always amazing music and a fun dance floor going inside the Ritz, no matter how many people inside. 

Bea — 403 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
The ambiance is very creative — black and white movies are projected on the brick walls, an indoor garden with trees, and it’s usually buzzing with people before or after showtime. Great for meeting for drinks or brunch. My friend had her wedding reception here and it made for such an unexpectedly great venue. 

Broadway Dance Center — 322 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
We are lucky enough to have one of the best dance studios in the whole world tucked right into Hell’s Kitchen. Just going inside to take a walk-thru or watch a class through the windows inside is thrilling. Even beginner classes are high level, and the talent is out of this world. 

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
My last Hell’s Kitchen Favorite “Place” would of course be W42ST! It’s so unique and vibrant, and I’m so grateful for the work you do to thread together the community. Thank you! 

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.

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