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Author Amy Fusselman has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for over 20 years and still marvels at the neighborhood’s versatility — “You can never predict what’s going to appear,” she says. This is Amy’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I came to New York from Boston to see whether or not I should get together with a former boyfriend. We had broken up but I was still talking to him constantly. The day after I moved here he got hit by a car while walking on the sidewalk on First Avenue and was in the hospital for six weeks. After he recovered, we could joke about the fact that the driver of the car was named Mr. Valentine. We ended up marrying and came to the West 30s in 2001, right before our first son was born. We’ve been here ever since.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job in New York was at the Brooklyn Public Library on Grand Army Plaza. I worked in publicity, writing press releases and the like. It was a beautiful building to work in and a great introduction to New York.
Now I’m an author. I recently published my fifth book, a comic novel about money called The Means. It will be out in paperback in July.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
There have been a million moments but here are two: the artist Maurizio Cattelan did a project at MoMA 20 years ago where he constructed a sports-mascot-type costume of Pablo Picasso. He needed people to run around the museum in it, greeting visitors like Mickey does at Disneyland. I did it one day. The head was huge and heavy and I could barely see out of it. It was like drunk driving around MoMA. One teen sniped at me, “Jackson Pollock’s got a big head!”
I also recently walked around the neighborhood looking for discarded bottles of pee with the filmmaker John Wilson, whose HBO Max show, How To with John Wilson is a must-see for any New Yorker. I am working on a profile about him for the summer issue of The Believer magazine.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
The area is just constantly surprising. You can never predict what’s going to appear. There was a period when there were three theaters on our block, and we’re not even in the Theater District. Then when our block was suffering in the pandemic, a lovely, flowery, cafe called The Parisian Tea Room miraculously opened. We also had a farmer’s market around the corner on 9th Avenue [Stile’s] that disappeared for, like, a decade. And then it came back in the exact same place!
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I make stellar banana chocolate chip muffins.
What else should we know about you?
I wrote a great nonfiction book about a playground in Tokyo where children play with fire. It’s called Savage Park.
read more west side stories
Amy’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen
Vito’s Ices and Slices — 464 9th Avenue (corner W36th St)
The vibes are very good at this place. The pizza and ices are excellent. John, the owner, is a total gem and has a sense of humor even when cars occasionally ding the flower boxes surrounding his outdoor dining area, which is not something you can say about every NYC restaurateur.
Nepenthes — 307 W38th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Nepenthes is a fashion boutique on West 38th, across the street from what is probably the grimiest Two Bros in Manhattan. Its two other locations are in London and Tokyo. I bought a T-shirt there emblazoned with the words, GARMENT DISTRICT. It’s the only T-shirt I have ever seen with those words on it.
Theaterlab — 357 W36th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Theater Lab is a really interesting theater space that’s always offering unusual programming. Orietta Crispino, who runs it, is also a performer. She is doing a one-woman show there called Let Me Cook For You in late April-May.
The Tank — 312 W36th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
The Tank is a great theater dedicated to putting on work by emerging artists. They also feature frequent sketch and improv shows. I basically stopped going to movies when I moved to New York because there is so much good theater nearby.
Masjid Awliya of Allah — 327 W36th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
This is a mosque that is located inside a food-cart parking lot. I do not practice any religion but when I walk by here and hear the call to prayer it is beautiful.
Kashmir 9 — 478 9th Avenue (bw W36/37th St)
My partner Frank and I call this place “Nice and Spicy” because there used to be a neon sign in the window that said that. The food here is Pakistani and is great and inexpensive.
Frank has started a tote bag line in our apartment called Horsebeast Bags. He makes them all by hand; they’re fantastic. Our living room is filled with sewing machines and fabric. When we first moved here we could hear the sewing machines from the manufacturer next door, so it’s kind of come full circle.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I read your newsletter every morning, Phil. Thanks for doing the work you do.
You can follow Amy on Instagram @amyfusselman. 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.
Stile’s is not quite in “the exact same place” as it was. It is a now about two or three storefronts north of its former location on that block. A welcome and regular stop for me.
Thanks for the Nepenthes tip. Hell’s Kitchen is the best!
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