Catie Savage has lived in New York for more than half of her life — with pretty much all of that time spent in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s best known as the neighborhood’s “Trash Queen”, leading her Litter Legion on regular cleanups. This is Catie’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I grew up in central New Jersey, just 35 miles outside the city, and regularly visited as a child to see Broadway shows or explore the museums. After graduating high school, I moved to the city to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. I spent my first year living in the dorms on W27th Street before moving to my first apartment at W36th Street & 9th Avenue, where I lived for eight-and-a-half years until moving up to W51st Street — where I currently reside. Last year I reached the turning point of having spent more than half my life in New York City and I’m proud that pretty much all of it has been as a resident of Hell’s Kitchen.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My very first job was working at Rag Shop, a now defunct chain fabric and craft stores, in my home town. I pretty much spent my entire paycheck buying fabric with our employee discount. In NYC, my first job was working as a cashier and tool department associate at the Home Depot on W23rd Street. That was a fun experience as many celebrities like Tim Gunn and B.D. Wong would visit the store. After a 15-year career crafting evening gowns for top names like Ralph Lauren, Naeem Khan and Marchesa, I made a career pivot during the pandemic to focus on sanitation and community advocacy. Currently, I have a few freelance gigs organizing cleanups for the Sanitation Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the Department of Sanitation, and doing waste audits for sustainability consulting firm Think Zero. You may have also read a few articles I wrote for W42ST!
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
There have been a lot over the years, but the day President Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election stands out. I was with fellow Litter Legion volunteers doing a cleanup on 10th Avenue and we suddenly heard lots of cheering from apartment windows and cars honking their horns. Many of us also began to receive notifications on our phone that alerted us to what all the fuss was about. People on the street were cheering and spreading the word to everyone walking by. It was one of those moments that reminds you of how connected New Yorkers are in a city that can often feel like everyone is in their own little bubble.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Hell’s Kitchen has it all. Amazing food and entertainment, access to all sorts of transportation options, walking distance to Hudson River Park and most importantly, residents that truly care about our community. I am forever grateful that I found my first apartment on W36th Street, or else I may have ended up on the Upper East Side where my grandparents used to live in a cold water flat before moving to New Jersey when my father was a child.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
My superpower is combating litter as the Trash Queen of Hell’s Kitchen! In the summer of 2020 I got tired of seeing all the litter accumulating on my block and decided to do something about it. After a few solo cleanups, I began to post on social media to see if others were interested in helping out. Here we are three years later and the Litter Legion is now an official non-profit organization that has collected over 10,000 lbs of litter from the streets and sidewalks of Hell’s Kitchen. We are always looking for more volunteers and you can sign up for our mailing list at www.litterlegion.org.
What else should we know about you?
Beyond leading the Litter Legion, I am co-chair of the HK49-54 Block Alliance with Steve Belida and a public member of CB4’s Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee. I am also a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady and share my apartment with 12-year old tabby Ziggy who has quite the social media following of his own. Sadly my other cat Chopper (8 years old) passed away from cancer in April, but she is forever immortalized in a 16×20 oil painting of her reclining on my couch that hangs in my living room surrounded by other cat art.
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Catie’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Jasper’s Taphouse — 761 9th Avenue (corner of W51st St)
My go-to spot for drinks with friends, dates and birthday happy hours. In the early days of the pandemic, I made a point to treat myself to lunch at their outdoor dining and even celebrated Thanksgiving 2020 there with my favorite meal — boneless buffalo wings, pretzel bites and a beer. That corner was also the long-time meeting spot for Litter Legion events before we moved to 10th Avenue. Graeme and the entire staff have been huge supporters of our efforts and frequently host our volunteers for happy hour.
Mama Mia 44SW — 621 9th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
This restaurant has become a favorite pre-Broadway spot when my mom comes for a visit. The fresh garlic bread with mozzarella is a MUST and you can’t go wrong with any of their pasta dishes.
Seguidilla Empanada — 465 W51st Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I was so excited when they moved in to the old falafel place across the street from me in March 2021. Not a big fan of falafel, but empanadas are my weakness! Adam and Zoralie (namesake of the iconic Zoralie’s just down the block) are there six days a week serving up delicious empanadas, sandwiches and now they have amazing $10-14 lunch specials with a rotating daily menu of delicious options. Family-owned & operated businesses like this are the life-blood of Hell’s Kitchen.
Happy Joy Chinese Food — 760 10th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
Everyone needs a reliable Chinese take-out spot! I’ve been going to Happy Joy for so long that as soon as I walk in they know my order and start getting it prepped for me – chicken and broccoli with brown rice!
Target — 615 10th Avenue (corner of W44th Street)
Having a Target in the neighborhood has been such a valuable addition! They have the cheapest grocery prices by far, great clothing selection and saved me the hassle of heading to Best Buy in Chelsea when I accidentally bumped my TV off its stand and cracked the screen. I sincerely hope they do not get driven out of the community by rampant retail theft like some of our other chain stores.
Tito Murphy’s — 346 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Great food and excellent cocktails! A lively atmosphere that is great for big groups. Former manager Amadeo was a big supporter of the Litter Legion, providing gift cards for our annual Earth Day Costume Contest and buying out our Amazon supply wishlist when we were still getting started. That torch has been passed to new manager Freddy who hosted our volunteers recently following a Happy Hour Cleanup.
Manhattan Community Boathouse — Hudson River Greenway
Last but certainly not least, free kayaking at Manhattan Community Boathouse should be on everyone’s to-do list for the summer! I’ve paddled at Pier 96 for over 10 years and after moving up to W51st was excited to be within walking distance of the boathouse. After visiting on a few consecutive weekends I was asked to volunteer and eventually worked my way up to being Treasurer of the Board. It is a great place to cool off in the summer, is staffed entirely by volunteers and funded solely by public donations!
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’m always out and about in the neighborhood — so if you see me, say hi! If you are interested in joining The Litter Legion’s volunteer cleanups please visit our website at www.litterlegion.org. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors and do something good for the community!
You can follow Litter Legion on Instagram @litter_nyc. 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.