June 2012 - Ezy Reading:
Postcard From Hell
Evan Kanarakis


The old timer sitting beside me in McCoy’s says that a great deal has changed out there on 9th Avenue. The streets are safer, for a start, a far cry from the muggings and murders he lived among in this neighborhood years ago. Plenty of actors and musicians continue to reside here, and he claims, tongue in cheek, that on certain evenings, when the bustling traffic dims for a few precious moments, you can hear the chorus lines singing from Broadway, just a few blocks east.

There is still a good share of grit and grim around here, no doubt, but my tipsy barstool neighbor seems a bit peeved that the crazies, derelicts and thugs have increasingly been replaced by what he describes as a sea of “baby carriages, rainbow flags and wine snobs".

Gentrification has certainly changed the character of this place, no doubt. Increasingly, high-rise towers of glass and steel cast shadows down on the old brownstones and tree-lined streets that jut out west towards the West Side Highway. The bulk of Irish, Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants that once resided here and lived on in the ‘West Side Story’ collective memory of most Americans have long gone. And for the few weary, rent-stabilized hangers-on I’ve encountered in bars like McCoy’s, Port 41 or Rudy’s there are dozens more young professionals in suits discussing share prices or fresh-faced college grads with baseball caps on backwards chowing down on wings and sliders, or pretty girls in bright summer dresses browsing tapas menus. Heck, even to the south, the grim spectacle that surrounds the Port Authority Bus Terminal seems positively shiny and new compared to what it looked like in the 70’s and 80’s, though the torrent of gridlock, honking horns and automotive chaos that flow down 9th Avenue into the area during peak hour is as congested and horrid as ever.

But for a neighborhood that has, on evidence, changed so much, here at least, on this particular afternoon, and in this fine establishment called McCoy’s, it seems time has stood still. Hardworking, blue-collar folks file into the bar and talk news and sport with those elder, local sages who will happily fill them in on the entire contents of the day’s Post that they spent the previous three hours patiently poring over while sipping on a beer or three. They’re even good enough to extend a kind word to an interloper like myself, yet another new arrival from away who is also helping to crowd out the only part of the city they’ve ever called home.

In their eyes I’ll never be a local, but at least I had the good sense to take up residence in what they call the only part of Manhattan where real New Yorkers live.

It’s not hell. It’s Hell’s Kitchen.


Ezy Reading is out every month.