TheaterMania's Off-Broadway Walking Tours: Hell's Kitchen Edition
We show you where to eat and catch a show in the new theater district flourishing just steps from old Broadway.
Are you a Broadway fan looking to have your first off-Broadway experience? TheaterMania's walking tour of Midtown West (better known by locals as "Hell's Kitchen") is a good place to start. A longtime home to the best off-Broadway theater, it is enjoying a boom of new venues in its northwestern corner. Before we go there, let's start a little closer to Times Square.
If you walk just half a block from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, the westernmost of 45th Street's numerous Broadway theaters, you'll arrive off-Broadway at the Davenport Theatre. Located in a repurposed firehouse and named for Broadway producer Ken Davenport, it houses two stages: The ground floor mainstage and the smaller upstairs Loft, which was home for over a year to the surprise hit gay melodrama, Afterglow.
Continue past the cookie joint Schmackary's (a favorite indulgence in the theater community), and you'll arrive at Ninth Avenue, the breadbasket of the theater district.
If you want a decent pretheater meal that doesn't cost a fortune, you should be eating on Ninth Avenue. Take a left down Ninth and continue past the Westway Diner (a mainstay of the theater community).
Once you hit 43rd Street, look right and you'll see a banner for the current shows playing at the Westside Theatre. Another two-stage house, the Westside was the original home of The Vagina Monologues. Continue down Ninth Avenue one more block and take a right onto fabled 42nd Street.
The stretch of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues is the famous one, but far more theater is produced on the block between Ninth and 10th: The first thing you'll see as you proceed west is Theatre Row, a six-stage complex that hosts shows as disparate as Naked Boys Singing and the latest revival of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House.
Two doors down is Playwrights Horizons, a legendary off-Broadway company dedicated to new work that produced the original productions of Driving Miss Daisy and Sunday in the Park With George. Sandwiched between Playwrights and Theatre Row is Chez Josephine, a cozy French bistro founded by one of Josephine Baker's adopted sons, and a fabulous choice for prematinee brunch.
At the corner of 42nd and Dyer (a glorified off-ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel) is Stage 42, the theater formerly known as the Little Shubert. At 499 seats (just one shy of the requirement for Broadway), it is the largest off-Broadway house, and consequently, famously difficult to fill. Look for ticket deals here.
Cross Dyer and you'll run into the Pershing Square Signature Center: Opened in 2012 as a home for the playwright-centric Signature Theatre Company, this impressive complex features three stages (four if you count a convertible rehearsal studio), a bookstore, and a café. The upper level has recently become a popular meeting place for members of the theater community, so don't be surprised if you spot some of your favorite actors grabbing a coffee.
After leaving the Signature Center, you'll run into 10th Avenue, where you should take a right. For the first block, you'll be walking next to Manhattan Plaza, a residential tower that is home to several important actors, designers, and writers.
Continuing up 10th Avenue, you'll find more great places to eat, including popular Peruvian eatery Pio Pio (near the corner of 44th), Korean fried chicken joint Hell's Chicken (just past 45th), and reliably delicious Mexican diner Tulcingo Del Valle (just before you reach 47th).
If you take a right onto 46th Street, you'll find the Theatre at St. Clement's halfway down the block. This rental house operates inside a gay-friendly Episcopal Church — a regular home to Peccadillo Theatre Company and a great place to rediscover lost classics of American theater.
If you instead continue up 10th, you'll run into the area with the greatest concentration of new theaters in Manhattan.
The New Theater District
Take a left on 51st Street. Near the end of the block, you'll find the Irish Arts Center, a multidisciplinary space that features a small theater. It is currently embarking on a major construction project that will result in a new 200-seat theater that will extend the building over to 11th Avenue.
Circle around 11th Avenue and hang a right onto 52nd Street. You'll see a banner for the Ensemble Studio Theatre hanging over a door on the north side of the street. Located up a short flight of stairs, EST is one of the most daring companies off-Broadway, and its Youngblood program has helped launch the careers of playwrights Annie Baker, Qui Nguyen, and Lucy Thurber. This is the place to discover the next big voice in American theater.
If you walk back east toward 10th Avenue, you'll run into the neighborhood's newest addition: the two-stage Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. MCC has been producing some of the edgiest work off-Broadway since 1986 (most recently downtown at the Lucille Lortel Theatre), but this move into a permanent space represents an exciting turning point for the company.
Across the street is INTAR, a small company that has been producing the English work of Latino playwrights since 1966. Take a left onto 10th Avenue.
Back on 10th, you'll see the box office for the 52nd Street Project, a theater dedicated to plays for and by kids between the ages of nine and 18.
If you swing left around the wine store at the corner of 53rd and 10th, you'll see the entrance to A.R.T./New York Theatres, the two-year-old home of the Alliance of Resident Theatres. Housing two black box theaters, it proved to be one of the most flexible spaces in New York in 2017 when it transformed into a Korean pop music factory for the world premiere of the immersive musical KPOP.
KPOP was produced by Ars Nova, a company whose small permanent home (and the end of our tour) can be found a block up, on 54th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. While it was too small for KPOP, it was just right for the original production of another immersive musical, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812. The company has recently moved into the West Village's Greenwich House, but it's not giving up its hub on 54th Street, and with good reason: As more theaters spring up in Hell's Kitchen, it will increasingly be the destination for adventurous theatergoers.