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HK (HELLS KITCHEN)

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With the demise of Food Bar, the scene for the gayest dining experience has, as in so much else these days, shifted north to Hell’s Kitchen. The iconically named HK embodies the grit-to-glam spirit of the neighborhood perfectly in its decor, cuisine, service staff, ambience and clientele. The restaurant’s website calls the corner of West 39th and Ninth Avenue as "tucked away in a subtler section of the city." Well, that’s one way to put it. Or, you could say that, until recently, you probably should have approached this part of town in a Sherman tank. But even this raw section of Hell’s Kitchen hard by the Lincoln Tunnel entrance has become tamed of late. Even with the demise of the lamented Siberia around the corner, the adjacent lounge, also called HK, has become a Mecca for the young, the hip and the beautiful. Alec Baldwin has eaten lunch here, according to Page Six. If that’ anointing it as a hotspot, I don’t know what will! But if you only turn the corner into the lounge without sampling the restaurant, you’re really missing something. As in the case of Food Bar, the place may be the ultimate gay hangout but--surprise, surprise!--the food is good. No, make that really good. Satisfying, wholesome, sophisticated and nutritious, the menu items range over the latest culinary trends while adding a dash of eclectic sophistication. If there are no ground-breakers here, there is something to interest even the most jaded palate. And, in a nice nod to the times, there’s plenty for serious vegetarians. Start, as you must, with cocktails. There are about 10 house specialties, although you get a mercifully real martini here, if, like me, you’re a traditionalist (gin, not vodka, and taste the vermouth, thank you). The waitstaff is prompt, efficient without being officious, courteous and cheerful. It’s easy to settle into one of the plush chairs of banquettes and enjoy. And since white is the dominant decorating motif, any colors will look good as well as standard-issue black. Lunch is available as well as dinner. Especially popular is the weekend brunch, which is hearty and satisfying. In clement months, you can sit outside and people watch. Yes, people watch. On 39th and Ninth. At times, I actually imagine I’m on Fire Island--not hard with so many good-looking men around. It’s not your older brother’s Hell’s Kitchen.
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