Hungry Hell’s Kitcheners, rejoice! The 9th Avenue International Food Festival — the oldest street food festival in New York — is returning on Saturday and Sunday May 14-15 after a two-year pandemic enforced hiatus.
Neighborhood businesses were heartened to hear of the festival’s revival. Robert Guarino, co-owner of Marseille, 5 Napkin Burger, and Nizza said: “The return of the 9th Avenue International Food Festival is fantastic news! This event is always one of the highlights of Spring in Hell’s Kitchen. Can’t Wait!”
The 9th Avenue Food Festival began in 1973 as a branch of the 9th Avenue Association, an organization dedicated to producing “quality events, and promotions, that generate business for all participants and foster a strong and unified sense of community” across Midtown West. Now, the festival organizer is Maribel Liberti. She told us in a 2014 interview: “I began in Hell’s Kitchen, as a vendor at the festival, with my company ‘Drown the Clown’ a ride and entertainment company. That was in the ’90s when the festival stretched beyond 42nd Street well into the ’30s,” she said. These days the streets are closed from W42nd Street up to W57th Street from 10am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Some local business owners cited logistical and financial difficulties that would prevent them from participating this year. Sean Hayden, partner in Jasper’s Taphouse & Kitchen and Alfie’s, told us: “Our places will not be participating this year, unfortunately. The last few festivals have not made sense financially for us. With the fees for the space, the Health Department/Fire Department/New York State Liquor Authority fines for any little thing and the chance you take with the weather, it’s just not worth it.” However, Hayden was quick to note that they were happy to hear that the festival would rise again. “It’s great the festival is back for its organizers and the community — also it’s a step closer to normality. Best of luck to all involved.”
While the festival has secured the city permits required to operate, it will have a few new challenges to contend with — the rise of outdoor dining sheds and their share of the streetscape, as well as the seemingly never-ending 9th Avenue construction could create hiccups for vendor setups.
The festival will bring together over 200 local vendors offering the requisite zeppole and arepa fare, in addition to treats from Hell’s Kitchen and NYC favorites like Empanada Mama, Poseidon Bakery, Gossip Bar, Bronx Brewery, Karl’s Balls, Black Tap, and more!
While you’re snacking, there’s live music and entertainment to be found along the avenue, including the entertainment corner at 9th Avenue and 55th Street where you can catch a variety of acts, from Celtic steppers to belly dancing. If you’re looking to entertain young festival goers, you’re in luck — a children’s pavilion at W53rd and W54th Street features bouncy castles and face painting stalls.
Long-time festival supporter, Jacqui Squatrigilia of Flaming Saddles, told us: “We cannot wait to sell Frito Pie, drinks, and dance for everyone! This is so exciting for Hell’s Kitchen! We are looking forward to the food festival as well as pushing good energy forward for 2022!”
If you are interested in being a vendor, Maribel and her team can be contacted at [email protected] or (212) 581-7029. Office hours are 3-9pm Monday through Friday. Office visits are by appointment only.