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Dear Ms. Demeanor,
The cooking smells that emanate from my neighbor's apartment and into the common hallway are not to be believed. You would think that she is a female Hannibal Lector preparing human flesh for consumption. It smells like something or someone is dying a slow death in there. It is so bad I am embarrassed to have people over to my apartment because everyone practically gags when they get off the elevator.
Choking in Cobble Hill
Bad hallway cooking smells are the herpes of apartment living - they can be torturous, difficult to remedy, and pop up just when you think they are gone.
On the other hand, some hallway smells, even if initially somewhat objectionable, can bring back nice memories. I will always associate the smell of mildew and chicken soup with my grandmother's apartment building in Miami Beach... and what is better than a waft of oven-roasted turkey when you come off the elevator at Thanksgiving?
Is there a pattern to the smell(s)? Is it every day or only on the weekends? Breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three? If we are only talking about a couple of times a week and the smell doesn't invade your actual apartment, just let it go and forewarn your guests.
If things are truly as bad as you perceive them to be, you might start with approaching your neighbor: "So you sure do a lot of cooking? How is the ventilation in your place?" This can start a conversation where you can find out what it is she is cooking and why (macrobiotic diet because she is a huge Gwynneth Paltrow fan?). You can mention that the smells are occasionally strong (so strong it's making you hungry, perhaps?) and would she mind terribly opening a window, or perhaps simmering a cinnamon stick in a pot the next time she is cooking, some would say with lemon juice (my mom is big proponent of this method). Simmering celery is supposed to work as well but I can't vouch for this one personally.
If she is resistant or offended or both, check with other neighbors for their thoughts on the smell and/or complain to the management company or landlord. A private smell that's invading a common space so may warrant door sweeps, either a simple wood shoe molding or a metal strip (advisable regardless a measure against vermin), improved ventilation in common spaces, and possibly more frequent cleaning of the space (for example, vacuuming carpet with baking soda can absorb odors that would otherwise linger in fabric).
Off to prepare some gefilte fish and cabbage rolls (just kidding - I cater),
Ms. Demeanor is channeled by a longtime Manhattan vertical dweller and real-estate voyeur who writes under the pen name Jamie Lauren Sutton. She is here to commiserate, calm and correct. Please email your quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Dear Ms. Demeanor" in the subject line.