Two Nights In The Chelsea Hotel

Sleaze Culture

The dark stained wood walls gave off the smell of decades of stale cigarette smoke. I looked forward to where the hallway ended in two steps up to a window 20 feet ahead. Was the old owner trying to give the usually impoverished artists who occupied this place a clue what to do once they gave him a painting or poem in lieu of rent?

The doorframe to room 632, my home for the next two days, was chewed, chipped and would only lock if pulled forward HARD. My closet was shaped like an isosceles triangle, with nails to hold up hangers under splintering shelves. The TV got enough reception for 8 channels, including HBO but nothing local. My sink, a 1920’s porcelain bowl with rusty knobs, was just low enough to allow me to use it as a urinal. I was sharing the bathroom with the rest of the hall and if you have to go at 4:40am whatcha gonna do? I sighed and smiled, dropping my bags on the white linen bed. Hopefully, I scared off any rats that might be under the mattress.

Welcome to the Chelsea Hotel.

Back in the early 1990’s, I was convinced the most romantic thing a couple could do was grab a bottle or several, find a cheap hotel and shack up for the weekend while ordering cheap Chinese to keep the energy level up. One lazy March Thursday, I grabbed my then girlfriend Wendy and proposed spend a long weekend in the Chelsea Hotel.

“That disgusting flea infested run down horrible place on 23rd Street? No,” she told me quite firmly. “Choose again.” Actually, I knew she’d never step foot in the joint. The only hotel I was EVER going to get my JAPPY girlfriend into was some swanky place in Midtown with three-star room service and I barely had enough money to get a cup of coffee from the Korean deli down the block. Thus ended downbeat urban romance with the first love of my life. Listening to Tom Waits “Downtown Train” in heavy rotation would have to suffice.

Even as the millennium wore on, the Chelsea Hotel remained the pinnacle of bohemian, artistic sleaze culture – at least in my mind. Ever since I went through my Dylan Thomas is the greatest poet ever phase in the fall/winter of 1988-89, I made a point to walk by the joint once a week, read the plaques of the great authors that lived (and died) in the hallowed halls of the Hotel Chelsea; my own personal Kaddish for those who lived fast, died young and left unclean underwear. It never occurred to me to just walk in and just rent a room for a night, even when I had a few bucks in my pocket.

By 2008, the Chelsea was re-invented itself as a classic New York boutique hotel place filled with a rich artistic history, minutes from everything a tourist might want to experience, not as the venue where Sid killed Nancy. So, as I planned my first visit back to my hometown from my sojourn in the Post Urban culture of Phoenix, Arizona, I decided to live out my fantasy sans brunette and stay in the Chelsea Hotel.

Wendy was wrong. The Chelsea isn’t flea infested – it’s centipede infested. Which is better than having to shake my shoes every morning in the desert to make sure there are no scorpions using them as a shady place, I suppose.

Unfortunately, the vaunted ghosts of the hotel never made an appearance. I even bought several cans of Guinness hoping to coax the spirit of Dylan Thomas out for a pint. At first I thought I needed to get a tap for a draught or perhaps some whisky. However it may be because the showers don’t seem to work properly so buying Scrubbing Bubbles for the tub becomes a necessity and your average hotel resident either can’t afford the can, is a modern grad student who wonders what the definition of American Letters is aside from the alphabet and is too broke buy Scrubbing Bubbles and beer, or is from Germany or France and believes the sweat from the 90 degree heat and 85% humidity can be covered up by perfume/cologne alone.

The next time I stay in the smoke and must filled Hotel Chelsea, I think I’ll try getting a pint or 12 from the White Horse and allow my wing tips to click loudly on the refinished black and white marble floors. Maybe I can get Dylan Thomas out to have a pint that way. That and spend the extra couple of bucks to get a room with a private bath.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments