Armen Ra On His Shocking Documentary, Favorite Nightlife Stories, & Theremin

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In this holiday-shortened week, with the spring pushing and pushing and pushing its way to free us from this winter of discontent, I am writing about the unusual suspects who toil or play in the clubs as they define their crafts. Yesterday it was FLXX. Today it’s Armen Ra, the master of the theremin. The theremin is a rare, eerie-sounding musical instrument, with its foremost astonishing trait explained by Armen in our interview below. Right now, Aremn is raising loot on Indiegogo for a theremin-infused feature documentary about his life: one of growing up in Iranian aristocracy and, after going on vacation in the United States, being forced to stay there due to the Iranian Revolution. A man from wealth and in exile, his story takes flight when he discovers the magic of the theremin and its effect on people. The fundraiser has six days left, and $4,000 to go to get the feature released.

Armen Ra is a well-known face and figure in the posh NY nightclub scene. His story is of ups and downs and all-arounds. It will shock and awe you. I asked him to tell me all about it
 
It’s been a long road. You are an exile,  being forced to leave Iran and live in a foreign land. Tell me about that transition.
That transition was a complete nightmare. I literally thought it was a nightmare for years. Coming from a sheltered aristocratic background, growing up in the opera, traveling the world yearly, submerged in music and art and literature. Being stuck here was like Gilligan’s Island from Hell. I started making jewelry, doing puppet shows with sets and costumes, learning about the power of beauty. We had been to the US several times already, but I didn’t speak any English. My mother and sister were fluent though, so they helped. I adapted quite fast in every way possible. I had to. It was a sudden survival, and I was unprepared at that age, but you figure things out when you have to.

Drugs, prostitution, alcohol, a zillion demons – not exactly the American dream. How’d you get out of that?
Divine intervention, self discipline, and believing in my own intelligence to eventually conquer the demons that were in reach. The light is always there. We are all light. The substance abuse was knocking holes in my aura, diminishing the light. It was not easy to get a regular job for someone like me at the time, especially when the club scene collapsed. Sometimes I had nowhere to sleep and was living in my friend’s multi-million dollar mansion. I worked at Patricia Field doing make-up, did reception at hair salons, drag shows, and whatever else I had to do to survive. I even worked at Show World in the old Times Square! Until I found a voice through the theremin, I was spiraling downward. I wanted to be great at something, and drag and clubs and doing make-up did not satisfy that urge, that quiet knowing that something else is in store, but what? A gift from the gods…waiting for me to open my eyes, to look up.

Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Vali Myers, Salvador Dali met you, checked you out… you guys rubbed shoulders.
Being in NYC at that time and living in the East Village, it was inevitable really. I’ve always been lucky in attracting interesting people, and I was just amazed that such incredible people and artists wanted me around. It wasn’t that I had low self-esteem; I was just coming out of years of school and abuse, so it was a fabulous shock. I tell the stories in the film. It really is like mythology, and thankfully its all documented and witnessed. Being 16 and spending hours a day with Vali Myers in her room at Hotel Chelsea with people like Ira Cohen,  Andy Warhol, and Debbie Harry coming and going was insane. Vali would constantly take Polaroids of me and send them to Dali. Befriending Leigh Bowery and Thierry Mugler, dancing with Grace Jones in the Limelight DJ booth,s itting on the floor of Frankie Knuckles’ DJ booth at the World… going to a tranny hooker club with Tim Burton and Francis Ford Copolla. Yes, really. Doing the 1999 MTV VMAs in the Madonna Drag Queens segment; I represented the frozen video, that’s a story! I COULD go on! 

The theremin. You have mastered it, and yet I’ve never heard of it.
The theremin is the first electronic instrument ever. Invented by Russian Physicist Leon Theremin around 1920, it is the only instrument that is played without touching, and one of the most difficult to play. Many people use it as a sound effect. I play it as a classical instrument and a voice. My theremin has an eight-octave range, so she is like the ultimate opera singer. She sounds like Maris Callas from beyond. The theremin was used in many sci-fi and horror movies in the background. I think it fell into obscurity because it was difficult to play properly and was not easily accessible. My intention is to bring this instrument to the foreground where it belongs. It has taken me all over the world and onto some of the greatest stages. The sound affects people, it brings out emotion, and touches the heart like a beautiful voice does.

What is the film about?
The film is channeling sadness and horror into beauty, and music is the alchemy. It’s about being clear enough to receive. We are in THE LAST WEEK of our Indigogo crowd-funding campaign. We’re asking anyone who is interested in seeing this fabulous film made properly to please help support us by making donations and/or especially spreading the word about the film and the campaign. We are working very hard to create a meaningful, beautiful, high-quality work of art. Any and all support is welcomed and much appreciated.

And thank you, Steve. You helped me when I first started working in clubs by believing in me and giving me work of all kinds, and you continue to support what I am doing. I really appreciate it. You’re a real gentleman.

When I Lived In Hotel Chelsea’s Penthouse & My Birthday On Saturday

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OMG! FYI, EVR – pronounced ever which is soooo clever or is it clvr – is wonderful. It’s that lounge on 39th street between 5th and 6th Ave. I DJd there last night for the early-evening sexy time. It was well-dressed adults mixing with the wonderful staff as I mixed my rock into disco and soul and funk and other fun genres. Everything is new and clean and state-of-the-art. It looks great. There are bold design decisions keeping the travel areas and service areas raw while the rest of the  place is completely done up. There is cool art everywhere – or is it evrywhr? Lots of my pals came and will again as they’re having me back. I hung out with industry stalwart Mikey Lights who showed me what all the bells and whistles do on the mixing board and CD players I use. OMG! I have a whole lot of new knobs to play with. After the gig, me and mine went to see Zero Dark Thirty in not-too-far-away Times Square. I think it should be renamed "Zero Dark Three," as the movie – except for the wonderful, obviously no-surprise ending – was a colossal bore. 

Everybody wants to know where I’m going to watch the Super Bowl and well…I’m not. I have never seen an entire football game and I’m not going to start now. I hear the major sports bars are sold out. I’m going to do something a little more my speed, like catch Joey Arias, the performer, diva… the legend at Joe’s Pub. This is week two of three, so get your act together and catch this act. Joey ruled at the now-shuttered Bar d’O for a decade. He performed with Bowie. He cavorted with Klaus Nomi. This week, he will be joined by Flotilla DeBarge. If all this doesn’t make any sense to you, then by all means pop some brews and watch the game.

Just wanted to mention the 130th birthday of the Hotel Chelsea. I spent my social Wonder Bread years at the old hotel. At one time I lived in the big penthouse, which was actually a house sitting on top of the hotel with a magnificent giant garden around it. I was told that Arthur C. Clark wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in my joint, and that John Garfield and John Wayne and a hundred others passed through. I don’t have enough space to mention the celebrities and bright lights that called it home. Friends lived and died there. For me, it was like a town that I could leave but was always welcome back to. Now, it’s all tangled up in real estate legalities and it isn’t the same and we…all New Yorkers, are a lot poorer and less fabulous for it.

Saturday is my 100th birthday or something like that. I will be celebrating…or something like that at the Mercury Lounge, where I will be amazed and amused and maybe even aroused by Guns N’ Hoses – which I am told is an all-female G N’ R tribute band. Afterward, I will paint the town red or just head straight to bed, after all, I’m old—er, or something like that.

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‘Boardwalk Empire”s Aleksa Palladino & Husband Devon Church Make Exitmusic

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When Aleksa Palladino landed the role of Angela Darmody—the New Jersey housewife with dreams of moving to Paris and becoming a painter—on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the 30-year-old actor, along with her husband and music partner, Devon Church, leapt at the chance to relocate from LA to Palladino’s hometown on the East Coast. “I grew up in New York, where my friend and I used to sneak into the Chelsea Hotel looking for the ghost of Sid Vicious,” she says. “One day, we roamed the halls and came across some blood. Screaming, we ran out and went to go see a movie to calm ourselves down. I remember watching Christian Slater in Untamed Heart, all the while sure that Sid was sitting next to me.”

In October, Palladino and Church, collectively known as Exitmusic, will release their second EP, From Silence, via Secretly Canadian. According to the pair, who first met aboard a train in Canada, they’ve finally hit their stride on the record, eschewing sappy love songs in favor of captivating tunes that fuse Palladino’s powerful vocals—her mom’s an opera singer—with Church’s virtuosic guitar playing. “We don’t write love songs because we’re right there together,” Church says. “There’s no pining, at least not for one another,” Palladino adds, alluding to larger themes of loss and regret on the album. “We have a very similar view of the world and humanity. The album is experimental, with ambient sounds mixed in, but it’s also got a definite sense of urgency.” This exigency, Palladino says, creeps into both her acting and her music. “There’s some revelation of me in both,” she says. “Although I’m speaking someone else’s words, it’s my experience that guides the character. With music I have more control over saying what I want to say directly.”

Richard Ashcroft On the Best Place to Drink in New York

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“When I was younger, I used to stay at the Chelsea Hotel,” says Richard Ashcroft, now 39. “You were required to have a wild time or you weren’t allowed to stay there. The corridors felt like you were in Angel Heart and William Burroughs might stumble out of a room at any moment.” Two decades have passed since the former Verve frontman first roamed those hallowed New York halls, and on “Third Eye,” a B-side from his fourth solo album, The United Nations of Sound, Ashcroft sings about a different place entirely.

“Let me take you there, to the rarified air of the Mandarin/ I got my beer in my hand, thinking ’bout my life plans.” You’d be forgiven for assuming that Ashcroft—who wrote the ballad “The Drugs Don’t Work” about his well-documented battle with substance abuse—was recalling a psychedelic night inside a giant piece of fruit. But then he continues: “Just sittin’ in the Mandarin, and watch ’em go in cirles/ Columbus circles.” It becomes apparent—especially if you’re a New Yorker—that Ashcroft’s Mandarin is actually the luxury hotel in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center overlooking Central Park, not a precious kind of orange. “I recommend for everybody to go and have one drink at that place,” Ashcroft says of the hotel’s bar. “I stayed there on my own, all night, and saw the sun rise over Central Park,” he says. “It’s the only manmade thing I’ve seen that feels like you’re looking at the ocean, because the concrete just stops at the edge of the park. The shadows and the way the light changes all of those buildings is absolutely incredible.”

A Walk Down Hotel Chelsea’s Lane

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What started out as a super hush-hush “for those in the know” affair is turning into something much more. Tonight, Jayne County and Kymara Happenings invite you to a “Modernist Party and a Happening.” This event will be the first use of the Ballroom at the Chelsea Hotel, 222 West 23rd street. To understand what I’m talking about, we have to start at the beginning, and since this is my column, it will start where I got on. I used to basically live at Max’s Kansas City. The bartenders knew my drink and the waitresses knew what I ate. I saw the same bands over and over again, and witnessed new ones that blew the socks off the New York scene.

Among the performers was Wayne County, with various backup musicians and in bands with various names. Wayne was legendary in the subculture that I was trying to infiltrate. She was all “Warhol-ed up,” and hung with people like Patti Smith and Jackie Curtis. She performed in hip plays at the ultra-hip La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, like Warhol’s “Pork,” and then in London. She got signed to Bowie’s record label. Some say that “Rebel, Rebel” was taken off one of her tracks. Although nothing was ever released on Bowie’s Mainman label, they did spend a couple hundred grand filming “Wayne at the Trucks,” which was never released. In 1976, she appeared in Amos Poe and Ivan Kral’s film “Blank Generation” just as punk started to really take form.

I didn’t know Wayne then. I didn’t travel in those circles. I was a “pay to get in” kind of guy. It was then that Wayne became known as Jayne, and my head tilted and I concluded “Why not?” That led to a thousand other questions that were also answered in “Why Nots?” I also blame—and thank—Joey Arias, Klaus Nomi, Chi Chi, and all sorts of creatures of the night who “corrected” my middle Queens way of looking at things. Of course, the opening up of my feeble, cloistered mind led to tons of fun, and tons of trouble. It was Max’s to CBGBs, and then to some deep dark rooms with girls with hair that could hurt me. Rinse and repeat. There are no regrets, except maybe Jeannie Lavullo, but that’s a story for another time. As I got deep into clubs I would often find myself in the same room as Jayne, and the scenesters that were the wheat in my club Wonderbread years.

In later years, when I was calling shots, she DJ’d for me, and she was always awesome. Professional, talented, well mannered, and above all, fun. Jayne County inspired me. There was a time, when I was first working the rooms, that I was preparing for an evening with the thought that my joint had to be able to impress Andy Warhol if he happened to show up. On the occasions that he did, I think I may have, possibly, in a little way, succeeded enough to be proud. Warhol and his art of living was a great goal for the artistic set that used to control the night. Jayne is royalty in that world.

Tonight Jayne will not be on hand, as she has suffered an injury that will keep her elsewhere. She will recover, but can’t put on dancing shoes for tonight’s event. Friends and fellow icons like Walter Steding, Donna Destry, and Joy Ryder will step up and perform along with Isis Vermouth.

The Ballroom at the Chelsea Hotel is located in what was Richard Bernstein’s—our dear, departed friend and former cover artist for Interview Magazine—old room. For those who don’t know: you make a left at the front desk. It’s a magnificent room with wood-carved crown moldings and paneling. They’ve borrowed a bit of the office behind the front desk, and have blown through some arch to make it larger. There will be an exhibit of Jayne’s art, which is for sale. I caught up with Kymara Happenings who, along with Milo Rock and Fernando Carpaneda, is presenting the affair. Kymara has been hosting “happenings” for over 25 years. Fernando is also showing his sculptures. Their last party at the venerable Hotel was in the old Bait and Tackle shop, which they gussied up with street art by Alex Kaminski. Once they did the whole thing in foil—a la the Silver Factory. Kymara told me how important it is to do “What we could have done back in the day.” I personally can’t do that, but will attend in force. She says “it’s important to support,” and I agree.

A SOLO PRESENTATION OF NEW SURREALIST CREATIONS BY JAYNE COUNTY WITH SCULPTURES BY FERNANDO CARPANEDA AND OUR STREETWEAR

THE BALLROOM HOTEL CHELSEA NEW YORK CITY

NYC: The Poetry Brothel’s Top Spots for Poets

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The Poetry Brothel, produced by The Poetry Society of New York, is a conceptual group that presents poets as characters—or “high courtesans,” as they say. The Brothel aims to take poetry outside the classroom and lecture hall and “place it in the lush interiors of a bordello.” Made up of a cast of “Whores” who put on innovative events staged to feel like the fin-de-siècle brothels in New Orleans and Paris, this band of poets strives to evoke the avant-garde movements and French Symbolists of the 19th century. The poets act as whores, calling their audience their “Johns” and, as you can imagine, the events are not your Mother’s poetry readings. Their next event isn’t until January 23rd at The Back Room (invite below), but the group has offered up a list of their favorite nightlife places where poets can bide their time until then. Here is the Poetry Brothel’s top places to live the poet’s life: places where poetry is inspired, where poets hang out, or maybe where one can find the ghosts poets past.

1) The Back Room – as much as we hate to plug our own venue (not really, we’re whores), Sunday nights at The Back Room are the best nights to meet poets, listen to poetry, talk about poetry, and be inspired to write poetry, because all those things are exactly what we at The Poetry Brothel aim to do.

2) The Brooklyn Bridge – I don’t know about you, but most of the poets I know are broke half the time. (See Mike Todd’s famous quote: “I’ve never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.”) Grab a flask of homemade absinthe, a moleskin journal, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; you’ll be seeing ghosts and writing poems in no time. If you’re feeling friendly, you’ll probably also run into a few Walt Whitman fanatics.

3) Goodbye Blue Monday – It’s a bar, coffee shop, art gallery, antique store, music venue, etc, with an artist-in-residence at all times. They have poetry readings most Friday nights (The Stain of Poetry) and some other nights throughout the week. The decor is as bizarre as the clientele, a mix of weirdo and beautiful poets, musicians and visual artists. Good times.

4) KGB Bar – Hosts literary readings almost every night throughout the week, and on Monday nights they’re always good. Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman started the Monday night reading series there back in the early 90’s, and since then, it’s become somewhat of a literary mecca. If you want to hear award-winning poets in an intimate setting, KGB is the place to do it. Get there early. It’s small and fills up fast.

5) Cafe Loup – On Tuesday and Wednesday nights particularly, Cafe Loup is the place to go to meet up-and-coming poets. Professors and students alike in MFA programs at the New School and NYU go there after class to drink and mingle with each other in a more informal setting. In addition, many of the major readings throughout the year (Best American Poetry, National Book Critics Circle Awards, National Book Award) take place at the New School Auditorium (which is a block away from Loup), and Cafe Loup is always the after-party destination.

Runners up include: Bowery Poetry Club Chelsea Hotel Battery Park City Raines Law Room Rose Live Music

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The Ghosts of Chelsea’s Past

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I disagree with that dude who said, “You can’t go home again,” because I did. I went home to the Chelsea Hotel and it was creepy and swell. A couple of social run-ins with Cameron Winklevoss got me out of BBurg to catch a late show of The Social Network in Chelsea. I am an avid Facebook fiend, and my stop-and-chats with Cameron made the movie a must see. It was grand. I still don’t know what really happened, but I’m satisfied that the flick got pretty close to all involved. There I was on 23rd Street, feeling no urge to go back to my home. So I decided to visit the Chelsea Hotel.

It was my former home, and often a home away from home when I was between apartments. Over the years I lived and loved there too many times to remember. The front desk greeted me like a returning neighbor and I took Amanda to the 2nd floor, where I spent so many years visiting my fabulous friend Venice and the late great Arthur Weinstein. I smelled the familiar pot as I climbed the stairs. It was always in the air when Arthur was around. It hit me like his ghost, as if he was the only one who ever smoked the stuff. Still, it was a surprise and unsettling. I showed Arthur’s photographs, stopped at the Roy Cohen, and told Amanda I’d tell her all about him. The tribute to photographer Marcia Resnick, from my long-gone pal, the artist Hiroya, still hung in its place on the stairwell. I checked out Interview magazine cover illustrator Richard Bernstein’s old pad and remembered Herbert Hunke as I passed by his room. Amanda and I hit the streets and I showed her the bronze plaque commemorating Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey when he used to occupy the penthouse that eventually became mine. I used to talk for hours with Dee Dee Ramone in front of that plaque.

Next door, a crowd that didn’t really appreciate where they were and probably never heard of any of the ghosts I just mentioned were celebrating the opening of The Chelsea Room. Bey and Giorgio cajoled me into stepping in to see the joint. It was alright inside, looked good, and the crowd wasn’t hard to look at, either. They were enjoying themselves. It was nice to see new life in the hotel made famous for the death of Sid’s Nancy and the aforementioned heroes. Dylan Thomas and Dee Dee would have loved the energy, and if not for this particular crowd, then the ones on another night. Ladyfag is doing Fridays and I hear my pal Viva is involved. I never know what to do on a Friday, so now I do.

The Chelsea Room was storage when I lived and played in the little town called the Chelsea Hotel. It was like a small town back then. Everybody knew everybody and there was lots of sugar being borrowed between neighbors. Every week new, hip tourists would arrive to occupy the half of the hotel kept open for them. They were new meat and they fed us all. I have many regrettable moments/memories from that era that I can’t remember very well. When Stanley Bard ran the joint with his son David, it was a land of enchantment. Poets and writers and club royalty and hookers and rockers and bon vivants were the denizens of the deep, downtown space. A Grace Jones or a Bowie or a Ginsburg or Burroughs would bop through the lobby on their way to some fabulous, uniquely appointed room for a rendezvous. Now, like the rest of New York, it is sanitized and safe. I hear Rene Ricard is still there and Suzanne Bartsch and a handful of others. April Barton is still cutting hair in Suite 303. Stanley wanted to turn the basement room into a literature-friendly coffee shop where Chelsea frequenters like Ethan Hawke could read and write and bring back that element of the ancient building’s past.

Alas, one gin mill after another occupied the room. None were very successful. For a bit, Serena’s was really nice, but in time it became a bit too serene. Star Room then came along and it was anything but stellar. Both battled location, but that’s not a problem anymore. Crowds have been educated to try new things in off-beat locations. The Chelsea, although not a typical spot for the a, b or even c crowds, is located centrally and is an easy cab from anywhere.

They gutted the room, took out silly walls, and exposed the ancient vaulted ceiling. Other than that it looks like they spent a buck fifty on design, not including sound. I could here the sound rumbling as I made my way back outside. It was hip-hop and house in what was always a rock hotel. I’d seen what they were selling before, many times over many years. It’s not a bad place. In fact, I recommend it to those who like that sort of thing. I just feel more comfy in the trenches. As a poet once said, “Seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go. Looking for the places only they would know.” My night still needs a bit more edge and I never look for it in a toot or a bottle. So I headed to White Noise, which is just seedy enough for me to relax.

Exile from Mulberry St.

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Did you miss me? I missed you. I have now realized fully that Brooklyn is not just a state of mind but an actual place, with a river between me and what I have always known as home. I still live in boxes and my computer is awaiting the services of the cable guy. I’m not good at moving, better at shaking. I have deigned to try writing from an internet café, but it’s going to be tough. Everything is vegan and soy and I was told by the nice man that the honey lavender corn muffin made with spelt is awesome. Today, as boxes are recycled and the normal chaos of my home life crawls out from under the piles of stuff, I return to write. Napolean leaving Elba is a fair comparison. I even learned a palindrome: “Able was I ere I saw Elba.”

Besides the moving, I’ve been doing things. I visited Michael Alig up in his joint where he is awaiting imminent news of his fate. He is hoping to move himself from his DJ booth-sized cell back to the street. He is sharp as can be. All who visit him for the first time are amazed at how aware he is of the real world. He reads everything and is preparing to enter the world 14 years after his crime, which summarized an era that went way bad long before the exclamation point of his murder. His remorse permeates every conversation as well it should. He is chomping at the bit, aching for the opportunity to redeem himself and repay a society he feels he owes big time. He wants to reconnect with friends who have forsaken him, tried to forget him, or have succeeded in doing so. Larry Seidler, who flew in from San Fran for the visit, united with your humble writer in trying to convince Mike to wade into the pool of his new life rather than jump off the diving board. A splash isn’t necessary. A period of adjustment, adaptation, and understanding surely is.

Promoters for the most part are driven by a need to be loved and accepted. Critics will say “and the money,” but that isn’t what drives them. The great ones could make millions in a million ways. They are charismatic, quick on their feet, and unstoppable. A great club promoter would be a great lawyer or ad man or banker. I have always believed that a big hole exists in all of them, that only love can fill. When I was the general, I looked for that hole when hiring captains and privates. Knowing how big that hole was and how to fill it was key to controlling them. Michael has the biggest hole I ever encountered. It is rarely filled these days—a visit, a letter, a care package. He will soon or eventually walk amongst us again. Visiting him, one becomes aware of the word rehabilitation. Michael is rehabilitate , remorseful and ready to do his part.

I have been invited to peruse the Chelsea Room, that basement boite at the Chelsea Hotel. I was first shown the joint by the legendary hotel’s former owner/operator/curator Stanley Bard. He envisioned it as a literary hangout/coffee shop/ bar/gathering place for artists and intellectuals. It has opened under a bunch of names, always catering to peeps who rarely if ever associated with the hotel. Bottles have been peddled with limited success and maybe that’s best. The crew inviting me are a real disconnect from my Chelsea Hotel. I guess that isn’t fair. The days of Dylan Thomas, Herbert Hunke, Arthur C. Clark, Dee Dee Ramone, Arthur Weinstein and the rest are gone, memorialized by some bronze plaques that are sometimes the focus of tourist cameras. The Chelsea Room was never part of that. It was a storage room, an afterthought. Jeff Krauss invited me down to look and so I will, as he is a really nice person.

Today’s piece will be short and sweet as I too need to wade back into things. I have been booked to do Halloween as a DJ. I will do the Saturday at the Hudson Hotel’s Library with my pal Paul Sevigny. In all the years I have known him I can’t recall DJing with him. Paul is very smart. The place has every room booked with great parties. I’ll tell you all about it after I settle in. On the Sunday, the actual Halloween night, I will DJ at the Standard Hollywood with my dear friend Christine Renee and a still to be determined guest. I was born out in Queens but I’ll represent Brooklyn.

Travel Dispatch: Inside Chinatown Club Shanghai, China’s Version of The Box

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As suspected, the entrance to Chinatown Club Shanghai is an unmarked door on a residential street, the de rigueur clandestine touch of all such speakeasy-themed establishments. I’m ushered into a dark theater adorned with red velvet drapes, candle-lit tables, and a cast of scantily-clad characters amping up the crowd, a mix of ex-pats and locals. As soon as I order a cocktail, the host, “Chinatown Charlie,” takes the stage. The lightly-choreographed dance pieces, one-act sketches, and self-aware camp transports me to post-Mao Shanghai, with Chinatown Dolls in corsets performing their hearts out to burlesque numbers.

The experience—Chinatown Club’s take of Hollywood’s take of pre-war Shanghai—is refreshing. It’s also a place for Shanghainese locals to get a taste of New York City as designed by Norman Gosney, who was responsible for burlesque institutions The Box and The Slipper Room. If you don’t know by now, Gosney is that guy who lived in the Chelsea Hotel for twenty-two years.

A former Buddhist temple, Chinatown Club Shanghai gets more lavish the higher you go. The second floor has private rooms with balcony seating; a swanky VIP area on the third floor with a private bar overlooks the stage. Considering Shanghai doesn’t have major attractions like Beijing (Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Great Wall), Chinatown Club is an adventure in itself… and all that jazz.

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