The Ghosts of Chelsea’s Past

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.

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