What’s Going On with the Chelsea Room?

The Hotel Chelsea won’t be reviving the spirit of any of its famous ghosts with the Chelsea Room, the lounge that’s just opened in the bowels of the infamous hotel. An after-dark destination since 1883, the hotel has seen Jimi Hendrix, O.Henry, and Tennessee Williams check in, and is famously haunted by Sid’s murdered girlfriend, Nancy. But the Chelsea Room is getting devoured by PR piranhas and promoters too soon, which seems to suggest that it may be dead in its tracks already. While the initial news that Surf Lodge’s Marcus Bifaro would be taking over the defunct Star Lounge was met with skepticism by the blogosphere (especially after it was reported that he would be taking the space “back to the early 1900s” with “exposed brick and barn wood from upstate”), I was hopeful for a spot that would do the beloved hotel some justice. Sadly, the subterranean lounge is now being promoted like a Times Square hotel during New Years Eve, announcing grand opening parties on a weekly basis and offering perks like “one hour free Champagne served by hot lingerie models.”

The first opening announcement I caught wind of was for Saturday, October 9th. As I trolled the Internet for party recaps and photos, I received another email from one Michael James of Epic Group Worldwide, which boasts the tagline, “Securing the Velvet Rope.” While searching for more information about said Group, I found yet another grand opening announcement from the kids at Sam n’ Jo, a company which essentially does mass email promotions. Their invite, which notes “Samnjo offers limo all night long to groups of Ladies (8-20 people) to go to the Chelsea Room from anywhere in Manhattan to please you” and “some of you may know this very arty venue,” was placed on sites like internations.org, Metromix, Model Mayhem, and Plancast. It was also promoted on Twitter by this guy.

It certainly doesn’t look like the Chelsea Room’s management cares about who’s showing up. Not that it should be an exclusive hang, but another lounge without a clear concept of what it is, with no plans to curate for the sake of ambiance, combined with the terribly cliche trend of slapping together some barn wood and exposed brick, scans like they’re just not trying here. Which is a shame.

But I could be wrong. To be honest, this comes as speculation, as I have yet to set foot in the new spot. But if it’s a soft opening, create buzz softly. On the upside, Ladyfag will be hosting a party this Friday called Clubber Down Disco, which might create buzz for her band of New York club kids hankering for a dose of house music, with help from resident DJ Honey Dijon and Jason the Black Teen Wolf. Also on the upside, a Yelper had this to say about her experience:

The Chelsea Hotel is a NYC landmark with a raucous rock and roll history. Creating a club/lounge out of the basement could easily disappoint diehards but this was plain fun, the old fashioned way. I look forward to watching it evolve and just hope they keep it simple.

Still, I fantasize about the Chelsea Room drawing the kind of crowd that has a bit of reverence for the ancient space, or at the very least, finding a proper promotions company that can take care of building a clientele, one that’s slightly more diverse than “hot lingerie models.”

The Borgata Breathes New Life into AC

I cant live without my AC during the summer, I just melt. I also need a fix of my other AC, Atlantic City, at least a couple of times a season. I’ve been enjoying Vegas on the Atlantic for decades. Every year, AC improves as it inches ever closer to some nirvana-like destiny, defined by the corporate entities that control the massive casino/hotel complexes, the banks that finance the whole affair, and the moods and quirks of the ancient beach town itself. Atlantic City has seen many ups and downs, and spent a lot of time sort of going sideways. Gone are the glory days, immortalized in Legend and Monopoly boards. There are reminders of these Traymore hotel days, and that horse jumping off the steel pier, and W.C. Fields entertaining tourists in beer gardens everywhere. There was that transition period underlined in Louis Malle’s art flick, Atlantic City, as gaming was to save it all. Bring back the action. The subsequent slow-growth era, where crime and general seediness stunted the modernization, lasted way too long. AC is notoriously slow on change.

Recently, the boardwalk—and its adjacent blocks—have been polished, and its urban demons banished to Pacific Avenue, or at least hidden during tourist hours. You can still seek and find the crack whores and the thug culture, but you no longer need to look over your shoulder while taking a stroll in warm ocean breezes at night.

The Borgata changed the game. Built off the beaten path in the Marina section, it tries to be all things to all visitors. It is such a self contained oasis of stimulation that it’s hard to visit the other AC—the one on the boardwalk. I had never stayed at the Borgata, and since they asked me to, I did. I ate in fine restaurants, saw Sting with a 50-piece orchestra, and sat poolside, chatting up super models. I saw celebrities in for the Seinfeld show while wandering around the casino, and hung with familiar faces at clubs that have improved remarkably since last year. The crowd, overall, is much improved—better dressed, and more fun than I remember.

I was taken through the complex by Greg Coyle, who basically books all of the entertainment. That’s clubs, bars, and small and medium size arenas. At every turn there was something fun to do. There are pools everywhere, and for all tastes. The staff is the biggest improvement. The turnover, over the last 5 to 7 years, has been minimal, with some restaurants boasting almost all of the same players since day 1. The result is great teamwork, and service. We were fine-dined at Izakaya, where manager Michael Laelli drowned us in lobster and Kobe beef, and brilliant edamame dumplings. We were then rushed to see Sting in very intimate surroundings

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While to me Sting has lost his sting over the years, the well-heeled crowd of about 2,500, sang along to every song. He had a full orchestra with him, which reduced his anthems to little more than elevator music, to my post-punk ears. I found the harp and all the violins just slightly less corny than the state of Iowa. His sanitized version of Roxanne lacked the subtleties and sexuality I remember. I prefer Eddie Murphy’s version at this point. It’s of little importance that I enjoyed this particular show. The fact is that you can see stadium acts, up close and personal, and there is always huge talent being showcased. Saturday night, Jerry Seinfeld ruled the roost. I saw ads for Stevie Nicks, Iggy, and so many more, that I’m thinking of getting a condo down there.

We enjoyed Bobby Flay’s steak so much that we almost couldn’t make it to Mixx and Mur Mur, the Borgata’s much-improved night spots. We waddled in and met “in house” PR siren, Noel Stevenson, who joined Greg Coyle and my merry band. Mixx has been redone. They added Marquee-style seating to help define the dance floor, and brought flying trusses and lights in to make the tall room more intimate. John Mayer sat at the table next to ours, and wandered around the place, mostly unnoticed. My gal saw him at the pool the next day. Although the Jersey shore crowd is evident, it isn’t at all dominant. The Borgata is now mostly Philadelphia money and New Yorkers. The Aces train has now been embraced. It’s a relaxing couple of hours in absolutely pleasant surroundings and company, from Penn Station to paradise. New Yorkers without cars no longer have to take uncomfortable buses to get there. On Sunday, after gorging on more lobster and Kobe beef at Michael Mina’s Seablue, we hit the pool for the after-party for super model Molly Sims’s trunk show. We sat with Molly and her crew, which included Richard Thomas, and his very preggers wife. Super Molly was super friendly as we chatted about her career, which has transitioned into design and acting. We raved about DJ Jesse Marco, who offered one fun track after another. She also loves DJ Mos. The Borgata’s stable of club DJs are familiar faces: Spyder from LA, Rachida and Dalton, or Eli Escobar, and, of course they often have Samantha Ronson down, and so many others we know.

We took day and night trips to the Chelsea Hotel to hang with NY marketing guru Josh Shames, and to breakfast at Tblinsky’s where Rachel, our favorite waitress ever, gave us AC tips, and fresh coffee. Borgata is marvelous. We even caught the Amish Outlaws doing fun covers at the Gypsy Bar. The balancing act that is AC is ever improving, ever changing.

The dormant Revel Hotel and Casino looms over the beach landscape, a 900 million dollar monument to new that is getting old, as it remains unfinished. It’s a skyscraper on the beach with no bank money available to energize the steel and glass into the dream it was meant to be. It defines the current AC view, which is freeze-framed between boom and bust. The Borgata and The Chelsea Hotel are thriving Meccas delivering charm, grace, fun and sophistication. When they were built, they seemed years ahead of their time, but no one envisioned this many years. The rest of AC wriggles to catch up. The Water Club, where we stayed, is the new Borgata offering. It is all things to all people. Still, as we cabbed from the beach to the Marina oasis, our driver dubbed the surrounding area Borghetto, and told us of its urban flaws. These days, you don’t see this sad side to the fairy tale unless you want to. You hear only of Jay-Z, or Sting, or last week’s trip by Lady GaGa. The Borgatta has outlawed the bad, and succeeds in making your stay great and safe. We are hundreds of thousands of Catherine the Greats pleasantly kept unaware of the peasants.

Borgata succeeds on every level. it is Vegas, near an ocean; it brings world-class acts and players to the decidedly un-worldly Jersey coast. It provides the meaning of success to a population confused by economic uncertainties. The Borgata continues to lead, while others have been swept away by the changing financial currents. I asked one of the DJs what they played, and was told ‘anything fun, people are here to have fun so it’s easy.’ Maybe that’s what is missing from NY nightlife. The ever-so-jaded crowds, unable to create their own fun because the unmonied, creative types have been banished to Brooklyn, want desperately to be entertained, and insist on having a type of fun as phony as the smile on the bottle model waitress’s puss. The Borgata delivers fun as if that wasn’t a novel concept. I cant wait to go back.

Where Celebs Go Out: Hugh Jackman, Parker Posey, Reshma Shetty

At the premiere of City Island:

● ANDY GARCIA – “In New York there are so many great restaurants. There’s an old one I’ve gone here for many years that I like to visit, just out of nostalgia. It’s a very good restaurant. It’s called Il Vagabondo. It has a bocce court in it. It’s just a very picturesque place; very, good food. Cipriani’s. There’s a new one called Nino’s. Scalinatella — a lot of Italian restaurants, you can tell. I always pop my head into Victor’s Cafe. And then, I’ve got to have a Gray’s Papaya hot dog here.” Any plans to visit Cuba? “Oh, I dream about visiting Cuba every day. But some people have to leave there first.” ● HUGH JACKMAN – “I’m a real junkie for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I love his cooking. I just went to his place up in The Mark, and I was lucky enough to go to his new restaurant down at ABC Carpet and Home — all organic, every ingredient’s within an 100-mile radius. The food is just unbelievable there, so … Any special dish? Chicken. He told me his secret: brine. You got to brine your chicken.” ● VERA WANG –“I like Morimoto, and I like Bar Masa, and I love the new Mark Hotel, and Sant Ambroeus, uptown and downtown, Mr. Chow’s. I go out to eat a lot — you can tell.”

● SANDRA BERNHARD – “I love Cookshop, which is downtown. I love BLT Fish, one of my favorite restaurants. Babbo. Of course, I love 2nd Avenue Deli. I’m very into trying to eat locally, sustainably grown food. I’m doing more and more cooking at home because of my daughter. And I’ve always eaten very balanced and healthy, but, to me, it’s about really preserving the environment, as well.” ● ZOE KRAVITZ –Five Leaves in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint. Delicious.” ● PARKER POSEY – “I’m trying to give a good recommendation for something. Mary’s Fish Camp.” ● DOMINIK GARCIA-LORIDO – “Oh, wow! I’m, like, so not a club person anymore. I’m pretty much a homebody. I live in L.A., so … I like more dive bars and chill spots where you can hear good music. I don’t like really sceney places. I don’t like where you have to dress up. I’m more, have a beer and chill; watch a game. I have to give a shout-out to the guy I work for, as a waitress. I still work there. It’s a lounge in Studio City, California, called Next Door Tapas. It’s attached to an Italian restaurant, La Loggia. It’s a really chill, tapas bar in the Valley. It’s got good drinks and good food.” ● STEVEN STRAIT –The Smile on Bond Street — really, really cool place; a little coffee shop that’s got great food, great coffee; really relaxed, cool place. I grew up here, but I don’t live here anymore. I love staying at the Chelsea Hotel. It’s got so much character; really, amazing history; inspiring place. It’s really kept to its roots. The city’s expanded around it. It’s really held firm. I appreciate that.” ● RESHMA SHETTY – “My favorite restaurant, at the moment, is Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. I love that place. Bar-wise, the Russian Vodka Room does a mean apple martini. And they have a fabulous happy hour: $5, 4-6.” ● GRAHAM PHILLIPS – “One thing that’s been fun is that I’ve noticed is that all the best pizzerias are in Brooklyn, and I used to never really go to Brooklyn, but now that the show [The Good Wife] films in Brooklyn, I’ve been going to all these pizzerias. I have a list on my phone. Someone sent it to me. I’ve just been trying to check ’em all off my list. Joe’s Pizza, Bleecker and Carmine, unbelievable! Di Fara, Brooklyn, Avenue J — I tried that. That was unbelievable! I also tried Grimaldi’s. And they were all unbelievable. They’re all in the same genre of this authentic New York pizza, but they all have their little twist to it.”