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What is the Hotel Chelsea?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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The saying, if these walls could talk, has never been so apt as when applied to the Hotel Chelsea. The Hotel Chelsea is famous the world over, particularly to artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Located at 222W 23rd Street, New York, it has been described as the last outpost for the bohemians.

Built in 1884 and originally opened as an apartment complex for families, it was the tallest building in New York at the time. It opened its doors as the Hotel Chelsea in 1905. The Chelsea seemed to have a magnetic force that brought in the creative and the weird. The guest list of residents at the Hotel Chelsea reads like a who’s who of the artistic elite.

Legendary writers are a staple at the Hotel Chelsea. Mark Twain, Nelson Algren, William Burroughs, Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas and Arthur Miller have all had stints at the Hotel Chelsea. Many great works of literature were written there as writers moved in and decided to stay, sometimes for years.

The Hotel Chelsea seemed to have an invisible draw and was extremely conducive to a creative atmosphere. Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many more came, worked, got naked, did drugs and partied at the Chelsea. The infamous, supposed murder of Nancy Spungen by Sid Vicious in room 100 only adds to the legendary mystique of the Chelsea. Apparently, for some reason, room 100 is no longer there.

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol’s crew moved into the Hotel Chelsea, bringing the transvestites and the flamboyant. There were stories about artists paying their rent with paintings. Although it is doubtful whether unknowns can still pay with paintings, the hotel still retains its anything goes atmosphere.

The walls of the Hotel Chelsea are lined with works of art, and artist David Combs can be found painting in the lobby most days. The Hotel Chelsea is said to bring out a community atmosphere in its residents. It’s as if you are living in the creative center of the world and the history just seeps into your soul.

There have been many books written about the Hotel Chelsea. The Internet is awash with stories about the goings on and wild parties that have occurred there. Anyone who has ever stayed there seems to have ridden the elevator with at least one famous guest, most likely Ethan Hawke. In recent years, Hawke has been a regular at the hotel. He also directed a film there called Chelsea Walls.

Staying at the Hotel Chelsea is a not to be missed experience if you are visiting New York. It may not have the largest of rooms, but it does have the atmosphere of something special. The Hotel Chelsea is still home to writers, actors and artists, and if they can pay the bill, the waifs and strays are still welcomed as well.

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