With its deep maroon paint job, black gables, chimneys, and ornate cast-iron balconies, the Chelsea Hotel (222 W. 23rd St., between 7th and 8th Aves., 212/243-3700) is a West Side landmark. One of New York City’s first cooperative apartment buildings when it opened in 1884, the Chelsea became a hotel in 1905 and almost immediately began attracting writers, many of whom took up residence.
Plaques at the door honor Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, Brendan Behan, Arthur Miller, and Mark Twain. Others who’ve lived here include Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary McCarthy, and Nelson Algren. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here. William S. Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch here.
The hotel has also attracted an extraordinary number of actors, painters, photographers, musicians, and film producers over the years, among them Sarah Bernhardt, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Jane Fonda, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Milos Forman. Andy Warhol filmed part of his movie Chelsea Girls here. Musician Virgil Thompson lived on the 9th floor for over 40 years.
In the late 1960s, the Chelsea became a favorite stopover for rock stars passing through town, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Mamas and the Papas, Leonard Cohen, and Patti Smith. Bob Dylan wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” while staying at the Chelsea.
The hotel’s most notorious residents were Sid Vicious, lead singer for the Sex Pistols, and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. The two were living here in 1978 when Nancy was found in her negligee beneath the bathroom sink, stabbed to death with a hunting knife. Vicious was indicted for the murder but died of a heroin overdose before he could stand trial. The hotel has since gotten rid of Room 100, where the murder was committed.
Artists, tourists, and well-heeled pseudo-bohemians still live and stay at the Chelsea, whose lobby is hung floor-to-ceiling with artwork by present and former tenants. The rooms are relatively big and reasonably priced, but the place is well worn and without amenities.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition