The Last Bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel

Via Gothamist

The Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street is an icon of NYC’s rich bohemian culture. If there was ever a building in NYC whose walls you wish could talk, the Chelsea would be on that very short list. The hotel dates back to the late 1800s, however its legend grew during the 1960s and 70s when writers, poets, (Allen Ginsburg) musicians and authors of all shapes and colors hung out there (Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there), lived there (Sid and Nancy of the Sex Pistols. Nancy died there.), and died there (Dylan Thomas got sick while living there and died soon after at a local hospital) – an avant-garde melting pot of lower Manhattan.

Today, the Chelsea is a mess as it goes through an endless “renovation” (since 2011) that is being driven by some vacant hotel company that is slowly chipping away another piece of NYC’s unique tapestry. Even with all these changes, there are still many people who are long term tenants of the Chelsea, as profiled in a nice piece at Gothamist, and they are doing their best to keep the legend alive.

In its glory days, under the management of Stanley Bard (beloved by tenants, and son to David, one of the original 1939 owners), the Hotel Chelsea was a hub of activity, a bohemian palace for the city’s creatives, wanderers, and anyone who found themselves here in search of a New York City they saw through the works of Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, William S. Burroughs, and Patti Smith. Bard, who was ousted in 2007 and died in 2017, fostered a community in the building, something he once told Gothamist he regarded as a “Mutual Appreciation Society.” He preserved this and protected it fiercely while the place was under his stewardship, but it quickly diminished once he was gone.

These days, only about 50 residents remain, all protected by rent stabilization laws, and some of whom were originally assigned their room by Bard himself. Some of these last remaining holdouts are now the subject of a new coffee table book from Ray Mock and photographer Colin Miller, called Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven (click through the above photos for a look).

Jen Carlson, Gothamist

The article has some great photos of several unique apartments that just bleed with a vibe that has long past. The one redeeming factor is that these long term tenants (about 50 of them) are protected by the NYC rent stabilization laws. So amongst all the construction and change at the Chelsea, behind those apartment doors are time capsules of the unique, edgy times that made the Chelsea legend.

When Vintage Became Cool

Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Throughout all the big fashion forward cities around the world such as London, Paris, San Francisco, and New York, vintage clothing stores are a staple of inspiration and innovation. Back in the 1960s, an epicenter of vintage clothing stores was on St. Mark’s place in NYC, and the store that led the way was Limbo, which opened in 1967 and hung around until 1975.

Part of the 1960s cultural rebellion, then, involved calculated grubbiness. Teenagers allowed tangles in their hair and old, frayed clothing on their bodies. They picked up old chairs on the street and bought worn-in jeans. This lifestyle was environmentally friendly, it was cheap, and it scandalized adults win, win, win. The trend peaked in New York in the late 1960s, and the flagship store was a place called Limbo.

Through the years, St. Marks Place has continued to hold on to its gritty and bohemian roots yet as Manhattan continues is march towards becoming the Mall of America, the ability for vintage clothing stores to survive sky high rents becomes a challenge. However, what is far more interesting is how with the passing of time, the mantra “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is becoming a stark reality in the vintage trade.

As Laver’s Law says, the clothes from about 30 years prior amuse us the most. What’s not the same is that in the 1960s, 1930s clothes were unique and made from high-quality materials; in the 2010s, 1990s clothes are, like, Express baby doll dresses. The higher-quality old stuff is in shorter supply, and so it’s become more precious and much more expensive. To a dance once in junior high school, I wore a perfect-condition 1950s pink tulle party dress, purchased on or near St. Marks for, as I recall, $5. I just looked on eBay for something similar; the price point was around $125.

So keep a hold of those old, vintage threads from the 1950s and 60s. They are becoming rare and highly sought after!

Photo Credit – Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images via The Cut

Bohemian Rhapsody

Clayton Patterson has lived in the Lower East Side of NYC for the past 35 years and has run his Clayton Gallery over that same period of time. He created the Tattoo Society of NYC. He was the one who recorded all the mayhem during the Tomkin’s Square Park riots of 1988 – something that was not at all commonplace in the era before mobile technology. He is the epitome of what people describe as a ‘downtown bohemian’ from the hey day of downtown NYC scene in the 1970s. He was and is an agent of the underground creative scene that made downtown NYC, well, downtown NYC. But the NYC he once knew and loved has disappeared and he has recently decided to move to (of all places) Austria:

If the notion of a New York fixture like Mr. Patterson moving to a chalet in the Alps struck some in his circle as unfathomably strange, it nonetheless possessed a certain logic. There exists in Bad Ischl (Austria), Mr. Patterson contends, a creative community of artists, writers, tattoo designers and musicians that “is very much alive.”? Then, too, he happens to be big in Austria, unlike in New York. “They love me over there”? he said. “They think of me as America’s No. 1 underground photographer.”?

Still, as the news of his retreat leaked out, the downtown avant-garde shuddered with amazement and despair. Clayton is the neighborhood, or what’s left of it,” said Ron Kolm, a poet, editor and bookseller who once worked at the Strand with Patti Smith. “I guess I always figured that he’d be the last one standing, surrounded by tall buildings. This really is the end of an era.”?

CBGB goes away. Grey’s Papaya goes away. The Knitting Factory goes away. The story goes on and on. Yes, nothing lasts forever but maybe it is true that the real downtown vibe of NYC has also moved to Brooklyn.


An article from yesterday’s NY Times titled Comfort From the Cold Winds about the one and only McSorley’s brought a little tear to my eye. It also reminded me that I need to get back there soon. It has been way way too long, my old Irish friend.

Beyond the greatness of the bar, it’s beer, and it’s unrivaled atmosphere, McSorley’s great little secret has always been it’s food. After several lights or darks with your oldest drinking buddies (or the newest ones you just met after being thrust down at one of those scarred wooden tables), bellying up for the McSorley’s burger & steak fries would make the same meal at Five Guys or Smashburger seem downright partisan. I’m not saying it’s the greatest meal you will ever have, but paired with the atmosphere, it is tough to beat.

Whenever I knew there was a “McSorley’s Virgin” in the mix, I would always push the Mustard and Saltines hard. The presentation of the Mustard was always something to behold. It was just slopped into a extra beer mug, filled halfway, with a flat wooden spoon and crusted mustard on the lip of the mug. Hardly sanitary but it just fits so well sitting there in the middle of the ancient, spilled upon wooden table. Having the mustard for the first time was a true initiation into the wonder and old time history of the bar, as the article so eloquently puts it:

Go easy with that tub of yellow mustard. It’s full of Colman’s, and a heaping spoonful of this British staple can unleash a saloon brawl on your tongue.

One last McSorley’s memory to share: I was there many moons ago with several friends from my undergraduate days at Syracuse. I think that visit to McSorley’s was part of a bachelor party. As can only be done at McSorley’s, we ended up sharing a table with some intimidating looking, leather clad bikers. Several fists full of lights and darks later, one friend of mine was going toe to toe in a drinking contest with the biker dude introduced to us as “Porkchop”. It was just a beautiful scene.

Biking Patterns

The New Yorker has a really cool interactive visual showing movements of folks using Citibikes through the months of June/July. It is a really interesting view into how people are using these much talked about additions to the NYC landscape. From the New Yorker’s quick analysis of the data:

A commuting pattern first emerged in our data on Tuesday, June 11th, when bikers travelled to a central corridor, which begins in midtown Manhattan and moves south, through the Flatiron District and down to the Financial District…Temperatures and precipitation also influence bike use, so the map displays weather information alongside bike movement…On weekends, the commutes are replaced by patternless, recreational movement, in which bikers meander around the city.

via The New Yorker

2nd Avenue Subway

A pretty awesome compilation of photos (including the one above) from NYC’s MTA and their official photographer Patrick Cashin (I wonder if he’s related to Wall Street ‘soundbyte’ legend Art Cashin).

The 2nd Avenue Subway line is a project that actually goes back some 90 years but has been rife with delays and issues. Finally, the city is making some serious progress on the project. For anyone who has taken a ride on the 4-5-6 Lexington Ave. line during rush hour, the 2nd Avenue line can’t come soon enough.

Times Square Photoshopped

I was listening to Leo Laporte’s iPad Today on his TWIT network and during the most recent episode (#82) of the show, he and Sarah Lane walked through MacWorld. One of the people they met up with was Bert Monroy, who is a prolific Photoshop artist. One of the pieces of art he did was the above featured Times Square, which is jaw dropping. The actual artwork is 5 feet high by 25 feet wide, its file size is 6.5 Gigabytes, it used over half a million Photoshop layers and it took over 4 years to complete!!

New York City Day to Night

Super cool photo set depicting New York City moving from Day to Night in one photo. Basically, the photographer took a huge set of photos from the same position over the course of a day and then layered them together to show the transition. The above one of the Flatiron Building is one of my favorites since the building itself is a natural divider between day and night.

Via Amusing Planet

The Dust Is Gone

The “clean” wishbones hanging at McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, NYC

On a quiet April morning this past weekend, a sad event took place at the legendary McSorley’s Old Ale House. If you have been to McSorley’s down in the East Village, you may have noticed the chandelier above the beer taps…you know, the one that had inches of dust on it and numerous wishbones, also caked with layers of dust accumulated over the years.  You know you were always curious but didn’t dare go near them. It wasn’t the most appetizing sight, but it was part of the charm and legend of this old ale house. Well, this past weekend the NYC Health Department forced the hand of the proprietor of McSorley’s:

So, with heavy heart, the proprietor, Matthew Maher, 70, climbed up a small ladder. With curatorial care, he took down the two-dozen dust-cocooned wishbones dangling on an old gas lamp above the storied bar counter. He removed the clouds of gray from each bone. Then he placed every one of the bones, save for those that crumbled at his touch, back onto the gas lamp, where, in the context of this dark and wonderful establishment, they are not merely the scrap remains of poultry, but holy relics

NY Times

So the dust is gone, but the wishbones remain. Mr. Maher treated the dust with reverence, placing it all in a bag and taking it home with him to archive it as another relic of the McSorley’s legacy. But again, on a broader scale, a tiny bit of the story and uniqueness of NYC has been taken away.

Photo via NY Times

Audio History

As stunning as it may seem, we are in the 10th anniversary year of Sept. 11, 2001. And as part of the acknowledgement of this somber anniversary, Brooklyn startup Broadcastr will partner with the National Sept 11 Memorial Museum to publish an audio history of that fateful day:

As part of Broadcastr’s debut next month, it will host over 2,000 interviews with eye witnesses and first responders about their experiences on September 11th, 2001. About a week after the site goes public, Broadcastr will offer both iPhone and Android versions of an app that will be able to associate geolocation data with uploaded stories.

via swtched

Googleheim Museum

Google is taking its popular site YouTube to NYC’s Guggenheim Museum. The search company will set up shop in the Guggenheim’s main atrium with all sorts of TV and video displays promoting the finalists from a recent promotion they ran.

The exhibition, set for October, will showcase videos from as many as 20 finalists of YouTube Play, a contest for graphic artists and users of Googles GOOG video site. A celebrity jury that includes Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami and The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky will wade through about 200 videos whittled down from thousands submitted in July.

The goal of this initiative is to try to re-position YouTube as a site/service that can cater to a more upscale, arts driven clientele and move it beyond the perception that its content is, er, lowbrow.

Ruins of Colonnade Row

Back in the day, Colonnade Row was a top address for the guilded age wealthy of NYC. However, in the infinite wisdom of other NYC real estate moves, John Wannamaker tore down five of the facades of this beautiful architectural landmark to put up one of his warehouses. And since that infamous decision, the fate of these ruins have remained a mystery. That is, unless you went to the Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ:

In the 1890s the Philadelphia dry goods magnate John Wanamaker, who had taken over the old A. T. Stewart store on Broadway and Eighth Street, acquired the southerly five houses of Colonnade Row. In 1902, or perhaps 1903, he demolished his properties.

Two decades later, Delbarton, the country house of the banker Luther Kountze in Morristown, N.J., came to be owned by a Benedictine monastery, St. Mary’s Abbey, which also operates the Delbarton School.

Generations of students wandered into the woods for nonacademic purposes, encountering a mysterious group of tumbled Corinthian capitals, column drums, wreaths and cornices that came to be known as the Lost City.

The archivist of Delbarton was always curious about these ruins in the forest behind the school, and it was a recent and amazingly simple Google search that solved the mystery.

In a chance encounter with a garden designer, Marta McDowell of Chatham, N.J., Father Benet mentioned his continuing quest. Within a day or two, he recalls, she had typed into Google the search string ‘wanamaker Corinthian demolition’ raising a March 2008 article in Period Homes magazine by the classical architect Thomas Gordon Smith on the surviving houses of Colonnade Row “with images that match exactly the pieces of Delbarton’s Lost City.” Bingo.

As it happens Mr. Smith, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, has for years been studying Colonnade Row, making measured drawings of the surviving houses and interiors. He used them as an inspiration in designing the 2007 Classical Galleries in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When he learned of the Delbarton trove, he was in Morristown in a week, like an Egyptologist who has found out that there is another chamber in King Tut’s Tomb.

Doing a simple search on Google today yields a Flickr Photo Set from May of this year that also connects these dots, so while this mystery is profiled in the NY Times today, it’s really been in the public domain for about 4 months now.

Old Colonnade Row Photo courtesy Curator of Shit