December 27: The Chelsea Hotel

Chelsea-Hotel Nobody’s quite sure when in 1884 the Chelsea Hotel opened its doors, but it was on December 27, 1977 that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places; and since today is a fairly quiet day in history, and there’s a great drink named for the Chelsea, that seems like an acceptable reason to celebrate.

Why is the Chelsea important? Well, let me put it this way if you were ever young, artistic and living in New York there was probably a period of time when you listed the Chelsea as your home address. From the 1950s on, it was a hotbed of bohemians: Dylan Thomas spent his last days there, and eventually died in one of its rooms. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea. Andy Warhol’s Factory stars lived there. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe engaged in a creative partnership as roommates at the Chelsea. Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin had a one night stand at the hotel after meeting in its elevator (an event that Cohen memorialized in his song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2“).

Reading a list of the Chelsea’s most notable tenants is like reading a list of the most important names to shape 20th century American culture. The Museum of Modern Art’s collection features the work of many Chelsea alumni (Frida Khalo & Diego Rivera, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Claes Oldenburg, etc). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could fill a wing just dedicated to inductees who made extended stays at the hotel (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Iggy Pop, Dee Dee Ramone, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, etc). Not to mention the writers (Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams, etc), actors (Dennis Hopper, Elliot Gould, Jane Fonda, etc), comedians (Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg, etc) and at least one very important film director (Stanley Kubrick) who lived at the Chelsea for a portion of their lives.

You know that old cliche about “If these walls could talk, oh, the stories they would tell”? The Chelsea would have a full library of stories to share.

Now, I don’t know the origin of the Chelsea Hotel cocktail, but I’m sure that it was developed by some notable resident. It’s a neat little mix of gin, triple sec and lemon juice that’s kind of sharp, but quite tasty. I took a particular shine to these in my college days when I was trying to be bohemian.

Chelsea Hotel

  • 1 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 3/4 ounce Triple Sec
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: One of silent cinema’s most influential directors.

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