Thursday, March 16, 2023

Return of the Chelsea Hotel


Has anyone checked out the new (and presumably improved) Chelsea Hotel? For years we've been hearing about a "luxury reboot" that was often in limbo, but it seems it's really up and running now, if Sandra Bernhard is to be believed. I haven't spent much time there since the Blondie photo exhibition celebrating the band's 40th anniversary back in 2014, so I'm overdue for a visit. 

My favorite thing about the place has always been El Quijote restaurant. According to The Wall Street Journal, the famously bohemian hangout -- an old haunt of Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol and countless others -- is back and timelessly intact -- but now the sangria is top shelf. (Shocker.) 

Keep reading BELOW.

In the 1930s, exiles from the Spanish Civil War, living in New York, leased the Hotel Chelsea Restaurant, an eatery inside the decades-old apartment-hotel and artists’ cooperative on 23rd Street. They renamed the space after Don Quixote, a nod to the hotel’s literary cachet and created a fantasy shrine to their homeland. Highlights: a mural of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional hero tilting at windmills, paintings of bullfighters and flamenco dancers, and private dining rooms including one named after Cervantes himself. The 200-seat El Quijote also had a door next to the Chelsea’s lobby, luring guests like Arthur Miller and Dylan Thomas with hearty portions of Spanish fare served by waiters in scarlet blazers.  
The 1960s ushered in the restaurant’s real heyday, when then-unknowns Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe could settle into a red-vinyl booth, subsist on cheap appetizers-- “shrimp in green sauce” was a favorite -- and rub shoulders with Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol and other notables. (As Ms. Smith recalls in her first memoir, “Just Kids,” the pair would turn the lobster tails left over from their repasts into necklaces for sale, an enterprising example of “found art.”) 
El Quijote remained a neighborhood favorite into the 21st century, despite its slide from shabby-chic to merely shabby, its linoleum floors and vinyl booths fraying, the statuettes of the Man of La Mancha over the bar coated in dust.
Ripples of concern ran through nostalgic bohemian circles when El Quijote closed for refurbishment in 2018. But when it reopened last March, following the reopening of the revived Hotel Chelsea itself, fans found its essence preserved and distilled. 

Diners still enter from 23rd Street beneath the original yellow metal awning and a neon sign. Although the sprawling restaurant has been reduced to a more intimate 45 seats (with 16 stools at the bar and 55 seats outside for seasonal dining) and only one private dining room, its spirit endures. The wooden bar still houses an array of Spanish tchotchkes and lobster-engraved mirrors. The red vinyl booths have been reupholstered, but the chandeliers, distressed ceiling and pastoral paintings are intact. Waiters still wear red, but sport snappy cotton jackets instead of formal blazers. The Don Quixote mural has been restored to its muddy glory and a wooden statue of the novel’s hero still greets hotel guests coming in from the lobby. 

Among the most noticeable changes: The multipage menu of yore has been reduced to a single page with more contemporary (and pricier) Spanish dishes. The signature paella de mariscos is now cooked in a traditional Spanish pan rather than a pot. Once basic brews, the red and white sangrias are elaborate multi-ingredient concoctions, while the Quijote G+T is garnished with shavings of celery and pear. In a sign of optimism, the EXIT sign now reads EXITO -- Spanish for success.

Read how after a lengthy renovation, the Hotel Chelsea is welcoming a new generation of guests HERE.

1 comment:

JimmyD said...

On the August 22, 2022 episode of the NIGHT FEVER podcast, James St James interviews Susanne Bartsch, who has never left the Chelsea Hotel! She has 4? apartments there and refused to leave! Gotta love her!!