The Chelsea Hotel is one of the most famous -- or infamous -- landmarks in New York City. Starting as luxury lodgings at the beginning of the 20th century, the Chelsea gained even more notoriety the scummier it got. It became a flophouse for writers, artists, musicians, junkies, and assorted transients. Some famous, some infamous.
Chelsea Hotel Manhattan by Joe Ambrose is a far different take on the Chelsea than most books on the hotel. For one, Ambrose is a Brit. His observations are not only from a foreign point of view, he lived at the hotel for less than a full year, split up over two visits. Ambrose was in New York in early 2000, and was there to write a couple of other books. Chelsea Hotel Manhattan was not the focus on any of these. His notes and journals from the time comprise this book.
Chelsea Hotel Manhattan is a collection of anecdotes, stories, and observations. Ambrose’s style is a bit poetic, a bit beat, a bit British. I couldn’t quite nail down a good tempo for some of it. What I found a bit annoying was that a large amount of the anecdotes had nothing at all to do with the Chelsea Hotel; they are just generic stories that happened to Ambrose while in New York. For example, one story has Ambrose making small talk with a Muslim kid on the subway. It is a “slice ‘o life” story.
Ambrose’s observations are mixed with essays and interviews by writers and New York’s underground illuminati. Gene Gregorits has a fascinating interview with the late personality Rockets Redglare. Spencer Kansa shares his memories of time with William Burroughs. Junkie Herbert Hunke elegizes poet Marty Matz. The vast majority of Chelsea stories come from guest writers.
While not focused on the Chelsea, it is still an entertaining read, and a great edition to any Chelsea Hotel or New York collection.