The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stand-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.
Although Patti Smith was specifically talking about Hotel Chelsea in this passage from Just Kids, her words are applicable to the entire neighborhood that the landmark building calls its home. Many of the people Smith describes may now be priced out of the gigantic expanse that is Chelsea, but their spirit remains.
Bound by 14th Street on its south side and 30th Street to the north, Chelsea sits squarely between Seventh Avenue and the deep west. Tree-lined streets and quaint brownstones dot the neighborhood, yet the bustle of the city lives on up and down the avenues. One of New York’s finest recent attractions, the High Line, winds its way through Chelsea. It’s a raised park with native (to what, I’m not sure) grasses and welcoming benches in the cavernous former El train tracks. Views of the Hudson River and New Jersey, a Frank Gehry building, and streams of taxi-cab traffic traveling below are on offer, so be certain to bring your camera (and zoom lens, if you’d like to get an upclose photo of NJ, which I’m sure you do).
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, you may want to stop by Chelsea’s incredible selection of art galleries. You’ll find ones where you can buy Andy Warhol prints and others, such as Metro Pictures, where groundbreaking Cindy Sherman photos are displayed. You can walk in and out of the spaces as you please, while the gallery personnel type fastidiously on their Mac computers as they sit in vintage Eames chairs, obtusely paying no mind to you or your crew. Art not your thing? Take in a little bowling, dancing, golf, football, gymnastics, and more at Chelsea Piers. The prices aren’t cheap, but it may be a good bargaining chip if you’d like to negotiate with the kids some time at the art galleries. There’s also a good Clearview movie theater near Eighth Avenue on 23rd Street that plays a decent variety of films, is relatively clean, and has comfortable seats.
Chelsea eats are among the most delectable in the city. You’ve got the best-ever artichoke pizza at Artichoke Basille’s ($) and outstanding fancier fare at Cook Shop ($$$). (Note: Cook Shop’s owners also owned the now defunct Five Points, which was among my favorite restaurants in the city. Make your reservation at Cook Shop today; it’s a good option for New Year’s Eve.) Good ol’ American food is available at Empire Diner ($$), which has undergone significant transformations over the past 10 years and is now a fantastic place to go for lunch or brunch before/after your art gallery trip. Cafeteria offers delicious brunch and dinner, as well, with a decent burger on the menu. Avoid Rocking Horse Café (cheap-flavored Mexican) and Dallas BBQ (poorly executed barbecue) at all costs, but do try Billy’s Bakery ($) and Empire Cakes ($) for delicious confections (read more about them here).
One of the food Meccas of New York City is undoubtedly Chelsea Market, so ensure you visit while you’re in the neighborhood. They’ve got lobster, baked goods, gourmet soup, farm-to-table fare, and much, much more. Recently, I tried Japanese-inspired Mexican nachos at a little stand called Takumi Taco ($)—very good, but not entirely Japanese.
You can spend an entire day perambulating about Chelsea, so grab some cash and get on the C/E and head on down to 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue to begin your journey. Remember, everybody passing through Chelsea is somebody, and that means you.