Down at the Chelsea

Not everyone at the storied hotel is a legend: stories from some of the Chelsea's lesser-known residents

Victor Bockris, 57
Writer. Resident since 2004.

As fate would have it, the only room available when writer Victor Bockris moved in was next to his greatest enemy in the world: Rene Ricard. "We had an altercation in a restaurant during a party in 1977," says Bockris, a petite Englishman. "I threw a glass of wine in his face; he was trying to flick a glass, and I sort of fell into it and it cut my face wide open. It was down to the bone," he says, the scar still visible. (Ricard, who appeared in Warhol's film Chelsea Girls, returned a Voice interview request on a slip of paper with the word "NO" scrawled dramatically over the whole thing.)

Why did Bockris throw the wine?

Victor Bockris.
photo: Alana Cundy
Victor Bockris.


Portraits from the Chelsea
by Linda Troeller and Alana Cundy

"I was bored," he says, and takes a drag from the Indian cigarettes he's been chain-smoking.

Bockris, who seems manic even while lying down, had visited the Chelsea Hotel since the late 1960s, when he was attending college in Philadelphia. Now an accomplished biographer and chronicler of punk and Beat culture, he's written 11 books, including biographies of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed.

Lying on a tattered black leather couch under a wooden bunk bed, with newspaper clippings of famous friends and heroes tacked to the wall (Mick Jagger, Edie Sedgwick, a picture of John Waters holding a baby), Bockris notes that the hotel's past residents—many of whom he's known and written about—produced important works, including Warhol's Chelsea Girls, Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, and William Burrough's Third Mind. But he's really not one for nostalgia. "The Chelsea is kind of a litmus test for the culture. We're in this odd time now, and I think that's also true here at the hotel. I don't think any great art has come out of this hotel for some time. The last great piece of art that's come out of this hotel was an album by Ryan Adams called Love Is Hell."

While Stanley Bard's father filled the hotel with war-torn Hungarian refugees, Stanley had a different idea, explains Bockris, who pays $1,775 for his spot. "Stanley had this vision of this cross-fertilization between fields in the arts, and also between generations," he says. "I really think of Stanley as an artist, and the hotel as his canvas."

Ed Hamilton , 46
Blogger and author. Resident since 1995.

When aspiring novelist Ed Hamilton moved to New York with his girlfriend in 1995 from Washington, D.C., the Chelsea was the first place the Kentucky native thought he'd like to live. "This was our first choice. We'd always heard about it as a place where Thomas Wolfe lived, William Burroughs and the rest of the Beats." He wears a baseball hat and glasses and looks like a regular guy rather than a tortured artist. He got in on a lark: After being turned down by Bard, he answered an ad for a sublet—which turned out to be in the Chelsea.

Hamilton's abode isn't glamorous. Like many of the other spaces, it's a worn single room, with a blue ceiling, no bathroom or kitchen, and a drab green carpet. However, the original single-paned but cool-looking curved windows are still intact. The centerpiece of the apartment is a foosball table. On his walls are bright, primitive paintings by a Japanese artist named Hiroya, who had lived at the hotel in the '90s before dying from a heroin overdose.

Hamilton and his girlfriend pay $1,500. Like all of the rooms in the Chelsea, his is rent-stabilized. And though he's indignant about Bard's ouster, he's filed a complaint for the overcharging of rent—along with several other tenants—with the city's Division of Housing and Community Renewal. (Though Bard is no longer running the hotel, he still owns a piece of it.)

Hamilton runs the unofficial Hotel Chelsea blog, Living With Legends, which led to a book deal with Da Capo press; the book, Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca, is due out in October. Hamilton revels in classic, quirky Chelsea stories. How Stormé Delarverie ran off the junkies shooting up in the bathrooms by brandishing a pistol, for example. And his favorite: the neighbor who started banging on his wall because he thought Hamilton was making a racket.

"I opened the door and there was Dee Dee Ramone, and he's in his underwear—just his jockey shorts. I was like, 'Oh, hi, Dee Dee.'

"I've never been at a loss in 10 years for something to write," says Hamilton. "That is the best thing."

Tim Sullivan, 52
Surf musician. Resident since 1982.

Before he was in a four-man rockabilly band that shared a single room in the Chelsea, Tim Sullivan was a ballet dancer on a scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet. A straight single guy who took classes to meet girls, he knew he was anomaly in the dance world. Now he's in a surf band called the Supertones, and he looks more like a wave rider than a dancer. His room is stuffed with guitars and other instruments, some of which he sells for a living. A giant surf-board rests between the two windows, which are covered by towels and sheets to darken the room and keep out the heat.

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