Down at the Chelsea

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

"One thing that's different about the Chelsea is how the hallways always smell like pot, and no one does anything," she says, finally sounding like the teenager she is. "It's awesome!"


Stormé Delarverie, 86
Stonewall veteran. Resident since the 1970s.

Victor Bockris.
photo: Alana Cundy
Victor Bockris.

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Related:
Portraits from the Chelsea
by Linda Troeller and Alana Cundy

On most days, a living legend sits in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, greeting her neighbors. An African-American woman with a snow-white Afro, Stormé Delarverie wears her trademark denim hat and matching denim button-up shirt, the pockets bursting with papers. She watches people come and go. It is in part because of Delarverie that the Stone-wall riots happened—she reportedly threw the first punch at the cops when they invaded the West Village bar that fateful night on June 28, 1969, and every year she heads the Gay Pride Parade in New York.

A singer and drag-king performer who ran a traveling gay cabaret, the Jewel Box Revue ("I never once sang 'Stormy Weather,'" she clarifies), Delarverie has been a Chelsea Hotel resident since she wore "long hair and high heels" in the '70s. Though she doesn't like to dwell on the past ("Once it's gone, I put it away"), she does still tell tall tales ("Everybody knows I've been shot once, I've been stabbed in the back once"). And though she's 86, and her mental lucidity comes and goes, she's still tough. She is what they might have called a pistol in her day.

"I can bench-press 135 pounds," she says. "Everybody knows: Don't try and come here and do anything to anybody that lives here. If you do, you're gonna have a problem," she adds, eyeballing the room. She says she stared down a board member who voted Bard out. "He's sitting there and staring at me. I said, 'Excuse me—I don't like anyone looking at me. I'm 86 years old. Do you got a problem, or is my fly open?'" Still, for the most part, she loves the Chelsea. "I just like it. I like the people. It's peaceful here. Nobody bothers me."

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