Thanks to Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, even our canine friends can have delicious ice cream and beat the heat with their “Pooch-Ini” dog ice cream. The dog-safe vanilla custard and peanut butter treat even even comes with 2 dog biscuits. “A chilly treat for those with four feet,” says the menu. Luckily, for dogs and dog owners alike, the Pooch-Ini is for sale in the B line, which is the much shorter line. Pooch-Inis go for $3.75–totally worth it, in my opinion!
FYI, there’s a warning that it’s not for small dogs but my pooch was just fine.
I used to live in Chelsea and whenever I find myself back in that neighborhood I am amazed and saddened by all the changes. The flea market is gone. Billy’s Topless is gone. New apartment buildings and the big Whole Foods, have all taken over. I miss the rag tag buildings on 7th Avenue. Change is not always better in New York. So many fantastic places are gone: Elaine’s. Tavern on the Green. CBGBs. The Oak Bar. And now, the Chelsea Hotel.
Writers, artists, and rock stars all made a stop at the Chelsea. Some lived there for years, some just stayed for a couple of weeks. As of August 1, 2011, it has ceased being a hotel while it undergoes renovation. The long term residents have been allowed to stay. Over the years, there have been a variety of controversies. The hotel has changed management and owners many times and some long term residents have been forced out. Many famous suites have been renovated and chopped up, ruining their history.
I myself have spent a night in the Chelsea Hotel. I had a birthday party there a few years back and luckily, got a room facing 23rd Street with a balcony. We could hang outside and see the fabulous neon Chelsea sign. My room did not even have a number on the door. I found it by process of elimination on the second floor. I knocked on my neighbor’s door who happened to be a permanent resident. He gave me some masking tape and I wrote the room number on the tape in lipstick and put it on the door so my friends would know how to find the party.
The party was just what a party in the Chelsea Hotel should be: very drunk, very loud, lots of leopard print and glitter and feather boas. I made all my friends take photos with me sitting in the bathtub. After a couple of cracked ribs, several hangovers and an intense bout of nausea, my birthday was complete.
Of course, I managed to gobble up all the hotel soaps and lotions that say: The Chelsea Hotel: A Rest Stop for Rare Individuals. Who can argue that?
The inside of the Chelsea is brilliant. The lobby is covered in art work by the residents. There is a 12 floor wrought iron staircase is in the middle of the building and there too, the walls are covered in art work. Walking down the stairs is one big wonderful museum. The rooms themselves are kind of trashy, with dilapidated furniture, threadbare carpet and no real dÃ©cor, but I want the rooms to be trashy. The Chelsea needs to be seedy.
It cost me $300 to stay that night in the Chelsea. Not your average downtrodden junkie is going to have that kind of money. The Chelsea, while a bit of a ramshackle spot, was still a bit pricey.
I also went to a party at the Chelsea last year. It was in a suite of rooms in the back of the building, so no balcony, but it did have a non-working fireplace and mantle. The rooms were shabby but wonderful because of it. The front desk called repeatedly to end the party and finally at 2am, we gave up. The writing was on the wall, so to speak. The end of raucous parties at the Chelsea was around the corner. We decided to walk down the art-filled staircase and took photos all the way down. Little did I know, it was the last time I would be inside the Chelsea.
Mark Twain, William S. Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Stanley Kubrick, Milos Forman, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Dee Dee Ramone, Dennis Hopper, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol’s Superstars”¦.all stayed here. The prestige and history of the place is just astonishing.
So many magnificent projects were completed here. Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey” while staying at the Chelsea. Arthur Miller wrote his play “After the Fall” in Room 614. Andy Warhol shot his film “Chelsea Girls” in various rooms and Ethan Hawke filmed “Chelsea Walls” there as well.
Bob Dylan wrote songs for his 1966 Blonde On Blonde album in Room 211. Ten years later, in the song Sara, he wrote the lines, “staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel, writing Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands for you.”
The Chelsea pops up in many songs. Ryan Adams. Patti Scialfa, Joni Mitchell, Jim Carroll, The Stooges and Jefferson Airplane among many others, all pay tribute to the illustrious hotel.
Outside the building are all the plaques honoring those who have lived there. The newest plaque is for Leonard Cohen, who wrote a song called Chelsea Hotel #2 which starts out with, “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel”¦.” Perfect tribute to the man and the song.
The writer Dylan Thomas was staying at The Chelsea when he died after drinking 18 shots of whiskey at the White Horse Tavern down on Hudson Street, so legend has it. He has a poignant plaque on the wall outside, “Dylan Thomas lived and wrote at the Chelsea Hotel and from here he sailed out to die.”
The poet and dramatist Edgar Lee Masters has a plaque as well. He wrote Spoon River Anthology and also the poem The Hotel Chelsea, excerpted here:
What loves were lived here, what despairs endured,
What children born here, and what mourners went
Out of its doors, what peace and what lament
These rooms knew, long obscured
My favorite of all the plaques is the one for Thomas Wolfe who lived there and wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again” in room 829. I would love to check myself into that room, armed with my laptop and aspirations to turn out the next Great American Novel. To soak up the spirits of the room, to have any of it wear off on me”¦how exhilarating! Maybe, just maybe Thomas Wolfe would banish my laziness and I too, like him, could walk the streets and say, “I wrote ten thousand words today. I wrote ten thousand words today”¦”
Of course, there are all the stories that the plaques do not mention. Madonna shot photos for her Sex book in Room 822. Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen to death and started a fire in Room 100. Apparently that room has been remodeled and no longer resembles what it was like on that fateful night in 1978. Who knows if this is true? I think the hotel is just trying to keep out the loonies.
Thank heavens the Chelsea has been designated a New York City landmark and also is on the National Registry of Historic Places. So whatever renovations are planned, I pray they don’t tear it up too horribly and ruin all of its character. I will have to make do with walking past the plaques on 23rd Street and rubbing them for good luck. Someday I will stay there again.
I know the exact moment I fell in love with Johnny Thunders. I had rented New York Doll, the documentary about The New York Dolls’ bass player Arthur Kane. Arther never had much success in the music world after the Dolls disbanded in 1975. He had substance abuse problems and ended up working at a Mormon library in Los Angeles. Thanks to Morrissey, who was a huge fan, the Dolls reunited and planned a show in London. Arthur got a second chance at fame, playing again with his band mates David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain. But it was not to be. On July 13, 2004, just twenty-two days after the reunion concert, Arthur thought he had caught the flu and checked himself in to a Los Angeles emergency room. He was quickly diagnosed with leukemia and died within two hours. He was fifty-five years old.
Arthur’s story was touching and compelling, but when I saw photos of Johnny Thunders in the Arthur Kane documentary, I was a goner. I had heard of the Dolls. I knew who David Johansen/Buster Poindexter was. But I never really latched onto them or took a serious listen to their music. All that changed once I got a gander at that hair and that face. Oh Johnny!
The New York Dolls formed in 1971. They had some hard times; their original drummer Billy Murcia died while they were on tour in London. They reformed with drummer Jerry Nolan and became one of the most influential bands of the punk/glam era. They wore makeup and had huge hair. But the clothes ”” good night nurse. They wore the best clothes! They sometimes dressed like girly girls. They wore leather, leopard print, stripes, flower chiffon blouses, scarves, boots, hats, feather boas. They dressed like total mobsters in fedoras and pinstripe suits. It was magnificent. The photos of the band still amaze me. Their influence over bands that came after them is vast.
Johnny Genzale was born in Queens and had a rough childhood with an absentee father. He started hanging out in Greenwich Village and met other musicians and formed various bands. He took on the name Johnny Volume at first but changed it to Johnny Thunders. He and Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan were best friends, and after the Dolls broke up they formed the Heartbreakers together. Johnny was a heroin addict and fought with his addiction for most of his adult life. He was in and out of bands, lived in Europe for a while and made most of his money touring since record companies were wary of signing him.
After the reunion show in London and after Arthur died, David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain recruited new members and went on a world tour. I went to see the Dolls perform in their new incarnation several times. I even got backstage thanks to my pals The Dirty Pearls who opened for them at Irving Plaza. I met people who knew Johnny, played with Johnny, even kissed Johnny. I went to Johnny’s grave in Queens on what would have been his 55th birthday.
Source: Find a Grave
It was a wonderful tribute; I went with friends who were Johnny crazy like me and we all read messages we had written and sang songs and drank. Johnny’s nephew even came and shared some of his memories of when he was a little kid with his uncle, who tried to teach him guitar. The Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan is buried in the same cemetery.
I bought All Dolled Up, the documentary by Bob Gruen, and then met Bob and had him sign the DVD. I stood in front of Gem Spa on St. Marks where Johnny and the boys posed for photos. I even dressed like Johnny for Halloween.
But my ultimate trip was to stay in the room in St. Peter House in New Orleans where Johnny died in 1991. I know it might be a bit morbid and creepy to want to stay in a room where someone died, but for me, it was more about a tribute to Johnny and remembering his life.
Johnny went to New Orleans in 1991 to hang out in the music scene there. He was in New Orleans only one night before he died. His death remains a mystery. Johnny was supposedly clean and off drugs. He was found curled up on the floor under a coffee table, robbed and beaten. The New Orleans authorities called it an overdose and never investigated. It was believed he was robbed for his methadone supply. He was 38 years old.
I called St. Peter House and felt like a dork asking for a reservation and requesting that I had to have Room 37. They couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. They get a lot of calls like mine. I was down in New Orleans staying with a friend who lives there, so I really didn’t need to stay in a hotel. If I couldn’t have that room, I didn’t want to stay at all. But the staff at St. Peter House were wonderful and promised me Room 37.
I checked in on a Sunday night after going to a Saints game. St. Peter House is in the French Quarter but on the outskirts on St. Peter and Burgundy. The room is on the ground floor and has a window that faces the street. It’s a simple room, just a single room with a bathroom. There was a huge bed with a massive headboard in the room. I didn’t ask, but I assumed nothing was the same as it was in 1991.
My friend was wonderful and let me have some alone time in the room. She was also a good sport and spent the night there with me. I was worried I might get freaked out and wanted her there for support. But it was a good night. In fact, later that night, her boyfriend and another friend of mine came over, and we all hung out and talked about music and Johnny’s life. So it really was a perfect tribute.
I brought some Johnny artifacts: some photos, some CDs. I played Johnny and the Dolls in the room constantly. When I had my alone time, I lit candles and said prayers. At first I felt really sad and tormented. Room 37 was not a happy place for Johnny Thunders. He died there, miserable and scared and alone. I didn’t want to have that heavy energy of sorrow. So I sent out good thoughts to the spirit of Johnny, and then I did what any New York Dolls fan would do: I danced. I danced like a maniac all over the room and on the bed and even in the bathroom. I danced to “Trash,” to “Pills,” to “Chinese Rocks,” to “Pirate Love.” I even danced to “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” And I sang every word.
On Friday March 25th, the ceremony for the 100 year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire took place. There had been events all day, but I came for the bell ringing ceremony that took place at the site at the exact time the fire broke out a century ago. At 4:45pm everyone rang a bell or rattled their keys. There was a lot of emotion as people rang their bells and looked up to the top floors of the building, imagining what that day had been like 100 years before. Some of the organizers shouted out names of those who had perished”¦saying “We remember you Fannie Rosen!!” Purple and black bunting had been hung out the windows on the 8th floor. As I watched it blowing in the breeze, I was filled with sorrow knowing what those poor girls had gone through.
The names of the victims had been written on the sidewalk and there were 146 white and red carnations on the ground as well, making the number of dead that more real. Other flowers and wreaths were placed in front of the building, donated by unions and other organizations.
One woman came dressed in a period costume from the era. She was all in black and carried a union organizing sign. She was a bit foreboding, like a ghost from the past, a survivor of the fire. People were a bit scared of her, but kept taking her photo. She never said a word. She walked among the crowd and posed in front of the sign and the wreaths.
I also noticed a fireman in the crowd, in his dress blues. It was touching to see him show his respects. This was a tragedy for the New York Fire Department as well. Some of the organizers sang Irish folk songs. Then the crowd joined in and we all sang “We Shall Overcome” and “Amazing Grace.” It was a powerful day of remembrance and it was an honor to be a part of it.
Coming soon: Untapped will be looking into the conditions of garment workers today in sweatshops scattered through Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In a Daily News editorial on the day of the anniversary, New York State assemblyman Eric Schneiderman wrote forebodingly, “Tragically, a century later, many of my colleagues in government seem to have forgotten the lessons of that unspeakable disaster. Over the last decade progress has slowed and, in many states, workers’ rights have been seriously weakened.” (via Gothamist). Untapped aims to unveil some of the situations that currently exist right in our midst in 2011.
Each September 11, I get up early and go to Dunkin Donuts and buy a dozen donuts. I take a Sharpie with me and write all over the donut box–“Thank You” and “New York Loves You.” I take the donuts to my local fire department. Some years I arrive at the time they are having a ceremony; one year they were having a prayer and one year there were bagpipers playing. The firemen are in their dress blues and there are families and friends visiting each other. The firehouse is open for people wanting to stop by and pay their respects. I go up to one of the firemen and give him the donuts and say, “I just want to thank you and shake your hand.” They are always very warm and grateful. When my emotions get the best of me, I make a quick exit and quietly sob on my way back home. It is a small gesture…just some donuts. But I will never stop doing it and will never forget.
New York honors our heroes, we honor our fallen and we remember September 11 in many ways publicly and privately. On March 25th, another anniversary of a major tragedy is soon upon us. This is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and though not all remember the story, each and every one of us benefits from the lessons learned that day.
Back in 1911, The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was a sweatshop owned by Max Blanck and Issac Harris that was located in the Asch Building near Washington Square at 23-29 Washington Square East and Greene Street. Workers, mostly young immigrant women, toiled nine hours a day during the week and seven on Saturday for meager wages making women’s blouses. It was the end of the day on Saturday March 25 at around 4:45pm when a fire broke out on the eighth floor in a scrap bin. No one is quite sure how the fire started. One theory is that it was a carelessly tossed cigarette. Other reports claim that the engines that ran the sewing machines caught fire. But with all the highly flammable bolts of cloth and scraps, the fire spread rapidly.
The company had three floors of the building; eight, nine and ten. Each floor had exits, freight elevators, a fire escape and stairways. Flames prevented workers from using the Greene Street staircase. The other door to the Washington Square staircase was locked. The owners locked the workers inside to prevent theft and from workers taking breaks or leaving early. Dozens escaped by going to the roof and many others managed to get on the elevators before they ceased operation. But within minutes, there was no escaping the flames. The fire escape was flimsy and might have been broken before the fire started. A few managed to use the fire escape but it soon collapsed from the heat and the overload of people trying to flee. Many plunged to their death when the fire escape buckled.
The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders only reached the sixth floor, missing the fire by two floors. The water pressure was also not powerful enough to reach up to the flames. Desperate employees jumped from the top floors trying to reach out and grab the rungs of the fire truck ladders; only to plummet to their death. In a futile attempt to go down the elevator shaft, the workers pried open the elevator doors and tried to slide down the cable and land on top of the elevator car. Many more jumped in the elevator shaft and fell on top of the car. The elevator operator could hear the bodies thud over his head.
A crowd had gathered below. As panic-stricken workers stood in the windows, the crowd below begged them not to jump and to wait for help, but inevitably, they would jump. Many jumped while on fire and the site of the women with flames encompassing their hair and clothes created hysteria in the crowd below. They were weeping and screaming and fainting in the streets. Firemen tried to use a net to catch the women, but too many jumped at once and the net broke. The bodies were piling up on the sidewalk and street. Some bodies smashed through the glass sidewalk vault lights and fell into the basement below. The bodies on the street were soaked with water from the fire hoses.
Among the crowd below was a young Frances Perkins. The fire affected her immensely. She went on to be the very first woman Cabinet member and served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She fought hard for workers and pushed through legislation such as the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire played a part as she paved the way for labor reform.
In the end it was estimated 62 workers jumped to their death. Twenty five bodies were found on top of the elevator cars. Nineteen bodies were found melted together against the locked door to the stairway. 146 people perished in the fire. 30 were men. The youngest was 14. 71 were injured. As night fell and the fire subsided, rescuers began removing the bodies by wrapping them in blankets and lowering them with ropes out the windows to the street below. Searchlights were used to light up the building, creating a grisly scene as the wrapped bodies, bathed in light, went down the side of the building.
Police had sent for 75 to 100 coffins but only 65 were available. The Commissioner had to send a steamer up to the Bronx to fetch more coffins from the Metropolitan Hospital. The families of the workers had been streaming into the area and the police station, hysterical to find out about their loved ones. A makeshift morgue was set up near the East River. It was a horrific scene. The bodies were placed in the coffins in whatever condition they were found and family members (and also the curious) were allowed to come in and walk down the rows of open coffins trying to identify their family members. Some of the dead were unrecognizable. Six victims were not identified until 2011. Independent researcher Michael Hirsch pored over reports and documents and was able to identify those six. A documentary about the fire and the search for the identities, “Triangle: Remembering the Fire”, premiers on March 21st on HBO.
There was a trial for the two owners of the factory. Blanck and Harris stated their building was fireproof and had just been approved by the Department of Buildings. The case focused on the fact that the workers were locked inside. Workers gave their testimony, but the owners were found not guilty. Each family that lost a loved one received 75 dollars from the Triangle Company. Blanck and Harris, through their insurance policy, received 400 dollars for each employee that was killed.
Cornell University holds all the documents and history of the fire at the the ILR School Kheel Center. Their website is amazing. There is a list of all those who died and their ages. When you click on a name, it tells you where they immigrated from and even their address. Clicking on a random name I find Rosie Grasso, 16. She had lived in the US for five years at 174 Thompson Street. It gives me chills. The website has photos from the burned out factory, from the morgue, from the marches and protests that happened afterward.
Today, the Asch building is now part of the NYU campus. It is called the Brown Building of Science. Classes are held in the rooms on the floors where so many perished. I went to see the building and take some photos of the plaques that were placed there by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and other organizations. The building is now a National Historic Landmark as well. It was quiet there on a Sunday afternoon in the shadows of the side street near the park. I felt the heaviness of the building. It is agonizing to look up at those windows and think of the hopeless despair that went on inside. The cobblestone streets are still there too. And that is what gave me the most anguish, to walk on those cobblestones where so many fell to their death; those streets where the crowd stood in helpless horror.
This March 25 there will be a vigil at the building at 4:45 pm. Everyone is encouraged to bring a bell to ring to honor the dead. I will be there.
The way we work today, in offices with building codes, exits, stairwells, fire alarms, and fire drills”¦all of this we have due to the sacrifices made that day in 1911. The next time there is a fire drill at my office, I promise not to groan as I gather my belongings and go out to the lobby to wait instructions. I promise to be thankful.
New Yorkers race from one place to the next and we miss a lot in our rush to get to the next thing. But I’ve found some places in the city where I always stop and reflect. It’s especially powerful when it’s a remembrance of New York’s past and its place in history. Two plaques in the city take me back to the Revolutionary War. They honor young Nathan Hale, captured and hung by the British during the war. Much of the Revolutionary War was fought in Manhattan. The British actually controlled it for a good portion of the war. It’s hard for me to imagine battles here; to erase all the buildings in my mind and make Manhattan a big open field. Nathan Hale played an important role in the battle for New York and we still honor his legacy and final words today–“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”