You might not notice the Carlton Arms Hotel if you pass it walking down 3rd Avenue and 25th Street. The sign is nondescript and, from the outside, the hotel looks like a dive joint, which is what it used to be. But it's so much more. A constantly evolving work of art, the Carlton Arms is often forgotten, though it rivals the Chelsea when it comes to eccentricity.
It's been around for 100-some years. It once had a barn for horses and a speakeasy. In the 1950s, according to its informative website, it became "a hang out for drag queens, prostitutes and drug addicts."
Says a former manager, "By the early '80s, the Carlton Arms was full with madmen, junkies, comedians, ex-cons, pushers and hookers, transvestites, drunks and nuts of all kinds, women who beat you in exchange for your pay, a new generation of hippies and life's lost and lonely. It was a place to bed down and indulge."
At the same time, artists in the early '80s began painting and sculpting throughout the hotel.
Every inch of every wall, in the lobby, hallways, and communal bathrooms, is covered with art. Every room is uniquely bizarre. The people running the place are friendly, and they'll let you peek inside if you visit.
The Carlton Arms is a hidden gem inside the city, a reminder of what New York used to be--and could be again, if we only let it.