I wrote about the Allerton Hotel when it vanished in 2007 to become part of the Gem Hotel chain, but it is only now, after finally getting immersed in Patti Smith's excellent memoir Just Kids, that I get a full picture of what the Allerton was really like in its rock-bottom days.
Smith recalls taking Robert Mapplethorpe to stay there, sick and broke, with nowhere else to go. She remembers their room: "The place reeked of piss and exterminator fluid, the wallpaper peeling like dead skin in summer." And the "lumpy pillow was crawling with lice."
"There was nothing romantic about this place, seeing half-naked guys trying to find a vein in limbs infested with sores. Everybody's door was open because it was so hot, and I had to avert my eyes as I shuttled to and from the bathroom." She says, "Never had I seen so much collective misery and lost hopes, forlorn souls who had fouled their lives."
She made friends with a morphine addict, formerly a ballet dancer, who drifted "through the hall like Isadora Duncan with chiffon streaming as he sang an atonal version of 'Wild Is the Wind.'"
Smith calls this character "the morphine angel" because he urged her to get herself and Mapplethorpe out of the purgatory of the Allerton and back to life. They escaped down the fire escape, hopped in a cab, and found a room at the Chelsea Hotel, where everything happened next.
Post Script: The poet James Schuyler stayed at the Allerton in 1978, before he also escaped to the Chelsea Hotel, like Smith and Mapplethorpe before him.
Poet Charles North recalled visiting him there. In an interview, North called the Allerton "one of the most depressing places I have ever been in in my life... It was pretty horrifying, the fleabag of fleabags. [Schuyler's] room consisted of a bed, on which, at least the few times I saw him there, he lay surrounded by a sea of dirty laundry that reached just about to the height of the bed. And of course the smell was pretty bad. Moving to the Chelsea, with the help of his generous friends, I'm sure changed his life."
You can buy Just Kids at St. Mark's Bookshop--they've got plenty--and the works of James Schuyler, too.