Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hotel 17


A sort of little Chelsea Hotel, the famous Gramercy lodging spot Hotel 17 has closed down, Town & Village reports.

They have "stopped taking reservations and has been cleared of guests. According to the general property manager of the business, Eyal Siri, this is not due to lack of business but due to the city’s crackdown on illegal hotels, which Siri said he’s been unfairly ensnared in." A few permanent residents remain.

A notice on the hotel's website reads: “We thank you for your patronage and it has been our honor to serve you during the last 67 years that Hotel 17 has been in operation. Unfortunately the city of New York has decided to close down this generations old family business and we therefore can no longer accept any reservations. Our family and employees thank you and all wish you safe travels.”

Over the years, many artists and club kids stayed at Hotel 17. It was a popular place for drag queens and other transgender folks. Madonna reportedly lived there before she was famous. And Woody Allen shot scenes from Manhattan Murder Mystery there.

Lola at Hotel 17, 1994, by Linda Simpson

I asked artist John Toth to share a few memories of his time at the place--the rest of this post is all Toth:

via sexgoddeathandus

My stay at Hotel 17 was during an interesting chapter in my early New York City experience. It was 1992/93 and I was working at (stylist) Patricia Field's store on 8th St., as well as her short-lived location on 6th Ave. I remember I was a bit desperate and frantic the night I moved in, as the girl I had been staying with in the East Village, who also worked at Pat's for a brief time, had kicked me out rather suddenly to make room for her boyfriend. It may have been her who told me to try Hotel 17.

When I phoned the hotel I received a lot of attitude from the manager, who very curtly asked me "who I was" and "where I worked." As soon as I told him I worked at Pat's (aka: The House of Field) his tone changed and he told me yes, he had a room and to come by immediately. My working for Pat, as one "downtown legend" said to me a decade later, "meant something" then. A job in her store was a coveted position because of the "scene" (which for the most part meant "nightlife") that orbited around it. "Downtown" Manhattan was still an adjective then and the manager of Hotel 17 understood that.

I remember him describing his criteria for selecting who was allowed to live there long-term, which was similar to how (notoriously selective) NYC doorpeople used to vet the crowd at various nightclubs: how you looked, how you dressed, and sometimes what you did, all of which had to be "unique" and/or "artistic."

One of the regular fixtures at Hotel 17 was, and still is, the famous transsexual and nightlife personality, Amanda Lepore, whose room, when I was living there, I remember was all red, including the lightbulbs. I also remember stepping into the elevator one night and encountering London-based fashion designer and performance artist, Leigh Bowery (who stayed there frequently), who was heading out to a nightclub with a plastic vagina glued to his face.

The place definitely had a Chelsea Hotel sort of vibe, as it housed a mish-mosh of people and had an easy-going community spirit (including shared bathrooms). Billy, the manager, was very kind to me and helped me out a lot, as I was basically subsisting on the 50-cent hot dogs from Gray's Papaya next to Pat's 6th Avenue location.

That's why places like Hotel 17 are important. It allowed me, and many others, to exist in Manhattan, in between a permanent residence, fairly inexpensively. Something which is pretty much impossible now. New York City was very much about experience then, and the kind of experiences it offered required little money and were incredibly thrilling. The disappearance of places such as Hotel 17, as well as astronomical rents, make it harder and harder for the next generation to come to New York City and live a (chosen) non-traditional life.

Amanda Lepore at Hotel 17--where will she go?


Mitch Golden said...

Is there any news about what the city says they are doing wrong? Seems there should be more to this somehow.

noah said...

Had so much fun there in the 80s..

Donnie Moder said...

Another great story, Jeramiah. Thanks. Too bad it is another sad ending.

legba said...

There seems to be something really sinister about this closing. Air BNB takes affordable housing out of the marketplace, that Trump Hotel on Spring St. had all kinds of licensing irregularities... And taking this out of the affordable marketplace.... doesn't make sense

margieschnibbe said...

This is too sad! I lived and made art at Hotel 17 in the early nineties with my dog Hans & still stay there when I'm in NYC.

Letmec1 said...

This has been my home away from home for years. I always stayed on the first floor. All the way in the back. I live in Ohio but spend a total of a month or two yearly (spread out) in NYC. I'm lost. Between this, Mariellas Pizza, Gramercy Cafe! The neighborhood seems lost to me. This place was always a buzz. The people from all walks of life. Everyone was kind, and James behind the desk always knew me and ask how life was in Ohio on my farm. A huge part of my New York is lost.

Richard Federico said...

It seems reasonable to me that the City could respect their long running business and let them stay in operation while they acquire their formal hotel licensing permits. This sounds like the city is part of the blame as they let them operate like this without formal paperwork for the better part of a century. This Hotel should be put on the endangered species list and protected not shuttered! It represents New York's historically significant bohemian culture from another era that has been essentially eradicated. Actually one can argue its very existence as a business while lacking official hotel licencing is indeed a product of the culturally significant times this hotel came to materialize.

Readen Reply said...

Can't the owner ride out the rest of his 15 year lease maintaining the building with long term tenants or minimum 30 day rentals to comply with the law? Isn't this the deal with the 5 still in the building?

Pat said...

Letmec1: Gramercy Cafe is supposed to come back as Gramercy Kitchen.

birdonawire said...

Awful awful awful. I stayed there for a month in the early '90s when I was between apartments, and I stay there now every time I am in NYC--last time was a few weeks ago. What a gorgeous historic place--they take such good care of it too.

DinoC said...

This is really sad. Hotel 17 has been my go to place whenever I visited the city 2-3 times a year. It was home! What's going on?!