A Scruffy Guitar Shop Survives the Chelsea Hotel’s Chic Makeover
It’s hard to believe these days that the Chelsea Hotel, back in its day a grand old building on Chelsea’s main drag, was once a notorious haunt for prostitutes, drug dealers, and gangsters. It’s also hard to believe that an act of urban renewal and gentrification didn’t force the Chelsea Hotel’s owner to move it right back to its original location, where it would likely have been a very different kind of establishment.
Thankfully, it did not.
What was once a decrepit, grimy, rat-infested place to sleep, drink and hang out was transformed into a chic hotel in the ’90s by a young entrepreneur named Mike Gatto, who was on fire with the idea to “make” the Chelsea with his design concept of the “Chelsea Hotel,” the Chelsea Hotel Lounge.
The Chelsea Hotel Lounge opened in 2003 and became a success, but like the Chelsea Hotel itself, it struggled. It went through a series of owners, and, just like the Chelsea Hotel, it fell into a serious state of disrepair. Eventually, someone — former Chelsea Hotel owner Howard Riehle? — decided to sell. So, in September 2009, the building was demolished.
Gatto and business partner Mark Gertler moved into the old building after the new Chelsea Hotel was built. The Chelsea Hotel Lounge was closed, but the Chelsea still operated as a popular bar, restaurant and boutique hotel, and also, as you might guess, as a gay and lesbian bar — in a way, it would have been a gay-only bar if it hadn’t been the popular gay and lesbian bar it would eventually become.
But the Chelsea Hotel Lounge was open 24 hours a day in the winter and summer months, and it continued what it does best: serving amazing cocktails and a wide variety of tasty, affordable food. But in fall 2009, as the Chelsea Hotel began closing up for the winter, the bar’s owners, Mark and Julie Gertler, decided