The Chelsea Hotel is a New York institution. The hotel is known for its pop culture history — it’s where Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan called home in the 1960s. It’s where screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and where Andy Warhol made films and artwork. Madonna even lived there in the early 1980s, before she was famous.The history of the hotel dates to 1884 when it opened as a luxury hotel at 222 West 23rd Street in Manhattan, which was the tallest building at the time. It has been a landmark hotel since 1966.
Now the building is slated to fully open this fall after being closed for renovation since 2011. One of their restaurants is currently open for business, El Quijote, and the hotel will slowly open its other food and beverage offerings between now and this fall. After much work, and being under construction for over a decade, the property has undergone refurbishments from handovers through various owners and developers.
It will reopen with 155 guest rooms, and on-site restaurants and bars by Sunday Hospitality and partner Charles Seich, expect French American cuisine, a Spanish-inspired restaurant and a bar called the Lobby Bar. There’s also the Bard room, a gathering place for events, not to mention a rooftop spa.
One of the hotel’s co-owners Richard Born, owner of BD Hotels, who owns it alongside Ira Drukier and Sean MacPherson. Born co-owns the largest portfolio of independent hotels in New York, which includes 28 properties with 5,000 hotel rooms. Some of the most recognizable names in his portfolio are the Blakely Hotel, the Bowery Hotel and the Jane Hotel.
Born co-founded BD Hotels in 1986 with Ira Drukier. This real estate development and hotel operation company owns several billion dollars’ worth of properties, and currently own and operate 28 hotels with over 5,000 rooms. Their portfolio includes small luxury hotels, like The Bowery and The Greenwich, and large commercial hotels, such as The Wellington and The Watson. They bought the Chelsea Hotel in 2016 after going through several owners.
“It’s a long history,” Born said. “It was a family-run hotel when it opened in 1884. Going through the hotel’s long history, the more we read about it, the more we were intimidated by the task placed in our hands.”
The hotel’s legacy will be honored through its rooms. Born said there will be plaques and memorabilia of which famous stars stayed in certain rooms, throughout the hotels.
The main project wasn’t the redesign, though; it was the renovation.
Pied-á-terre Kitchen | Image provided by Chelsea Hotel
“The building is 150 years old, there hasn’t been a redo of its structure, or its fire, electrical, heating and overall safety,” he said. “All the walls had to come out because everything behind them had to be changed. We brought buildings up to the 21st century. We are bringing the Chelsea Hotel back to what it was.”
The Bard Room | Image provided by Chelsea Hotel
The hotel will feature the “Ladies Tea Room.” Past manager and owner Stanley Bard used the space as his office. It will be transformed into a check in area with an original ceiling mural. It will also feature the Lobby Bar, which will have a brass-railed, mirrored bar, restored wooden walls and mosaic floors. Meanwhile, the Bard Room event space is currently open, and is named after Stanley Bard, a former manager and owner of the hotel.
El Quijote Dining Room | Image provided by Chelsea Hotel
Management recently opened a Spanish-inspired restaurant called El Quijote, offering fare from Catalunya, Basque Country and Valencia. Born’s team has restored original details from the hotel’s 1930s design, including a mural inspired by “Don Quixote,” a Spanish novel written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605.
The hotel’s food and beverage additions will likely change the neighborhood. “That part of 23rd Street is a bit sleepy today,” Born said. “We’re opening a 24-hour French bistro and a Japanese concept restaurant, so we are going to bring activity to the street, bring it to life after the Chelsea Hotel opens.”
It’s all a part of what Born and his team are used to doing. “We have a long history of going into areas, bringing in a hotel and watching neighborhoods become popular around us,” he said.
Since creating the Mercer Hotel in Soho, the Bowery Hotel in the East Village, and the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, the properties around the hotels are worth anywhere between five to seven times as much today. “Our only regret was that we didn’t snap up real estate around where we were developing our hotels,” he said.
According to Born, he isn’t your typical hotel developer. “We normally do oddball projects — outsiders think we are risky, flamboyant or possibly crazy,” he said, with their decision of where to build and when. “We never built with doubt, and we are always sure of the properties we build.”
During May, the Chelsea Hotel’s construction veil was removed after being covered since 2011. The hotel’s 150-year-old façade is going to be reintroduced to the public.
“The façade was never restored, it had a lot of brick and stone missing,” Born explained.
Born is optimistic about what the new and improved Chelsea Hotel can bring to the neighborhood. “I think it will become such an important meeting place for the locals in the neighborhood, the hotel guests or the people who want to hang out in the hotel,” he said.
Chelsea King | Image provided by Chelsea Hotel
“We were mindful. It was built as a luxury hotel 150 years ago, but in the last 60 years it was bohemian. We didn’t want to make it a Four Seasons. We wanted to create small, medium and large rooms, to keep a sense of democracy. We didn’t want people coming and spending fortunes. We wanted to create a cross section for a democratic clientele.”
What makes the Chelsea Hotel unique is that it wasn’t only a hotel but a home as well. The hotel currently has 40 residents in the building. The newest tenant, Born said, has been living at the hotel for 10 years. The oldest tenant has been there for over 40 years.
“They’re scattered throughout the building,” he said. “It was a bit of gymnastics working around people. Each tenant is their own little story. Most of the tenants have newly restored new rooms.”
One couple, the writer Ed Hamilton and Debbie Martin, have been living at the hotel for 24 years, since 1995, in a 220-square-foot room. It doesn’t have a bathroom or kitchen. They pay $1,100 a month.
Deluxe Atelier Living Room | Image provided by Chelsea Hotel
In a 2019 interview Hamilton said, “I miss the creative spirit—which was electric, like a charge running through the hotel that hit you as soon as you stepped into the lobby—and the wide-open sense of possibility that existed in the hotel.” He is the author of a book published in 2007 called “Legends of the Chelsea Hotel.”
It’s all part of what Born calls a reviving downtown New York. “We have seven hotels downtown, and they are doing equal to or better than 2019,” he said. “That includes restaurants and event spaces at hotels, too, as more creative people are traveling. That part of New York City is back.”
The key to Born’s success lies in his approach to the sub-marketplace. “We think — who would really want to stay here?” he explained. “Who does this appeal to? Who would want to stay in this neighborhood?”
“Hotels are our specialty as 85% of what we do is hospitality,” Born said. “They’re hotels built for neighborhoods, a lot of the buildings we built like The Bowery, or the Greenwich Hotel, they’re all in strategic corners in neighborhoods. A corner becomes public, there’s a lot of window space.”
A lot of it comes down to community, too. “We’ve embraced the community and embraced the right products,” Born said. “The Gemma restaurant in the Bowery hotel is perfect for the East Village, and the Mercer Kitchen is almost a community facility in SoHo. We’ve built the appropriate product — in some cases its expensive product, in others, its approachable. But we’ve built them appropriately for where they are.”