The Hotel Chelsea Has Hosted These Legendary Guests, from Mark Twain to Madonna

Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea is no Met, but it is an NYC museum of sorts. Certain items from the dwelling do indeed get the artifact treatment (like the door from Bob Dylan’s suite, which sold for six figures at auction). The storied establishment debuted in 1884 as an apartment cooperative and became known as a hub for luminaries of American culture, characterized by its shaggy unpretentious charm. It continues to operate as a hotel to this day, reopening in 2022 after extensive renovations following a change in ownership stretched over a decade.

The Victorian Gothic building has been many things to many people over the past century and change. It’s been a set location for hit music videos, experimental films, and celebrity photoshoots; a retreat for bohemian creatives of the Warhol-era arts world; a crime scene. Immortalized by former resident Leonard Cohen in song as the “Chelsea Hotel,” the dwelling’s most famous tenants flocked to its long-term accommodations for the cheap rent and the opportunity to live in a community with a litany of groundbreaking artists, many of whom would become icons. It was an incubator for talents like Dylan and Cohen, though it’s perhaps just as well-known for the tragedies that have taken place within its walls, including the death of poet Dylan Thomas and the stabbing of Nancy Spungen by her boyfriend, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. The space might be haunted by its past, but its ghosts are the hotel’s heritage, and ultimately part of its urban legend intrigue.

The hotel’s freshly renovated lobby is lined with artwork. Longtime hotel manager Stanley Bard allowed a number of the Hotel Chelsea’s prominent residents to pay rent with art. In the hotel’s collection, amassed over the decades, are pieces by Donald Baechler, Maryan S. Maryan, Ching Ho Cheng, Sandro Chia, Ultra Violet, Robert Lambert, Stan Brakhage, Alain Jacquet, Philip Taafe, and Hiroya.

Photo: Courtesy of the Hotel Chelsea

The hotel’s lobby bar features the space’s original ceiling and marble mosaic floors, vintage chandeliers, and restored wood-panel walls.

Photo: Courtesy of the Hotel Chelsea

While the recent aesthetic overhaul injected some energy into the Hotel Chelsea’s interiors, the hotspot’s Beat generation spirit has been preserved in bits and pieces. Art by prominent tenants is displayed throughout, and drinks named for famous former residents—like the Viva Superstar—are served up at the mirrored lobby bar. Read on for a selection of the celebrities who have contributed to the Hotel Chelsea’s status as a cultural institution by inscribing their names in its star-studded guestbook.

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