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How Do We Love Chelsea? Let Us Count The Ways

by jjkeyes September 24, 2016

Credit Bobbi Bowers

The hateful events in Chelsea this past week got us to thinking about our beloved ‘hood. While Hell’s Kitchen today may have taken over the mantle as the center of gay social life in New York, Chelsea remains deeply imbedded in our queer DNA and we refuse to relinquish it entirely.

Situated on the West Side of Manhattan, from 14th Street and the Hudson River up to 30th Street (or 34th depending on who you’re talking to) and all the way East to Fifth or Sixth Avenue, it has long been, and continue to be, our bastion of safety and joy. It was where we lived (before it got too expensive), played in the plethora of bars and clubs, and even worked–in shops, gyms, galleries, and office buildings. It’s where many of the seminal gay equality groups have been based, from LGBTQ youth groups to GMHC, an early leader in the fight against AIDS. To this day, travelers from across the globe consider it a must-visit on the worldwide list of queer havens.

So, boys & girls, let’s give the place some much-needed love in a difficult time. Make plans to hit the streets of one of the greatest places in the world to show your support.

Here are six things we love about the historic ‘hood…

High Line

imagebychristwise

Part of the West Side Improvement Project, the High Line is a revitalized piece of New York City’s Past. The linear park, first constructed as an elevated section of the New York Central Railroad and called the West Side Line is a 1.45-mile-long destination that once brought goods in and out of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. The last train ran over the High Line back in 1980 and though the landmark destination once faced demolition it reopened as a park on June 9, 2009. Two additional sections of the High Line have since opened and provided visitors and locals alike a unique perspective on the Manhattan landscape.

Limelight

Limelight Stained Glass by JJ Keyes16

Peter Gatien opened the famed Limelight nightclub in November of 1983. Located in the former Episcopal Church of Holy Communion, a Gothic Revival structure completed in 1845, the Limelight was a popular disco and rock club that many of us remember before Michael Alig entered the scene. Countless people shared a “last dance” in the quintessential Club Kid hot spot, including Ru Paul Charles who met his longtime partner on the dance floor. Cops raided the storied church-turned-club throughout Rudy Guiliani’s reign over New York in the nineties over supposed drug infractions. In late 2003, the club reopened under the name “Avalon” and then became a niche marketplace until it was eventually converted into the David Barton Gym.

Hotel Chelsea

Photo Credit JJ Hall

Rumor mills have always churned about the guests and residents of the Hotel Chelsea. Built between 1884 and 1885 the historic property was home (or temporary home) to legendary figures like Alan Ginsberg, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Dylan Thomas, Stanley Kubrick, Elaine Stritch, Ethan Hawke, Iggy Pop and Jimi Hendrix. Andy Warhol’s film “Chelsea Girls” was inspired by the hotel, Arthur Miller took escape from the headlines of his divorce from Marilyn Monroe to write After the Fall on site, and Sid Vicious brutally murdered Nancy Spungen on the “junkies” floor of the hotel. Though the hotel is currently closed for renovations,  many of their tenants are still in residency at 222 West 23rd Street.

Chelsea Market

Image by Anne Helmond

It’s no surprise that in just fifteen short years of operation with over thirty-five vendors Chelsea Market has grown into one of the greatest indoor food halls of the world. Hundreds of years ago Algonquin Indians traded game and crops on the banks of the Hudson in this prime location which now draws over six million tourists annually. With restaurants like “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto’s signature Morimoto culinary destination and shops like Chelsea Wine Vault, Fat Witch, Artists & Fleas and Amy’s Bread the former National Biscuit Company factory (where the Oreo was invented) has never seen better days. Nearby top notch restaurants like Del Posto, Cookshop, Collichio & Sons, Scarpetta, Toro, Salinas, TAO Downtown and Buddakan rival the best of Manhattan.

The Chelsea Art Galleries

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There are big name museums but art aficionados know Chelsea art galleries are the ultimate source for an afternoon culture fix: Gagosian, David Zwirner, Pace Gallery, Milk Studios and Hauser & Wirth (located in the old Roxy) draw stars of the scene but up-and-comers also can be spotted at any one of the first rate exhibitions. On the hunt for something specific? The handy Chelsea Gallery Map holds the most up to date list on what’s up, what’s closing and what’s just around the corner. For slightly more mainstream and headlining attractions, the Whitney Museum of American Art holds court just south of the High Line. Pop in to check out their full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American Art, especially when their popular Biennial is on exhibition.

(Local’s Tip: The Biennial is open until 10PM on Fridays and Saturdays, the perfect spot for a neutral first or second date.)

Nightlife

Splash-Bar-by-JJ-Keyes23

While the closing of big clubs like Roxy and Splash, and a variety of neighborhood haunts like the old View Bar, and more recent after-work favorite XES bar might have prompted many to consider nightlife in Manhattan was on the way to extinction many local favorites have continued to thrive. Barracuda celebrated its twentieth year of operation, G Lounge is still turning out fruity cocktails, eye candy, and even a fun “Drink and Draw” theme night, Boxers NYC is packed. Leather-themed Eagle is open every night of the week. Looking for something a little more upscale? The Top of the Standard (formerly called the Boom Boom Room) is definitely the spot for a high end cocktail.

Great shops like Buffalo Exchange, Malin+Goetz, and Nasty Pig and favorite restaurants like the classic Elmo, East of Eighth and Cafeteria will always be a draw. Health gurus can satiate their fitness needs at Chelsea Piers, Barry’s Bootcamp and the David Barton Gym in the old Limelight while arts fanatics can make a b-line to the old McKittrick Hotel for Sleep No More, take in a dance performance at the Joyce, or laugh their asses off at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

Sure, there are plenty of boy bars up town but Chelsea is still very much alive and kicking.

Have a favorite spot in Chelsea? Let us know in the comments section below.




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