Metaphor on 23rd Street: The Chelsea Has History and Architecture—Is That Enough for a $100 M. Sale?

OUTSIDE THE CHELSEA on Friday afternoon, a waiter from El Quijote swept yellow leaves off the restaurant’s plastic grass entry mat. The Spanish eatery signed a 40-year sweetheart lease with the Chelsea under Mr. Bard. There is also a tattoo parlor, a guitar shop, and Chelsea Moving and Storage leasing retail space on the ground floor. Two storefronts sit empty behind metal roll-down gates painted brown. (Inside the hotel, there’s a hair salon in a third-floor room and, according to one tenant, an abortion clinic.)

Last week, renovations were under way inside a storefront to the east of the hotel’s entrance, next to the two empty ones. “It’s going to be a boutique doughnut shop,” a young foreman told The Observer.

What makes a doughnut shop boutique?

“Better doughnuts,” he said. “Better coffee.”

It will be the second location of the Doughnut Plant, which has a store on the Lower East Side and also sells at Dean & Deluca.

Down a set of black stairs to the right of the hotel’s entrance is a club that opened in the middle of October, the Chelsea Room. “This is all the original brickwork from when the building was built in the 1800s,” said Marcus Bifaro, the club’s general manager, moving his finger in an arc across the lounge’s walls and vaulted ceiling, which were sandblasted for two weeks to remove layers of accumulated paint. He wore black-on-black Nike high tops, blue jeans and suspenders over a pinstriped shirt. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows to reveal tattooed forearms.

He pointed to a drink rail that was built from a wall removed from the center of the room to open the space. “It’s still the original brickwork,” he said. “It’s just been deconstructed, taken out brick by brick and placed somewhere else.” Steel beams were installed to buttress the remaining original walls.

“The Chelsea Hotel, it’s an artistic place, obviously,” said Mr. Bifaro, whose last job was managing the Surf Lodge in Montauk. “To tie myself to the Chelsea Hotel, I feel like we also ourselves have to be kind of artistic, not only in our design but putting up some pieces of art. That’s my next step.”

The Chelsea Room hopes to attract the type of clients who will pay for bottle service or, at the very least, $13 cocktails. Mr. Bifaro has made sure to stay on good terms with the hotel and the residents, who were largely unhappy with the Star Lounge, which closed in the same space earlier this year.

“The meatpacking is staying in the meatpacking,” he said. “We are trying to do something different than everyone else.”

He beamed when asked if he was excited to be managing a club at the bottom of the Chelsea. But what of the sale? “There’s a million Trump Plazas, there’s a million boutique hotels out there somewhere, and I definitely don’t think that’s what they should do. I think they should leave it for what it is.”

On Saturday night, Mr. Bifaro, like many of his guests, dressed in costume. “I was going for Gangs of New York, but I ended up as this disco cowboy thing,” Mr. Bifaro told The Observer, popping a puffy cap onto his head. He wore a fake mustache and a vest with a pocket watch over his rolled shirtsleeves.

The club had a drink special for $10: vodka, Chambord raspberry liqueur, lime juice and cranberry juice, on the rocks and garnished with a slice of blood orange.

Behold the “Sid and Nancy.”

zturner@observer.com / @zekeft

VIEW SLIDESHOW >THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL