The Maritime Hotel, Chelsea, New York

Posted on
Dec 1, 2010
Posted in: City Guide, Hotels

Yes, I am finally writing about something other than the TSA.


Wait, was that the sound of you passing out from shock? I thought so. But yes, it’s true: I’m way, way, waaaaay overdue in blogging about our trip to New York last month. (Not to mention our subsequent trips to London and Bulgaria. But a girl has to start somewhere, and I’m starting with Chelsea).

So why don’t you grab some ice for that bump you just sustained to the noggin, and read on (don’t worry: my blog reads better with a little bit of light head trauma).

Last month was our bazillionth trip to New York, and it was the very first time we stayed somewhere other than Midtown. Rand booked us a room at the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea. We were both a little hesitant to not only be staying in a different area than we were used to, but also at a boutique hotel. I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t get the whole New York experience unless we were a block off of Times Square, surrounded by crowds and flashing neon lights.

As usual, I was miserably wrong. Staying in Chelsea provided us with far more of a Manhattan experience than we’ve ever had. Even before we checked in, Rand ended up holding the door for Christina Ricci (in true Rand form, he had no idea who she was and was just doing it to be nice. “When I saw she had one of those little dogs with her, I almost let the door close. But that would be mean.”) The number of gorgeous folks who gravitated around the hotel was staggering. On one morning, I found a gaggle of models in the lobby.

As in more than one.

Those of you who have encountered a single model in everyday life know what a demoralizing experience it can be. Sure, looks aren’t everything, and they’re subjective, and it’s what’s on the inside that counts blah blah blah self-actualizing comment blah blah. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to feel weirdly self-conscious standing next to a 5’10” size 00.

Now imagine A WHOLE SLEW OF THEM IN THE LOBBY OF YOUR HOTEL. Looks may just be about luck, but when you encounter a whole room full of genetic lottery winners who are dressed like they just walked off the set of a fashion shoot, you begin to feel a bit Hobbit-like (small, hairy, and with a penchant for snacking too much).

I tried not to gape at them as I walked by, brushing cupcake crumbs from my mouth (this has become a reflex, as, at any given time, I may have cupcake crumbs on my face). They were fascinating. I wanted to whisper to them, “My life is glamorous, too. I travel the world and I eat CARBS. Let’s trade shoes!”

Later, Rand would ask me about the human gazelles that had infiltrate our hotel. When I told him (they had been going through some photo albums with who I assume was a photographer), he simply nodded and said, “Chelsea.”

Later, I was in the lobby waiting for Rand, and I caught an exchange between a younger man and a well-dressed older gentleman who had brought him a box full of pristine, hard-cover copies of a book. As I was able to gather from their conversation, the younger man was a newly-published author, and the box was full of copies of his first novel, that was apparently getting amazing reviews.

I watched the young author stare at the copies of his book, somewhat unbelievingly. He looked half in shock – not unhappy, by any means, but more overwhelmed by confusion and the unexpected state of affairs in which he had found himself. The lack of ego in his actions made me want to hug him.

They exchanged a few words about upcoming interviews, and the older gentleman started to head out. As he began buttoning his (I can only assume expensive) overcoat, he turned to the young man and said, “Congratulations. Call me this week. And get yourself a lawyer – you’re going to need one.”

It wasn’t menacing or threatening – just a simple acknowledgement that this young man was about to hit a windfall, and he was going to need help. The author nodded mutely, stared back at the box of books for a moment, and then scooped them up and left.

I watched it all, unoticed, as though it were a  movie. There were so many questions I wanted to ask (What was the book? Who was the young man? With whom was he going to have interviews? When’s it my turn?). But instead I silenced all of these questions with Rand’s simple answer from before: Chelsea.

I was left with that strange feeling of longing I sometimes get in my throat, and a bit of misguided hopefulness that fluttered at the base of my ribcage. This was the New York I had imagined when I was little. In the “About the Author” section of every elementary-school short-story I had ever written, I concluded with the sentence: “When she grows up she wants to move to New York and be a writer.”

The Maritime Hotel was the perfect backdrop for all of this.

The hotel was built in 1966,  for the National Maritime Union, and served as a sort of dormitory for sailors staying in New York.  It would go on to serve as home for runaways for a later-disgraced non-profit, and after that it was housing for students and businessmen affiliated with the New York Service Center for Chinese Study Fellows (and no, I did not make that name up).

In 2001, it was purchased by developers and turned into a hotel. Over the years the building’s quirks, which made it stand out even at the time it was built, have become more salient. It looks like an oceanliner run aground on the Lower East Side.

The windows are huge portholes. Standard rooms have just one, centered in the far wall opposite the bed. If you manage to avoid the skyline in your window, you can pretend you’re actually on a boat.

I am refraining from making a "Land, ho!/Who you calling a ho?" joke.

The (not very) Old Man and the (nonexistant) Sea.

Our room was fairly spacious by New York standards: A double bed, a desk, a closet and some furniture. Enough that both Rand and I could sit and watch TV without having to climb on eachother’s laps or crawl into the bathtub. And they kept the nautical theme throughout.

I'm also refraining from making a "If this bed/boat is a rockin'" joke.

The bathroom was teeny-tiny. I do not recommend having two people occupy it at the same time, unless you are okay with accidentally having sex. It can happen. You reach for your toothbrush and -BAM!- you’re having sex. Accidental copulation. There needs to be a warning sign on the door. But it wasn’t terribly problematic because Rand and I aren’t on the same pee schedule, anyway (I go every 15 minutes. He does not). The toiletries continue with the nautical theme, and have a retro-adorability to them …

For the record, YES, I took a picture of the toothpaste and NOT of the entire bathroom. Sigh. I kind of suck at this.

Despite the numerous blows to the psyche that I look in the lobby, our stay was incredibly pleasant. The room was quiet and clean. We were close to the Chelsea Market, the Highline, and loads of galleries, as well as the offices of some of Rand’s colleagues. Apparently the courtyard bar below can get noisy, but we didn’t notice it (and if you do have a problem, you can request a sound-proof porthole cover from the front desk).

Did it have the brightness and busyness of Midtown? No. And maybe that’s a good thing. Because it didn’t have as much of the artificiality or saccarine, either. It was grittily hip and elegant, full of movie stars and models and writers … and more than a few hopefuls.  

As for Time Square? It’s fun, I’ll admit, but it never changes. Rand and I took our obligatory picture there, as we always do …

I have a dozen photos like this from over the years.

But in Chelsea, I got the feeling that, all around me, lives were changing. Gigs were gotten. Bestsellers were written. Teeny-tiny dogs were walked. It left me with a feeling of longing, and one of hope – that maybe, just maybe, I could, someday, be a part of all of it.

As we checked out of the hotel, Rand looked at me and smiled.

“Ready for Jersey?” he asked.

I nodded. “And London and Bulgaria,” I said, and looked around, briefly, to see if any models had heard me.


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