Death Comes Out

It always starts with a phone call. This one comes on election night from a detective in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct. Some gay man got knifed to death in the early morning hours in his West 21st Street apartment. His roommate was knifed too, but managed to escape. The room­mate’s in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent’s. It seems they had picked up two guys at a gay bar and gone home and smoked. One of the pickups pulled a gun and said, “Lay on the floor, face down, you motherfuckers.” A bloody battle ensued. Could I come to headquarters and dis­cuss the case? They’d fill me in on details.

At 7 p.m. I’m at the precinct. Under an Etan Patz Missing poster, one of those bulky Irish detectives, the kind Edmund O’Brien played in ’50s movies, asks if I’d visit the local bars with them. They want to distribute “feeler” notices, which begin “There was a homicide and fel. assault of two (2) gay members of our community.” What the cops know so far is the pickup look place at a new semileather bar on Eighth Avenue, the Rawhide, half a block from the victim’s apartment and just around the corner from the precinct. At 11 p.m. the night before, George Alvarez, 32, went to the Rawhide, drank, played pin­ball, and struck up a conversation with two young men who claimed to be visitors from out of town. They needed a place to stay the night. There was no reason for George to doubt their story; they appeared clean-cut and well-mannered. Besides, George thought the shorter of the two was real hot. He suggested they adjourn to the Pike where he was suppsed to meet his roommate.

At the Spike on West Street, George’s roommate, Jay Utterback, 35, played pin­ball with the taller man while George and the short one drank and talked. About 2:30, the quartet headed for George and Jay’s four-room fourth-floor apartment. Grass came out. Sex was discussed. The out-of-towners insisted that they all bed together or they wouldn’t bed at all. George and Jay decided they didn’t want it that way; they suddenly wanted to call the whole thing off. The guests, however, refused to leave. They continued smoking grass in the living room.

At 3:30, the taller man went to the john. When he came out, he waved a pistol and ordered his hosts to fall to the floor. Neither realized the gun was a toy. What followed happened so quickly there was no time to know whether robbery was the motive. In a spontaneous flash of bravery, George jumped up. He pounced at the shorter of the two, who slashed at him with a knife. George struggled to the door. He ran down the stairs — his assailant behind him, cutting him several times — and finally out into the street. Dressed only in slacks, shoeless and shirtless, he ran to the Rawhide, where he collapsed. “Get to my apartment,” he muttered. “My roommate is still there.”

When the cops arrived at 231 West 21st Street, they found Jay Utterback in the hallway outside the apartment. He had been stabbed six times: in his face, head, body. Jay wasn’t as lucky as George. He was dead.

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Early election night. Shifts are about to switch at the Rawhide. The day bartender is counting his change. The three detec­tives working the case seem as indigenous to the bar as Rollerena would be at the Policeman’s Ball. They stride in, politely place their conspicuous frames in an in­ conspicuous corner, and decline drinks. One of them pulls out photos of Alvarez and Utterback.

“This one seems familiar,” offers the bartender, pointing at the shot of Alvarez, “except his mustache and beard is gone.”

“Was he here last night?”

“I told the detectives who were here last night everything.”

At the Spike, one of the co-owners is somewhat friendlier. Although there may have been 80 to 85 people at his bar last night, he thinks he’d have noticed anyone unusual. Unusual at the Spike is under 30 and attractive — and not sporting leather.

“We showed The Great Catherine last night,” the co-owner said, “but the movie was over by 12:30. Look, I wasn’t really working. I was a customer. Bruce, Tony, and Ed were on. But this one’s face, I recognize.”

The co-owner says sure, he’ll tack up the notice of the killing, and he’ll keep his ears open.

“Can you tell me your full name and age so I can fill in this form?” asks a cop.

“About 40.”

“You don’t know your age?”


To play it safe, the cops pull the same routine at the Eagle’s Nest and the Glory Hole. In each spot, the managers are veritable pussycats, offering every ounce of cooperation they can muster. The Glory Hole guy does a spot check of his member­ship list. It is too early in the evening to view that unique pleasure concept in oper­ation — there are many things you can do with a hole in the wall — but the officers are fascinated by the layout. They manage to convey, however, that they’re not here to do moral numbers. They just want the facts, ma’am. In turn, there is a “thank Jesus, it’s not me” sigh of relief from the dockstrip personnel, along with an in­satiable curiosity about details, especially sexual details. To them, the names are different, but it’s a variation on an old theme, and they’ll do anything they can to help.

Riding in the back of a police car, you become aware that murder can be ev­eryday work, like selling shoes or styling hair. For the cops, this day is unique only because it’s election day. The radio is turned up. Carter has won two states. Reagan’s winning everything else.

We drop off one of the detectives at the precinct and drive toward the Alvarez­-Utterback block. Across the street from their house, we enter a building where each bell is rung and each tenant grilled. “No, we didn’t hear anything,” is the refrain repeated in each apartment except one, where the melody goes, “It’s so noisy all the time, I don’t know whether I did or didn’t.” What’s unusual about Chelsea is that the neighborhood doesn’t change from block to block, it changes from build­ing to building. We head toward London Terrace to check out a separate case. Somebody’s penthouse apartment he’s been burglar­ized for the 12th time in 11 months. “We thought you’d get o kick out of this one,” says the driver. “This guy has had a Doberman Pinscher, barbed wire, you name it, and they still break in.”

When we get there, the color television, one of the few pieces of furniture left, is blazing and the middle-aged robbery victim is packing his clothes, declaring, “I’ve had it. I’m selling what’s left. I’m getting out.” He and the detectives are on a first­-name basis, and they discuss just how the perpetrator entered — as they have many times before. “If I had the money, I’d put up a fuckin’ execution fence, so that they’d touch it and die,” says the pen­thouse dweller. “Ssh,” says his friend from in front of the TV. “I think Carter’s con­ceding.”

Everything stops. We move close to the television and watch Carter give his speech. “History in the making,” says a cop. “I can’t believe it’s happening,” says the penthouse dweller.

“What? Reagan?” asks the cop.

“No. My fuckin’ robbery.”

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News of murder spreads faster than hanky codes in New York gay circles. It doesn’t matter that the papers didn’t re­port the Chelsea murders. All week, the phone rings.

“This killing is just part of a pattern,” says Jay Watkins of the Chelsea Gay As­sociation. The group installed a Violence Hot Line five months ago. In the past two months, they’ve averaged 10 calls a week. Most incidents involve ripoffs, beatings, or rape done with knives, pistols, pipes, baseball bats, or beer bottles. People work­ing with the organization often return to the scene of the crime with the victim and will act as a conduit between victim and police.

With the gentrification of Chelsea came trouble. Gay witchhunts abound, especial­ly in the area around the Ninth Avenue housing projects. There have been un­provoked attacks on gay males by bands of white teenagers, with robbery almost an afterthought.

Since 1977, Chelsea Gay Association has been meeting with the 10th Precinct to discuss community relations, but the meetings became less frequent and stopped altogether several months ago. As a result of the Utterback killing, they’ll start up again on a biweekly basis in December.

Another call at 3 a.m., from a stranger who seems drunk and wants to know ev­erything I know about the murder because he knew Jay. He finishes by saying he voted for Carter; he feels there’ll be an increase in violence toward gays with Reagan in office.

Yet another call, from an employee of Time-Life who lives in the building next to George and Jay’s. At 3:45 a.m. on election day he was awakened by shouts for help from the street. By the time he got to the window, he could see someone running and gripping himself around the waist. The runner looked as if he had been either cut or shot.

The neighbor went downstairs. In the entranceway of the building next door he saw blood all over the walls and floors. The super told him he had seen a man in a white T-shirt running toward Seventh Av­enue. (The doorman at the corner building of Seventh and 21st also saw the man. Later, a T-shirt with blood stains was found on the street. It’s been sent to the police lab for tests.)

Nick Yanni, host of Tomorrow’s Tele­vision Tonight on cable, calls, too. Jay Utterback was his announcer and floor manager. On the night of his murder, Jay had appeared on the show for a brief moment along with special guests Dina Merrill, Doug Ireland, Bob Weiner, and Quentin Crisp. Jay went directly from the show to the Spike.

“Jay was a smart and steady person,” reports Yanni, “certainly not flaky. He brought guests in and out, signaled cues, announced station breaks.

“His friend George had been to the TV studio twice. I never could warm up to him. None of the people from our show who knew George liked him. They seemed incongruous as a couple. They weren’t from the same background or culture. George struck me as a hot-headed individ­ual.”

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St. Vincent’s Hospital. So easy to get in. All you do is tell the receptionist you want a pass. The cops should be protecting George. The only protection on the fourth· noor is a bevy of night nurses, armed with thermometers.

George isn’t in his room. He’s slouched in a chair in the corridor, wearing a blue nightgown. One arm is in a board-sling, and his complexion is sallow. He volun­teers to show me his wounds. I graciously decline. There are six stab wounds in all, the most serious in his stomach, the deepest in his arm. His stomach wound is infected, and he’s afraid he may have to stay in the hospital another week.

Can George remember the names of the men he met election eve?

“Every time you meet people, they give you names,” he replies. “I wasn’t worried about them. I thought they were lovers. They weren’t dressed crazy either, like in leather or cowboy hats. The little one wore a white shirt with a black design and ordinary slacks. He wore a chain around his neck with an astrological sign. I don’t know what sign. What I remember most were his eyes. They were light brown, almost yellow, like cats’. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

George and Jay had been lovers for six years. They met in Puerto Rico, and George came to New York to live with Jay. The first two years were great but the sexual magic lessened in the third. They came to an arrangement. Every so often, each would have his night out. Sometimes they’d bring home a third party, and once before they’d brought home a third and a fourth. No big deal; if it happened, it happened.

George is a social worker. He earns very little. Apart from his sister, he has no family in New York. He’s petrified about going back to the apartment while the killers are on the loose. But he can’t afford another place. And he doesn’t know any­one who’ll take him in.

During the visit, George shows no par­ticular emotion when Jay’s name comes up. If there are tears to be shed they’re shed privately. If there is guilt to be faced, it won’t be with a visitor. The signs of regret are invisible.

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Propriety is the prevailing emotion at the memorial service for Jay Utterback at the Ethical Culture Center on Central Park West. Most of the guests are Show­time TV employees, bright, white, straight young men and women who knew the straight face of Jay — a face so well main­tained that they didn’t bother to look for another.

Some of them speak at the podium. They reminisce about his enthusiasm, his laughter. They tell how “shocked and angered” they are by his death, how they are “still too numb to feel the loss.” They ask, “Why did this happen? How did it happen? There is no rational ex­planation.” They bow their heads and pray.

A pianist plays “Tomorrow” and the bright young men and women touch each other’s arms, smile wistfully, and say, “Jay would have wanted it this way.” They leave the center and head toward the RT. One of them, Debbie Copeland, joins me for coffee at the YMHA cafeteria.

“I’ve been so depressed,” she whispers. “Jay was my friend. I attended his funeral in Bellvernon, Pennsylvania. It’s real Deer Hunter country.”

“Jay went to public school there, then Ohio State University. He was a lieuten­ant in Okinawa. He operated a disco, I think, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he met George.

“I wouldn’t say that Jay and George were lovers. I don’t know what I’d call them. Roommates? That’s the term Jay used. Jay chose discretion. He was a real ladies’ man.”

Ladies’ man?

“Well, he was dapper and dressed im­peccably. Socially, he had inner grace.”

Was Debbie in love with him?

“Everyone loved Jay as a friend. Noth­ing more. Nothing physical. I think inside we all knew about his relationship with George. George would go to company parties. Jay would introduce him by name: ‘This is my friend,’ he’d say, or ‘This is my roommate.’ We’d never whis­per anything behind his back. It’s im­polite. Everyone at Showtime loved him too much to embarrass him.”

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Back at the precinct, November 10. Detective Michael Churchill, who’s been working exclusively on the case, reports some progress.

On October 26, a Rutherford, New Jersey man met two strangers at Boot Hill,, gay bar at Amsterdam and 75th. They said they were from out of town and needed, place to stay for the night. He drove them back to New Jersey, where they smoked and drank until one of them excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came out, he brandished a gun and snarled, “This is a robbery. We’re not joking. Lay down on that bed.” The second man had a hunting knife.

They proceeded to tie up their victim with telephone cord and neckties. Then they cleaned him out completely.

They took inconsequential items like salt and pepper shakers, thermal underwear, socks, the light from a fish tank, and a pair of Adidas sneakers, as well as an overcoat, suits, cameras, a Clairol hair. dryer, a Panasonic tape recorder, and a Sears color TV. Everything was piled into the victim’s 1980 black Toyota, New Jer­sey license plate 844-LXE, in which they made their getaway.

Later the victim described his attackers to the police.

The little one called himself Tony. He was white, between 18 and 23, five foot five, 115 to 120 pounds. His hair was black, complexion light, eyes almost yellow, lips sensuously thick, nose too small for the rest of his face. He had the face of a little girl.

The bigger one was called Michael. He was about five foot ten, 150 pounds, 20 to 25 years of age, sported a little mustache, looked Italian. Both had New York ac­cents.

They fit the description of Jay Ut­terback’s murderers.

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Early Thursday morning, November 20. The phone rings. It’s Chuck Ortleb, publisher of Christopher Street. A mad­man opened fire at the patrons of the Ramrod, he says. One man dead. Another dying. Several more in the hospital.

God, they could be people I know. We all hang out there.

It could have been me.

That night, Chuck and I meet at Sher­idan Square. We’ve met there many times before to march with love on Gay Pride Day and with anger each time our civil rights bill is defeated. Tonight we meet in sadness.

The Chelsea Gay Association is there. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. But most of us—  about 1000 in all — are individuals who have heard the news, heard it too many times before, but never so blatant and violent as this time. The gunman, Ronald Crumpley, has told po­lice the reason for his shooting spree: “I just don’t like faggots.”

We hold lighted candles and march west on Christopher. The mood is somber. A man beats slowly on a drum. “Gay life isn’t cheap,” yells a marcher. The cry is picked up. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Until it’s a roar.

We pass Ty’s. “Out of the bars and into the streets.” We stop at Trilogy. Patrons leave their drinks and join the procession.

Near West Street, we see a long trail of blood on the pavement — a vivid reminder of the massacre. A sign at Badlands says the bar is closed to honor the dead. We reach the Ramrod. The street is cordoned off. Dozens of bunches of daisies — blue, white, and yellow — are clustered in front of a window splattered with bullet holes the size of oranges. Mourners place their candles on the doorstep.

A man makes a speech. “There are now two dead,” he says, “and we can’t go on with life as usual when our brothers have been murdered … We have elected to office the new moral majority who preach bigotry. Things won’t get better: it’s going to get worse.”

The speaker asks for two minutes’ silent prayer.

And then the shout erupts again. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Louder. Fists in the air. “Gay life isn’t cheap.”

At the Chelsea precinct the search for Jay Utterback’s killers goes on. ❖

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The evening after the Ramrod killings, Edward Thulman, a 21-year-old self-described hustler, showed up at the Post declaring he had been Ronald Crumpley’s lover. Thulman claimed the massacre took place because he wouldn’t go out with Crumley anymore — “He had gotten too crazy.” Their liaison, he said, had taken place at a fleabag hotel on Eighth  at 48th Street during a six-month period. The Post quoted Lieutenant John Yuknes, chief detective on the case: “We have no reason to believe Thulman’s not telling the truth. His story appears to stand up.” Reached by phone before press time, Yuknes insisted that the Post used only half his statement. “I told them we had no reason to believe that Thulman’s telling the truth either. Nothing has popped up yet to connect these two guys.”

Yuknes asked Thulman why he went to the Post before going to the police.

“Because they’d pay me.” Thulman said the Post paid him $100.

When told of the accusation, Steve Dunleavy, managing editor at the Post said that aside from $20 which the Post paid for taxis, no money was given Edward Thulman.

Jiog Wentz, doorman at the Ramrod, and Vernon Kroenig, organist at St. Joseph’s Church, were killed in the spray of bullets which hit the Ramrod. Richard Huff, Rene Matute, and Tom Ron are in fair condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Olaf Gravesen is in satisfactory condition at St. Vincent’s.

A fund is being started to aid the sur­vivors of the shootings. Contributions may c§ be sent to The November 19th Fund, care of Washington Square Methodist Church, 135 West 48th Street, New York, NY 0 10012. Approximately 1000 people at­tended a memorial service at the church.


The Hotel Chelsea Keeps on Keeping On

Romance of the Rogues: The Hotel Chelsea Keeps on Keeping On
February 11, 1980

today will pass
as currents of the air
that veer and die
tell me how souls can be
such flames of suffering
and of ecstasy
then fare
as do the winds fare

Edgar Lee Masters’s poem is printed, in bold italics, on the promotional brochure of the Hotel Chelsea. It is its come-on. The Hotel Chelsea sells a Romance.

Certain artists are known as much for how they lived or died as for what they created. They are the ones who live in glass houses and throw stones from the inside. Their names are signals, and we can place them, but we know them best as myths. It is a Catholic concept, part of the tradition that saw Dante descend through the nine circles, made Francois Villon an anti-hero, named Hollywood Babylon, Monroe a martyr, Jagger Lucifer. It is the Romance of the Artist in the West, and the Hotel Chelsea may very well be the Last Romantic.

Brass plaques at its entrance at 222 West 23rd Street proclaim the one-time presence of Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thom­as, Brendan Behan. Stanley Bard, the Chelsea’s manager, will say fondly that all three would make merry, ribald scenes in the lobby when returning from a drunk. “Brendan Behan’s wife,” he says, “seemed unable to have children. But while they were staying here she became pregnant. It’s a very creative place.”

Naked Lunch, The Lost Weekend, and 2001: A Space Odyssey were written at the Chelsea. So was a lot of Beat poetry. Stuart Cloete chose it for the ultimate bomb-shelter in his novella, The Blast. Andy Warhol made Chelsea Girls there. The woman who shot him, Valerie Solanas, founder of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), lived there while he was shooting. So did Viva, who superstarred in the movie. Rock flowered there, and punk decays.

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When Alfius Cole, who is 102 (and a painter) moved in about 50 years ago, the hotel was already in the second phase of a process of architectural parthenogenesis which is only now nearing completion: Once it held “baronial” apartments. Today, all but a very few of the hotel’s 400 units are efficiencies, studios, and one-bedrooms.

In 1883, when Hubert Pirsson & Co. finished building the “Chelsea Apart­ments,” the city’s first duplexes were pro­vided for the needs of its first occupants, a group of wealthy artists who formed the city’s first cooperative. The duplexes were on the top floors of the 11-story building, and their upper levels were studios, where the best-established artists could enjoy unobstructed views, sunsets, and early-­morning northern light. For a short time, the Chelsea was the city’s tallest building.

By 1906, patronage had dwindled, and with it the banquet-ticket of com­missioned portraiture (Warhol’s book of coupons is, after all, a fairly recent phenomenon). Arcadia gave way to de­mocracy, but Arcadian vestiges remain. The Chelsea’s lower floors are rented out, for the most part, to transients. And as people move in, they await vacancies on the higher echelons. Inside, the building’s spine, an elaborate spiral of brass, tarnishes.

From the steps of the library across 23rd Street, the Chelsea looms into focus. “Victorian Gothic,” “Freestyle Queen Anne,” of “Picturesque Secessionist,” it is a broad, lumbering, red-brick behemoth. A pyramidal mansard tower, gables and giant chimneys roost over the balconies like cranky robber barons. The Chelsea was the first building to receive landmark status both on architectural grounds and for “its long-time association with the lit­erary world of New York.” It is that rare thing, an iconoclastic institution.

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Virgil Thomson, who is 83 and has lived there since 1940, has the prestige of a national treasure and presides — in one-­half of one of the original tenth-floor apartments — over the old guard. Many American members of the new guard chose the Chelsea out of galloping nostalgia­ — the hotel is a repository for the sensibilities of decades past. Jim Pasternak, who is in his mid-thirties, makes films and teaches at the New School. He moved to the Chelsea in the early ’70s when his marriage was ending. “During the first two weeks I was here, I fell in love with five different women, and within three weeks had affairs with all five. It was quite a wild place then. A ’60s feeling was still ram­pant.” The Chelsea has been described as a stopping off point on the international bohemian underground railroad; Europe­ans flock to it — and use it as a hotel. Few plain old American tourists are registered.

Neither the old guard nor the new claims any interest in or responsibility for the transient caste. To most, they are untouchables. Literally, a transient would be anyone who stays at the hotel for brief stints. Actually, a transient is someone who has not been given a context by those who have given it to each other. It is often the transient who makes the news. Jim Pasternak’s apartment is directly above the one shared by Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, and he was home the night she died. “I only know because a police officer came by and asked me questions the next morning,” he says. “I couldn’t tell him anything. The walls are very thick here and no one I knew knew them.”

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When current tenants are mentioned, Stanley Bard turns cautious. When un­pleasantries are mentioned, he turns off. Otherwise, his conversation is riddled with anecdote. He grew up with the Chelsea­ — his father ran it before him — and his office has the scent of obsession.

Although Bard is devoted to the myths of the Chelsea, he’s considered penny-wise in his attentions to the building itself. Almost everyone has complaints about the plastering, or the plumbing, or the heat, or security. One longtime tenant says Bard sometimes rents rooms “to people who might be better off in hospitals,” yet he has been known to waive rents for months on end to people in whom he has faith, or for whom he as a soft spot. His credo is that the pulse of the culture beats quickest away from the mainstream — his commit­ment is to the Chelsea’s tradition as beacon to the fringe.

The lobby is a reliquary of the ’50s and early ’60s. First impression is of bright lights, patterned wall-to-wall, vinyl-­seated gargoyled wooden benches, chrome, more vinyl, a blur of Everyman Abstract Expressionism, a dash of Pop, and a Sput­nik hanging from the ceiling. Paintings cover the walls like easy-to-fit pieces of a large puzzle. They look like tired versions of what we have come to know as masterpieces, and the paint seems to be describ­ing those times: they are orange and blue and green and yellow oil and acrylic nota­tions, and they hang like writing on the walls. In 1956, Bernard Shapshack, a sculptor in residence, proclaimed the lob­by “the signboard of the people.”

It is a lobby without coherence. No Hilton Kramer, no Clement Greenberg ever reviewed it. Certainly no sister Par­rish ever decorated it.


The Chelsea — “Oasis,” “lower depths Brigadoon,” “a really funny hotel” — is a labyrinth of self-referential environments. Upstairs spring jungles of personal icono­graphics.


At noon Stella Waitzkin is making tea. She has lived at the Chelsea for about 10 years, is a hippie, a grandmother, and an artist. Her one-bedroom apartment is what she makes. She makes books. Books of sandstone, glass, and resin, baked in kilns, often encrusted with dolls’ heads, or bas-reliefs of the Parthenon, or things un­definable. The books are everywhere. “What you see,” she says, “is just the tip of the iceberg. I keep another room here to store more books and I keep a lot in the country, where I do most of my baking.” As she speaks, two cats appear and disap­pear among the stacks, then pause and pose like bookends. She points at a sagging bookcase. “Can you imagine what would happen if that wall gave in? The plaster­ing here is one thing I’d like people to know about the Chelsea.”

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“I’ve thought of moving to Ireland on occasion,” says Isabella Gardner, “but I could never live anywhere else in New York.” Isabella Gardner was an actress, is a poet, and was once married to a poet, Allen Tate. She also keeps “another room” at the Chelsea, “to work in though I never use it. I usually go to the country to work, to MacDowell. It’s difficult to work here, I find… there are distractions, the city, you understand…” Isabella Gardner’s hair is long, straight, and red and it lists in and out of a topknot. She moves in slightly awkward sequences on long thin, colt legs.

“Everything I need is easily available here. I know exactly where to go to get my shoes cobbled. I know all the bellmen and I can get special service. I have good friends here. I’ve lived here off and on since… oh… the early ’60s… I was traveling a great deal then… and my daughter, you know lived here too for a while… in her own apartment of course. She knew all the rock people then… Janis Joplin and all… I only knew them by sight. Nowadays I don’t have anything at all to do with the transient traffic.” She stops for a second and looks purposefully askance: “and I mean traffic in every sense of the word.”

Isabella Gardner’s apartment has the aura of permanence. She has a stained glass transom over her front door and has had the paint stripped off the mahogany moldings — “as Virgil says, ‘hotels tend to paint over everything with beige paint.’ ” She’s a bit of a curator: “During the blackout of 1977, as I made my way to the lobby, I had a candle in one hand, a rag in the other, and I polished my way down. At other times I’ve been tempted to go at it with a can of spray paint.”

Mildred Baker, a friend of both Stella Waitzkin and Isabella Gardner, has lived at the Chelsea for 40 years. She is a brisk woman. She stands erect. Striding through the lobby, calling greetings to the desk, she is a ballerina field marshal. Now retired, she was director of the Newark Museum, and used to split her week be­tween the Chelsea and a house in New Jersey. When she joined her husband (who worked for FDR’s Relief Administration) at the hotel during World War II, she would “come in to find sailors cavorting in the lobby. The British Merchant Seamen kept a canteen going here. And some Catholic charities kept space as well, for sheltering refugees. The old management, this Mr. Bard’s father, and Mr. Gross, and dear Mr. Krauss — he was an angel to us­ — were all of Hungarian descent. They worked here during the Depression and were able to buy it from the Knott Hotel Corporation for $50,000 down, which they borrowed from a bank down the street. They also took in many Hungarian refu­gees after the uprising in 1956.”

Mildred Baker’s muted walls bear many abstract landscapes and many in­scribed photographs. As she excuses herself to prepare for a trip she is about to take to the Red Sea, she mentions that the pictures are all that matter of her possessions.

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A traffic cop on Eighth Avenue: “the Chelsea is okay for a single woman, for a couple of nights maybe, if you’re careful.” Further west toward Ninth, a waiter in a Chinese restaurant: “the Chelsea is not so nice. You be better off at Holiday Inn on 58th Street.”

East of the hotel is headquarters for the toy and novelty business — year-round ghosts of birthdays and New Years. Facing it are a “Y” and a branch library. To the West, London Terrace, a bulking Tudorish apartment complex, and toward the River, an Alphaville of highway, trucks, and diners. There is one flicker of Merry Olde England at Mr. Spats — where a stew and a stiff drink help brighten the way to New Jersey. But night hits hard on 23rd Street.

Heading back to the Chelsea out of darkness is like heading back to a dorm after a late night out. There is always someone sitting there to watch you. And even if it’s 4 a.m. and the someone is nodding out, enough energy remains to lift a head and an eye that follow you: Are you a transient? Are you Someone? Are you good for a hit?

Susan from San Francisco is at the bar of El Quijote — which is to the Chelsea what the Polo lounge is to the Beverly Hills. She has been practicing Spanish with Jose, the bartender, and it keeps getting better as she drinks: “I can’t speak a word of Spanish, but just listen to me go. When you want to communicate, language is no barrier.” She is a freelance secretary in town for a conference. Her boss is at the Plaza. “Did you know that Dylan Thomas used to drink right here? Got to admit this place has a lot of history.” The plaque at the hotel entrance reads: “Dedicated to the memory of Dylan Thomas, who lived and labored last at the Chelsea Hotel and from here sailed out to die.”


The Artist as Sage, the Artist as Addict, the Artist as Albatross, the Artist as Package. All of them live at the Chelsea.


“My apartment doesn’t cost anything like what it looks like,” says Virgil Thom­son, “and my paintings are by people I know. I never have pictures around by people I don’t know. That kind belongs in museums.” Evidence has it that he knew Florine Stettheimer and Marcel Duchamp rather well. Mr. Thomson’s favorite paint­ing, however, is by an artist less well-­known, Christian Berard. It is of a saltim­banque. “It moves around the canvas. A good picture shouldn’t be too stuck there.” He also likes a more recent sculpture that looks like a flower made of congealed brown paper bags. It is about five feet high, like Mr. Thomson, and it stands its twisted stand at the entrance to the living room. “The process by which this was made is the same process used to dip babies’ shoes. You know, when they are bronzed as souvenirs.”

He is equivocal about the Chelsea’s management. “They have to give you a minimum of service and they do. All hotel service everywhere is economized and ab­breviated. It’s easy to make the bed. A young man comes to work for me in the mornings and he takes the right side, I take the left, and poof, it’s done. I don’t wriggle much in bed. That’s a sign of age. The young tend to destroy their beds every night.”

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“The people I associate with here are mostly older people or others trained clas­sically to music.” But he remembers Janis Joplin, whom he “would nod to, in a friendly manner, in the elevator. She had a wonderful dirty voice. The finest dirty vocal tones I’ve ever heard.”

Some of the overflow of Virgil Thom­son’s art collection can be found in Gerald Busby’s apartment. Busby is custodian to a smaller relative of the paper-bag flower, and to several paintings by an artist Mr. Thomson describes as “a little French criminal I used to know.” Mr. Thomson’s distinct round face appears in the fore­ground of one of them. Gerald Busby is in his late thirties and was trained classically in music. “I share a birthday with Brahms,” he says.

“My first job in New York (after leav­ing Texas) was as organist to a congrega­tion of Methodist alcoholics. I wrote the score for Robert Altman’s movie, Three Women, and Altman gave me a small part, the part of the alcoholic Baptist minister, in A Wedding. This sort of thing happens to you when you’re from the South.” Laundry comes through the door. A housepainter leaves the kitchen. John Cheever calls to talk about Robert Altman. A friend arrives; they are going to a screening.

“It’s been fun living here. Whatever new goes on in the city can sooner or later be had here. There are always all sorts of rumors flying round here. I heard once about being able to order drugs through room service, but I’ve never tried it so I’ve no idea about any truth to it.”

It seems unlikely. Room service is vir­tually nonexistent, although Isabella Gardner says, “One can make arrangements with the bellmen.” Other rumors, however, are grounded. In October 1974 The New York Times ran an article which stated that “two gunmen held ten men and five women hostage for more than two hours at the Chelsea Hotel.” Jim Pasternak: “They were pimps, big dudes in white hats who had a floating crap game at the Chelsea on Saturday nights. Ap­parently two other pimps came over from Queens to make trouble:” Virgil Thomson: “I’ve lived in Kansas City and Paris, which are the great centers of sin and corruption, so I was neither shocked nor vastly entertained by small time dope selling or gambling. You know, at my advanced age I’m not that interested in gang-bangs, but they do have them around.”

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Other rumors concern fires at the Chelsea, of which there have been several. Pasternak says, “A big one two years ago was started by an enraged woman who set fire to her lover’s trousers. He was not in them at the time, but another young man — I believe he had a weak heart — died from the fumes.”

“I could hear the desk clerk and the bellboy pounding up the stairs,” William S. Burroughs wrote in Naked Lunch, “I took the self-service elevator down, walked through the empty lobby into the street. It was a beautiful Indian Summer Day… I had to stock up on junk fast… I took a taxi to Washington Square, got out and walked along 4th Street till I spotted Nick on the corner. You can always spot the pusher.”

Jim Pasternak: “We mostly have crimes of passion here. Viva, in the days when I first moved here, had some spec­tacular lovers’ quarrels. One morning while sitting at my desk working, I looked up and noticed a bicycle fly past my window. I guess she couldn’t throw him out the window, so the bicycle was the next best thing. People are also very fond of their animals here. During the fire a while back, everyone gathered in the lobby with their pets. It was like a family reunion. A few people actually admitted to having grabbed their animal before their loved one.”

George Kleinsinger, who wrote the mu­sical Archie and Mehitabel, about the love between a cockroach and an ally cat, has a cat named Mehitabel. “My skunk bit my second wife, dear Kate, then it made the mistake of biting me and I had to get rid of it.” Mud, trees, turtles, canaries, parakeets, finches, aquariums, an incubator, and “a nuclear family of ring­necked doves (including eggs) who love each other very much” remain. A black baby-grand piano and tape machines take up what remains of the studio.

“I moved to the Chelsea 20 years ago, dear one, to escape Roslyn, Long Island. Suburbia! I leave the Chelsea only when I go to St. Thomas. I love, love, love the tropics. I love to have sex many times during the day. I love love.”

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When his friend Brendan Behan died, he composed an elegy that includes an insert of Behan’s singing. “Yes, yes dear one, I recorded Brendan right here. After a bit of drinking, dear Brendan would come here and sing, sing, sing. All that drinking and singing, he was a big bore really. I drink too much too, dear one, but the Irish and the Jews have a lot in com­mon. But I’m not an alcoholic… because I’m Jewish.”

“My girl left me last night to go to Australia and I hate to be alone, dear one, and a fellow from downstairs came up here and offered me his girl for an hour for $50. They needed the $50 but I felt terrible. Instead, I told him they could both spend the night on my floor — they had run out of money, you see, and had no place to stay. So all night long, I got up to tuck the blankets around them. I was afraid they would catch cold.”


Don Quixotes of plaster, Don Quixotes of steel, wood-carved Panzas, plastic Dulcineas people the bar of El Quijote. The wall facing the bar is a dusky mural of scenes from Cervantes. The kitchen door is canopied with three-dimensional cut-outs, Disney-colored. Accessible from both street and lobby, El Quijote is a collision-ground of sensibilities: Grand ladies of the Chelsea, at banquettes, gloves poised on white linen, might as easily be in Schrafft’s.


One woozie Dulcinea, wearing several Christmas ornaments, French, named Jacki, weaves into the lobby with soup in a take-out coffee container. “I have lost my dog. Mon chien. He was very beau­tiful. Where is my chien? I cannot find heeeem.” She sits on one of the gargoyle benches and slurps for a moment. Two beefy teenaged boys walk in. They seem shy. Jacki spots them, shrieks, and throws a gartered leg over the nearest gargoyle and singsongs, “We are putanas, we are putanas, boys, how you like that we are putanas.” The two scan each other and hotfoot it out of the lobby.

Jim Pasternak: “It’s very easy to drift and get all whacked out at the Chelsea.” The year before last a young art historian did more than get whacked out. Another tenant says, “Please don’t say who I am, but I knew him when he first came to the Chelsea. He was straight as a board. He dressed like an accountant — three-piece-­suits, the whole bit. But then he changed completely. He wore leather all the time and never had any money. And when he couldn’t pay the rent, he’d sleep in the lobby or if he heard of a vacant room, he’d climb into it from one of the balconies. I told Stanley [Bard] that he belonged in a hospital, or at least with his family. May­be if he had been kicked out of here he would have gone to his brother’s in Brooklyn. I was very fond of him. He was someone special. Well, one morning I opened my window to check the weather and when I looked down I saw him lying next to his brains, on the parapet just below me. All I could say to myself was, ‘why did my eyes have to see this, why!’ ”

Gert Schiff, a professor of art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, moved away from the Chelsea at about that time. He had lived there for 13 years, “I had had enough. I love it there, but I had had enough of the punks and junkies. It is true that people always find something to grouse about. In the ’60s they groused about the ‘hippie invasion.’ The older ones get cranky about newcomers, but this bunch seems particularly sordid.”

A man of about 30 is in the lobby in pajamas. He has been there for over a half­-hour talking to a stray kitten. He is Brit­ish. “You know, I really came down here because I ran out of cigarettes, but don’t you find this to be an unusually lovely kitten? Kitty, I would love to take you home with me, but I just can’t. I already have a kitty and my kitty doesn’t like other kittens very much. This hotel’s real­ly quite wonderful you know. Every morn­ing I am awakened by the sound of Mr. Kleinsinger’s birdies.”

Angus Wallace, also British, is “sort of an entrepreneur of the avant-garde.” He no longer lives at the Chelsea, but people don’t really leave — they become alumni. “I went to Summerhill as a child and think I was very changed by it, you know. The Chelsea reminded me a lot of Sum­merhill. The same sort of freedom. The same sense of waking up in the morning knowing that you have to build your life, and that no one can do it for you. The Squat Theatre — I was managing them — ­came to the Chelsea when they first arrived in New York. In fact — for better or worse — I think the Chelsea gave them their first clear picture of New York, of America really. They had a goat with them, for one of their plays, and kids and all, and they were permitted to keep their goat tethered up on the roof. It was sum­mer then, of course. But anyway, I’ve stayed at the Chelsea when I’ve really been down and out. No money at all. And Stanley Bard was extraordinarily good about that. He was really very patient and didn’t press me at all. I knew someone at the Chelsea — he was a very famous fash­ion designer and a good friend of mine when I lived there; his name was Charles James. And, well, I supposed he had come upon hard times. Now that he’s dead I don’t suppose there’s harm in mentioning that I don’t believe he paid any rent for something like twelve years.”

“Poor Charlie James,” says Mildred Baker. “He was really quite alone, I’m afraid, by the time he died. The poor man fought with everyone.” “Poor Charlie,” says Richard Bernstein, a commercial ar­tist who keeps a studio at the Chelsea, “was hustled all his life. And now some of the people who hustled him are putting up a plaque in his honor. I’m sick of the romance of the Chelsea. They’re always making heroes of pretty sad cases.”

Susan Sontag once wrote that “for the modern consciousness, the artist (replac­ing the saint) is the exemplary sufferer.” And in fact the Chelsea does sell a rather morbid Romance. But it would be unjust to give a damning send-off. We need the Chelsea. It stands for the rebel, the roman­tic, the freak in us all. Brendan Behan put it more simply: “There is more space in the Hotel Chelsea than in the whole of Staten Island.” ■


A Women’s Prison in Chelsea Will Be Transformed

When Keila Pulinario left Bayview Correctional Facility, the women’s prison overlooking Chelsea Piers, it was with her hands cuffed together and her right leg cuffed to another woman’s left leg.

Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York City and Bayview, on West 20th Street less than one block from the Hudson River, was in danger of flooding. That Monday, prison officials told Pulinario and the other 152 women to pack an overnight bag; they were being evacuated to upstate prisons to wait out the storm. The women assumed that they would return in a few days, but fourteen feet of water flooded into the building, destroying boilers and electrical equipment and necessitating over $600,000 worth of repairs before the prison could become functional again. The following year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Bayview would be permanently closed and that the state would soon be seeking bids for the building.

“The last thing I heard about Bayview was that I was never going back there because Trump was going to buy the building,” Pulinario told the Voice.

But the building did not go to the president-elect. In October 2015, New York State awarded a lease of up to 99 years to the Novo Foundation, a private foundation focused on ending violence against women and girls, and the Goren Group, a women-led development firm, to transform the women’s prison into a Women’s Building.

“The Women’s Building is dedicated to liberation, equality, and justice no matter where it’s built,” stated Pamela Shifman, the Novo Foundation’s executive director. To that end, and especially given the history of the building, Novo is including Pulinario and other formerly incarcerated women in the planning process. “These were the voices we had to hear from first,” Shifman explained. “We started from there and worked our way out [to other people].”

Keila Pulinario, a former inmate, on a recent visit to the empty Bayview building
Keila Pulinario, a former inmate, on a recent visit to the empty Bayview building

Miyoshi Benton of the Women and Justice Project, which works with formerly and currently incarcerated women to end mass incarceration, partnered with Novo to ensure that these women were part of every step of Bayview’s transformation.

“Bayview is a former prison. The women who were demonized and dehumanized should be the ones whose voices are at the forefront,” she said. “It’s a rare occurrence for [incarcerated] women’s voices to be reflected in decisions.”

Pulinario was unaware of the prison’s true fate until this past spring. She was released from prison in 2014 and began rebuilding her life. That included speaking out on behalf of the women she left behind and lobbying lawmakers to pass more stringent legislation against shackling women during childbirth and postpartum recovery. This past spring, she received a phone call from the Women and Justice Project inviting her to a focus group about the fate of Bayview. She walked into a room filled with women she had met during her twenty years behind bars.

Marcie, another former prisoner, on a recent visit
Marcie, another former prisoner, on a recent visit

Marcie, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is also part of the re-envisioning process. She was incarcerated at Bayview in the 1990s, over a decade before Pulinario arrived. Marcie was transferred from a men’s prison as part of a pilot program to place trans women in women’s prisons. “It was a nightmare,” she told the Voice. Marcie was placed in keeplock, or locked into her room for at least 23 hours a day on the prison’s fifth floor. “They said it was for my safety, but [the isolation] brought more harm to me.”

Three months later, she was allowed to interact with other women. But, fearing violence, Marcie kept her trans identity secret. “When I’d go to shower, I’d bathe in my panties,” she recalled. “There were times I had issues explaining to girls why I didn’t have any sanitary pads because there was always a shortage.”

Other women weren’t the only source of potential violence. In the 1990s, sexual abuse and misconduct were recurring problems. “Everyone knew that COs were having sex with women in there and everyone looked the other way,” Marcie recalled. Two decades later, in 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that Bayview had the highest rate of staff sexual assaults. In 2012, a prison guard repeatedly raped and impregnated a woman, grinning at the cameras that captured his assault.

Marcie was transferred from Bayview in 1996 and was paroled a few years later. She concentrated on rebuilding her life, which included advocacy, and joined the Audre Lorde Project’s TransJustice and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. In May 2016, she was invited to help shape the Women’s Building. Like Pulinario, she’s excited to participate in the new project. For Marcie, her inclusion also indicates the start of a breaking down of the fear and stigma that made her keep her trans identity secret. “The trans community is the most impoverished, the most marginalized,” she said. “We’re never invited to these conversations.”

Construction will begin in 2017, and Novo anticipates the building will open in 2020. While Novo plans what Shifman calls a “significant renovation,” it will keep some aspects of the prison, which is filled with art deco mosaics and even has a pool from its earlier decades as a Seamen’s YMCA (which the prison used to store paper files).

Keeplock cells, where women were locked in solitary confinement
Keeplock cells, where women were locked in solitary confinement

“There is a deep commitment to ensuring that the building has some memorialization and has opportunities for people to learn about the history of oppression women have experienced,” she explained. For instance, Pulinario said, the women want to preserve the keeplock floor as a reminder that, not long ago, women were locked into small cells for 23 hours each day.

And the Women and Justice Project is facilitating monthly meetings with formerly incarcerated women and is planning an inaugural winter event marking both the building’s transformation and women’s organizing for approximately 100 formerly incarcerated women, family members, and advocates. Meanwhile, photographer Annie Leibovitz has an exhibition of portraits she took of women opening in the building on Friday, November 18.

“I never thought I would step foot in this building again,” Pulinario said on a recent November morning, as she walked through the prison’s front door as a free woman for the very first time. “I am in a building where I was once in bondage. Now it’s going to be a building to help women.”


This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 9/15/2014

Take a bite out of the Big Apple and check out this week’s five top food events — a list that includes a free happy hour.

Eat in Astoria Food Festival, Astoria Bank, 30-16 30th Avenue, Queens, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Astoria may forever be tied to its popular Greek eats, but the first ever Astoria restaurant week promises to offer a lot more than baklava. Restaurants like the Sparrow Tavern and Pachanga Patterson will offer a selection of bites at the festival’s opening night gala, and specials will be available through September 28. Tickets to Tuesday’s event are $49 and include access to unlimited food and drink.

Kombucha Making Class, Bushwick Food Co-op, 2 Porter Avenue, Brooklyn, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

For $30 — $15 if you’re a co-op member — you will learn how to properly ferment sweet tea and put bacteria to good use. All ingredients will be provided by the co-op, and participants will take a fresh batch of kombucha home.

Words on Whiskey, Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, 63 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Need a drink to celebrate hump day? Colin Spoelman, co-founder of Kings County Distillery, will lead a discussion on whiskey scandals and read select passages from his book Guide to Urban Moonshining, after which guests can enjoy a tour and tasting at the distillery. Tickets are just $5.

Free Pop-Up — Swedish Craft Beer Tasting, Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, Thursday, noon

As part of the week-long festivities of the NORTH Festival, Brooklyn Brewery is hosting a free happy hour from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday. The brewery will pour selections from its Stockholm-based sister operation Nya Carnegiebryggeriet — the first American-operated craft brewery in Europe. Reservations are free.

The Joy of Sake, The Altman Building, 135 West 18th Street, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Sake is in season this week as nearly 357 labels from all over Japan and 13 from the U.S will appear under one roof. Chefs from Brushstroke and 15 East will prepare dishes designed to accentuate the flavors of select sakes. Tickets are $100 and include access to unlimited tastings and food.


This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 9/2/2014

Recovering from a long weekend away can be tough. Here are five events to help ease you into fall.

VeggiePalooza, Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Avenue — Building 3, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

Celebrate harvest with fresh veggies and sourdough courtesy of Scratchbread at this rooftop dinner and drinks celebration. Brooklyn restaurants including Northeast Kingdom will contribute select menu items like carrot cake. Tickets are $85 and include beer and wine.

$10 Tasting — Shiner Beers, Idle Hands Bar, 25 Avenue B, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Now that fantasy football drafts are over, get ready for kickoff with a $10 deal on beer and whiskey. Representatives from Texas’s Shiner Brewery will be attendance to discuss three of their favorite products, and shots of whiskey will also be available for really friendly and well-behaved customers. Guests can also enjoy the start of the NFL season with the Packers-Seahawks game on Thursday; Houston Texans fans will find a home here all season.

Williams-Sonoma All-Clad TK Launch Event, Williams-Sonoma, 10 Columbus Circle, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Join Per Se chef Eli Kaimeh and Bouchon pastry chef Alessandra Altieri as they showcase Williams-Sonoma’s new cookware line featuring Thomas Keller recipes. The complimentary event will also feature a raffle to win an entire cookware set for free, and attendees who make a purchase will receive a free copy of Chef Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

From BBQ to Braai — South African BBQ Comes To America, Studio 450, 450 West 31st Street, Thursday, 7 p.m.

This traveling series stars South African chef Hugo Uys, who explores his home country’s barbecue traditions and Braai cuisine. Guests can expect a variety of seafood and meats grilled over a charcoal fire, as well as a variety of South African wines. Tickets are $35.

Drunkle Vanya, The Gin Mill, 442 Amsterdam Avenue, Thursday, 8 p.m.

What happens when you pair Cards Against Humanity with vodka? You can find out this Thursday, at this adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” You’ll play games and drink, plus partake in the practical jokes that are part of this live production. The show runs through September, and tickets are $15.


This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 8/5/2014

What’s on the agenda for this week? Farm dinners, pintxo tastings, and plenty of rosé. Take a look at our best bets to sate your appetite.

Rosé Pairing Dinner, Trattoria Il Mulino, 36 East 20th Street, Wednesday, 5 p.m.

Summer is rosé season, and this $60 dinner courtesy of chef Michele Mazza pairs the wine to a line-up of Italian dishes includes mozzarella with vegetables, ravioli with arugula and goat cheese, and a choice of either bacon wrapped scallops or veal limone. Guests can make a reservation for the special four-course dinner, which runs from 5 to 11 p.m., by contacting the restaurant directly.

Pintxo Pairings: a 12 Course Food & Drink Tasting, Huertas, 107 First Avenue, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

Enjoy delicacies from Spain’s Basque region during this 12-course small plate tasting created by chef Jonah Miller. You’ll dine on current menu items and dishes that might make a fall debut, with each bite accompanied by its own drink pairing. The event includes a discussion with chef Miller on the recipes. Tickets are $50.

SWEET Documentary World Premiere Screening Event, The National Gourmet Institute, 48 West 21st Street, Thursday, 6 p.m.

If you’re looking to expand your cultural understanding of food entrepreneurship, consider a documentary that covers India’s battle with chronic illnesses. Filmmaker Andrew Rothschild will be in attendance for a Q and A to discuss his film, which focuses on The Cookbook Project Founders Adam Aronovitz and Alissa Bilfield — who will also be in attendance — and their work with women rescued from human trafficking, who help create a healthy sweets business. After the film, there will also be a healthy sweets cooking demo along with complimentary ayurvedic chai tea. Tickets start at $22.

Happy Hour and Trivia Night, Table Green at the Battery — Battery Park, State Street at Battery Place, Thursday, 6 p.m.

If you’re a Wall Street worker sick of the same old bar scene on Stone Street, consider trivia and drinks with a sunset view. For $25, guests receive two drinks and the chance to flex their mental muscles, with all proceeds going to support Battery Urban Farm. Snacks from the farm will also be provided.

On the Farm Dinner: Vegan Night, Edgemere Farm, 385 Beach 45th Street, Queens, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Barry’s Tempeh will be taking a trip to the farm as this Rockaway retreat hosts its first ever all vegan dinner. Tempeh tamales, shishito peppers, and DiCosmo coconut ices are all included on the evening’s menu, with Rockaway Brewing Co. beer and other beverages, too. Tickets are $15.

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Big Smoke Burger Brings Poutine, Canadian Style Burgers to NYC

Canada isn’t exactly known for its burgers, but a chain that just opened its first outlet in New York City aims to change that — and it’s serving a beloved fried potato dish, too. Big Smoke Burger (70 Seventh Avenue; 917-475-1995) opened this past Tuesday, luring crowds with its poutine and convincing them to stay for a Canadian-style burger.

What is a Canadian-style burger? Not that different from an American burger visually, though the patty itself tastes gamier, spicier, and maybe even smokier than what you might find at other chains. After a few bites, you could have easily told me that there was venison or bison mixed into the beef patty, and I’d have believed it — though that could just be saying more about the quality of USDA hamburger beef at the fast food places I grew up on.

Big Smoke has plenty of ways to customize your meal. Start with a beef (AAA Ontario fresh ground chuck, the highest score Canadian beef can receive), chicken, lamb, or veggie patty and then add ingredients like roasted red peppers and smoked Canadian cheddar. You’ll also find an assortment of signature sandwiches, including the namesake Big Smoke Burger, a combo of horseradish mayo, caramelized onions, and smoked cheddar on your choice of meat. Another specialty option for fans of the extreme: the crazy burger, topped with jalapeño havarti, coleslaw, chipotle mayo, barbecue sauce, hot peppers, and lettuce. No matter what you order, expect it to be huge, thanks in large part to an oversized sesame bun that falls apart rather quickly.

And don’t miss the poutine, a small bucket of fries covered in salty gravy and cheese curds. The crisp fries soak in the gravy nicely and are likely to be a highlight of your trip. You can also order onion rings and salad, but why? Wash it all down with a soda; beer is coming soon — along with a backyard patio.

For now, grab a seat inside, where murals of a cityscape adorn the walls. Large picnic style wooden benches in the front encourage a communal atmosphere and are accommodating for large groups. Meals are delivered to your table by a server, though you’ll need to place your order at the counter first.

Click on the next page for a first look at Big Smoke Burger:

Big Smoke Burger®: horseradish mayo, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, tomato & lettuce
Big Smoke Burger®: horseradish mayo, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, tomato & lettuce
How do you say combo in Canadian, eh?
How do you say combo in Canadian, eh?
Burgers can be customized if you like, though there are some pre-made combos ready to roll
Burgers can be customized if you like, though there are some pre-made combos ready to roll
A first look inside NYC's first Big Smoke Burger outpost
A first look inside NYC’s first Big Smoke Burger outpost


Calendar Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NYC ARCHIVES

These Are the Five Best Food Events in NYC This Weekend

Are you really going to celebrate Father’s Day with brunch and a bottle of whiskey? Consider these five fantastic alternatives to show dad you were “planning” his party all along.

Brewskee-Ball World Mug Parade, Full Circle Bar, 318 Grand Street, Brooklyn/additional locations, 9 a.m. Saturday

While most New York sports teams are floundering, the Brooklyn skee-ball team took home the Brewskee-Ball championship during the World Mug Team tournament. What that means for you is that there’s going to be a huge party in Williamsburg followed by a victory concert at The Knitting Factory. Full Circle Bar will be open bright and early for day drinking and bagels, and you’ll be able to take in additional musical performances and a screening of the team’s championship win.

Hamilton Park Festival, Hamilton Park, McWilliams Place and 8th Street, Jersey City, NJ, 10 a.m. Saturday

Explore Jersey City with a festival featuring live music, food, and a sports clinic for the kids — or really bad adult athletes. Nearby businesses like GP’s Restaurant and Bar will celebrate with refreshments like homemade limoncello and meatballs; afterward the festivities end, check out a seasonal outdoor bar like Surf City and take in the city skyline view.

Sixpoint Brewery and Brooklyn Crab present the Almost Annual Big Ten Block Party, Brooklyn Crab, 24 Reed Street, Brooklyn, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

For $30, sample five of Sixpoint Brewery’s offerings and receive a discount on Brooklyn Crab’s seafood or dry land specialties. Partake in free games of cornhole and mini golf while you imbibe. Drink tickets will be valid until 3 p.m.; you can purchase them in advance.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Cacao Prieto Ice Cream Social, Botanica, 220 Conover Street, Brooklyn, noon Saturday

If you’re in need of an ice cream break in between crabs and beer, take the short walk from Brooklyn Crab to Conover Street for some boozy shakes. Brooklyn Farmacy and Cacao Prieto are teaming up to talk about the history of the soda fountain and make some delicious beverages like bourbon and vanilla milkshakes. The event will also celebrate Brooklyn Farmacy’s new book, and its authors will be on hand to sign copies. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

The Duckathlon, Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, noon Saturday

Break out a beard, grab a few friends, and test your culinary mettle at this competitive event. Teams of four will engage in 25 culinary challenges — think naming pig parts — each of which is paired with a tasting. New York chefs like Anita Lo, Brad Farmerie, Francois Payard, and Jacques Torres will oversee activities and demonstrate tricks of the trade; you’re not required to complete every challenge, but winning teams will win prizes. Beer and wine are part of the entrance fee. Tickets are $54 for a team of four and can be purchased through the Duckathlon’s website.


The Four Best Non-Derby De Mayo Events in NYC This Weekend

Kentucky Derby De Mayo Weekend offers plenty of opportunity to start day drinking early. However, if you’re not into crowds dressed in sombreros or seersucker, we’ve highlighted four events this weekend that are not celebrating this holiday combo.

Greenhouse Gallery at James Beard House, 167 West 12th Street, Friday through June 30, 10 a.m.

In this new food photo exhibit, Seattle-based photographer Christopher Boffoli examines our wacky and sometimes disturbing relationship with food through a series of images. Boffoli used hand painted figures against a backdrop of real food — think people living in giant ice cream cone houses — with emphasis on subjects like portion sizes and food spectatorship. Additional information regarding attending the free exhibition can be found on the James Beard House website.

Queens County Market, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens, Sunday, 11 a.m.

For $5, visitors to this market can enjoy hayrides, watch sheep-shearing demos, and take a tour of the historic Adriance farmhouse. Look for local purveyors like Carib Delights, which will offer up its Carribean cheese, and wine tastings at the museum.

Txikifest ’14, Txixito, 240 Ninth Avenue, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Instead of mint juleps, fill up on the dry sparkling wine known as Txakoli. The wine of the Basque country goes best with tapas, so a variety of chefs will gather in the restaurant’s back alley to cook up a variety of bites for the occasion. Tickets are $50, and the event is all-you-can-drink.

Chinese Take Out, The Brooklyn Kitchen, 100 Frost Street, Sunday, 2 p.m.

With the winter of discontent in your rearview mirror, you might reminisce about all those delivered dumplings that kept you warm. Learn how to create your own with author Diana Kuan, author of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. A few of the dishes students will prepare include cashew chicken, barbecue ribs, and scallion pancakes. Beer will also be provided. To reserve your spot, tickets are available through The Brooklyn Kitchen website.


Two New Bar Menus in This Week’s Happy Hour Specials

Still nursing a holiday hangover from that last glass of green beer? Head out to happy hour for a fun — and effective — remedy.

Sotto 13, 140 West 13th Street

If you’re one of those no-time-for-lunch folks, executive chef Ed Cotton launched a happy hour bar menu this week offering up lemon-saffron arancini, meatballs, and homemade pizzas. The new items, available from 5 to 7:30 p.m., should be accompanied by the bar’s new two-for-one drink special: Guests can select two beers for $10, two glasses of wine for $13, or two cocktails for $13.

Hill & Dale, 115 Allen Street

From 5 to 7 p.m., those frolicking about on Allen Street can rest their bones on one of this bar’s comfy couches while throwing back a cheap drink or two. Well cocktails and select glasses of wine are $6, while draft pints are $5 apiece. The bar also serves up $30 pitchers of sangria that serve six, which is a value if you’re planning a group outing. The current draft line-up includes Guinness, Victory Pilsner, and Lagunitas IPA, and dishes like poutine and steamed pork buns might have you passed out on said comfy couch by the end of the night.

Manon, 407 West 14th Street

From 5 to 8 p.m., guests can enjoy 30 percent off any drink, with most cocktails averaging around $14 at full price. The bar also has a large selection of wine by the glass as well as tequilas, scotch, and bourbon, so finding an after work relaxation potion shouldn’t be an issue. On top of a drinks deal, the restaurant is also offering a new bar menu beginning this Thursday: Pick from rich selections like blue cheese and white chocolate, smoked duck, and braised pork sliders.

Concrete, 320 West 37th Street

Deals here are solid when it comes to saving you cash. From 5 to 8 p.m., beers are $3 and $4, while wine and well drinks are just $4 and $5 each. The bar’s interesting decor — think antlers holding lightbulbs and a wood wall that looks like Jenga — make it a unique spot to waste a few hours, with plenty of unhealthy food like fried peanut butter and jelly balls available until 2 a.m.