How to Make an Inn

by Jay Lesiger

Jay Lesiger is the founder and owner of Chelsea Pines Inn.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a Chelsea Pines guest or acquaintance has said to me, “I’ve always wanted to run an inn. It must be so much fun and so interesting.” Unless I know them very well, I smile politely and say, yes, it certainly is…and then I am silent.

Yes, it is fun, and yes, it really is interesting, but let me tell you, this is 365-day-a-year, 24/7 proposition, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! The rewards can be great, but the blood, sweat and tears are very tangible too. Let me take you back a little more than 25 years ago…

My late partner, Sheldon Post, had dreamed of being an innkeeper, something on the order of Mrs. Madrigal, the famed house mother in Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City,” complete with life-affirming advice (and maybe an occasional joint or two). And perhaps, in the San Francisco of the 1960s or 1970s, such a thing might have been possible. But New York in the 1980s was not so hospitable and Sheldon continued to purchase various rundown rooming houses all over the Village and Chelsea in the hopes of converting one of them to a gay-friendly guest house. The banks would have none of this; “What was a guest house?”, they would ask. But Sheldon was determined and, although the banks would offer money for condo or coop conversion, he would refuse, resell the building and then move on to the next one (as one acquaintance said of him, he may not have always been right, but he was never in doubt). Continue reading

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Janis Siegel’s West Village Then and Now

by Janis Siegel

Janis Siegel is a nine-time Grammy winning solo artist and founding member of The Manhattan Transfer.  Since 1982, she has also built a successful solo career spawning many highly acclaimed and finely crafted solo albums as well as numerous collaborative projects amassing a large international fan base and garnering consistently high critical praise.  Additionally, Janis’ culinary passion finds expression on her blog, How I Spent My Per Diem, penned under the nom-de-plume, Eydie Gourmet.

I moved to the West Village in 1981, for good.

As a native Brooklynite, I spent a good part of my childhood and certainly my teen years, wandering around this singular and exceptional city, enjoying and tasting everything that was offered. Ahhh … the theatre, the live music, the neighborhoods, the history, the danger, the Shakespeare In The Park, music in the Sheep Meadow with a bottle of Boone’s Farm, the Cloisters, boating on Central Park Lake, (a high school girl’s dream of ultimate romance) Nathan’s hot dogs and Chinatown.

But as a hippy girl with a guitar, it was the West Village that sparked my passion and ignited the youthful dream that I would live here someday, among the freaks, artistes, writers and other denizens of Bohemia.

In 1981, my neighborhood still retained much of its original Italian character. On Bleecker St. the original Murray’s Cheese was a tiny storefront, Zito’s Bread pumped out fresh semolina and prosciutto loaves every night in their basement lair, before the artisanal pizza craze, John’s and Joe’s were the only game in town for really great pizza in our neighborhood, Aphrodisia was the place to go for exotic spices and herbs, and next door, a wonderful Italian guy made fresh mozzarella every other day. Faiccos Pork Store sold homemade sausage, homemade ricotta,various pig parts, and Italian bar food like fried ravioli and arancini.

Cafe Lucca was my hang, over at Father Demo Square. Used to sit and play backgammon, sip my cappuccino, and actually talk to people. Mr. Onofrio Ottomanelli ran his butcher shop along with his sons and nephews. It was there and only there I was able to quench my insatiable lust for fresh game: wild boar, pheasant, goose and every fall, homemade venison sausage. Continue reading

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The Road from Uncle Charlie’s 1986 to Broadway Today

by Tom Kirdahy

Tom Kirdahy has dedicated his professional career and personal life working for LGBT causes. Tom spent nearly two decades as an attorney providing free legal services to people with HIV/AIDS, helping to create projects at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Bronx AIDS Services and on Long Island.  Tom currently serves on the board of the LGBT Center.  Separately, Tom has raised the curtain on the second act of his career as a theater producer, receiving a Tony nomination as one of the lead producers of RAGTIME.

In 1986 I was completing my first year at NYU law school, drinking 3 for 1 vodka tonics while watching DYNASTY at Uncle Charlie’s and falling in love for the first time.  The days of walking past gay bars afraid to enter had ended. The days of living out and proud for me were just beginning.

For better or worse, those nights at Uncle Charlie’s and the masculine scented taste of my first amorous kisses came right around the time when nonstop funerals were becoming routine in our community.  It was a titillating, confusing, exhilarating time.  In the face of so much loss I was experiencing the giddy joys of sexuality and freedom.

25 years ago we were making headlines by getting condom machines in dormitories at NYU, meeting at the NYC LGBT Center during the creation of ACT UP and taking to the streets to demand that the Reagan administration do something—ANYTHING—about AIDS.  Family planning meant wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney; in other words, family planning meant giving our families legal definitions in the wake of death.  Gaining successorship rights in our apartments, ensuring that our loved ones be protected legally in our bequests and honoring our wishes during the last days of our lives through the creation of health care proxies were the means by which we ensured the law acknowledged our families.

Continue reading

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LGBT Center Congratulates Chelsea Pines Inn; Reflects on Parallel Journeys

By Glennda Testone

Glennda Testone is the Executive Director of the New York LGBT Community Center and is a leader in the field of social justice for women and LGBT people.  Testone joins The Center from The Women’s Media Center (WMC) where she served as the Vice President.  Glennda also served as the Senior Director of Media Programs for the national Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) where she acted as a spokesperson for GLAAD and for the LGBT movement, appearing on CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC, and in outlets such as The Boston Globe,The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Time Out and W magazine.

A year and a half into my role as the Executive Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center I am so inspired and humbled to continue building on the work of those who have spent the last 28 years building this institution into a life-saving home away from home for the entire LGBT community. I stand on many shoulders and never take for granted the visionary activists who started our Center, the people that have kept it going for all of these years, and the folks who make it what it is today.

As I reflect on the Center’s decades of service to LGBT people I also salute the parallel journey of the Chelsea Pines Inn.  Both places came of age at a time when our community desperately needed safe spaces to organize, advocate and be who we are.  Both still offer a haven today, even at a time of great progress for our movement. Thanks to founders Jay Lesiger and his late partner Sheldon Post, LGBT people visiting our city have had a welcoming Inn to rest and find community within the charming and friendly walls of their comfortable and LGBT affirming space. Continue reading

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New York Then and Now

by Ed Salvato

Ed Salvato is a leading gay travel expert, writer, and marketing consultant. He offers LGBT trip-planning tips on his website.

New York City was a very different place when I visited the first time. It was the late ’70s and I was 14, traveling with about 25 other Catholic school classmates most of whom had never been to New York. It was scary and exciting.

I’ll never forget standing in the then-unadorned median of Park Avenue at around 57th Street looking up and down this seemingly endless canyon of buildings. Rivers of yellow cabs — horns blaring — careered by. Plumes of steam billowed from pipes protruding from manholes. Huge crowds swept up and down the sidewalks. For a small city dweller it was a pulse-quickening, jaw-dropping experience that was forever seared into my memories. Continue reading

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Terrence McNally Salutes 25 Years of Gay History

Playwright Terrence McNally has won 4 Tony Awards and an Emmy and received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Upcoming Broadway productions include his book for the new musical Catch Me if You Can with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and the revival of Master Class at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Twenty-five years in this gay man’s lifetime has seen incredible changes and I’m not talking of my sudden dependence on my computer and the Internet for just about everything.

Being 72 as I write this, I have seen more changes than my husband, Tom, who is 25 years younger than me. Just writing those two words “my husband” still makes me heart skip a beat and feel the world we inhabit as gay men and women has turned upside down.

When I came to New York City in 1956, I was 17 and being gay was as fun and sexy as it is now but it was also scary and probably more dangerous than we cared to admit. My bar of choice was Lenny’s Hideaway, long gone on W. 10th St. It was a firetrap and down a very steep flight of stairs but we felt safe from the stares and taunts of the enemy.

We took the police raids in stride. It was the price you paid for being gay. I never would have predicted that the drag queens at the Stonewall some 13 years later would start a revolution that won’t stop until marriage is legal in every single state and maybe not then. Continue reading

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Welcome to Our Anniversary Blog Series!

Chelsea Pines Inn, New York’s premier guesthouse, has been located at the nexus of three of the city’s hottest neighborhoods — Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Meatpacking District — for 25 years. And, boy, have we seen a lot of change since 1986! Our inn has always proudly reflected the diverse interests of these storied neighborhoods, as well as our loyal guests, dedicated staff, and many cherished neighbors and friends. To help us celebrate this occasion, we’ve asked a few friends to share their reflections about where we all were in 1986, where we are now and where we’re going in 2011 and beyond. We hope you enjoy this series of articles, appearing regularly below among our other posts.

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Anne Francis, a Chelsea Pines Inn Remembrance

For those of you who have stayed with us at Chelsea Pines Inn, you know that this is a special place for everyone who loves old movies. From the great Hollywood stars of the past (Paul Newman, Rock Hudson) to those that are lesser known (George Nader, Sheree North), each room is dedicated to a film actor or actress, featuring original posters and memorabilia from their films. Perhaps one of those lesser-known stars was Anne Francis, who died at age 80 this past week after a long illness. Very much a product of the Hollywood studio system, Ms. Francis entered the pantheon of fame by starring in the now-legendary 1956 scifi film, “Forbidden Planet.” This was a clever reimagining of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which featured Ms. Francis, in a very short tunic that revealed her physical charms if not her acting talents, as the imperiled daughter of Walter Pidgeon on a faraway planet, where she is protected by Robby the Robot, a very popular space toy of its day.

Ms. Francis, a beautiful blonde with a striking facial “beauty mark,” will also be remembered as the first female private detective to head her own program in the short-lived “Honey West,” where she garnered both a Golden Globe award and an Enmy nomination in the 1965-66 season. And many “Twilight Zone” fans will recall her striking performance as a department store mannequin during that show’s first brilliant season. In all, Ms. Francis appeared in over 150 feature films, TV films and series, and was always a pleasure to watch and listen to. Her career stretched from the 1941 Broadway show, “Lady in the Dark,” where she played the Gertrude Lawrence role as a child, through 2004 and a guest shot on “Without a Trace.” Other highlights of her career included roles in “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “Funny Girl.”

Although Anne never visited Chelsea Pines, she was thrilled to learn that a room had been dedicated to her, and sent us several lovely autographed photos, thanking us for remembering her. We framed them, put them up in her room, and sent her photos of them. Already ailing at the time, she nonetheless wrote back and thanked us for all our good thoughts and wishes. She was a terrific woman, a memorable actress, and will always be fondly remembered at Chelsea Pines, where Hollywood stars live on.

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Saluting Tony Curtis, a Chelsea Pines Inn Remembrance

Tony Curtis, one of the brightest and most popular Hollywood stars of the 1950s and 1960s, and certainly one of the most handsome, recently died at the age of 85. Tony has a star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame, but more importantly, he has his own room at Chelsea Pines.

Back when the Hollywood studio system was just barely still flourishing (just before the advent of television changed the way we got our entertainment forever), Anthony Curtis, born Bernard Schwartz to a poor Jewish family in the Bronx in 1925, had hustled his way into a seven-year contract as one of the decorative pretty boys at Universal (where Rock Hudson, Jeff Chandler and George Nader were similarly employed) in a series of B-movies where his looks meant more than his talent. Slowly his roles began to improve in size and quality, helped by his storybook marriage to Janet Leigh of “Psycho” fame (the first of six wives) to the point where he won the role of a bigoted Southern escaped convict, shackled to Sidney Poitier, in Stanley Kramer’s “The Defiant Ones,” which earned him his first and only Oscar nomination.

Many starring roles followed, but two stood out then, and still do today. The better known role was as Joe, the saxophone-playing musician, fleeing across country with Jack Lemmon, both dressed in crazy-funny drag and drooling over Marilyn Monroe, as part of an all-girl band in Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, “Some Like It Hot.” Demurely pursing his lips and looking almost too pretty in drag as Josephine, Curtis held his own against Monroe, at her charmingly sexy best, and Lemmon, whose comic talents were at full tilt, particularly in his seduction scenes with Monroe, where he very effectively did a dead-on Cary Grant impersonation.

Even better, and two years earlier, Curtis had portrayed a dead-eyed, soulless press agent, sucking up to the vicious newspaper columnist Burt Lancaster, in the unforgettable “Sweet Smell of Success”. His Sidney Falco, all sniveling, hustling deadbeat, proved once and for all that Curtis was no longer a male ingenue; this guy was an actor, and attention must be paid.

After too many years of too many sex comedies, in the late 60s Curtis won the title part in “The Boston Strangler,” and made a dramatic effort to change his image once again. While his performance was well-received, tastes had changed. While Curtis continued to work sporadically for many years to come, both in film and TV, his best opportunities were over. He found new respect in his second career as a painter, and his artwork has become very collectible.

I had the opportunity to see Curtis in his final public appearance, at a showing of “Success” at the first TCM Film Festival in Hollywood this past April. He was frail and wheelchair-bound, but the spirit was indomitable, and before long there was Sidney Falco up on screen, as grasping and sleazy as ever. That’s the Tony Curtis I’ll remember.

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Our New(ish) Website

Thanks for visiting the website. We’ve just updated the entire website for those of you who are visiting us on your iPhone, iPad or whatever mobile device you’re using. If you’ve been to the site before, you’ll notice that the site looks the same, but under the hood, everything is completely different. If you have a problem loading any of our content on our device, don’t hesitate to send an email to

Our “news” page is sort-of a blog, and we hope to keep it updated regularly with news, stories, photos and ideas to share that pertain to the inn and other things that interest us. Thanks for stopping by. And don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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