Chelsea Morning: Tim Button’s Neighborhood

I live on West 25th Street in what is now called Chelsea Heights, though when I moved there it wasn’t considered part of Chelsea but the bottom tip of the Flower District. I have a broad, inclusive view of what I regard as my neighborhood, which for me stretches from the Flower District in the north down as far as the Ladies’ Mile Historic District in the south; and from Madison Square Park in the east (I know, it’s really the Flatiron District) to the High Line and the Chelsea Gallery District in the west. The thing I love best about the area is that, despite the recent addition of all those apartment towers along Sixth Avenue, it’s still wonderfully diverse. I’ve got trees and grass, public art installations, and wonderful burgers in Madison Square Park, which I use as my front yard. And, if I get really hungry, the amazing Eataly marketplace is right across the street.

A sidewalk in New York City's midtown  Flower District in spring

Tim Button includes the Flower District, whose streets bloom with brilliant color in spring, as the northern part of his West 25th Street neighborhood, which has recently become known as Chelsea Heights.

Madison Square Park with the Flatiron Building in background

Madison Square Park, with the adjacent Flatiron Building, marks the western border of Tim’s neighborhood while also serving as his front yard.

The High Line between West 25th and West 27th Streets, looking south, photographed by Iwan Baan

The High Line–shown here between West 25th and West 27th Streets, looking south–and the Chelsea Gallery District comprise the western part of Tim’s extended neighborhood. Photograph by Iwan Baan

The Ladies' Mile Historic District in Manhattan, New York City

Tim counts the Ladies’ Mile Historic District—440 buildings, many of them former department stores, on 28 blocks from roughly 18th Street to 24th Street and from Broadway to west of Sixth Avenue—as the southern extension of his neighborhood. This stretch of Sixth Avenue, from #610 to #650, includes the Cammeyer,  Alexander, Siegel-Cooper, and  Price Buildings.

Walking Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the 20s—the Ladies’ Mile Historic District—I only need raise my eyes to enjoy the exuberant facades of great 19th-century emporiums like the Siegel-Cooper Building at  620 Sixth Avenue or the Stern Brothers Building at 32-46 West 23rd Street.

32-46 West 23rd Street, Stern Brothers Dry Goods Store Building

32-46 West 23rd Street between Fifth  and Sixth Avenues, built as the Stern Brothers’ Dry Goods Store, was constructed in five stages between 1878 and 1892. Today it houses the Home Depot.

Apart from Eatery, my favorite restaurants in the neighborhood include East of Eighth, which was designed by our own Scott Bromley and Jerry Caldari of Bromley Caldari; Pongsri, for the best Thai in the area; and, of course, El Quijote, the scene of my wedding rehearsal dinner 26 years ago. (Time flies!)

Comprising an enormous marketplace with several restaurants, Eataly, a 50,000 square-foot emporium devoted to the food and culinary traditions of Italy, is located in the Toy Building at 200 Fifth Avenue in New York, across from Madison Square Park.

Bread at Eataly, New York

The panetteria at Eataly has some of the best bread in New York City . . .

Cheese and salumi counter, Eataly, New York

. . . while the salumi & fromaggi counter has an extraordinary selection of Italian cheeses and cured meats.

East of Eighth, New York, interior

A neighborhood stalwart, the contemporary bistro East of Eighth, at 254 West 23rd Street, was designed by our own Bromley Caldari. There’s a beautiful, lush garden in the back.

El Quijote Restaurant, Chelsea, New York

Back in the 1980s, Tim had his wedding rehearsal dinner at El Quijote, which has been serving Spanish cuisine since 1930 and looks pretty much the same today as it always has.

El Quijote is located in another neighborhood landmark, the Hotel Chelsea, which is currently under renovation, and is probably the most famous institution in the whole area. It has been home to an amazing roster of writers, artists, musicians, and actors, including Bob Dylan, Virgil Thompson, Sid Vicious, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Philip Taaffe, and Larry Rivers.

Hotel Chelsea, West 23rd Street, New York, in 1996

Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street is probably the neighborhood’s most famous landmark. Former and present residents include couturier Charles James, movie director Stanley Kubrick, painter Philip Taaffe, playwright  Tennessee Williams, and T magazine editor in chief Sally Singer. 

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey shot the legendary experimental movie Chelsea Girls at the hotel in 1966. One of the movie’s stars, the singer Nico, a sometime hotel resident, called her first album Chelsea Girl. The ballad-like title track, written by Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground, is about the hotel and its inhabitants as portrayed in the film.

In this clip, Warhol superstar Nico is filmed in the Hotel Chelsea singing the song Chelsea Girls and talking about living in the hotel, where she was a resident for many years.  

If Nico and the denizens of the hotel in the movie represent one aspect of the neighborhood, Joni Mitchell captures its sunnier, folksier side in her 1968 song Chelsea Morning. Written while Mitchell was living in the West 20s, the upbeat song inspired Bill and Hillary Clinton to name their daughter you-know-what.

Joni Mitchell in the 1960s

Joni Mitchell in the 1960s when she wrote Chelsea Morning, a folksy paean to the neighborhood she was then living in. The song also gave Bill and Hillary Clinton a name for their daughter.