Things can happen when at least expected.
The case of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe was same. They didn’t intend to get lost in the garden of Eden. That was just an emergency escape from another hotel in hell around the block. The couple even didn’t know that their new hotel was artists’ bohemian house, attractively so deep and hard to get out again.

That was Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in the summer of 1969.

Patti and Rob went to Hotel Chelsea located one and a half blocks away from Allerton Hotel. A lonely drag queen guest at Allerton, Patti called “morphine angel”, suggested her that Hotel Chelsea might offer a room instead of their art. The hotel manager seemed not much impressed about their artworks but the fact Patti had a decent job was enough to give the hotel a trust. The couple secured a room at 1017 for $55 a week. The room was small and nothing fancy, but cleaner and better than Allerton Hotel. They later moved to a bigger room at #204.

Hotel Chelsea
Hotel Chelsea is currently closed for full renovation but seems like no progress. Because the hotel entrance has the sign of stop working order by the city, the hotel’s future seems uncertain.

Originally built as an apartment in 1884, the building became Hotel Chelsea in 1905. Although the name was “hotel”, Hotel Chelsea was famous as the home of many creative artists and writers, and Patti met many musicians such as Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop during her residency.

Warm welcome started even before checking in. Patti met with Harry Smith, artist, filmmaker, and one of the notable hotel residents, at the lobby and had a brief but warm conversation. They would eventually have a long friendship as well as his companion, a photographer Peggy Biderman. Both Patti and Robert made many artistic friends during their stay, and that was the hotel to give each a lead to success in their new field; Patti as a musician and Robert as a photographer.

El Quijote Restaurant inside of Hotel Chelsea
The inside of El Quijote where many 70’s celebrities including Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe gathered. Still elegant.

El Quijote was a Spanish restaurant and bar within the hotel, but also a mega social club in a small world. There were numerous musicians, artists, and writers, even those who didn’t live in the hotel, dined and hung around at the restaurant opened in 1930. If Hotel Chelsea was a sanctuary of many talented artists and writers, El Quijote was a socialization wonderland and melting pot of crossed over talents and celebrities who led 60’s culture. The example of those Patti met at the restaurant: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane, and much more.
El Quijote still exists with the same yellow entrance roof, logo, and similar classic atmosphere. One thing changed is the price…got much higher. The restaurant is open during hotel renovation.

Former McBurney YMCA building across Hotel Chelsea, now the combination of Crunch gym and high scale condominium. The right of the building is still a public library. Both were on several famous Patti Smith photos taken at Hotel Chelsea.
23rd Street from 7th Avenue. You can see Patti Smith’s memorial places are concentrated on the block. The apartment Patti and Robert lived after Hotel Chelsea on the left, Hotel Chelsea on the center left, former YMCA building and NYC Public Library on the right.

There were some popular photos of Patti Smith taken at the rooftop or windows of Hotel Chelsea, and many of them were with YMCA sign. That was the building used to be McBurney YMCA with cheap accommodations. The building is now a luxurious condominium. McBurney YMCA moved to 14th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue after selling the building. Those photos also had a shorter library building on the right of YMCA building. The library is still active New York City Public Library.

Union Square

Patti and Robert often hung around Union Square on 14th Street after moving to Hotel Chelsea because Union Square had Andy Warhol’s socialization spots. Andy was Robert’s biggest influence and god. Robert was still a poor and struggling art student at that time but wanted to have an opportunity to get into Andy’s circle. Introduced by their new friends at Hotel Chelsea, Patti and Robert started visiting Andy’s three important places.

  • Max’s Kansas City (213 Park Avenue South)
    Max’s Kansas City was Andy’s favorite and regular hang out in Union Square. Located on the corner of Park Avenue and 18th Street, Max’s Kansas City was the nightclub, restaurant, socialization spot for leading artists and a gateway to success for many new, unique, original, and progressive bands, such as KISS, Aerosmith, Ramones, and Patti Smith. Probably Patti wouldn’t expect she would perform there after 2 years because she was basically just a full-time employee at a bookstore without specific music experience. Patti Smith had a series of live performances at Max’s Kansas City in 1973.
    The building itself still exists but the former store site is now CVS drugstore.
  • Brownie’s (21 E. 16th Street)
    Brownie’s was Andy’s favorite healthy food restaurant in Union Square. The restaurant was a pioneer of healthy food restaurant opened in 1930’s and closed in 1985. The store location is now occupied by a little pricey udon (Japanese thick noodle) restaurant named Tsuru Ton Tan.
  • The Factory (33 Union Square West)
    The Factory was located on the Decker Buiding in the center behind the popular green market in Union Square.

    Andy Warhol had a studio on the 6th floor of old Decker Building built in 1892. That was indeed Andy’s art studio but also a party spot for his superstars and other artists. That was also the place Andy was shot by Valerie Solanas.
    Robert eventually succeeded to get into the circle and made many connections there. One was Gerald Malanga, a poet who would take an important role to lead Patti to the music scene.

Although Patti Smith was getting involved with the artistic world, she was still an employee at Scribner’s in Midtown. She commuted to the bookstore on 5th Avenue from 23rd Street with F train every day. The photo is uptown F train platform at 23rd Street Station.

Though Robert and Patti moved to a bigger room at Hotel Chelsea, the room space wasn’t enough for Robert to do his creative works. One day in December 1969, Robert had an opportunity to talk with a stranger on the street who regularly took a walk with his dog on 23rd Street. Upon knowing the man occupied entire second floor for only himself and his dog at 2 doors down on the same street, Robert negotiated with him and secured a small room within the second floor for his first art studio.

206 W. 23rd Street, 2 buildings away from Hotel Chelsea. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived on the second floor after moving out of Hotel Chelsea.

Patti and Robert eventually started living on the second floor after the man’s sudden death. Robert assumed he wouldn’t be able to sublet his studio without a contract, but the building’s landlord gave him an offer of the entire second floor with cheaper rent than Hotel Chelsea because space didn’t have much market value with the smell of death. They didn’t want to leave Hotel Chelsea with full of their memories, inspirations, and friends, but they finally decided to leave Hotel Chelsea because of their financial situation.
The building still exists. The second floor is occupied by a massage spa called H2O. According to Patti, the bar on the first floor was “Oasis” at that time, but it’s an Irish pub named Jake’s Saloon today.

La MaMa on 66 East 4th Street, where Patti Smith took her first stage as an actress.

Patti’s acting career came earlier than being a musician on May 4, 1970. Jackie Curtis, a “drag queen” actress popular in 1970’s and met Patti at Max’s Kansas City, invited Patti to act in a show Femme Fatal with Jackie at La MaMa, a small theater in East Village. Though Patti wasn’t completely comfortable about acting, she took several shows after Femme Fatal.
La MaMa has been a front-runner on the off-Broadway scene widely opened to many talented up-and-coming performers since 1961.

In front of La MaMa. This is the traditional, vintage look East Village.
Another side of East 4th Street. La MaMa on the right and another off-Broadway theater on the left.

Hotel Chelsea was the place for Patti to open her door to be a poet and a singer from a broke dreamer while she was waiting for Robert at the hotel lobby with writing a poem. Patti wrote many poetries before but didn’t intend to be a professional poet, or even a musician at that time although Robert encouraged her to sing. A folk musician and producer named Bob Neuwirth found Patti at the lobby and looked at her poetries. Bob instantly liked Patti’s poetries, and he invited Patti to El Quijote for drinks. That was the moment Bob suggested Patti write her songs.
Bob also introduced some great musicians, such as Todd Rundgren and Janis Joplin. Although Patti was happy to meet with those musicians, she was interested in being a poet but not a musician at that time.

This Apple Bank Brunch on 2nd Avenue and E. 6th Street was Fillmore East, a popular music club until 1971.

The night of June 5, 1970, was busy for Patti Smith. Patti Smith went to see Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young at Fillmore East with Bob Neuwirth even though the music wasn’t her type. After the show, Bob introduced Todd Rundgren to Patti, who would be the producer of Patti’s 4th album, Wave.

The site of Village Gate club on Bleecker Street is occupied by CVS like Max’s Kansas City. The vintage “Village Gate” sign still exists above CVS store sign. Great to keep it!

Then Todd Rundgren took Patti to see a folk-rock group, Holy Modal Rounders, at Village Gate located at 160 Bleecker Street. She had never listened to the band but interested in the drummer and eventually met the drummer after the show. The drummer introduced himself as Slim Shadow. Patti even interviewed “Slim” on a later day, then they would fall in love after.
The romance faced two issues. “Slim Shadow” was actually a fake name, and his real name was Sam Shepard, still popular playwright. The second issue was Patti was his side girl. Sam Shepard was married with kids. The place Patti found out? The dinner date with Slim/Sam at Max’s Kansas City and Jackie Curtis input the truth at the restaurant restroom. Oh, well…

Wallman Rink in summer. Patti saw Janis Joplin’s outdoor concert there in 1970. The rink was used as an amusement park in the summer of 2016
Wallman Rink overlooking Midtown skyscrapers in the winter

Patti Smith, Bob Neuwirth, and Todd Rundgren went to see Janis Joplin’s show at Wallman Rink in Central Park in the summer of 1970. The concert was intermediately terminated due to sudden heavy rain. Prior to the concert, Bob introduced Janis to Patti at Hotel Chelsea, and Janis affectionately called Patti as “the Poet” as Bob introduced.

Electric Lady Studio

Patti almost attended the opening party of the famous Electric Lady Studio on West 8th Street created by Jimi Hendrix in August 1970. Why “almost”…she received an invitation and went to the studio, but couldn’t get in because it was too packed. She managed to be able to have a conversation with Jimi outside, and it was just a few days before Jimi dies in London. As written on Just Kids, Jimi even couldn’t record his own music at his studio.
Originally created as a movie theater in 20’s, the studio space was a nightclub, Generation Club before Jimi took over.

While Patti Smith had many fortunate opportunities to meet with many musicians even before starting her effort to be a singer, the man who always encouraged her to be on the creative side was Robert Mapplethorpe. Robert’s friend, a poet Gerald Malanga, would have a poetry reading show organized by another poet and musician, Jim Carroll, who would later date with Patti, at St. Mark’s Church in the winter of 1971. Robert requested Gerald to have Patti as his opening act. Patti wasn’t hyped about taking the role but decided to try.
Patti bought an acoustic guitar and created her first song from her own poem. That was her starting point to express herself through music. Patti even made a song for Janis Joplin and played to Janis before her poetry reading debut.
Patti’s idea of poetry reading style was aggressive and punkish. She recruited a guitarist to pursue her theme on her poetry reading show. The man’s name was Lenny Kaye who eventually continued to be Patti’s guitarist and the most important band member until today. Patti and Lenny met at Village Oldies on 170 Bleecker Street where Lenny worked at.

Initially opened as Village Oldies, the record changed locations on Bleecker Street, first 149 then 170. Patti met Lenny while Village Oldies was on 170 Bleecker Street. The record store later changed their name to Bleeker Bob’s then moved to West 3rd Street. They closed in April 2013 due to the typical steep rent increase. Bleeker Bob’s was one of the last music stores sold many pieces of vinyl in New York City. 170 Bleecker Street is also an empty commercial place at this point.

170 Bleecker Street where Patti Smith met her future guitarist Lenny Kaye while Lenny was working at Village Oldies. The site is empty and available for lease as of Winter, 2017 even in the middle of commercial and entertainment district (thanks to Mike C. for this input!)


Bleecker Street Records. Good ol’ record store atmosphere.

Those photos are Bleecker Street Records on West 4th Street. Not the Village Oldies or Bleecker Bob’s but the store atmosphere was similar. Despite record stores were almost extinct in New York City, it was a miracle that Bleeker Street Records survived until recent. The place used to be Disc-O-Rama, another record store now on West 8th Street. The store had a huge collection of records, CD, and novelty goods with a lot of 90’s nostalgia. Unfortunately, Bleeker Street Records was also closed in October 2016.

St. Marks Church where Patti Smith took a stage for her first poetry reading. St. Marks Church still has a partnership with Poetry Project and some other cultural organizations, but this is an active Episcopal church. Built in 1795, this is the second oldest church building in Manhattan.

February 10, 1971. Patti Smith held her first poetry reading at St. Marks Church on 2nd Avenue and East 10th Street. She was very fortunate to have many friends who were popular artists other than Robert Mapplethorpe in the audience, including Todd Rundgren, Lou Reed, and Andy Warhol. Her pals from Hotel Chelsea who were a part of Patti’s motivation also attended to support her; Harry Smith, Peggy Biderman, and Sandy Daley. Plus Patti’s guests brought many of their notable friends. Her first performance kicked start successfully with much applaud. She immediately received many offers such as publishing, reading in other cities, and record contract from an indie label. Encouraged by those offers, she decided to pursue her own way on creativity. She decided not to get a record contract at that time but quit a day job at Scribner’s to work for Steve Paul, Jonny Winter’s manager and one of Patti’s El Quixote’s circle.

That was her starting point to sync her poetries with punk music.

Patti performed her poetry readings at several downtown Manhattan locations

  • Mercer Arts Center on 673 Broadway
    Patti opened for Blue Oyster Cult with the poetry reading at Mercer Arts Center within Broadway Central Hotel on 673 Broadway, once America’s largest hotel then ended as a welfare hotel when the building was collapsed in 1973.
    The site is now New York University’s property.
  • The loft on Canal Street and Greene Street in Chinatown
    Patti held a solo reading that was a tribute to Jim Morrison of Doors on the roof of Canal Street and Greene Street 10 days after Jim’s death on July 3, 1971.
    The loft building was unfortunately just demolished
  • Le Jardin at Hotel Diplomat
    Patti joined with Lenny again and had a poetry reading at a fashionable disco mecca club, Le Jardin, inside of now ceased low-class Hotel Diplomat on 43rd Streer and 6th Avenue. Her performance was a tribute to Authur Rimbaud, a French poet in the 19th century and Patti’s great influence. The former hotel site is now Bank Of America Tower.

    Bank Of America Tower on Avenue of Americas between West 42nd 43rd Streets was built on the former site of Hotel Diplomat.

After quitting Scribner’s. Patti briefly worked at Strand Bookstore in Union Square as part-time after leaving Scribner’s but not really satisfied.
Strand Bookstore has been the king of the used bookstores in New York City since 1927. Despite other retail bookstores have been financially struggling, the “18 miles of books” old bookstore maintains popularity with a wide range of cheap used book catalogs and a variety of their original merchandises such as popular tote bags and t-shirts.

Strand Bookstore on East 12th Street near Union Square.
Five blocks away from Strand Bookstore and a block away from St. Marks Church is East 10th Street and 1st Avenue. Patti Smith lived around here with Allen Lanier after Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe decided to live apart on October 20, 1972, Arthur Rimbaud’s birthday.
East 10th Street toward Avenue A from 1st Avenue. 125 years old Russian Turkish Bath is seen on the right.

Patti Smith met Allen Lanier, the keyboard player of Blue Oyster Cult, through her music producer friend Sandy Pearlman, who thought Allen would be helpful to create Patti’s songs. Two eventually fell in love started living together on East 10th Street on October 1972. That was the moment Patti lived apart from Robert who was more into gay relationships despite still being in the closet. Though they maintained a superior friendship.

The previous Kettle of Fish location on 114 McDougal Street is now Saigon Shack, a Vietnamese restaurant.
Across 114 McDougal Street is this apartment building. Assumingly Patti Smith and Allen Lanier lived this apartment after East 10th Street.

Patti and Allen later moved to McDougal Street across Kettle of Fish near Washington Square Park, a small bar favored by many musicians and artists such as Bob Dylan.
Kettle of Fish still exists near the corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue.

The current Kettle of Fish on Christopher Street.
The point where white SUV stops in the center is the corner of Bower and Bond Street where Sam Wagstaff lived when he met Robert Mapplethorpe. I’m not sure which side of the building but possibly the white cast iron building on the left. Sam lived on the fifth floor.

Around the time Patti entered into a new relationship, Robert also had a life changing experience by meeting a man in the fall of 1972. The man’s name was Sam Wagstaff, a wealthy person who was 25 years senior to Robert and served as a curator of Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT and Detroit Institute of Arts. Robert met through his then-boyfriend, David Croland, and Sam felt a big sensation when he saw Rob’s product at David’s place. Sam Wagstaff was the person who pushed Robert into a successful career as a photographer with enormous support and encouragement, both financially and emotionally.
Still being best friends, meeting a new person meant Patti Smith would eventually involve with Sam Wagstaff deeply. Sam would eventually relate to Patti’s musician life.

Pink Tea Cup Restaurant, a popular Greenwich Village soul food joint, was on 88 7th Avenue before moving to Brooklyn. The place is Suprema Restaurant today.

Robert and Sam, who shared same birthday on November 4, celebrated their birthday of 1972 with Patti at Pink Tea Cup, a soul food restaurant in the heart of West Village. That was the day Sam gave Rob a Hasselblad camera as a birthday gift which was better than Robert’s first Polaroid camera.
Pink Tea Cup was a popular hangout near the corner of 7th Avenue and Bleeker Street after opening in 1954. They once closed in 2009 but reopened again in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, very close from where Patti and Robert initially lived together at Hall Street.

24 Bond Street loft building (right) where Robert Mapplethorpe had his studio after leaving 23rd Street. He occupied the top floor. Patti Smith occasionally had photo shoots at Robert’s studio.

The safety of 23rd Street declined dramatically in early 1970’s and the apartment Patti and Rob kept on 23rd Street were robbed during their absence. Then Sam gave Robert a studio on 24 Bond Street in NoHo neighborhood as his first private photo studio. The price of Bond Street loft was $15,000 in 1972. Robert was still 25 years old then.
Many of Patti’s photos were taken by Robert at that studio both before and after her debut. Robert kept the studio as a photo darkroom after moving his residence to nearby Bleecker Street in 1981.
Bond Street loft still exists with famous gold saint replicas on the exterior of the 2nd floor through the top of the building. The first floor has been occupied by The Gene Frankel Theater since 1949, and Robert’s studio was on the top floor.

{Eat and Roll: PENDING!!} Well, I know what restaurant I will write. Of course, I’ll write about El Quijote after dining there. Unfortunately, its menu prices are over my budget. El Quijote is an elegant restaurant. I was thinking about writing alternative restaurant but it would be out of point. So please stay tuned and wish me a luck to be able to dine at the restaurant soon. If this article is successful again, I might be able to review :).


  2. NEW YORK MUSIC TRIP/PATTI SMITH #3 OF 3: Radio Underground

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