With the Museum of Modern Art in the process of lengthy renovations and the Guggenheim in the middle of preparations for a major Picasso exhibition, options for visual art viewing were slightly restricted. My hotel, however, was dripping in oil paint, all the work of owner Mel Cheren. Cheren opened the Colonial House Inn as a guesthouse after it served as the offices of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the early 80s. Seventy-year-old Cheren was also the driving force behind Paradise Garage and a painter and sometime curator, with exhibitions held in the Inn’s foyer. (He also took part in the Stonewall Riots. As you do.)
You’d be hard pressed to find accommodation more steeped in gay history, and Cheren is also quite a character. He wrote a book about his experiences because he lost 300 friends to AIDS and felt a certain level of mentorship for the young gay men who had been obliterated, but his loudest opinions are on disco and the power of music and dance. There are only two kinds of music: good and bad. Every other label is made up by Billboard, he tells me, referring to techno music as boom boom boom pots and pans. House music is garage on a budget, and hip-hop is R&B with baggy pants, Cheren adds. I’m loath to argue, especially when I learn he successfully sued an incredibly big-name rapper (whom I shouldn’t name) for sampling his music without permission. Cheren is sassy, slick and advocates dancing as a panacea for the immune system. I thought he was adorable. When I die, they’re still going to have to shoot my mouth, he said.
Tim Benzie stayed in New York courtesy of the Colonial House Inn.