It’s 8am, it’s snowing outside and I have just woken up under Ann-Margret. Already, it is wonderful day in New York City!

In fact, Ann-Margret is not just above me on this chilly morning. She is on every wall around me as I lie in bed and have my gaze alternate between watching the snow falling outside on the window sill to staring in delight at the framed posters of such Ann-Margret epics as Bye Bye Birdie, The Pleasure Seekers and State Fair and a billboard of Kitten With A Whip sits above the bedhead.

I knew there was a special treat awaiting me when I arrived the night before at the Chelsea Pines Inn. As I walked up the Jane Russell staircase to my room, every room had a star with the name of a 1950s or 1960s movie icon on it. I passed the Kirk Douglas room, as well as the Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Troy Donahue rooms, to arrive at the Ann-Margret suite.

The Chelsea Pines Inn is a gay guesthouse located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chelsea district on 14th Street near the corner of 8th Avenue. The five-storey redbrick row house dates from the mid-1800s and was turned into a private hotel for sailors in the 1930s. In 1985, it was purchased by current owner Jay B. Lesiger and his then lover Sheldon Post, who died a few years ago.

So you can say love started this business, says Jay while sipping coffee in the dining room of the Chelsea Pines. With its movie theme running from the basement to the top floor, Chelsea Pines is fun, but with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.

Jay’s father ran a movie house in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s and, as a result, young Jay built up a 1,500-strong movie poster collection. When time came to redecorate the Inn eight years ago, Jay decided to dust off his collection and put 300 of his posters to good use by dedicating each of the 23 guest rooms to one particular star. He admits that his collection has been the best marketing ploy he could have hoped for.

All these posters are originals and some are very rare and almost impossible to obtain these days, says Jay. A lot of people come here for the movie theme and many people request particular stars when they stay. And Ann-Margret is always popular! he says with a laugh.

In his star room line-up, Jay has also included one dedicated to George Nader, the movie hunk whose career was sacrificed by his movie studio who allowed him to be outed in a secret deal to save Rock Hudson’s career in the 1950s.

We felt we needed to pay tribute to him and we wrote and told him about it. He was generous enough to send back to us a collection of mementos from his career, which we were thrilled about.

The other reason Chelsea Pines has proven so popular -“ it was booked out during my stay with a waiting list -“ is its proximity to New York’s gay districts, sitting on the border of Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

Chelsea has become increasingly popular and gay over the past decade, now with cafes, restaurants like the excellent 18th & 8ths, small bars like View, clubs like the popular Splash and bookshops dotted along 8th Avenue. Chelsea is a little more upmarket and refurbished, catering to a younger, more upwardly mobile crowd.

Greenwich Village, with Christopher Street and Sheridan Square, offers an older, eclectic character, populated by caf? sex shops, neighbourhood bars like Tys, T-shirt vendors and community groups, not to mention the famous Stonewall Bar on Sheridan Square and its neighbouring cabaret queen haven, The Duplex.

While the recent cold snap in New York saw the snow fall and temperatures drop to minus 5°C, it did nothing to dampen the crowds in the clubs and bars. People are still prepared to tramp through the piles of snow and brave the freezing weather to travel across town to popular clubs, like Pyramid on the East Side, which has its very in 1984 club on Friday nights offering a 1980s dance fest. Dicks Bar is also laid-back fun, with great cocktails and a giant screen showing popular classics like The Sound Of Music, which never looked as good as it does at Dicks when the third Cosmopolitan slips past your lips.

This was my first time in New York since I flew out of the city on 8 September 2001. Everything changed three days later, and now the World Trade Centre site is still as much a tourist attraction as it ever was but for a much more macabre reason. It now resembles little more than a giant construction site hole in the ground, but there is something eerily quiet about the entire area. The little church across the road on Cortland Street still has its fence covered in tributes and memorials. Some buildings are now just completing repairs and re-opening, while others remain boarded up. The tourists snapping up graphic picture folders of the planes crashing into the buildings for $15 a piece appear glad for a memento of the mayhem that took place on the same spot -“ and the traders are very happy. They’re making a tidy profit and, after all, I guess that is American capitalism at work.

Having had enough sadness for one afternoon, I headed back to the Chelsea Pines Inn where a Krispy Kreme Donut awaited as did a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Having never experienced New York in winter, let alone covered in a white blanket of snow, I sat back and watched the flakes settle on the branches of the tree outside the window and, with Ann-Margret looking over me protectively from every wall, I felt I was in good hands. Next time, I might try the Doris Day or Kim Novak rooms instead -“ that is, if Ann-Margret is already booked!

 

For more info on The Chelsea Pines Inn see www.chelseapinesinn.com.

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