Susanne Bartsch at the Chelsea Hotel (Sunday Times Style)

There are few addresses in the world that carry as much rock and roll resonance as the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. The name of this W23rd street building, with its imposing laced wrought iron balconies and iconic neon sign, conjures up a barrage of glamorous and infamous pop culture legend: Dylan Thomas, Sid & Nancy, Patti Smith, Warhol’s “superstars” and, still in residence on the 7th floor, the undisputed queen of Manhattan nightlife, Susanne Bartsch.


Bartsch has, since her arrival from a 13 year tenure in London in 1981, taken over three apartments, combined them, and created what is an increasingly rare enclave of bohemian fabulousness in ever more corporate Manhattan. At a time when New York is closing more and more of its clubs down (Bartsch was the victim of two closures in the space of one week in 2006), she is continuing to fight for the right to party. She’s also staying put.

‘I like the idea of living in a hotel,’ says Bartsch, who as well as presiding over New York’s more fashionable nightclubs for as long as anyone can remember, acted as a US agent for many of London’s hottest fashion names (BodyMap, Galliano, Leigh Bowery…) during the heyday of her Bartsch Boutique in the 80s. ‘I have the illusion that I can take off at any time at the Chelsea.’

Even exotic creatures of the night have their ties however, including a husband (the equally iconic gym owner David Barton), her two dogs Bippy and Schnauzie and a 14 year old son, Bailey: ‘I am a mom and my son is my priority and yes, I have put down roots, but I still like the feeling that this isn’t permanent.’

Bartsch’s universe at the Chelsea is a museum of thirty years of living glamorously. When she first arrived, taking over the flat from artist Patrick Hughes who had shared it previously with the writer Molly Parkin, it was a blank canvas. ‘It was all white’, says Susanne in her distinctive Swiss-raised drawl. ‘There were plain walls and painters drop cloths stapled down on the floor. I lived out of shopping bags at the time as it was mostly about me and my outfits.’ Bartsch’s elaborate fashions still dominate a lot of her bedroom, but since her first husband had the hallway painted with wild magenta and purple star graphics as a surprise birthday gift by the artist Joey Horatio, the space began to take on life of its own. Bartsch sanded all the floors and had Horatio paint murals on the living room ceiling. Then she turned the bedroom into a sensual ceiling to floor rouged boudoir. ‘Joey calls the colour Chanel Red. He painted the room and then I found the most perfect bed at an auction house for $500. It was cheap because people don’t have room for big beds in New York’. A vast Chinese wedding bed, found by David Barton in China, dominates the living room: ‘You can close all the slats and make it totally private, and you can have tea put served through the windows. The idea is that you can be totally starkers in there!’

Most of the artefacts in Bartsch and Barton’s home are oversized souvenirs. A driftwood and glass coffee table was bought to put in the lobby of Barton’s gym in Chicago, but didn’t make it out of the Chelsea.  There are chandeliers in the hallway and bedroom taken from the Raleigh Hotel in Miami, from when Bartsch hosted a New Years Eve party there. An ET doll sits on a mantelpiece behind an overstuffed sofa. ‘I don’t know where that came from!’ says Susanne. ‘But he’s been here for a long time. I had to wash his coat the other day’.

There has been no interior design strategy for Bartsch’s home apartment. There is also, as Susanne says, ‘nothing expensive here’, apart from a small artwork by the artist Ross Bleckner; a tiny dot in a frame that represents the beginning of life, a gift from Bleckner given to her at her baby shower in the 90s. The whole place is pure flea market ramshackle, rough around the edges New York City. The apartment is full of life, with cascades of books, flyers, remnants of outfits and clubland memorabilia.

Bailey’s space is a typical teenage boys bedroom, with a row of electric guitars and a wall full of rock posters. The only tell tale sign that this isn’t, perhaps, the average boys bedroom is the vast mirrorball hanging from the ceiling. ‘I don’t know if he realises quite how unusual it is to live here”, says Bartsch. ‘His friends love coming here from Brooklyn for sleepovers because they can go to the deli at 2am. You can’t do that in Brooklyn.’ In Bartsch’s ongoing world of fantasy and escapism, and increasingly defiant after dark hedonism, being able to get a sandwich in the middle of the night remains a basic necessity. And she certainly doesn’t look like decamping to Brooklyn anytime soon.


One Response to “Susanne Bartsch at the Chelsea Hotel (Sunday Times Style)”

  1. […] Bartsch could do with the place. And she’d only have to take the elevator down from the 7th floor to run the […]

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