On the corner of 29th Street and Broadway sits the Ace Hotel. It’s hip, boutique-y, and the site of a very popular lobby bar and a couple of velvet-roped restaurants.
It’s also my former home of 14 years.
Let me explain: Before the building was filled with fashion assistants obsessed with the hotel’s Opening Ceremony store and guys who call themselves “photographers,” it was a rent-controlled boarding house named the Breslin Hotel. The building was filled with the kind of truly odd and colorful characters you imagine inhabiting the crevasses of New York City in the 1970s and ’80s. They were the sort of people whose eccentricities were lost on themselves, as opposed to the self-created personalities who inhabited the now-legendary Chelsea Hotel. There was a lost and desperate vibe at The Breslin, as if David Lynch had curated the whole place himself.
I moved to The Breslin in the mid ’90s, after a college friend who lived there told me he was toying with the idea of moving to Prague to explore his own “unbearable lightness of being.” Needing a place on short notice, I spent a week convincing him that leaving the country was the best move he could possibly make, and secured his Midtown apartment for myself.
It was the smallest space in the building. Actually, “small” doesn’t do it justice; saying it was small is like saying Clay Aiken “sort of likes” the band One Direction. It was a 115-square-foot triangle, with one corner chopped off. So, more of a rhombus. Or maybe a rhomb-tangle.
It came fully equipped—that is, it had one tiny closet and a sink. The bathroom? That was way down the hall. Every time nature called or I needed a shower, keys were necessary. Never being a fan of formalities, I’d walk down wearing not much more than a smile, and inevitably run into a few giggling Korean girls. Hey, you gotta give the public what they want.
Speaking of giggling girls, when it was evident that a sleepover was about to happen, I’d prep my guest by saying, “I live in a really small space. Really small. Whatever you’re thinking—halve it. Now halve it again. OK, you’re almost there.” Without fail they’d still spend 20 minutes being shocked the moment they walked in the door.
Having ladies over was never a problem. When you have a twin bed on a rickety loft it does all the seducing for you. And the rent was quite low by New York standards: Someone could weigh more than the amount of my rent and still not be a shut-in.
Meanwhile, there was an adult version of The Goonies happening around me.
Upstairs was a cello player who always wore a puffy pirate shirt (he had many) and leather pants, like he was the Lizard King of the strings. I shared a common wall with an overgrown young man named George, who seemed amazed by and utterly lost in NYC at the same time. He’d have interminable arguments with his mom on the phone every Sunday. Then, to pump himself back up, he’d put Smash Mouth’s “All Star” on endless repeat. On the other end of the floor was a smiley girl who looked and dressed like Raggedy Ann; I suspected she had a penchant for needles. She’d have occasional loud fights with her boyfriend (he was a pimp or a dealer, I was never sure which) in the middle of the night, during which they’d scream at each other with the self-involved abandon that’s only seen in true addicts.
One time I found myself in the elevator with her. With the gumption of Honey Boo-Boo she introduced herself to me. “Hi there, my name is ‘Acey,’ which is short for ‘Tracey!’”
And how could I forget the talkative but distracted Vietnam vet? I’d sometimes see this guy panhandling a couple blocks away from the building. It’s a tad disturbing to have one of your neighbors beg you for change when you know he lives in a bigger apartment than you do.
With the opening of the Ace, and now the NoMad Hotel a block south, the sanitization of the Flatiron District has begun in earnest, displacing the Ratso Rizzos of the area and making even more of Manhattan “safe for work.”
I understand that there are still 10 original Breslin inhabitants living upstairs in the Ace. I moved on four years ago, when the hotel came in. But if you’re at the lobby bar hyping your new social media venture or dropping Ken Friedman’s name to get a table in the restaurant, and you happen to meet “Acey,” she didn’t name herself after the hotel. She was there first.