A Scruffy Guitar Shop Survives the Chelsea Hotel’s Chic Makeover

As the couple, giddy from their contact with a crispier New York, prepared to leave, Mr. Courtenay scribbled his number on a card and handed it to them.

“If you get lost or have trouble taking the subway,” he said, “call us.”

If Chelsea Guitars has taken on cultural significance as an unkempt hideaway in the newly pristine hotel, Mr. Courtenay is the bard of the building, eager to pass on the building’s mythology to anyone who enters his shop, whether they’re an Epiphone Riviera from 1964 of $6,000 to buy or not. or the other adorably rare guitars on the walls. If you get him going, he’ll tell stories about what he says he’s seen running the store for over three decades.

Joan Baez came by once and gave him her Chinese takeout leftovers for lunch, he said. While the band Oasis was in town, Noel Gallagher walked in and asked for a rare Gibson acoustic stashed in the back of the shop. Mr. Courtenay was in a grumpy mood that day, so he told Mr. Gallagher to go get him a cup of coffee while he collected it.

During Patti Smith’s brief stay at the hotel in the mid-1990s, her teenage son, Jackson, hung out at the store playing Green Day riffs. And there was the time when ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons stopped by before heading to El Quijote, where a confrontation ensued when the restaurant asked him to remove his signature tassel cap.

“They told him, ‘You have to take that hat off,'” Mr Courtenay recalled. “Billy said, ‘I’m not taking this hat off when I’m asleep.'”

There was also the guitar musician named Vlad, who seemingly only knew a few chords and sang his woes in a thick Eastern European accent in a nearby subway station, becoming known as Chelsea’s Polish Bluesman. There was also the mysterious woman who lived in the hotel and who was rumored to be from wealth, who observed Mr. Courtenay for years hailing invisible cabs outside the building. And there was the store’s pet cat, a Russian blue named Boris.

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