Take Stage Door, the fabled 1937 movie about a Broadway rooming house; crosscut it with The Chelsea Girls; add a touch of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and you get some notion of the atmosphere at the Gershwin Hotel, 7 East 27th Street.
On any given day the hotel’s cavernous lobby, bedecked with Pop Art, holds an unlikely melange of young backpacking Europeans lined up in front of the semicircular reception desk, models and artists checking and rechecking the ever-changing message board and assorted punk-haired hanger-outers staring into space.
“I thought it was a museum at first,” said Ari Fruchter, the president of the Joe Soto Design Corporation, recounting the first time he saw the four large black-and-white silk-screen flags bearing a likeness of Andy Warhol, the hotel’s official muse, descending from the building’s 13-story Gothic Revival facade. Mr. Fruchter is now so enamored of the building that he produced Mr. Soto’s most recent fashion show in the lobby.
“We like to think of ourselves as the new Hotel Chelsea,” said Jules Feiler, the Gershwin’s director of public relations, as he sat in his second-floor office, beneath a panoply of images of Warhol and the Factory crew taken by Billy Name, Mr. Warhol’s official photographer and the hotel’s photographer in residence.
With room for 400 guests, 200 of them in 4-person dormitory rooms, the Gershwin has roughly two-thirds the capacity of the Chelsea, its crosstown rival. In addition to the recent fashion show, the hotel has played host to a slew of offbeat art, film, fashion and otherworldly happenings, including a seance attended by 300 people on Feb. 26. The event was conducted by Mrs. Ann, a medium hired by the hotel, along with Mme. Gina, her daughter. “Death is boring,” Warhol confided in Mrs. Ann, as Mr. Feiler tells the story.
Urs Jakob, a Montreal hotelier, and his wife and business partner, Suzanne Tremblay, a designer, turned a former welfare hotel into the Gershwin three years ago. “Every decade has its own scene,” he said. “The ’20s had the Algonquin. The ’60s and ’70s had Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel. Well, I wanted to create a scene and an environment for the 90′s.”
The Gershwin functions on three different levels. On one level, the one that pays most of the bills, it is what Mr. Jakob called a “designer budget hotel.” Prices range from $20 a night for a dormitory room with private bath to $95 for a “superior double” (painted by one of the hotel’s artists in residence), with private bath and most of the modern amenities.
The Gershwin has an year-round occupancy rate of around 85 percent, Mr. Jakob said, slightly higher than New York City’s average rate of 78.5 percent.
On another level, the hotel is home to a growing number of young models. Its fourth floor was recently converted to accommodate the models’ special needs. The rooms — custom-painted in pink and blue with chains of DKNY postcards stuck on for sly effect by Heinz Burghardt, an artist in residence, and his wife, Gisela — are equipped with extra-large closets and mirrors.
“It’s really a fun place to stay,” said Marianne Matthews, 19, a model from South Africa who was drinking coffee at the hotel’s funky Gallery Cafe. “It’s convenient to the fashion district, and it’s a great place to bond.”
Finally, on the third level, the Gershwin is an “event hotel,” Mr. Jakob said, citing the extravagant, albeit posthumous 67th birthday party for Warhol given by the hotel last Aug. 6. More than 250 people attended, including former Factory luminaries like Taylor Meade, Ultra Violet and Mr. Name, the photographer.
“The Gershwin is a place where an artist can bring his ideas to fruition — in my case, ideas relating to copy art,” said Mr. Burghardt, whose giant photocopies of Barbie dolls line the walls of the models’ floor.
Shandor Hassan, a photographer from California who recently moved out of the hotel to a Manhattan apartment, said: “Staying at the Gershwin definitely gave me an edge. And it also gave me insight into the levels of chaos that exist in the world.”