What have Humphrey Bogart, the Kennedys, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, David Bowie, the Clash and a couple of chesterfield sofas got in common? Well, the simple answer is that they have all, at one time or other, ‘resided’ at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, New York. The one major difference is that the leather chesterfield settees stayed there rather longer than the other guests. In fact the chesterfield sofa was a permanent resident.
These traditional chesterfield sofas featured on an intriguing programme on Sky Atlantic over the weekend called Richard E. Grant’s American Hotel Secrets – and when they said secrets, they surely meant it too. The Withnail and I star visited a number of famous/infamous American establishments, all of which were interesting in their own right; but we’d have to say that the Gramercy Park was the most intriguing by far. Even if you ignore the stellar list of celebrities, artists, writers and dignitaries that have stayed at the bohemian establishment at one time or other, what can’t be ignored is the tragic history of the family who owned the building.
Herbert Weissberg bought the hotel in 1958, and transformed the property from a run-down and dowdy establishment into one of the East Side’s most popular attractions. It boasted lavish interiors, a celebrity guest list, and of course, a couple of lovely old chesterfield sofas. Perhaps its most famous claim to fame, however, was its reputation for discretion – hence, the stellar guest book. Unfortunately things didn’t work out quite as the Weissberg family would have hoped. Tragedy struck on a number of occasions, with 3 members of the extended family dying in mysterious circumstances whilst living at the hotel. The family eventually cut all ties with the property when Herbert died in 2003 and the hotel was sold to Ian Schrager. The unhappy tale was chronicled in the documentary Hotel Gramercy Park, directed by Douglas Keeve, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008.
It’s often said that all inanimate objects could tell a tale if they could only speak. Well, that got us thinking. What sort of tales could those chesterfield sofas tell us? We’d love to hear about the day when Bowie met Iggy, what James Cagney said to his other half at dinner, let alone what the Joe Strummer got up to during the band’s stay. The trouble is discretion runs deep at the Gramercy Park – from the staff right down to the furniture. If there were any secrets then you could guarantee that the chesterfield sofa wouldn’t spill the beans. After all, Shakespeare was right, discretion is the better part of valour.