Home > Culture > Music > What and where is the Chelsea Hotel mentioned in Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’?
What and where is the Chelsea Hotel mentioned in Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’?

As the poets are being tortured in their department, we take a look at the historic Hotel Chelsea mentioned in Taylor Swift’s new album.

There’s a reason universities have dedicated courses on the literature of Taylor Swift’s songs, and the pop icon continues to prove why these are justified. With her new album — The Tortured Poets Department she once again puts her poetic brilliance on display with heartbreak anthems set to synth-pop beats. Interestingly, poets receive a nod not only in her album name but also in the title track itself as she name-drops Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith. Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea which once housed famous poets and writers gets a special shoutout too. Here’s all you need to know about the true story behind Hotel Chelsea, the legendary landmark that Taylor Swift mentions in The Tortured Poets Department.

All through the album, Swift scatters breadcrumbs for her fans to decipher as she sings about her past lovers and relationships. The surprise double album has 31 tracks in total, including 15 tracks that are announced as a part of The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology. The album is produced by her alongside Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner.

As a songwriter, she hits home with lyrics like, “I kept calm and carried the weight of the rift/Pulled him in tighter each time he was drifting away/ My spine split from carrying us up the hill” in So Long, London. In the title track, she mentions literary legends, Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas singing, “You’re not Dylan Thomas. I’m not Patti Smith. This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel. We’re modern idiots.”

Who are Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas from Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Department song?

Swift cleverly mentions the two poets in her song The Tortured Poets Department, clarifying that neither she nor the guy she sings about should succumb to becoming the tortured artists that once made Hotel Chelsea their home. She seemingly rejects the idea of using self-destructive ways to become memorable artists, alluding to Welsh poet Thomas’ reputation of being a doomed poet.

Dylan Thomas, best known for writing Under Milk Wood and Fern Hill, was born in 1914 and passed away aged 39 in 1953. During his visit to the US, he stayed at Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea on nearly four occasions. In fact, it was during his stay at the landmark hotel that he slipped into a coma and passed away four days later. He was housed in apartment 205 of the heritage hotel.

Thomas had arrived in New York for the performance of Under Milk Wood and had checked into Hotel Chelsea during the time in 1953. He was described by his critics as being drunk on language as well as whisky.

Taylor also mentions famous poet, author and singer-songwriter Patti Smith who contributed heavily to the punk rock movement in New York. She became a ’70s icon with her music which was hailed as an exciting blend of rock and poetry. Smith famously lived at Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan with photographer Robert Mapplethorne in 1969. At the time, the couple’s room 1017 was priced at just USD 55 per week.

Apart from Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith, Hotel Chelsea was home to several iconic writers and musicians — let’s take a look at the Manhattan hotel’s fascinating history, true story, and more.

The true story behind the Hotel Chelsea mentioned in Taylor Swift’s song

Trust Taylor Swift to drop interesting references in her songs that will have you dig up every detail. If hearing The Tortured Poets Department song has urged you to look up a Chelsea Hotel, we have got you covered. An establishment that has housed some of the most famous personalities across music, literature and films, the hotel continues to operate even today.

After undergoing a change of ownership and massive renovation in the past, it remains a landmark structure that was built between 1883 and 1885. Philip Hubert designed the heritage building that was originally a housing cooperative.

The Victorian Gothic building had a connection to pop culture icons since its inception and served as an inspiration to many. It also served as a filming location for movies and music videos. Andy Warhol famously directed his experimental underground film, Chelsea Girls at the iconic hotel in 1966.

The hotel name is also the title of Canadian singer Leonard Cohen’s popular 1968 track. It referenced his stay there during his brief relationship with musician Janis Joplin.

Taylor Swift The Tortured Poets Department song
Andy Warhol shot a portion of Chelsea Girls at the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan. (Image: Hotel Chelsea/Instagram)

The 12-storied heritage structure stands out with its red brick look, but it’s the ghosts of its past that make it intriguing even today. Several eccentrics have walked past the halls of the renowned property and many of them suffered a tragic fate. This is possibly the reason why the property is used as a reference in Taylor Swift’s new song.

A particularly chilling true story in the Hotel Chelsea’s dark past includes the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Nancy Spungeon, seemingly by her boyfriend, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious.

On a lighter note, the property is also where artist Jackson Pollock drunkenly threw up on the carpet of its dining room.

Famous guests who stayed at Hotel Chelsea

The legendary hotel has housed famous artists across decades from the likes of Arthur Miller and Mark Twain to Madonna. Playwright Arthur Miller made Hotel Chelsea his home after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe and camped out in room 614 for several years in the 1960s. American singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan was also a resident of the landmark hotel and famously wrote the song Sara in room 211. With Timothée Chalamet starring in a biopic based on the singer’s life, we wonder if the iconic hotel will be featured in the film, given it’s where Dylan resided in the 1960s.

Before Taylor Swift name-dropped Hotel Chelsea in her song, it was also the inspiration for legendary singer Janis Joplin’s track Chelsea Morning. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix was also among Hotel Chelsea’s famous guests and was housed in a suite, reportedly room 430. The door of Hendrix’s suite was sold at an auction for USD 13,000.

Another pop icon to stay at this property includes Madonna, who made this midtown hotel her home in the 1980s. Later, she returned to shoot photos for her 1992 coffee table book at the same location.

Taylor Swift song Tortured Poets Department
Poet Patti Smith resided at the famed Hotel Chelsea in 1969. (Image: Hotel Chelsea/Instagram)

The Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger was also a resident of the hotel at one point. While the list of groundbreaking artists who stayed at the hotel is endless, some stories shared by its residents are particularly memorable. The Sopranos star Michael Imperioli, who lived at the renowned hotel when he was 29, recalled experiencing a supernatural encounter during his stay. In the 2023 documentary Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel, he described the hotel as a “mythical place” and recounted seeing a ghost. He said, “Some people may think that I’m insane and it’s bullshit or whatever. But I’m not the only person who has seen this apparition of a woman, apparently from the late 19th century, whose soon-to-be husband died on the Titanic.”

Poet Patti Smith also famously spoke about the hotel’s “shabby elegance” and said, “I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively… So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms.”

Is the iconic Hotel Chelsea available for reservations?

With Taylor Swift’s new song from The Tortured Poets Department shining a new spotlight on the iconic Hotel Chelsea, Swifties can explore the heritage structure as it continues accepting guest reservations even today. The hotel, which has been a sanctuary for creatives, has managed to retain its historic charm while also embracing modernities. The New York cultural landmark offers stay options ranging from USD 500 to two-bedroom suites that cost up to USD 2,250.

Location: The Hotel Chelsea, 222 West Twenty-Third Street, New York, N. Y. 10011
Bookings and Reservations: reservations@hotelchelsea.com
More details here.

(Main and featured images: Hotel Chelsea)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– Why is Hotel Chelsea famous?

The Manhattan hotel has been famous for hosting renowned artists and writers. Its long-term residents included the likes of Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller and more.

– Who wrote songs about the Chelsea Hotel?

One of the most famous songs referencing the hotel is perhaps Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2 track. Also, Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning and Bob Dylan’s Sara mention the heritage structure. Most recently, Hotel Chelsea finds a nod in Taylor Swift’s song The Tortured Poets Department.

– Do people still live in the Hotel Chelsea?

The heritage building is a luxury hotel, although it was originally a housing cooperative. It still has nearly 40 residents while guests can book suites and lofts at the iconic hotel even today.

This article is originally published in Prestige Online Singapore.

What and where is the Chelsea Hotel mentioned in Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’?

Surabhi Redkar is a pop culture enthusiast with a keen interest in celebrity fashion and beauty trends. A post graduate in multimedia journalism from Birmingham City University, she has worked with several Indian and international media organisations such as Pinkvilla and DesiBlitz covering topics spanning fashion, beauty, and travel. When not binge-watching Netflix series and movies, she's exploring quiet bookstores and buying new coffee equipment. Scrolling through social media for celebrity gossip and new travel destinations is her favourite way to spend the weekend.

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