One of the weirdest little holdovers of a bygone Times Square can be found at 42nd Street and 9th Avenue, where a collection of four-story apartment buildings sit nestled in the shadow of the neighboring skyscrapers.
Most impressive of all in the group is The Elk, Times Square’s last true roach motel.
As I wrote a year ago in my post on the Elk, nothing beats the hotel’s grime-covered sign on Ninth Avenue, featuring a Pepsi-Cola ad that probably dates back to when Taxi Driver was filming in the area (in fact, according to one reader, Pepsi was using this logo circa 1962):
Amazingly, the Elk is said to have been in business for over 100 years, originally serving immigrants passing through Ellis Island. Sadly, it’s run has finally come to an end; last week, I got an email from a reader informing me that the Elk had finally closed its doors for good. Sure enough, when I went to visit on Friday, there was a white sign over the door reading “Hotel Closed”:
In fact, there were a lot of signs posted all over the doors, windows, etc.
The Elk evokes fond memories in some. A few choice comments left on my original Elk Hotel post:
I actually stayed at The Elk on New Year’s Eve 2009 (it was the only place I could find an impromptu room for my lady friend and I had the best sex of my life! So, there’s that.
WOW – my first day in the NYC film industry took place in this seedy hotel, just after the massive blizzard in Jan 1996! ’Twas a low budget indie. I recall one of the location PA’s breaking down in tears after the shoot because they had to ‘clean’ the areas we were in, which included bodily waste, used needles and stray condoms. YUCK! For my part I just had to shovel out the sidewalk of 9th and 42nd for an exterior shot.
I stayed there in the 90s, overnight a few times, while it was still a hotel. A real dump, nothing to get too nostalgic over. But it was cheap – and being poor it was a great place to stay at the time. … I bemoan the loss of housing for “transients.” I was transient for several years in my 20s. My spirit still is.
I remember waiting for the bus going to high school right outside the entrance of the hotel…And low and behold did not this pimp throw this ho right out the window one floor up and my hand to God that’s the truth.
For those looking for a glimpse of the Elk Hotel’s grandeur, check out the Elk Hotel Appreciation Facebook page for a peek inside, with such gems as the sink…
According to my contact, who claims to be a former resident, “The Elk did not go down without a bang – Elk style. A body was found in one of the rooms, having been decaying there for 2 weeks.” Nice.
Future generations will now only know The Elk for its appearance in 2008′s Jumper:
A few of you have emailed over the past few months, and I finally had a chance to check out it’s makeover the other day. Wow.
Like The Elk Hotel, my favorite bit was the Navy Yard’s sign, with its anchors and raised COCKTAIL LOUNGE lettering reminiscent of the 1940s.
Today, the only evidence of its existence is a strange strip of red bricks running above the first floor:
Only one comment was left on my original Navy Yard Lounge post, but it tells you all you need to know about the place:
I was stationed there in the early 1980′s as my ship was getting overhauled in the Navy Yard. I am pretty certain J&J stands for Jimmy & Julia Constantino or a very similar name. It was barely hanging in then.
They ran a bar, you could get food at lunch. Very rough neighborhood at the time. The Navy put single sailors in some rat trap building in the yard and you had to go to war to get through the nearby projects (ironically Navy housing from way back) to the subway.
The ratrap was right on the fence with flushing ave, I recall the sailors drinking beer on hot summer nights, then filling the bottles as small Molitovs from the parked motorcycles and exchanging them for the rocks the natives would occasionally launch.
Another great scene: coming back 4AM on a Monday morning was a dumptruck on blocks, engine stripped, etc. It lingered all summer, graffiti, then arson, then finally gone. South of the yard is developing into a more trendy hip area. If I only knew I would have been buying up the war zone back then…
The building was sold for $2,000,000 a year ago, and is being renovated for use as an eatery on the first floor, and residences on the upper floors. Oh, if these walls could talk…
Some people have bemoaned the loss of The Elk and the Navy Yard Lounge; my feeling is that most of these people never hung out at either, but liked the idea of a seedy side to New York still existing. And I get it – there’s something great in that, somehow, these pockets of down-and-out-ness have managed to escape the gentrification wrecking ball.
On the other hand, a few years ago, I was working on a movie shooting in a roach motel in Brooklyn. If you’ve ever seen the movie (you probably have), the squalor of the hotel was played for laughs. While we were filming, however, one of the residents overdosed on heroin, and we had to stop the shoot as an ambulance arrived and he was somehow literally brought back to life.
Ever since I saw the guy get wheeled out on a stretcher, I’ve had a hard time romanticizing the seedier side of New York. Honestly, doing so makes me feel like a tourist, and if you think about it, there really is no tourist worse than the one looking to go on safari to seedy, down-and-out places and think it’s all so cool…and then go home to a life of comparative luxury (note: some people have taken umbrage with this; see comments for clarification).
The value of places like The Elk and the Navy Yard Cocktail lounge is primarily in how they’ve managed to survive through the ages. Unfortunately, that value is intrinsically linked to their one day disappearing.
Special thanks to all who shared their memories of The Elk and the Navy Yard Lounge in the comments pages!