A photo of a waifish Madonna, snapped back in her “Borderline” days, smiles at you mischievously from the wall, as a vintage image of young Boy George winks back from across the room.
Piles of classic vinyl albums pack the shelves behind the check-in counter, nestled next to old turntables and a vintage reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Welcome to the lobby of the Riff Hotel, a new, rock ‘n’ roll waystation aimed at young, economically-strapped travelers who pine to channel the ramshackle cool of old New York.
Specifically, Riff wants to reference the lost city of the ’80s, back when rents were (sort of) affordable, bands were unruly, and the streets had the frisson of danger.
Back in the day, special danger lurked here. Riff sits at the corner of the now utterly tame 30th St. and Eighth Ave., a sling-shot’s distance from Madison Square Garden, and a few blocks north of the bustle of Chelsea.
For the last few decades the space operated as the Chelsea Star hotel, a hostelry of dubious sanitation and care. A multimillion dollar uplift to Riff began last November, according to the hotel’s developer Sal Smeke. Madonna stayed at an earlier version of the Star, located just south. Lore has it the place inspired her early hit “Lucky Star.”
The spruced-up Riff — now in a “soft opening,” with a full unveiling to come next year — has a sleek contemporary look. The 44 rooms boast Jonathan Adler wallpaper and West Elm-level inexpensive-chic furnishings. Each room includes a book by photographer Richard Corman of his vintage Madonna-in-New York shots, complimentary Boxed Water in recyclable containers, and Urbanears headphones (which you can buy for 60 bucks). Room numbers appear on giant guitar picks, while the lobby features both electric and acoustic guitars musicians in residence can strum.
“Most boutique hotels claim a music connection now,” says general manager Stephen Westman. “But we’re at a price point where actual musicians and young people can afford to stay.”
Rates range from $99 a night, for rooms with shared bath, up to $249 for 400-square-foot apartments.
A 600-square-foot courtyard will make for a cozy bar scene, once the operators get things fully running, There’s also a ground-level, rotating art-gallery curated by the art collective Chashama.
One thing: This may be a rock ‘n’ roll hotel, but, please, no throwing TV sets out the windows.