The New York Times just did a writeup on a cute little West Hollywood hotel. Ordinarily we’d be like, “oh, that’s nice,” and not care very much. But there’s something kind of creepy, condescending and unpleasantly sneering about the piece. Let’s take a look.
The situation is simple enough: Filthy-rich gay man Jeff Klein bought a sleazy (or sexy, depending on how you look at it!) ramshackle hotel called the San Vicente Inn, and is spending $30 million to turn it into an upscale “auberge,” which is French for “be on your best behavior.” Klein has a track record of buying old buildings and giving them a high-price makeover. Let’s just say he is one of those gays with great taste and the passion to makeover special spots.
Before the purchase, the old San Vicente Inn was unlovely. Certainly, there were plenty of ordinary guests. But more often than not, it defined down-and-out, and was where gay men wound up when money was tight and life was a mess. It wasn’t very clean. Clothing was optional. The place had its own drug-dealing squatter.
Klein laments, “there was a near overdose. Seriously! It was like land of the missing teeth in here. I couldn’t bear it.”
So he’s in the process of cleaning it up, with millions of dollars of refurbishments. Along with the changes, he’s also started requiring clothes, and stopped calling it “gay-friendly,” although it’s still friendly to gays — Klein is family, after all, and it’s in the middle of WeHo. And of course, the prices will go up.
So what’s the problem? A dirty crime-magnet flophouse is becoming something pleasant. Who could object?
Well, some longtime residents of the area aren’t happy. The old San Vicente Inn was an institution for a certain set of fast lane homosexuals, it had a retro appeal, and for some people, change is simply scary. The shabby chic, dirty punk-rock, anything-goes vibe at the old place is gone forever, to be replaced by country-club gentility. Many will miss the libertine freedoms of the orgiastic hot tub. Now it’s all cleaned-up, sanitized, inoffensive, safe… boring. However, we certainly won’t miss the dangerous behaviors that sometimes went on there.
As we see it, the biggest problem with this whole story is with the entity telling it: The New York Times. The whole attitude of the article is as gross as the old hot tub.
For example, writer Brooks Barnes jokes, “Out: staph infections. In: cute staff.” We don’t even know what to say to this snobby pun, as if cute people are immune to staph. (In fact, staff at any residential facility are prone to infection as the spread of Staph is casual.)
It’s not super-funny to dismiss people with a disease as being simply unfashionable, as disposable as an unkempt bellhop. That’s just cruel attitude. As bad as writing, “Out: HIV. In: Artisanal honey from local hives.”
Barnes writes “ahem” at the group shower, like a disapproving schoolmarm clearing her throat at teenagers holding hands at a soda shop. And then goes on to describe the old inn as wafting “bleach and shame.” The implication here is that sex is dirty and shameful. We guarantee that many of the guests felt no shame at the debauchery. In fact, they reveled in it.
The writer also contrasts the “sick shabby” hotel of before, citing its meth torches, with its current status as halfway to “super-chic.” Hey, NY Times, we hate to break it to you, but super-chic people are sometimes into meth, too, and hardly immune to addiction. The only difference is that they can afford to hire poor people to clean up after them.
Klein also takes pains to debunk a rumor that Tom Cruise was spotted at the former bathhouse-like spot. “Tom Cruise was not roaming around a gay hotel,” Klein tells the paper. “How embarrassing.”
Why include that detail, NY Times, without explaining it? We suspect we should take offense at that statement, but we’re not sure on whose behalf. Does Klein mean that it’s embarrassing to think that someone as weird as Tom Cruise stayed at his hotel? Or is it embarrassing to Cruise that people think he’s gay? Or is embarrassing that his hotel would have a reputation as a destination for closet cases? If Klein and the paper are going to look down their nose at someone, the least they could do is be clear about the direction in which the noses are pointing.
Brooks quotes a “community news website,” that quoted someone calling the place a “sin bin,” which is petty. If you’re going to cite the excellent local site, WeHoVille, Brooks, at least have the courtesy to call it by name and give it a link. You’re more than happy to link to the insanely expensive Malin & Goetz soaps that the inn is now stocking, but the NY Times is too good to even type out the name of the news sites you’re cribbing from?
And then there’s this: the paper keeps referring to the renovation as having made the place “more inclusive.” But something about the word “inclusive” here doesn’t seem quite right. The whole point of the renovation is to exclude the old crowd, which, we are compelled to remind everyone, included an eclectic crew of folk from the down and out to the merely horny to the occasional high and mighty slumming it for a night. Many well-to-do types have been spotted here, perhaps looking, like we all do from time to time, for love in all the wrong places.
The sex-negative attitude, the sneering at the supposedly unhealthy indigent, the “ew gross” approach to a certain class of gay man… the whole writeup just, well, stinks.