Is The Ace Hotel The New Hotel Chelsea? Electric-Violinist Emily Wells Breaks It Down

by M.J. Koury · February 17, 2011

    Emily Wells, an LA transplant widely blogged about for her electric-violin interpretation of Biggie's classic "Juicy," bravely set up shop in the front of the lobby of The Ace Hotel on Sunday night. The musician has a weekly artistic residency there for the month of February. Is The Ace the next Hotel Chelsea?

    At 9 p.m. this past Sunday, I went to The Ace Hotel to hear some of Wells's live music. Forever artsy since its 2009 opening, The Ace strives to be more than just a well-decorated hotel in Midtown West. It's also  teaming up with indie designers Opening Ceremony and letting the Cold War Kids get creative with the walls of room 1109. Boutique hotels are no stranger to artistic performances and cabarets within clubs or restaurants, but the Wells gig is strikingly different: it is imposed upon the whole hotel in a public way almost as part of the entire establishment's ambiance.

    The concert on Sunday happened in the already famously busy lobby. When I got there, fashion-types were eating fancy looking salads at the long brown tables next to slouchy-chic college kids who were set up in front of laptops. Boho-chic bar-dwellers were sipping drinks in the loungey chairs amidst stylish indoor plants, and businessmen were spilling over up the marble stairs where the trademark black and white collage is on display.

    And then here was this hip violinist known for her inventive material.

    The weirdness of a mini concert happening across the room from the hotel check-in counter did not seem to be lost on anyone, and people seemed unsure of what to do about seating. Eventually a small crowd formed in front of her table. Even though the bustle was noisy and her designated space seemed small compared to the vastness of the modern, cozy space, she started playing.

    Her hushed-but-loud sound worked well for the warm atmosphere of The Ace. She whipped out her violin and beat a deep bass drum while she sang with her jazz voice. Fortunately for Wells, and also for The Ace, her startling talent and overall presence made her seem like less of an art installation and more like a brilliantly understated concert. In her corner of the lobby, it was starting to become easy to forget that we were in a building designed for the basic function of housing tourists.

    "Ace Hotel is a hipster chapel. It's grotesque and beautiful," Wells told me. "I am approaching the four weeks as a one whole, and it has challenged me to write songs and create covers that are suited to the space. I would love it if there weren't so much chatter and I could hear myself. But I do enjoy the natural reverb."

    If The Ace continues to select artists as appropriate as Wells, Sunday night shows could be a cool venture to throw into the ambitious mix.

    [Images courtesy of The Ace Hotel and  Chris Tucci]