In Living Color

People think they know what the Parker Spruce Hotel holds, but a night in a room there provides a clearer view.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Oct. 25, 2006

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One man on the seventh floor keeps trying to convince a friend he's all right. "People keep saying, 'You having a tough time' to me," he says. "But I'm happy. I ain't one of them young boys that died. A lot of young boys on the streets be getting killed. Not me."

There's more dissolution in the streets. A well-dressed, clean-cut twentysomething blond man dressed in a preppy blue-collared shirt comes lurching out of the Westbury--a gay bar that rents space in the Parker. It's not even 11 p.m., but he lists so heavily he almost pitches straight into one of three planters lining the sidewalk.

Moments later a transvestite walks by. She stands more than 6 feet tall, her face a mask of worry, like she's trying to maintain a composure and dignity she doesn't feel the world will allow her. She wears a waist-length electric blue coat, heavy silver ball earrings and a 2-foot-tall brunette bouffant wig.

A pair of men who just walked out of the Westbury watch her approach from half a block away and stare at her like a circus freak for the entire 10 painful seconds she moves down the street, then burst out laughing, their faces twisted with shadows under the street lights.

At midnight the scene repeats itself. While the hotel halls remain quiet and unchanged, the streets outside are brimming with vice. A crew of drug dealers operates at the corner of 13th and Locust. A man speedwalks by and says only "massage parlor" when I catch his eye.

"What?" I ask, stopping him.

"Massage parlor," he says, his voice low.

"Nah," I say.

"What you need?" he asks. "What you looking for?"

Comparatively speaking, the only scenes that play out in public view on this night at the Parker are more like oblique poetry than clear prose--a series of happenings that suggest more than they explicitly say.

"Hiram!" a man yells shortly after midnight in the hotel's lobby.

He's dressed in a one-piece mechanic's uniform, but he's long since stopped working for the night. His eyes are bloodshot and his mouth hangs open because he's too high to close it.

The man he's calling to has a shaved head and wears stylish eyeglasses with a series of silver curlicues adorning the stems. He wears a black sportscoat, a collarless black T-shirt, dress pants and dress shoes polished to a high shine.

"Hiram!" the drunken man hollers again. "Hiram!"

In response Hiram smiles beatifically and holds his hands out toward the other man, palms up, beckoning him forward.

The drunk obediently shuffles into reach--clutching a can of Budweiser--and they lean together, their foreheads nearly touching. They don't speak except for a few mumbled words. They remain that way for more than a minute, rocking slightly underneath the lights, Hiram holding the other man tightly by his hands and his Budweiser.

"All right, brother," Hiram says. "All right."

One of the hotel's female employees gets off the elevator, glances over at the clerk reading at the desk and sternly motions the two men inside. Only Hiram boards, but the drunk holds back the elevator door with one arm and whispers, "Where you at?" to Hiram.

"You better get on this elevator," says the woman.

Dutifully, the man does. So do I. But when Hiram gets off on the fourth floor, the drunk begins again, eyeing the better dressed man lustily and talking in a low, accelerating whisper. "Where you at? Whereyouat? Whereyat?"

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Spencer Starnes said... on Apr 19, 2010 at 10:33PM

“Steve Volk-

I'm trying to reach you to do an interview for a documentary about this marvel of a hotel.

It would be very helpful if I could get into contact with you soon, if you see this, please contact me at

Thank you.
-Spencer Starnes

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2. Mary said... on Oct 1, 2010 at 12:55PM

“What a great article. Being a recent inhabitant of the Lenox building right across the street I have already been witness to plenty of "goings-on" at the Parker, mostly in my half asleep state at 5 in the morning. The most shocking occurrence was probably my first night in my new apartment when I was awoken at 7AM to a woman outside screaming repeatedly "I'll suck yo ---- !!!" It was pretty much verbatim that scene from "Don't Be A Menace." Anyway, great to have some clarification on what exactly the Parker is all about. I have to say, as disruptive and disturbing as the place is, there is definitely a perversely charming old-worldliness about it in the midst of all of the area's gentrification... I guess that's why I never feel truly threatened by it (aaand while writing this I can hear a group of men in the Manning alleyway bickering over a drug deal with numerous expletives... It's 2 PM by the way... gotta love 13th street)!”

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3. Anonymous said... on May 12, 2011 at 10:02AM

“I belive the hotel is a dirt bag of disgrace, I belive my brother was murdered in there and was made to look like he overdosed and fell.
When my mother called to asked about somethings that were missing, them low life scumbags said "we don't keep that fucking shit we throw it out." To a woman that just lost her only son. and according to the pictures that I have seen of this place there is no way of what they said happened, could have happened.. I will find out......”

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4. harv said... on Jul 23, 2013 at 08:13PM

“These scumbags took money from my debit card so watch when you pay your bill The managers are all Indians and very mean since I got ripped off L&I will be making a visit soon with the board of health and they harassed my girlfriend fucking roach infested dump don't stay there you'll get burned What a dump safer on a park bench”

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5. Ben said... on Sep 6, 2013 at 04:22PM

“The cries of horror and prejudiced vitriol at the intrusion of this unsavoury reality into the lives of the 'respectable' are born of fear of the unknown and a failure to realise their own responsibility for the circumstances that end in the lobby of the Parker.

A refuge of last resort that has clung on in a city where tidiness, property values and civility are valued at the expense of the marginalisation of the poor and unlucky is a surprise. It is certainly not good for anyone; not the locals, not the city, and not the residents; but, perhaps, it is less bad than many alternatives.”

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6. JOHN B BARE itt BARRETT said... on Mar 29, 2014 at 12:12AM

“The health of the tenants should be a concern . There only resort for care is the emergency room and that adds to the cost of health care in the long run..

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7. Gustavo said... on May 4, 2014 at 03:34PM

“I.m living in front of the "Parker Hotel" I don' understand why the City give a permission to operation in this neighborhood when many tourist come every day.
Always, every night are problems, people outside the hotel screaming during the night and disturbing all the neighborhood and the residents that as me, need wake up at 6 am go to work.
Where is the owner, they must take responsibility with the "guesses" and not allow them stay during the night standing up and screaming outside the hotel. We deserve respect as other people in this Country, and is not fair that yours "guesses" not allow us, workers" sleep during night.
PLEASE City. take action in this matter and close this place or change to another hotel that enhance our neighborhood.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:50AM

“The city KNOWS there are drugs being sold on this block. The city KNOWS there is prostitution in this neighborhood. They know it is a mess, but they don't do anything about it.”


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