Hotels build reputations on qualities such as sumptuous surroundings and attentive service. But there's nothing like a scandal to create the sort of notoriety that keeps on giving
Illicit trysts, death, destruction and other headline-grabbing behavior can create buzz that lingers in the collective memory years after the event has passed. And that can be good for business, though it isn't always to the delight of management.
"Scandals are generally not a good way to promote a hotel," says Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. "Hotels essentially are in the business of keeping the activity within four walls with respect to client confidentiality."
Still, when the cops or the coroner are summoned to deal with a high-profile guest, and the messiness becomes a matter of public record, all bets are off. Here, USA TODAY's Jayne Clark
revisits some rooms with notorious pasts.
•New York's Hotel Chelsea
, where punk icon Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death in October 1978 in Room 100. (The former Sex Pistol was charged with homicide but died three months later from a heroin overdose.)
Some guests still request Room 100, "strangely enough," says longtime managing director Stanley Bard. It isn't available, however, because the room became part of a larger suite in a renovation 20 or so years ago.
Bard prefers to talk about other notables — Bob Dylan, Madonna, Leonard Cohen and Allen Ginsburg — who have checked in. As for the Sid and Nancy episode, "I'm not happy about it, but you can't control these things," he says.
•Wyndham Washington, D.C.
, where former mayor (and current city councilman) Marion Barry was arrested in January 1990 on charges of smoking crack cocaine in Room 727.
Room 727 still exists, though the former Vista Hotel has changed hands since the mayor was interrupted by FBI agents while smoking crack with a female friend. The friend was armed with pinhole cameras and listening devices, leading the startled politician to famously utter, "B ---- set me up!"
As the years pass, fewer guests request the room overlooking the atrium lobby, or even mention the bust, says sales director Sharon McKennon. One occasional restaurant patron who does
reference it: Marion Barry. "He still jokes about it with the staff," she says.
• Sheraton Sand Key Resort
in Clearwater Beach, Fla., where televangelist Jim Bakker had a tryst with church secretary Jessica Hahn in Room 538.
"The Jim Bakker thing," as sales director Jack Guy refers to it, has cooled in the years since the news of the 1980 encounter broke. The liaison (along with a subsequent fraud conviction and other legal woes) ultimately brought down Bakker's PTL Club enterprise.
Meanwhile, Hahn seized her 15 minutes of fame and launched a short-lived soft-porn career. For a time, Room 538 became oft requested — management suspected it had more to do with its notoriety than its spectacular Gulf views. Quips Guy, "For a while, we wanted to change all the rooms to 538 and be done with it."
in Hollywood, where comic John Belushi died of a drug overdose in Bungalow 3 in March 1982.
"If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont," reads the hotel's website, in a 1939 quote from Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn. But whether Belushi's untimely death from a combination of heroin and cocaine has lent a sort of dark cachet to the bungalow isn't something the current owner cares to comment on. Still, a reservationist advises it's best to book the unit at least a month in advance.
, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their "bed-in" for peace for the international press corps in March 1969 in Room 702.
The management didn't actively market the suite until 1990 when it was redecorated (with Yoko Ono's approval) to approximate its 1969 appearance. A highlight: On the ceiling is a giant replica of a 1969 Plastic Ono Band album cover.