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7 Iconic Hotels With Shockingly Sordid Histories

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credits: Antony McCallum/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 3.0/ Cropped, and Joe Sohm/ Visions of America/ Universal Images Group/ Getty Images/ Cropped

The wildly popular television series The White Lotus, surrounding the bizarre experiences of the guests and staff at a luxury hotel chain, is completely fictitious. There are, however, a number of real hotels with dark and sordid histories. These seven luxury establishments have been the settings for many historical moments as well as for the deaths of various well-known figures.

Hotel Chelsea, New York

The Hotel Chelsea is situated in Manhattan, New York. It was constructed between 1883 and 1885. It is a beautiful 12-story red brick building with a grand staircase located inside, and was the tallest building in the city at the time it was completed. Initially, it was operated as an apartment building but was reopened as a hotel in 1905. It became extremely popular, particularly as a place to stay for longer periods.

Black and white photo of the exterior of the Chelsea Hotel.
The Hotel Chelsea at 222 West 23rd Street in New York, n.d. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)
Red exterior of the Hotel Chelsea with iron railings outside the windows.
A general view of the exterior of The Hotel Chelsea, June 5, 2012. (Photo Credit: Ben Hider/ Getty Images)

Among those who stayed at the Chelsea were Arthur C. Clarke – who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while there, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Madonna. Most famously, however, the hotel is associated with Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, who was found on October 12, 1978 in the couple’s room after being stabbed to death. Vicious was charged with the murder but overdosed before his trial.

Cliveden House & Spa, Berkshire, England

The historic Cliveden House was built in 1666 as a gift by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham for his mistress. In the following centuries, the building burned down and was rebuilt on numerous occasions. Later owners of the property also made repeated alterations to the inside of the house. During the First and Second World Wars, Canadians operated a hospital on the estate.

Aerial view of the entire Cliveden House property.
Aerial photograph of Cliveden House taken by a Royal Air Force photographer, June 1945. (Photo Credit: English Heritage/ Heritage Images/ Getty Images)
Side view of Cliveden House with elaborate stairs leading up to the building.
Most iconic view of Cliveden House, 2016. (Photo Credit: DEA/ G. Wright/ Getty Images)

It wasn’t until 1985 that the main house became the now-famous Cliveden hotel. In 2017 a spa was added as well. The building was the site of the Profumo Affair in the 1960s, when Secretary of State for War John Profumo had an affair with Christine Keeler, a young model said to be connected to a Soviet spy. The pair met at Cliveden. Profumo only made the affair more scandalous by lying to the House of Commons about its occurrence when asked.

Ritz Paris, France

The Ritz Paris is truly one of the most luxurious hotels in the world and was founded over 120 years ago. Since its inception, it has been known as an establishment for the rich and famous, including celebrities, politicians, and royals. It’s no wonder that such a historic hotel has been the site of more than one sordid – and entertaining – event.

Interior of the Ritz Paris with large stone columns, tables, and chairs.
Interior view of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, c. 1920. (Photo Credit: H. C. Ellis/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images)
Exterior of the Ritz Paris with people walking in front of the entrance.
Exterior of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, April 2022. (Photo Credit: Arthur Weidmann/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the oldest rumors is that King Edward VII got stuck in a bathtub with his lover. Famously, Coco Chanel lived in the hotel for 34 years, including during the German occupation of the city during the Second World War. While living there she became comfortable with the occupiers and was said to have worked as an informant for them.

Near the end of the war, writer Ernest Hemingway arrived at the hotel with a host of soldiers in order to liberate the bar – specifically the bar- from the Germans, only to find that they had already left. Most recently, however, the Imperial Suite at the Ritz was where the late Princess Diana ate her last meal.

Watergate Hotel, Washington DC

As the name suggests, the Watergate Hotel was the namesake for the infamous Watergate Scandal. The building was constructed along with the rest of the complex between 1963 and 1971. Initially, people were concerned about the modernist design, but it soon proved to be very popular as a luxury hotel with many famous celebrities staying there. Due to its proximity to the White House, it was also in high demand by people working for the government.

View of the Watergate Hotel with a pool in the foreground.
The Potomac River side of the Watergate Hotel in Washington after sitting empty for two years, July 20, 2009. (Photo Credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/ Getty Images)
View of the Watergate complex and hotel from the water.
The Watergate Complex including the hotel in Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: Hoberman Collection/ Universal Images Group/ Getty Images)

In June 1972 those involved with the Watergate break-in stayed in the hotel’s room 214 while they communicated with the other members of their party as they tried to bug the Democratic National Committee HQ located nearby. The very room has now been converted into the “Scandal Room” at the hotel, and can be rented out by guests. The decorations have been carefully chosen to simulate the feel of the 1970s.

The Villa Casa Casuarina, Miami Beach, Florida

The Villa Casa Casuarina hotel is best known as the Versace Mansion, nicknamed for its famous owner and fashion designer Gianni Versace. The property was built in 1930, and was lived in by Versace from 1992 until 1997. While he lived there, he invested over $32 million in renovations and converted what had been 24 apartments into 10 large suites.

Pool with detailed lining and stone wall with pillars behind it.
Elaborately detailed pool at the Villa Casa Casuarina, 2019. (Photo Credit: Vadelmavene/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
Front exterior of the Villa Casa Casuarina with umbrellas on a patio.
Front exterior of the Villa Casa Casuarina, 2019. (Photo Credit: Vadelmavene/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

The mansion was the site of Versace’s murder in 1997 at the hands of Andrew Cunanan, an American serial killer who had five total victims. The designer had just returned home from his regular morning walk when he was shot dead on his front steps. His home was eventually converted into a luxury hotel in 2015.

Europa Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland

One of the most iconic landmarks in Belfast, Northern Ireland is the Europa Hotel which earned itself the title of the most bombed hotel in world, putting it on the radar of tourists. It was opened in 1971 and became the place for journalists from around the world to stay while they covered the Troubles, becoming “the hub of everything.”

Exterior of the Europa Hotel with numerous cars parked out front.
The Europa Hotel in Belfast, April 15, 1972. (Photo Credit: James Jackson/ Evening Standard/ Getty Images)
Exterior of the Europa Hotel with people and cars out front.
Exterior view of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, 2012. (Photo Credit: Paul Faith/ PA Images/ Getty Images)

However, this also made the hotel a target for IRA bombings. During the years that the conflict lasted and the business was open, the hotel was bombed an estimated 36 times. The Europa earned its fame not only for surviving these attacks but also for the fact that it never once closed during all of it. It only closed for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles, California

The elegant Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles is in the perfect location for celebrities to escape from the public eye, which is exactly what they did. It notoriously became known as somewhere that the rich and famous of the city would visit when they wanted to get up to naughty deeds while maintaining their privacy. Numerous celebrities have stayed there, including Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Quentin Tarantino – just to name a few.

Chateau Marmont sitting in a large patch of greenery.
View of the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles, California, December 5, 2016. (Photo Credit: AaronP/ Bauer-Griffin/ GC Images/ Getty Images)
Coroner van in front of a crowd of people at the Chateau Marmont.
A Los Angeles County Medical Examiners van parked at the Chateau Marmont Hotel after John Belushi was found dead, March 5, 1982. (Photo Credit: Bob Riha Jr./ Getty Images)

It is likely best known, however, as the location where beloved comedian John Belushi died after overdosing on drugs on March 5, 1982 while staying in Bungalow three. He had been living in the building for an extended period of time, saying earlier that “I lived all around in the hotel, moving from room to room. If I had the money, I moved to a larger suite. If not, I took a smaller one.”

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Famous photographer Helmut Newton also died on the property when he crashed his car on the driveway after having a heart attack.