Micro-Hotels: Sightsee in New York on a Budget

Micro-Hotels Let You Decide What’s Worth Paying For

By Steve Flahive

A lobby with the panache to match most anything in New York City
A lobby with the panache to match most anything in New York City

Anyone planning a trip can likely attest to the fact that a lean economy can change travel plans. Suddenly, a lavish escape seems harder to justify. Budgeting assumes a larger role in vacation planning.

If that continues to remain true, The Pod Hotel is unusually well situated to handle any imminent financial turmoil. Two things back up that statement.

First, New York City will always command a huge presence as a destination for both international and domestic travel, and it is hard to imagine a time when people stop wanting to visit — no matter how bad the economy gets. Second, The Pod is a great value.

Located in Midtown Manhattan, The Pod offers an uncommon and impressive blend of bare-bones pragmatism and purposefully stylish character.

The “bare-bones” relates to the hotel’s tiny rooms, its shared bathrooms, and its correspondingly low prices; the “character” relates to the design and décor. The words “shoestring-chic” seem unavoidable when describing The Pod’s lobby and rooms.

Rooftop Breakfast

Before I checked in to The Pod I found a place serving sandwiches on fresh New York bagels. The chicken salad sandwich was enough to bring me back to Ess-a-bagel two more times in the following few days.

Ess-a-bagel is just on the other side of the block from The Pod (on 3rd Avenue) and serves their bagels with a tremendous array of remarkably New York fixings. I saw gobs of chopped liver thrown on an everything bagel, lox and cream cheese put between two halves of pumpernickel, and I was tempted by a kosher salami on onion.

Eating a breakfast sandwich on the roof deck of The Pod
Eating a breakfast sandwich on the roof deck of The Pod

It was the bacon-egg-and-cheese on sesame that won me over for good. Two days in a row I started my explorations into the neighborhoods of New York City by sitting and eating this breakfast fourteen or so stories above 51st Street on the rooftop deck of The Pod Hotel.

“Making-Do” or “Kicking-Back”… or Both

The Pod straddles the ambiguous ground between hostel and hotel, but does so deliberately. Micro-hotels mimic hostels by effectively rationing square footage.

By keeping personal quarters to a minimum and emphasizing shared community spaces, micro-hotels capitalize upon an aspect of the hostel’s business model that makes such low rates possible.

If you’ve stayed in enough hostels, you come to recognize the things that are “nice to have,” versus the things you “want” and things that you “need.”

Personally, I think it’s nice to have an elevator and internet access, I want to have a comfortable bed without 16 other people in the same room, and need to have reasonably private and clean bathrooms and shower facilities.

The Pod offers all the essentials like a full-time staff and team of housekeepers, and, in so doing, takes any possible disquiet out of a hostel-type experience. To be sure, The Pod is not a hostel, but the comparison is relevant.

Radio City Music Hall is about a 15 minute walk from The Pod
Radio City Music Hall is about a 15 minute walk from The Pod

Seeing the City, Not the Inside of a Hotel Room

I’d certainly never turn down a stay at a swanky luxury hotel in Midtown East Manhattan (or anywhere for that matter), but my destinations have always been outside the room I was staying in.

My friend Barrett had never seen Times Square, so that was a easy checkbox to tick. Taking a left out of the hotel lobby, 51st Street is a straight shot directly towards Radio City Music Hall.

Dusk was settling upon the evening as we left our hotel, but dusk is not something that exists in Times Square. Instead of moving between day and night, light and dark, the circadian pattern of Times Square sees normal daylight trading shifts with a period of fluorescence. Sometimes the sun is in charge of providing light, sometimes the job is left to capitalism and advertisers.

Beer and Red Velvet Chesterfields

Once we finished with the de rigueur photo-ops and tourist attractions in Times Square, we took a cab to the West Village to get away from the throngs of people and eight-dollar beers.

We found a bar on Bleecker St. called 1849 that was serving 20-cent wings and pints of Yuengling for three bucks. As you walk in, chesterfield sofas flank the right wall and direct patrons attention toward the plasma televisions on the opposing wall. This atmosphere served as perfect counterpoint to the hectic pitch of neon signs, beeping taxi horns and sidewalks cordoned off by camera poses.

Upon entry to Katz's you get a ticket which serves as a bill on the way out.
Upon entry to Katz’s you get a ticket which serves as a bill on the way out.

Back Up to Midtown

We finished off the night by making the rounds through the bars that surround The Pod. It happened to be St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and there were no fewer than four Irish pubs within a one block radius of our hotel. Nobody was left in want of Guinness.

I resisted the temptation of late night pub fare, even after a server paraded an especially alluring burger with fries past us. With many kitchens open until 2:00 and even 4:00 AM; bars in this town like to test your resolve.

Meet Jane

My last full day in New York City started out in the West Village. The Pod Hotel has (or, will shortly have — once the renovations are complete) a sister hotel in that neighborhood called The Jane.

Though still under construction, a portion of the hotel’s rooms have been up and running since the “soft opening” this past fall. The Jane offers railway-inspired sleeper-car sized rooms which are styled with sleeper-car motifs. The Jane hums the same tune as The Pod with an emphasis on low prices — eschewing the frills and square footage in favor of a minimalist panache.

Meat is hand-cut and piled high at Katz's
Meat is hand-cut and piled high at Katz’s

The construction was a bit too active for me to poke around, so Barrett and I decided to track down a sandwich I’d been aching to try.

“Katz’s? Yea, I Know Katz’s”

After wandering around the West Village for a while, Barrett and I took a cab to the Lower East Side. When I told the cabbie to take us to the corner of East Houston and Ludlow, he asked where we were going in a tone which hinted that he already knew.

I hardly got the “’s” out before he interjected: “You goin’ to Katz’s? I know Katz’s. Katz’s Right? They’ve got the best Pastrami in the world. Believe me. I know Katz’s, and you’re gonna love it.”

So Good You Could Frame It

Whether they know it or not, anyone who’s seen “When Harry Met Sally” has been acquainted with Katz’s Delicatessen as well. A sign which reads “Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had!” hangs above the infamous table where Meg Ryan did some of her most memorable acting.

Katz’s also alludes to its fringe celebrity status by hanging pictures of the famous people who have eaten in the establishment. Even in spite of all the kitsch, you really can’t argue with Katz’s; the deli sandwiches really are that good.

Times Square hotel
Times Square

I chose the Reuben and Barrett elected to go with the beef brisket. Hand cutting the meat off of whole slabs, and meticulously constructing each order layer by layer, the sandwich maker told us how Aaron Carter had been in to eat sometime earlier that day.

I forgave him for this boast because he knew what he was doing with that Reuben, and I don’t blame Aaron Carter for dropping by, because Katz’s really is that good.

I usually wouldn’t spend upwards of $15 for a single sandwich, but I wasn’t just there to eat. I wanted to experience it for myself; Katz’s was one of the checkboxes which I wanted to tick while I was in New York.

Irrespective of (or, perhaps, in part, due to) the pop-culture bric-a-brac that Katz’s has accrued, and despite the quasi-celebrity status it has assumed, the delicatessen still remains in touch with the intangibles feelings of the city, of the people and of the culture which it now represents. It feels, in some way, uniquely New York.

The Draw of the Wile

Certain things have an unquantifiable and perhaps unjustifiable allure. Taken at face value, Times Square could seem like nothing more than the pure distilled upshot of consumerism — salvos of flashing lights aimed at beguiling our attention long enough to leave behind the imprint of brand recognition.

This "Pod" has bunks and two TV's, but no bathroom
This “Pod” has bunks and two TV’s, but no bathroom

Nonetheless, its appeal is undeniable; millions of people have come to see the spectacle first hand. Those who haven’t will never quite appreciate the scale of it all.

As cliché, as it felt at points — standing awestruck in luminescent glow of strobing billboards, or joking about the sandwich “she had” — getting a firsthand experience of the attractions, was really why I went to New York.

Though The Pod was memorable (more memorable than most hotels), it’s not what I’ll take away from this trip. Really, that’s the whole point. I hope I never take a trip where the hotel is the most remarkable thing about it.

Micro-hotels encourage you to spend more time outside your sleeping quarters. The added benefit of paying less for the room comes in handy too.

The Particulars

The rates change depending upon season, holidays, etc., but expect prices that look something like this: “Bunk: $128 Single: $145 Double: $139 Queen: $162.

Barrett and I discovered that New York City has some hefty taxes on hotel rooms–something to keep in mind while looking at these prices.

The Pod Crowd

This "Pod" had a double bed and a mini bathroom
This “Pod” had a double bed and a mini bathroom

These micro-hotels describe their target clientele as “chic travelers who are looking for functional hotel rooms that don’t sacrifice style. The Pod Hotel is very family-friendly, and The Jane is more for the backpacker-type traveler.”

I was impressed by the variety of travelers staying at The Pod. There was the unsurprising 20-30 year old travelers, and the internationals and gap-year crews, but also men in suits, a woman in her 70s, and a mother-daughter tandem. In the end, you don’t need to be a chic traveler or yearn for ultramod styling to be drawn to micro-hotels.

Individuals with extreme claustrophobia won’t do especially well in the handful of rooms furnished with in-room showers, but, other than that, The Pod Hotel should (and seems to) have a rather broad appeal.

ROOMS: “347 accommodations: 117 double-bedded rooms 90 bunk-bed rooms with shared bath 50 queen-bedded rooms 64 single-bedded rooms with shared bath 10 single-bedded rooms 9 two-bedded rooms 7 newly renovated spacious townhouse units.”

I only got to see the “double” (which felt smaller than a standard double-sized bed) and the bunk-bed room. The double-bedded room has a bathroom to itself, but, because it has a glass partition dividing the shower/toilet from the room-proper, privacy is scant in double occupancy situations. This isn’t a huge deal because the communal bathrooms are still an option.

The "bathroom" and shower in the "double." Notice the mirror; the room is small enough that I had to climb on the desk and do some contortions in order to get a wide enough perspective.
The “bathroom” and shower in the “double.” Notice the mirror; the room is small enough that I had to climb on the desk and do some contortions in order to get a wide enough perspective.

Each room comes equipped with an iPod docking station/radio/alarm clock unit. The “double” room has a single wall-mount TV, while the “bunk-bed” rooms have two smaller televisions–one per bed.

Both of these rooms had a small sink/vanity and windows (that open! — a refreshing and nice touch). The view out the window, of course, varies, but (as long as the weather’s nice) the rooftop deck more than makes up for it.

ROOM DESIGN: “Drawing inspiration from mass transit’s clever use of space and intuitive design features, designer Vanessa Guilford created rooms that mirror the space-saving solutions aboard trains, planes and even boats. Likewise, the hotel’s lighting and furnishings were influenced by mass transit’s streamlined design approach and fuss-free functionality.”

“152 guestrooms have shared baths and feature an in-room display, similar to the illuminating panel found on an airplane, that allows guests to easily distinguish if the shared bath is occupied.”

Getting There

I took a Peter Pan to the central bus terminal which is a walkable distance from The Pod. Go to Google Maps to get walking directions to the pod. If you’ve got a good deal of luggage, take a cab.

Barrett drove in and parked. He found a garage on 53rd Street for $35/24hours. The Pod Hotel recommends Icon Parking on 51st Street between Lexington & 3rd Avenues, which should be about the same (both very reasonable for New York City). These rates reflect a mid-March stay. Keep in mind the fact that rates do change so checking before you go never hurts.


The Pod Hotel’s website

Tel: 212-355-0300
Fax: 212-755-5029
Email: info@thepodhotel.com
Reservations: 1-800-742-5945

Steve Flahive studied abroad in Oxford and Granada which offered him his first taste of international travel, and ever since coming back, Steve has been looking at his backpack longingly.

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