Because I go to New York fairly often and am something between a responsible shopper and an incredible cheapskate, I've long been on a mission to find the best hotel room I possibly can for the least amount of money. Lots of people are chasing this dream -- 57,600,000 links come up when you type "cheap hotel room in New York City" into Google -- but the task remains stunningly Sisyphean.
A few years ago, I started my quest as one does, at The Jane. To the uninitiated, the deal with the Jane is this: for pretty much $100, you can stay in a Sean Macpherson hotel and have AC, an IPod clock radio, a TV and wifi in the most charming 50-foot room on the isle of Manhattan that you're ever going to get. And whether you're in your room or walking down the hallway, you have the additional pleasure of feeling like you're on a boat--which may only be a pleasure if you grew up watching Love Boat on Saturday nights like I did, fantasizing about the glamorous lives boats provided. (Ironically, in a former life, the hotel actually housed the surviving crew of the Titanic.)
Another boon: the Café Gitane outpost downstairs, which is an ideal place to spend all the money you saved on your room.
It should also be noted that the clientele at The Jane isn't always the hipster Europeans I'd imagined would populate the place. On my first stay there, during a trip to one of the shared bathrooms--which are clean, black-and-white tiled and undeniably charming -- a fellow guest said something that I couldn't quite understand. When I asked her to repeat herself, she snapped that she wasn't talking to me..
She was speaking with Jesus.
I thought of this woman and how long the 15-minute walk from The Jane to the nearest subway can feel in the dead of a New York winter when I booked another trip to New York last January. Winter and last minute booking are a budget traveler's best friends, so I booked a room for a week at The Night Hotel in Midtown for $140 a night, quelling my inherent I-don't-stay-in-midtown snobbery by reminding myself how central I would be. The Night, which is the sister hotel to The Dream, is definitely working the sexy angle, with its photos of near naked people throughout the hotel, extra dim lighting and in room copy of the Kama Sutra.
Because I have a strong desire to be able to see the clothes I put on, I wasn't all that seduced by all the sexification. Still, the incredibly comfortable mattress, soft sheets and Molton Brown products more than won me over. My only real complaint about The Night was that it was directly across the street from The Grace, a hotel which seemed to subscribe to the theory that blasting techno music at all hours from their entryway speakers into the street would please people, a theory I disproved after collapsing into bed at an hour too late to run out for earplugs. For several nights, I tried to convince myself that the constant "uhn tiss, uhn tiss, uhn tiss" beat was a soothing bedtime lullaby and, for several nights, I also slept horribly. But the Night-ers were so nice that when I complained to them, they actually called over to The Grace to ask them to maybe turn the beat down after midnight--to, alas, no avail.
When I ended up having to extend that trip an extra night, I took advantage of that whole wintertime wonderland thing and quikbook.com to book a $129 room at The Ace--the lobby of which I often use as something of an office when I'm in town. I don't know if I was just exhausted from one too many nights of trying to sleep while listening to a techno beat or maybe I just wasn't reading the fine print about what $129 a night will actually get you in New York but I ended up unintentionally booking one of their bunk bed rooms. Still, I very much appreciated the bathroom with its footed bathtub/shower and plumbing pipes as towel bars, the comfy sweatshirt material robe, and the free wifi. But mostly I just liked being at The Ace, since my temporary New York office was only an elevator commute away.
Another trip back to New York meant another experiment and this time I decided to try out the Gershwin, the ode to funkiness on 27th and Fifth. I'd always found the lobby appealing during my many trips into and out of the attached coffee shop, Birch (bar none, Manhattan's best organic eatery/café). Thinking fondly of Birch and not allowing the fact that The Gershwin was billed as an "artistic hostel" and cost only $150 a night during one of the nicest times of year to visit New York daunt me, I went ahead and booked two nights there through Expedia.
Consider my experience a lesson learned in allowing those things that should daunt you to actually daunt you. While my room was inarguably enormous -- and when I say enormous, I mean that it actually consisted of one bedroom with two single beds as well as an attached bedroom with a queen -- it was, honestly, the most disgusting use of a large space I've ever seen. Some hotels make you feel nervous that the place has bedbugs but The Gershwin managed to actually make me feel like I was a bedbug, with its thick layers of grime seemingly coating every surface and its stench of mold throughout. When I was out with friends that night and mentioned the enormous room I'd been given, one pointed out that the Gershwin may have actually booked one of the bedrooms to another guest or two and I might be returning to a slew of German tourists camped out on the bed I'd imagined would be my own, singing Oktoberfest songs while drinking warm beer.
When I ran into a friend after my first night and mentioned that I couldn't shake the Gershwin's grime off of me, he shook his head, told me I shouldn't have to stay there and then called his friend, who happened to manage a nearby hotel, and arranged a fantastic deal for me there. It all felt very worth swallowing whatever I'd paid Expedia for the second night at the Gershwin.
And that's how I discovered The Mave, a modern boutique hotel on the corner of 27th and Madison. Though mere steps away from The Gershwin, we'd clearly entered an entirely different realm. It may not be the bare bones cheapest in town but the Mave is nevertheless everything that The Night, The Ace and The Jane wish they could be: an amazingly luxurious yet inarguably unpretentious experience, all clean lines and hipster chic.
I felt positively cushioned -- almost massaged -- by the ultra plush mattress and sheets, comforted by the delicious coffee and pastry complimentary breakfast and pampered by the friendly, attitude-free staff. I'm talking about people who upgraded me on top of giving me a spectacular rate, just because they could.("Hey, a better room's available so why not?" were her actual words.) The hotel also offered free wifi, earplugs I sorely could have used back in my Night days and a yummy velour robe. And it just happens to not only be a few steps from Birch but also right next to New York's best bra store and a 24-hour spa, all a two-minute walk from the 28th street subway station.
Which means that the search for the perfect Manhattan hotel room is officially, over. I just hope I can still get a room there when the rest of the world finds out.