Sunday, August 12, 2007
The Pod Hotel in NYC: Embracing your inner tiny-ness
People in California are often surprised to hear that, aside from passing through on the way to JFK airport to catch a flight to Europe, we haven't been to New York City since I moved here a year and a half ago. At least a couple of reasons for that, not the least of which being that it's far (at least 3 1/2 hours' drive). But John has two very big school-related hurdles to pass in September, so we wanted to take a little weekend trip as a reward to celebrate the culmination of a TON of hard work.
It's not that I'm cheap (OK, I am) but I just don't care that much about my hotel, other than that it be clean, safe, well-located, and- the most important characteristic- unusual/full of character (i.e., in my book, a converted convent beats out a Holiday Inn, even if it's half the price). Other than that, I'm going to be out and about during my visit so I just think it's a waste of money to pay a lot for a fancy hotel that I'm barely going to enjoy. Armed with my $150 price cap (but usually much less), I've stayed in some really great places. In just the past couple of years, I've been able to find excellent accommodations in great locations in some of the world's priciest cities: $120 in London, $120 in Florence, and my personal favorite: $70 a night for a huge pad in Rome. A tour of rates in Downtown Los Angeles and I found deals for $80 at the uber-fancy Biltmore (since the financial heart of LA is a tourist-wasteland on the weekends, I had hoped I'd find similar deals in the Wall Street area of Manhattan). Maybe I was spoiled by these experiences and the fruits of my LA research, but nothing, NOTHING, could prepare me for the rates I found for hotels in NYC.
SHOCK: Now, I know I live in the 347 cheapest housing market in the United States, so I had expected to be surprised by how expensive the hotel rooms were in NYC, especially compared to Binghamton, where $700/month rents us a huge, beautiful, 100-year-old old house in one of the best neighborhoods in town. But nothing could prepare me for this: Small off-brand hotels rating "Inexpensive" in my AAA guide started at over $300 for a standard double room. Oh, and those places are all booked up anyway. Someone suggested I check out the Holiday Inns- standard room at the Holiday Inn near Wall Street? $450/night (!?!?) It was not at all unusual to call up a hotel in the "moderate" category and find a basic room for two people for $700 per night.
BOTTOM OF THE MARKET REFERENCE POINT: Just for fun, I checked out a hostel (I swore I'd never stay at one of these dormitory-like places again after college, but the cost can be a good barometer of what you're going to be paying for a proper hotel room in that city). Cost of a double room in a lame hostel? $80!! I've never seen a hostel for more than $50/night for two, so that's a new record for me. And it forced me to get a little more realistic about what we'd ultimately pay.
PRICELINE: Several people suggested I try one of those "dutch auction" hotel sites where you plug in your price range and they find you a hotel, but you don't know which hotel you are getting until it's already booked, something that sounded somewhat exciting but also lame that you could be stuck with some loser hotel and have nothing to say about it.
THE BOONIES: I was about to do the priceline.com thing when I went on the site, and others like it, and found that the cheapest hotel listings were around $250 but, more importantly, were hotels in places like "Newark International Airport" and "Weehawken" and "Seacaucus, NJ"- HELL NO! We're spending 2 days in the city, we care primarily about location, and, besides, $250 to stay hear the airport? I was starting to work on John to see if he would reconsider the chosen destination for his reward-trip.
GENIUS: Then it struck me: If we are going to pay a bunch of money for a tiny place, why don't we embrace that tiny-ness and stay at one of these hotels I'd looked into staying at in London: A "pod" hotel!
"CAPSULE" HOTELS: By way of background, there are these wacky "capsule hotels" in (of course) Japan where you basically stay in a sleeping bay that looks like a sleeping compartment on a train. This concept has not gained popularity outside of Japan, where business men favor it when they've missed a flight or are too drunk to get themselves home. This is NUTS and not what we are doing, just to be clear.
THE POD HOTEL: The American version of a "capsule" hotel is really nothing like a capsule hotel, it is just a place that embraces extremely high density (which is really saying something in a place like NYC, where everything seems to already be so dense). I think it's going to be more like the stateroom of a ship, or our tiny house in Hermosa Beach, where things are just on a much smaller scale and you don't have room to turn around in the bathroom, which is just fine . . . as long as you aren't paying $600/night!
We're excited about this!! The Pod Hotel in NYC is the only one of its kind in America, I think, and I'm still not totally sure what the concept is. I will report back after our trip, but all I know for now is that it is new and fuses very cool, clean design with minimal space in a way that appeals to me aesthetically and practically. And the price? $169/night and it's located in an ideal mid-town spot just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center.
Although I'm totally embarrassed to admit this publicly: I did opt to save $150 and get bunk beds (!!!) Hey, if we're going to be staying in a tiny place, why not embrace it and stay at a place that accepts the fact that the rooms are tiny, and makes up for it with excellent design and furnishings that are suited for the purpose (flat screen TV, anyone?)
Now we've gone from being totally dejected about paying $300/night for a sketchy dump in Manhattan, to feeling like we're really trendy for staying at this hip new hotel option. Can't wait to report back!