No, the place was relatively clean and seemingly safe, but if I were an out-of-town visitor, it would confirm suspicions that New York was an isolating, anonymous place where human beings stay in drab cells and live harried, joyless lives.
Admittedly, that’s inside. Outside, you just cross 58th Street, stroll in the back of the J.W. Marriott Essex House — rooms there, by the way, start at $633, taxes included — walk out the front, and you’re staring at Central Park.
6. West Side YMCA, 5 W. 63rd St.; 212-875-4100, ymcanyc.org. Single rooms, from $115; double rooms, from $159. I paid $115.
If you’re a young man, it’s conceivably still fun to stay at the YMCA. But in this case, not so much to “hang out with all the boys” as to flirt with the huge group of European au pairs-to-be who were checking in at the same time I was.
Sure, there was also a small, somewhat older crowd, seemingly looking for a bargain. Did they (and I) find one?
For the price — especially for the double rooms — it’s hard to say no. Sure, the rooms are cell-like, with electrical wiring and air-conditioners that looked as if they had been there since before electricity and air-conditioning were invented. And the shared bathrooms were old and cranky.
But my bed — a cot on wheels — was actually quite comfortable. And better, the place was a beehive of activity, like a hostel on steroids. The staff was friendly (if harried), staying there allows access to the excellent gym, and it was located practically next to Central Park, and just blocks off Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle. It’s not for me. But it’s not terrible.
No. 7 Priceline. Not No. 7 as in last, but No. 7 as in too variable to compare directly to the places already mentioned.
Besides Nos. 1 through 6, there are other options for getting lodging for under $150 in Manhattan, including finding hostels and occasional bargain apartment rentals on Airbnb.com. But if you want something more upscale, the sites Priceline and Hotwire are good places to start. Priceline allows you to bid on a room, specifying which neighborhoods and star levels are acceptable, but forcing you to close the deal before you find out the specific hotel where you’ll be spending the night. Hotwire is the same, except that it gives you the price of the mystery hotel room instead of asking you to bid on it.
I use the two sites together, checking the going rate on Hotwire, before underbidding it slightly on Priceline; if my bid fails, I go back and purchase the room on Hotwire. That system landed me a four-star hotel in TriBeCa that was available on Hotwire for $108 (or $139 with tax and fees) and for which I subsequently bid $102 (or $131 total) on Priceline.
My bid was accepted, and I was soon staying in a room at the Sheraton Tribeca, at 370 Canal St., for about $100 less than I could get directly from the hotel online. Since both Priceline and Hotwire had been offering such a great bargain in the same neighborhood, I suspected that they both had also been trying to draw me to the same Sheraton. (Note that the room was for a Sunday; on other nights Priceline and Hotwire may require you to go down a few star levels to get a similar rate.)
The Sheraton Tribeca may be nothing out of the ordinary for a business traveler, but for a budget traveler the luxurious pillows and flat-screen TVs were startling novelties.
I wouldn’t make a habit of staying in such places though. Hotel chains almost always feel generic, and in the Sheraton Tribeca, the mini-Starbucks cafe and huge Diet Coke ads in the lobby made me a bit queasy. I’d give up the luxury pillows and private bathroom for a dog named Mango and a binder of East Village delivery menus any day.