We did lots of research and asked many friends for recommendations to arrive at the following choice of hotels: the Americano in Chelsea and the Jane on the border of Meatpacking and the West (Greenwich) Village in Manhattan, and the Whythe in Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
Our criteria included: about $300 per night, internet included (fast enough for Skype), not too far from a subway station, and with a variety of restaurants in the neighbourhood.
The Americano queen room was the smallest room we stayed in. The bed consisted of a mattress on a low rise plinth with no furniture apart from a small desk and a beanbag. The space beside the mattress counted as bedside table. The plinth featured a hatch where you could store things to help maintain the minimalist look.
There was a large wardrobe as part of the built in storage that also encompassed the minibar. The bathroom was compact but comfortable, with the opaque glass of the shower fronting directly onto the bed space. You had to draw the shower curtain on the other side of the shower so someone on the toilet and someone on the bed could not see each other. It’s an intimate space for two.
Of the three the Americano was the most traditional in terms of services offered, from a fully stocked minibar (including a mini bottle of red wine in a cupboard permanently hot from the heat emanating from the bar fridge below) to the ridiculously priced laundry service ($5 per tshirt). Don’t drink that wine – it would be cooked and horrible.
They have staff to carry your bags and show you every tiny feature of your room, for which you then have to tip for. There’s a downstairs casual restaurant and bar that does great modern Mexican food and a switch rooftop restaurant and bar as well.
As a design oriented hotel the Americano is very stylish, but some of that style comes at the expense of comfort and space. Form over function is the rule here, with the large light fitting suspended from the ceiling at waist height (standing) or head height (sitting in bed) being ludicrously impractical.
The room guide was in an iPad app – each room has its own iPad with playlists and local restaurant recommendations etc. It could wirelessly connect to speakers embedded in the ceiling to play the music on it. The downside to this was that you could not play your own music on the speakers, and the third party dock only charged the iPad when it was off, so it would run out of power and you would have to wait for it to recharge before you could use it again.
The Americano is good for being in Chelsea if you want to visit the commercial art galleries in the area. It’s not the best in terms of food or convenience as the far west side of Manhattan is not as well served by the subway as other neighbourhoods.
The details: wifi – included and fast; water pressure in shower – good; bathroom ventilation – poor; safe big enough for 15 inch laptop – yes; real coathangers – yes; ability to dry handwashing in room – adequate (push the tray of goodies aside in the hot minibar cupboard and put your socks in there instead for maximum efficiency); noise – very quiet; ability to open window – yes.
We next stayed at the Jane, which is a former seamen’s hostel converted into a modern hotel. Many of the rooms don’t have ensuite but the Captain’s cabins do and we booked one of those. The design of the room is charming, but it is a budget boutique hotel and so some corners are cut. The mattress, for example, is an innerspring where you can hear and feel the springs, though it is firm and comfortable.
The room brochure mentioned a minibar but ours was empty (I don’t know if this is a feature no longer offered or if housekeeping had forgotten to stock it), but I never use it anyway so this was no loss, apart from there being no corkscrew in the room. I had to go down to the lobby to borrow one from the concierge as they were reluctant to bring one up to the room. This suggested that a minibar was no longer offered. If so, they should have updated their room guide.
Th room was initially ridiculously overheated, with a reverse cycle air-conditioning system and an old-fashioned central heating both being on. We had to ask twice to get the central heating turned off. The bathroom was spacious with a huge wide deep bath with a shower over it.
The location is great for easy access to a variety of shops and restaurants and has better subway access than the Americano. The Jane was not quiet, however, despite being close to the water. The basement must have been flooded by hurricane Sandy and was receiving considerable works, which included a generator powered pump on all day (but not at night) just outside our window, and jack hammering from the basement that began promptly at 9am on a Saturday morning without prior notice or apology from the hotel.
These works are no doubt temporary and the Jane would normally be quieter, though the doof doof from the trendy bar continued past midnight every night and that made it difficult to get to sleep.
The details: wifi – included and fast; water pressure in shower – excellent; bathroom ventilation – very good; safe big enough for 15 inch laptop – yes; real coathangers – yes; ability to dry handwashing in room – very good (the good ventilation and many hooks in the bathroom made it easy); noise level – poor; ability to open window – yes.
Finally, the Wythe in Brooklyn. An enormous corner king room in Williamsburg with design credentials of its own, with amazing views of Manhattan, costs about the same as a tiny queen room in Chelsea.
The view of Manhattan during the day and at night.
The bathroom was equally huge with an open shower and handrails around the shower and toilet. It was probably one the disability accessible rooms described in the hotel’s website, but it was so well designed that this was not immediately obvious.
The Wythe is unusual in the sense that it has a no room service policy, which is something I am happy about as I am generally low maintenance and don’t want or need the bed made every day, and I don’t use every towel in the bathroom and need more.
The downside to this is that the policy is not explained in the room guide, so you have to call the desk to ask for advice or to request more toilet paper. If you happen to be in your room in the late afternoon you’ll get a knock on the door from housekeeping asking if you need anything; otherwise it’s low-key and there’s no ‘do not disturb’ sign to put on the door as you won’t be disturbed mid-morning if you sleep in by housekeeping wanting to start work.
I only book hotels that clearly explain on their website that the internet access they provide is ‘complimentary’ or included in the price of the room. We got an unpleasant surprise at the Wythe when we discovered that while this is partially true, all is not as it seems.
Wifi is free at 256kbs for a 12 hour block, after which you have to register again, and only two devices per room can be registered. A couple with a laptop and a smartphone each are therefore restricted in what they can do with their devices.
If you want faster access you have to pay $5 per 12 hour block. The offer of ‘complimentary wifi’ is therefore duplicitous and deliberately misleading. While it is not reasonable to be able to run bittorrent or watch endless streaming video from your hotel room, it is reasonable for travellers to assume that the internet speed will be sufficient for them to make video calls via Skype or Facetime.
And why should it matter how many devices you wish to use? An individual using two devices is common and poses no technical problem. Imposing a limit per day and blocking the default ports used for bittorrent should be sufficient to minimise excessive use.
The Wythe’s petty internet frugality spoils what is otherwise an exceptional offering. It’s other failing was providing a tiny safe only big enough for passports and purses. These details may seem trivial, but leaving your laptop unguarded in your room is an unpleasant feeling, and being mislead about the internet offer is sufficient to prevent me wanting to stay there again.
The details: wifi – slow speed only suited for email and minimal web browsing is included; water pressure in shower – excellent; bathroom ventilation – excellent; safe big enough for 15 inch laptop – no; real coathangers – yes; ability to dry handwashing in room – very good (the good ventilation and many hooks in the bathroom made it easy); noise level – reasonable (the room was adjacent to large air-conditioning and other plant equipment and noise was evident in the room); ability to open window – yes.