New York City’s Pod Hotel Revolution: The Glamour of Staying Small
Pod, capsule, micro or just plain tiny – whatever you call them, these hotels are here to stay and we've got the scoop on what makes them ideal for travelers spending a night (or more) in NYC
Capsule or pod hotels may have been invented in Japan, but they’re being perfected in New York City, and it’s easy to see why. For starters, small rooms translate into small prices — rooms are often around $100 — a boon in a city that has the nation’s highest average room rate in the $250 to $300 range. There is “absolutely a market in NYC of people who don’t want to spend $500 a night,” says hotelier Richard Born of BD Hotels, who launched the highly successful Pod Hotels to fill this gap.
Previously there were few mid-priced options in the city, Born explains, and they were often part of less desirable economy chains or aging tourist hotels. Alternatives like the Pod Hotels hold appeal, he says, because they’re “technologically savvy, boutiquey and intelligently designed.” These hotels may skimp on space, but not on amenities or services. Indeed, perks (flat-screen TVs, heated towel racks and high-thread-count sheets) are on par with more expensive hotel counterparts. Perhaps the most important reason pod hotels do well here is one that touches on the nature of the five boroughs themselves. After all, this is glittering New York City. How long will you be spending in your room, anyway?
The 669-room Yotel (570 10th Ave., 877-909-6835, yotelnewyork.com; from $129) in Times Square is typical of the capsule hotel experience, and here it starts with an efficient, quiet, discreet — and tip-refuting — luggage-handler. Said handler has metal hinges for joints, lacks a beating heart and goes by Yobot. More than just a novelty, Yobot the robot exemplifies a technological approach to the hospitality industry, which is at the root of the 27-floor Yotel. (Check-in and check-out is done at computerized kiosks.)
The question, Where’s the disco ball? might cross your mind as you cross the Yotel threshold. Yes, part of the package is an atmosphere that feels more like a club than a hotel — there’s a funky dance soundtrack in the lobby and pops of purple and white throughout. The guests, many of whom appear to have stepped out of a London fashion show for an e-cigarette break, seem to model the vibe. Of course, a club is great for a night out, but what about for a night in? Yotel delivers on that too.
Most impressive about Yotel, the largest hotel to open in NYC in 2011, is how it has revamped the concept of space, which was inspired by the design of Asian capsule hotels and that of airplanes. The rooms are called cabins, and the front desk is referred to as Mission Control. Typical rooms like the Premium View Cabin are snug at around 170 square feet, but not uncomfortably so, thanks to some amazing design features. Suitcases, for instance, slide under the bed, built high for the purpose. Sleep is a priority too; the organic and natural fiber Naturalmat mattress is topped with hypoallergenic pillows. The bed, via the press of a button, can also fold up into a couch to maximize space. As for the all-important WiFi, it’s “free and super strength.” Book now.
Even with these space-saving conveniences, half an hour in a teeny room is likely enough, which isn’t a problem as the Yotel’s snazzy public spaces are as vast as the rooms are small. In fact, the Yotel fourth floor terrace is the largest outdoor hotel terrace in New York City, and that’s where to go to sip a sake sangria in the glow of the city skyline, before heading back for a solid night’s sleep. Either way, strong coffee and an efficient check-out await you in the morning.
Of course Yotel isn’t the only pod-like hotel in town. In fact, the first to break into the market was the 348-room Pod 51 (230 E. 51st St., 212-355-0300, thepodhotel.com; from $85), which opened in Midtown in 2007 and broke the maxim that you had to choose between boutique or budget when staying in NYC. Developed by BD Hotels (helmed by hoteliers Richard Born and Ira Drukier), the Pod is New York City’s original micro-hotel, and is responsible, in many ways, for the city’s new wave of affordable designer hotels.
At Pod 51, the lobby is splashed with colorful murals, while embedded wall videos stream classic films. An inviting communal table with outlets invites guests to connect both on and off line. The rooms are small — ranging from 100 to 120 square feet — but they’re big in style. The sleek decor blends blond wood with pops of color, while snazzy workspaces have iPod docking stations and strong WiFi. Plus, guests can control dimmer switches for mood lighting, and bathrooms get fancy with rain-head showers and eco-conscious Red Flower bath products. As Born explains, the focus is on intelligent design and high quality, and on ensuring that guests have everything available to them as they would in a larger room.
The 14-floor Pod was initially marketed towards the younger traveler, who “would be stepping out of the youth hostel and onto the next level,” says Born. But, this population turned out “to be 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s,” so young at heart if not young. The Pod has broad appeal, and you’ll just as likely see a group of students from Amsterdam as a retiree couple from Taiwan.
Though Pod 51 was one of the originals, it’s also continuing to set trends. In November 2013, Pod 51 opened a new gastropub, Pop @ Pod, by burger masters Pop Burger (said to be a favorite of Beyoncé and Jay-Z). In addition to thick burgers, the menu includes a robust selection of craft beers. Book now.
An offshoot, Pod 39, flung open its doors in summer 2012 on E. 39th Street in Midtown and has also been an insta-hit, thanks in part to food offerings from Salvation Taco, helmed by April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. Plus, you can play ping-pong and sip cocktails (at the same time, if you can handle it) in the Play Room, which is done up in vintage couches, Moroccan rugs and reclaimed-wood ceilings. Perhaps best proof of the popularity of the Pod Hotels is that more are coming: Two new Pod Hotels are slated to open in Times Square and Williamsburg.
“Affordable luxury for the people” is the slogan at the Dutch hotel chain Citizen M (216-218 W. 50th St., no phone yet, citizenm.com; from $150, though rates may vary), which is due to open in Times Square in 2014. The “M” stands for “mobile,” and the hotel is set to celebrate all aspects of the word, with lots of high-tech amenities like 24-hour self check-in via touch-screen kiosks, free WiFi (of course) and canteenM, sleek grab-and-go communal kitchens. M might also be a nod to its minimalist chic in decor, which will extend to an airy lobby filled with Swiss Vitra furniture. As part of the micro-room boom, CitizenM quarters are small (about 150 square feet) but smartly configured, with wall-to-wall windows and a Mood Pad to customize pretty much everything — colored lighting, temperature, window blinds and wake-up alarm music. The 230-room, 22-story hotel will flirt with a playful theme throughout, living up to its website promises that this is a hotel for “suits, weekenders, explorers, affair-havers and fashion-grabbers.” It’s also planning a location in the Lower East Side.
No Plain Jane
Lower Manhattan has seen few entries in the micro category, but The Jane in the West Village (113 Jane St., 212-924-6700, thejanenyc.com; from $89) certainly qualifies with its small, 50-square-foot rooms. The teeny spaces were modeled after vintage train compartments, complete with brass hooks for hanging clothes. The Village’s bohemian history is also honored in oddball details such as a carved moose head and stuffed monkey bellhops (really).
The Jane shares the same brains as the Pod: It’s owned by BD Hotels, which tapped veteran hoteliers Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode (The Bowery Hotel, Maritime Hotel) to gussy up the former SRO building, once home to Titanic survivors and, later, sailors. It opened in 2008. The vision for the rooms, says Born, came from the compact but high-quality rail cars that he remembers from old movies.
Like its Midtown cousins, social spaces are its saving graces. Come evening, you can sip artisan cocktails on a zebra-print chair amid potted palms and a faded disco ball in the Jane Ballroom, the former site of a theater that hosted Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Show up late and you’ll likely find a DJ spinning of-the-moment tunes and some top-notch people-watching. Then come morning, undo the damage at the hotel’s French-Moroccan Café Gitane with a tartine, some avocado toast and an ink-black espresso. After saving on your room, you can afford to splurge a little on food. Book now.