It is very rare in the U.S. to find a hotel that has single rooms–that is, rooms that are sized and priced for people traveling alone. Almost all hotel rooms in this country are priced “per person based on double occupancy,” meaning they are intended for two people to share. The message this sends the solo traveler is “You are an abnormality”. It’s like being left-handed in a world where everything is created for right-handed people. Thank God there are a few hotels out there, blazing the trail with single rooms for solo travelers. At the end of June, when I was in New York City for TBEX, the Travel Blog Exchange conference, I was able to stay in such a hotel, The Pod on East 51st Street.
I’d been reading positive reviews about the Pod for the past year or so, especially in regards to its single rooms and tech-savvy–it has free wifi, iPod docking stations in every room, and lights in the rooms to show which of the shared baths are occupied. But a couple of coworkers who have stayed there gave it mixed reviews. So I braced myself for the worst. Imagine how pleased I was to find I really loved this hotel.
What I loved about the Pod:
The staff. Every staff member I came in contact with was pleasant, and some were outstanding. The front desk staff didn’t blink when I checked in early at 10am, one of the bell desk staff directed me to the nearest ATM and a Fed Ex store where I could get on a computer, and I was blown away by the work of the housekeepers. Which leads me to. . . .
The cleanliness. My room, my entire floor, the shared bathrooms, and all the public areas were impeccably clean during my stay. The only time the bathroom was a mess was at one am one night, after a guest had taken a shower and let water run all over the floor without cleaning up after him- or herself. That’s not housekeeping’s fault, it’s the guest’s. Otherwise, those bathrooms were spotless. I’ve stayed in four star hotels that weren’t this clean. I stopped the housekeeper in the hallway one day to rave about what a great job she was doing, it was that impressive.
The location: This hotel is within walking distance of Rockefeller Plaza and just a couple of blocks from the Lexington and 51st subway station on the 6 line. I used the 6 line frequently during my stay, since almost everywhere I wanted to go (the conference, an after party, the Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Grand Central Station, Central Park, etc.) was off that line. I was never nervous walking home after dark from the subway station, either, because the 17th Precinct police station is on the block between the subway station and the Pod. I figured it wasn’t too likely anyone would mug me there.
The Pod is located in a great neighborhood with restaurants and bars all around. I didn’t have much time to sample them, but I did have dinner one night at a very good Thai restaurant that was a couple of doors down and I had a good and cheap breakfast at the Morning Star Cafe around the corner.
The public spaces: There is a lovely courtyard here where you can grab a bite to eat or a drink and sit in quiet contemplation without the city noises drowning out your thoughts. There is a space in the lobby with a (very) small bar set up in the evening that also has tables where you can set up your laptop if you want, and there is a rooftop deck where you can sit and enjoy the cool evening air and the sight of New York City’s skyscrapers all lit up at night. (To get to the rooftop deck, take the elevator to the 14th floor, then take stairwell B up a flight.)
The rooms: I didn’t plan it this way, but I got to stay in both a single room with shared bath (for 3 nights) and a double room with private bath (for 1 night). The single room was perfectly sized for the solo traveler. It was pretty much the size of a prison cell, but much more appealing (really). I had room 1410, at the end of the hall, and it had windows on two walls, so it was plenty sunny. Beneath the bed are drawers for your clothing, there is a desk, hooks and hangers on the wall for your hanging clothing, and a small sink/vanity area. All in all, a comfortable and reasonably attractive room for a budget hotel.
I will say, though, that as much as sharing a bathroom didn’t bother me, I was pleased to have the double with the private bath on the last night. The room was only slightly larger than the single, with a double bed taking up most of the space, but being able to get up to pee in the middle of the night without having to remember to bring my room key with me was a relief. (The whole time I was in the single, I was so afraid I was going to lock myself out of my room in the middle of the night whenever I had to use the bathroom.) The double room also had a room safe, which the single did not, and its own toiletries (all you get in the single room is soap).
The rain shower heads. I’ve stayed in four star hotels that had minimal water pressure. The water pressure here was terrific, and the rain shower head very, very nice.
The system of room lights to indicate when shared bathrooms were occupied. I loved this concept, and I think all hostels and B&Bs should take note of this technology. Above the door in every room that shares a bath is a little wall mount that shows a red light when one of the shared baths is occupied. This way, you don’t have to trudge down the hall and stand outside the door waiting for it to be free. You know when it’s free while you’re still in your room. Brilliant!
The Price. By New York City standards, $200/night is considered “cheap”. I cut my teeth on Vegas hotel prices, though, so it was depressing to realize how few hotel options I had for New York City on my budget. The Pod is very reasonably priced. You can often get a single or a double for $159/night.
The art and decor. The Pod has gone to great effort to decorate with bright colors and a youthful vibe (I loved the mural on the wall in the lobby and the brightly painted wall in the courtyard). It stands out from most hotels for that reason, and I liked it.
The international vibe. In the elevator, the cafe, and lobby, I heard all sorts of languages being spoken–Russian, Spanish, French, and some I couldn’t identify. At times, I thought I might be the only American staying at the Pod. Obviously, the Pod is a popular option for international visitors to New York. In addition, much of the staff is Hispanic.
What I didn’t love about the Pod:
Telephone service. Whoever answers their phones needs an attitude adjustment. Both times I called the hotel prior to my trip, the woman on the other end of the line was very unfriendly and acted like I was bothering her. In addition, when I tried to call the 800 number, all I got was the screeching of a fax line. I had to call the regular line to reach a human being.
No ATM in the lobby. I had to walk to a nearby bank to get cash. It’s not the end of the world, but a luxury I’m used to.
The Cafe. The Cafe will do in a pinch if you’re hungry, but the menu selection is small and pricey. You’d do better to eat elsewhere in the neighborhood.
The towel hook in the shared bathroom. I believe the reason the guest made a puddle on the floor that night was because the towel hook in the bathroom was located on the wall next to the toilet–on the other side of the room from the shower. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the hook right next to the shower?
The Hidden A/C controls. It took me awhile to figure out how to control the air conditioning in my room, because the controls were hidden deep within the room’s heating/cooling system.
No Best Rate Guarantee. This one is as much for their benefit as for mine. When I was comparison shopping online, I saw that Expedia and Hotels.com had $127/night rates for the Pod, while the Pod’s own website had $159/night rates for the single room with shared bath. Because I prefer booking directly with a hotel over booking through an online agency, I called the hotel to ask them if they would honor the $127/night rate. I explained where I found it. They said they didn’t have a Best Rate Guarantee, and they couldn’t give me the $127/night rate. Wow. How incredibly short-sighted is that?
So naturally, I canceled my reservation with the hotel and booked it via Expedia instead, which meant that not only did the Pod get less money per night for my room on those nights, but they also had to pay a fee to Expedia for booking me. (Ultimately, any money I saved on those three nights was lost when my Monday night flight home was canceled, leading me to have to book one more night at the Pod at the $159 rate. But at least I got to try out the double room with a private bath.)
But in my opinion, the positives far outweigh the negatives here. I highly recommend the Pod Hotel for solo travelers headed to New York City on a budget. I enjoyed my stay here immensely, and will probably stay here again on future trips to the city.
Some more photos of the Pod: