Long ago, staying in a cheap hotel in New York City conjured up images of a filthy room in a questionable neighbourhood, with a surly receptionist and only the bare necessities consisting of a bed, dresser, toilet and TV, none of which necessarily worked properly.
Today, New York City’s most affordable hotels are the most stylish and tech-savvy spots in town, thanks to an influx of design-forward brands that encourage guests to hang out in lobbies with carefully curated lounge scenes or on rooftops amidst sweeping city views. This might mean the rooms are on the smaller side but what they lack in size they make up for in artful decor, fun amenities and great technology.
Of course, a “budget” hotel room in NYC still costs around $150 a night, depending on the season, but you can score further discounts by booking directly through a hotel’s website or by becoming a member of their loyalty programme.
Additionally, several hotels offer discounts with their advanced pre-pay rates. Be aware that these rates are non-refundable, however, so be certain you’ll make your stay or risk losing out.
Moxy sits on the ever-busy 7th Avenue at 36th Street, along the border of the Fashion District and Times Square, but it’s eschewed the usual modern Gotham look favoured by nearby hotels for a natural, organic and playful one. Under a soaring lobby atrium, guests can either check-in at a dedicated kiosk or can access a mobile room key through the Marriott app instead. The guest rooms (over 600 of them) are tiny – the biggest one is a studio suite at 350sq ft – but they’ve been designed by fancy firm Yabu Pushelberg, a design team who have worked on several luxury hotels in NYC, and kept the decor style a tad rustic with neutral colours. Amenities include daily housekeeping, fast wifi, plush bedding, a 43” flat-screen TV, and walk-in rain showers. At night, guests can while away the hours at Bar Moxy on the second floor, indulge in a proper meal at Legasea, a seafood brasserie from the Tao Group, and watch the sun go down at the Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge, the largest all-season hotel rooftop bar and lounge in the city. And, for the morning after, guests can shake off their hangover at Egghead, an all-day breakfast spot at the hotel.
Rates from $176
Neighbourhood: Hell’s Kitchen
CitizenM proudly sniffs its nose at the old hotel clichés, giving guests a thoroughly modern hotel experience where in-room tech is more important than white-glove service and where lobbies are meant for hanging out and relaxing in, rather than just checking-in guests and storing luggage. The rooms are absolutely miniscule, no bigger than 200sq ft, but they come with extra-large beds, fluffy pillows and wall-to-wall windows. Fear not: those windows are triple-glazed and the walls are soundproofed too. Guests can control their own mood lighting and stream their own content to the TV. Downstairs, the lobby includes towering bookshelves, interesting artwork and plenty of seating. The canteen in the lobby serves a proper breakfast buffet with barista-made coffee, but it’s also open 24-7 for snacks, drinks and light bites. Up on the roof, there’s cloudbar, a panoramic lounge and bar, which opens every day at 4pm. Best of all, entrance is exclusively for hotel guests.
Rates from $138
Best for cocktails: Freehand
Neighbourhood: Flatiron District
The new kid on the block in the Flatiron District is the Freehand, a hostel-hotel hybrid concept that began in Miami and became an instant hot spot, thanks to its tiki-inspired bar. Here in NYC, the historic George Washington Hotel has been lovingly restored and transformed into a relaxed hangout with Instagram opportunities in every nook and cranny. Guestroom options are a mix of queen, king, bunk, and even threesome rooms (a single bunk that’s above a double-bed), all accompanied by artwork from Bard College’s past and present students. Two restaurants – Simon & The Whale and Studio – give guests (and locals) dining options for day and night while a takeaway café, Smile to Go, offers choices for between meals. But the main attraction is the rooftop oasis that is the Broken Shaker, where innovative cocktails like the Curry in a Hurry (made with vodka, gin, red curried honey, citrus and pineapple) are served alongside fresh bites like arepas, cheese boards and soft-serve ice cream.
Rates from $113
Best for an urban oasis: Arlo Soho
Arlo is another hotel brand that subscribes to the “small rooms, big hangouts” theory. This Soho hotel has 325 guest rooms no bigger than 150sq ft, but all feature smart design and useful amenities, such as bedside charging outlets and flip-down desks, so that no space is wasted. Arlo also has a variety of room options from bunk bed rooms to terrace rooms and alcove rooms with up close and personal city views. Downstairs, sweet confectioner Dylan’s Candy Bar enables those looking for a sugar fix to make a purchase at the 24-hour Soho Bodega, while the hotel’s rooftop A.R.T. goes all in on the urban oasis vibe.
Rates from $141
Best for history: The Jane
Neighbourhood: Greenwich Village
One NYC’s oldest hotels, The Jane first opened in 1908 along the Hudson River as a hotel for sailors (a few survivors of the Titanic stayed here after being rescued). A renovation in 2008 brought the landmark building up to somewhat modern-day speed, as the style of the hotel borrows heavily from the golden age of travelling. This might explain why the teeny standard rooms resemble sleeping cabins on a ship with shared bathrooms. Never fear. If you desire more privacy, the Captain’s Cabins look like proper guest rooms with en-suite baths and either river views or private terraces. The Jane’s Old Rose restaurant is an all-day affair that can get quite busy at night, while the hotel’s rooftop is open during the warmer months. But the real reason to stay here is for the hotel’s choice location close to the High Line, The Whitney Museum and the shops and restaurants of Greenwich Village.
Rates from $130 (bunk bed room start at $78 with shared bath)
Best for proximity to Central Park: Pod51
Neighbourhood: Midtown East
As the hotel’s name suggests, the guest rooms here are small, utilitarian pods equipped with free wifi, flat-screen TVs, air conditioning and a hairdryer. There are different pod configurations too, ranging from bunk bed with a shared bath to queens with a private bath, and a studio pod that can sleep four people and has its own tub. Guests seeking a break from city explorations can head to the rooftop where they can unwind in relative peace. Pod 51, so called for its location on East 51st Street near all the midtown sights, including Central Park, also has a burger and beer joint called Clinton Hall and a courtyard garden cafe where guests can actually BYOB.
Rates from $75
It has an odd name but the HGU Hotel near the Empire State Building is actually quite the little gem. Named for Hotel Grand Union, the original hotel that occupied the 1905 Beaux Arts building, HGU has turned something old into something very new. Each guest room features premium mattresses and bedding (from Sealy Posturepedic and Frette), custom Turkish patchwork rugs, 24-hour room service, top-of-the-line Toto toilets, free wifi and iPads to use during your stay. The hotel is also “obsessed” with wellness, offering in-room guided meditations and vitamin-infused IV drips from registered nurses, as well as access to cryotherapy centres and private training sessions at a nearby gym. A restaurant, lounge (complete with jazz band) and rooftop round out the nightlife amenities. HGU was recently named a Small Luxury Hotel of America, so get a room while you can still afford it.
Rates from $136
The Paul Hotel is located in the hip NoMad neighbourhood, but it’s not quite as hip as its other hotel counterparts like The Ace Hotel or The Eventi. Its price point and peppy attitude will perfectly suit penny-pinching millennials, however. To that end, the hotel has a variety of room configurations including bunk beds, king beds, rooms with terraces and the option to connect rooms for families. Decor is simple with hardwood floors, occasional pops of colour and original artwork. Amenities include free wifi, rainfall showers and flat-screen TVs. There’s a Paul restaurant and bar onsite, with some select items available for room service, while up top is a small rooftop bar and lounge.
Rates from $119
Neighbourhood: Hell’s Kitchen
In the middle of the theatre district is a hotel with a futuristic, space travel vibe, as evidenced by the purple mood lighting in the lobby, the check-in kiosks and the Yobot who stores guests’ luggage. Founded by the same man who created the Yo! Sushi chain, Simon Woodroffe, Yotel drew its inspiration from the Japanese capsule hotels often found near airports. While Yotels first launched near Gatwick, Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle airports, this Yotel was the first not connected to a terminal. That gives Yotel more space to cleverly distract guests from its micro-rooms with cool amenities like an adjustable bed, free wifi and city views as well as a rooftop terrace. Families will also like this spot for its Executive Queen room, which has a bunk bed room and a queen bed.
Rates from $130
Just north of Madison Park is the suave Redbury Hotel, where the guest rooms are small but packed with cool décor, cherry red walls and furnishings selected by rock’n’roll photographer, Matthew Rolston. Amenities include cosy comforters, flat-screen TVs, mini-bars and Bluetooth Gramophone speakers. Downstairs, Danny Meyer’s popular Union Square Hospitality Group runs Marta, a Roman-inspired pizzeria that’s open for lunch, brunch and dinner with a portion of the menu available through room service. Two other Italian-style bars and a coffee shop round out the food and beverage options at the hotel. One thing to note: The Redbury charges a $30 “facilities fee” which includes wifi, daily coffee in the lobby, two bottles of water, day passes to all New York Sports Club locations and other nominal services.
Rates from $161