By Terry Trucco
Invasion of the Body Snatchers aside, Pod is a cool name for a budget hotel. To our ears, it sounds upbeat and hip, because what could be more upbeat, or hip, than a place that proudly admits its rooms are small and cheap?
Truth to tell, those tall, skinny, caterpillar-like Tokyo capsule hotels with stacks of domed windows are our idea of pod hotel cool. So it was deflating to discover the Pod Hotel is the latest incarnation of the old Pickwick Arms, a boring, 1930s midtown east hotel that underwent a makeover four years ago and embraced its inner Ian Schrager (on a budget).
From the Web site pictures, the little rooms looked spiffy as did the lounge, awash in primary hues. There was even a roof deck. Better still, we learned the hotel’s decorator, Vanessa Guilford, also created the ship-shape little rooms at the Maritime, a hotel we love. Grabbing my smallest overnight bag,weI hopped onto the subway and headed to East 51st Street.
A sleek, boxy marquee banner announcing the Pod does its best to distract you from the
81-year-old brick building. So does the lobby, a cheery, Scandinavian-inflected room with wood-paneled walls, an updated kissing sofa, J.M. Rizzi’s cartoony murals and a rough-hewn tile wall behind the check-in desk, all stylish and mid-century mod.
Still, with a Coke machine planted opposite the sofa, we didn’t have to look far for reminders that the Pod embodies its name. Joining the crowd in front of the elevators, we waited. And waited. (One of the three merrily striped cars was stuck on an upper floor.) We eventually made our way to a tiny second-floor room at the end of a narrow, rather dark hallway.
Our spirits tanked as we flipped on the light. Our little room looked grim, the double bed pushed horizontally against a sharp-edged wood built-in nudging the white wall. And what was with the tight-fitting red and black bedspread? That wasn’t on the Web site. Neither was its large white stain. At $159, this was supposed to be a (somewhat) premium pod. We grabbed our bag and headed back downstairs.
Without missing a beat, the desk attendant handed us the key to a similar room on a higher floor. Though no bigger, it differed in all the right ways. A red and black fabric cushion that matched the bedspread covered the wall behind the bed. Not only could we read or watch TV comfortably, but the bed looked like a daybed, a deft stroke of trompe l’oeil decorating. And though we didn’t love the fitted bedspread, it least it wasn’t stained.
With 100 square feet to ponder, drinking in the room’s details didn’t take long. But what little there was clicked. Everything was built in — two little blond wood tables flanking the platform bed, matching wood window shutters and the bed itself with three big drawers underneath.
The remaining components lined up neatly opposite the bed – the narrow open closet equipped with polished steel hangers and a wall safe; the stainless steel sink with mirrors above, shelves below (towels, hairdryer) and enough counter space for two water glasses, soaps, shampoo and lotion.
And the cleverest part? The slim glass-fronted, subway-tiled stall shower outfitted with a high-end rain shower head; a door slid between shower and toilet affording privacy for one or the other. And though the shower took a while to heat up, it delivered.
Tech components proved agreeable, too – the tiny TV mounted on the wall, the iHome radio/alarm clock. Best of all, with two metal wall lamps perched above the bed, it was rarely necessary to turn on the unsightly fluorescent overhead light (the dimmer helped when using it proved unavoidable).
But public spaces best show off the Pod’s design smarts. A wood ceiling visually warms the lounge adjoining the lobby, a big, stylish take on a dorm common room with navy Copenhagen chairs that swivel, bouquets of fresh daisies on the marble-topped side tables and a hip refractory table equipped with plugs for laptops or chargers. A wall of windows opens onto a deck, the wall of the next building brightened with a cheery Rizzi mural. Best detail: the touch-screen wall map of New York City.
The lobby crowd typified the Pod’s hotel/hostel mash-up (the cheapest rooms have shared baths, a relic of the Pickwick Arms) – twenty-something European backpackers, older travelers weekending from New Hampshire, a large group of students from Boston checking in with their teachers (“You missed curfew.” “Sorry, I was upstairs sleeping.”) From our perch in a swivel chair, we happily tucked into a book and watched the dramas unfold.
Quirks are in a budget hotel’s DNA. From our room we heard doors slam, voices in the hallway and the vacuum cleaner. But the Pod isn’t scary, and that’s a big plus in budgetsville.
It also isn’t dirt cheap, but prices dart around depending upon demand. (We just saw our double pod going for a mere $89.) Cheapest are bunkbed pods and single pods with shared baths. We checked out those bathrooms, and those we saw were clean and (relatively) spacious. And the walls? White stone that almost looked like marble. You could do a lot worse.