Affordable lodging can be hard to come by in a city where hostels have essentially become illegal, but true to New York, there are plenty of options if you search hard enough. For something a little more reliable than couch-surfing, the Pod Hotel is an upgrade from the European-style hostel that marries design and affordability for those who don’t need the extra space. Tiny rooms hold just the essentials (a bed, a shower, a safe, coat-rack—even a TV) and cuts out the unnecessary, like drawers, iPhone docks, minibars and more. We gave one of their two locations a test run to see how we’d fare spending a night in a pod. Our conclusion: the common areas (and free WiFi) really help if you’re feeling crowded.
A few blocks south of Grand Central Station, Pod 39 (located on 39th Street) is the younger sibling, as the first, Pod 51, opened in 2007. The main difference is that one-third of the rooms in Pod 51 have shared bathrooms, which are located in the hallway. All of the bathrooms in Pod 39 are ensuite and have rain shower-heads and real terrazzo floors—nice understated touches of luxury. Bed options are diverse: from bunk-beds (with individual TV screens) to twin to even a queen and bunk-bed combo.
The queen-sized pod felt about the size of an average bedroom in Manhattan; it doesn’t feel claustrophobic so much as second nature at this point. The area below the bed doubles as a place to store luggage, another smart space-saver. Perhaps the best part about the room’s small size is that the AC (or heater) works immediately and fills up the room fast, if you’re especially picky about temperature.
Mostly the room’s size is a continual reminder that the city is waiting outside, ready to be explored. The first stop, however, before making your way out, has to be Salvation Taco on the first floor. Open from breakfast until dinner, this taqueria—run by Michelin-starred Chef April Bloomfield (of the Spotted Pig) and regular business partner Ken Friedman—doesn’t label itself as Mexican, but internationally inspired. That means tacos with ingredients like pig ears, roasted cauliflower, pickled daikon and marinated kimchi, the softest lamb shoulder and more.
The back of the restaurants blurs into the hotel’s common space, decorated with colors and mismatched furniture, and fitted with two ping pong tables that are in heavy demand. Equally popular is the cherry on top: the rooftop bar. On the 17th floor, terra cotta columns and brick arches await—this Northern Italian Renaissance exterior is preserved from the building’s former life as the historic Allerton club hotel built in 1916-18.
One detail of note: many hotels in NYC require a key card to access floors with guestrooms, but the Pod 39 does not—making it possible for anyone to get off at any floor. While there are cameras in the hallways, the major traffic between the rooftop and lobby (the same elevators are used to access the rooftop) could be of concern as towards the end of the night, drunk elevator riders are aplenty.
For the first time, a portable taco cart has been added to the rooftop—expanding its menu beyond cocktails and guac to hot food such as tacos, empanadas and more.
Rooms at Pod 39 start at $119 a night and can be booked via The Pod Hotel website. The brand will be expanding to Williamsburg, Times Square and DC in the next few years.
Images by Nara Shin