My room at the Bowery House on Manhattan’s Lower East Side was so small.
How small was it?
It was so small that I could touch the walls with my arms out, elbows slightly bent.
It was so small that I had to curl my toes when sleeping, to avoid knocking against the bed frame.
It was so small that I could switch off the lamp on the other side of the room without leaving the warmth of the covers.
It was so small that I slept as soundly and snugly as a caterpillar in a cocoon, dreading the moment when I’d have to break out and fly away.
I won’t lie: The rooms are tiny. Shockingly so. (As a consolation, they are also stunningly cheap, from $42 for a bunk and $54 for a single.) Yet by placing the property, which sleeps 104 guests, in its historical context, you can — and will — gain an appreciation for its diminutive scale. To get in the mood, simply jingle your room key, which is attached to a dog tag.
The Bowery House, which opened in August, started life in 1927 as the Prince Hotel and later played its patriotic part by housing soldiers returning from World War II. Each cabin was large enough to fit a body and a few belongings. Since the lodging was temporary — just passing through, ma’am — the men didn’t need space for, say, a baby grand piano or more than two pairs of shoes. As it turned out, however, many of the soldiers didn’t leave as scheduled. Seduced by taverns, gambling, working girls and other seedy attractions, they put down stakes on Skid Row.
When the current owners, who hail from Italy and Indiana, took over, they returned the property to this mid-century period. Which makes the guests, in a way, reenactors. Jingle, jingle.
Occupying the building’s two upper floors, the rooms are arranged like horse stalls or port-a-potties at an outdoor festival. Stark bulbs and faint light from a few windows provide film-noirish illumination in the hallways. It’s spooky and strange and very unconventional. The rooms’ overhead space, for example, is covered in what appears to be a garden trellis, so insomniacs can stare at two ceilings.
Despite the nondescript hallways, don’t judge a room by its door. Swing open one portal and you might find a stack of dorm beds; another might reveal the Prince Room, the closest relative to the traditional hotel room, with a queen-size bed, a dresser and a TV. I chose one of the Original Cabins, which was retro down to the bed. At 69 inches, the beds are shorter than a standard twin. Apparently, the men of that era resembled Napoleon in brawn and stature.
After stashing my bags wherever I could squeeze them, I took stock of my surroundings: cot-style bed with brown blanket, small dresser with two drawers, Bowery-themed movie poster, mini-shelf and a light with a mason jar as a shade. Generous of spirit, I added to the amenities list one window that opened a crack.
The hotel recognizes its guests’ needs. Each room comes with Ralph Lauren towels for the shared bathrooms (one per gender; separate floors; outfitted with Red Flower toiletries) and a pair of earplugs. Immune to city street noise, I tossed the latter in the dresser. Then I heard the buzz of an electric razor and the beeps of incoming texts on my neighbor’s gadget. Sensitive to indoor din, I retrieved the plugs.
After many ticks of the (nonexistent) clock, my wings started to feel clipped; I needed to spread them. On the expansive rooftop deck, I walked laps around the country club-green turf. Instead of cheering fans, I passed fog-gray plastic chairs and stools shaped like black-and-red checkers pieces. Fully revived, I returned indoors, to the urban pasture called the Living Room.
Easing into a long leather couch, I divided my attention between a (muted) classic film on the TV and the (mid-decibel) doings of guests who waved several international flags. My eyes drifted to a nearby pantry stocked with such essentials as aspirin, toothpaste, earplugs and snacks typically found in minibars.
Next spring, the hotel plans to open a restaurant on the ground level called the Bowery Kitchen. For now, though, guests must forage for food in the wilds of New York or subsist on Orangina and protein bars.
After a food run in nearby SoHo, I headed toward my quarters. Then I remembered that my meal consisted of raw carrots, which meant loud crunching that could potentially force my neighbors to reach for their earplugs. I returned to the Living Room, where I could eat my entire meal without upsetting any other guests or the delicate order of my room.
The Bowery House
220 Bowery, New York
Rates from $42.