FACE-OFF: NEW JERSEY VS. NEW YORK
2 Hotels, 2 Cities, 1 Price
During a recent room search for a weekend in Manhattan, we came across two comparably priced hotels: $159 for the Wall Street Inn (Hotels.com and Expedia) and a Doubletree (SideStep). The former is in New York's Financial District. And the latter? Across the river in Jersey City. We wondered: When it comes to NYC-area hotels, does it really matter which side of the Hudson you sleep on? We checked into both hotels to see how they measure up. -- Andrea Sachs
LOCATION: The Doubletree Hotel Jersey City is a street removed from the Hudson and the skyline panorama that put Billy Joel in some state of mind. Minus the pier and other riverside lookouts, though, the area is short on character. Downtown offers a sprinkling of restaurants -- some of which looked appetizing, like the Cuban vibe at Azucar -- but many were winding down way before our bedtime. For night-owl activities, we hung out at the hotel's Bistro at 455 bar, trying to pick out the crowd's foreign accents (Rutgers or German?).
At the Wall Street Inn, the water's edge is a few blocks south, toward Staten Island (the ferry departs from here). On weekends, the Financial District locks up, but the area's buildings are impressive even shuttered. The neighborhood is also steeped in history: Stone and Pearl streets date to the New Amsterdam settlement, and they have the cobblestone streets and architecture to prove it. Stylish ethnic eateries, a museum and the nearby South Street Seaport complete the scene.
Advantage: Wall Street Inn, preferably weekdays.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Stepping inside the Doubletree, we could hear people but couldn't see them, as they seemed to blend in with the safe decor. The next morning, we noticed stray guests in the lobby "den," but when we turned around, they went poof. Seems like people drift in and out but never stay too long.
At the Wall Street Inn, the 19th-century property felt as hushed and important as the bank it once was. We nearly whispered our name when checking in. We found ourselves sitting delicately on the edge of the lobby couches, afraid to smudge the fine upholstery. However, the hotel is anything but smug and uptight; it just has a banker's exquisite taste and pedigree.
Advantage: Wall Street Inn.
THE ROOMS: A chain is a chain is a chain, but the Doubletree's vanilla rooms were surprisingly comfortable. We sprawled on the white-linens bed, read on the couch in its own antechamber, sniffed the basket of Neutrogena bath products and hung around the mini kitchen waiting for the microwave to pop our corn. When it was time for bed, we patted the "Sweet Dreams" pillow before settling in for the night.
The Wall Street Inn is very European, but without the leaks and creaks. Yet it has boatloads of character, from the skewed ceiling to the perfectly clashing wallpaper and carpet patterns. After sitting at the very proper desk like an executive with big checks to sign, we soaked like a fat cat in the raised bath with jet-stream power. The only thing missing: a plush white bathrobe with our name on it. (Caveat: Bathroom perks are in deluxe rooms only.)
Advantage: Wall Street Inn.
THE VIEW: The Doubletree's rooms, at least the ones facing east, provide an eyeful of the Manhattan skyline, with the added twinkle of Jersey City's lights. Our room also overlooked a mall and Busta Rhymes's tour bus.
And the Wall Street Inn? Hello, neighbor -- love those blinds.
Advantage: Doubletree, by a wide view.
TRAVEL TO TIMES SQUARE: The Doubletree is a block-plus from the PATH Pavonia-Newport station, the last stop before NYC. The train travels to West 33rd Street, one subway stop from 42nd Street (you can also walk the short distance). The New York Waterway ferry also putters between Colgate Center and West 39th Street, where a free shuttle transports passengers to Times Square. However, the boat, which takes about 15 minutes to cross, runs only on weekdays.
The Wall Street Inn has four subway stations in its backyard -- Broad Street, Wall Street, Whitehall Street-South Ferry and Bowling Green. The quickest ride is on the 2 or 3 line from Wall Street, a straight shot to Times Square. But be warned: On weekends, some lines/stations are closed. Plus, taxis are scarce when the Financial District's dark. Add in rain, and you might have to settle for a night of pay-per-view.
HOTEL RELATIONS: When we parked our car ($10) in the Doubletree's lot, the parking attendant suggested we move it to a safer spot, away from some dark train tracks. When we checked in, the desk clerk apologized for running out of cookies (the chain has a cookie-per-guest program) but promised a piping hot one in the morning. When we were perusing the dinner menu, one of the restaurant's co-owners suggested the filet mignon. And when we departed the next day, a manager said we could leave our car in the lot for a few extra hours, even though we were checking out. In others words, Jersey's nice.
But New York's no meanie. Though the hotel could not help us get un-lost on our drive down, we warmed to the gracious staff upon arrival. In fact, we felt very much at home: One employee let us dip into the cookie jar late one night, and another staff member only laughed when we returned the hotel's umbrella chewed up from the day's wind and rain.
BAGELS: The Doubletree's buffet breakfast served bagels that were like Wonder Bread with a hole, though they did come with bacon, eggs, cereal, fruit, coffee, etc., and an $11.95 charge.
The Wall Street Inn's breakfast room had bagels that weren't up to H&H standards, but at least they had poppy seeds and were free. For back-up bagels, we dashed into a nearby deli.
Advantage: Wall Street Inn.
BOTTOM LINE: The Doubletree outshone the Wall Street Inn in terms of ease of transportation and those gazillion-dollar skyline views. But we'll take Manhattan (and the Wall Street Inn) any day over New Jersey. If, however, we're driving north and don't want to trek into the city and the Doubletree could spare us significant change, we'd gladly spend the night in Jersey City. Then we'd use our savings on real Manhattan bagels across the river.