Bed Check: Manhattan's Jane Hotel has low prices, small spaces, good location

By Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 10, 2010; F07

Editor's note: Bed Check is a new feature that will review lodging options in the mid-Atlantic. It will appear weekly.

When you stay at the Jane hotel in the West Village, sooner or later you'll realize: People live here. And I don't mean the globe-trotting rich kind who can afford to move into a Manhattan hotel for months or years on end, like Eloise at the Plaza. No, I mean the kind who haven't left since the new owners started converting the place from a single-room-occupancy building into, as the publicity materials describe it, a place for travelers "with more dash than cash."

It didn't take me long to notice. On the way to my room, I saw that the door to the room next to mine was open a couple of inches, and the robe-clad 60-something resident inside was watching TV. Later, he was in the hallway, that robe completely open to reveal saggy pajama bottoms, and he was engaging in an epithet-laced rant with a visiting friend. Note to the urban adventurers out there: When a New York hotel says it has "character," this is the standard it should aspire to.

I had read up a little on the 200-room Jane before arriving, so I knew that the gorgeous 1908 building on the edge of the Hudson had been built as a home for sailors, with tiny cabins for rooms, and was later a YMCA before being renovated in its centennial year. I was visiting New York solo and was attracted to the Jane's location (mere blocks from Chelsea Market and the High Line park), price point ($79 for one of those cabins) and general vibe (unique, with a story to tell).

The place crams a lot of style into some small spaces: After the bellhop took me up the accordion-gate manual elevator and we wound our way down a couple of long hallways to my fifth-floor room, he let me go in but waited in the hallway. That's because there's really not room for two people to stand together. The cabin has the feel of a train's sleeper car, with storage space above and below the twin bed, plus wireless access throughout, a large mirror to help the room seem bigger, a flat-screen TV and a little window.

The bathroom, if you haven't picked up on this, is down the hall. I can't remember the last time I stayed at a place with shared bathrooms, but I was up for the challenge. The Jane makes it pretty easy. These are anything but grimy: Think black and white tiles, marble sinks and completely private toilet stalls and individual shower rooms with those fabulous rain-from-above showerheads.

It's one of the first truly frigid days of this winter in New York, 7 degrees with the wind chill, but boy, is it hot in this room. There are no individual temperature controls, but the bellhop, Fritz, shows me how to turn on the nifty steel fan attached high on one wall and the little air-conditioning unit hiding behind slats. If that doesn't work, he says, "open the window a crack," which is what I do that night -- and by "a crack," I mean a foot.

I wouldn't have minded a little more cushioning in the bed, but for $79, I guess I can't exactly demand memory foam and Frette linens. The Jane does provide nice fluffy bath towels and a waffle-weave robe for that trip to the bathroom, but in the morning, I try on that robe and burst out laughing at the sight in the mirror: It's cut several inches above my knees. No wonder the few young hipster guests I see in the bathrooms are wearing jeans and T-shirts. I follow suit.

The next night, I splurge on one of the 30 new "captain's cabins," cavernous in comparison (though really only about 200 square feet). There's a brass bed, marble-topped side tables filled with books, a little table with ornate metal chairs and more. The walls are covered in sage-colored wainscoting and peacock-feather wallpaper punctuated by brass buttons. The fantastic little bath has the same subway tiles as the common ones, plus a glass-enclosed shower.

Perhaps best of all, the powerful overhead ceiling fan helps keep the room cool despite that overactive building heater. That, and a window that faces the Hudson and the stiff winds coming off it. My second night at the Jane, it takes only an inch or two of open window to keep things perfectly comfortable, and in the morning I linger over the newspaper and an excellent latte and almond croissant delivered in a flash from the hotel's Cafe Gitane.

As adventurous as I like to imagine myself, I know which room I'll book when I return. And if I miss any of those robe-clad characters, I know just where to find them.

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