Some of my most memorable stays in New York have been in faux-residential situations: an Upper West Side apartment-by-the-night rental in a doorman-staffed building; a colleague’s sprawling Midtown flat that had belonged to her late father and was staged for sale (read: decor by West Elm); the corporate suite near Penn Station that a magazine gave me access to because of a freelance gig.
The 22-room Chelsea Lodge, where I stayed on my most recent visit, let me play the pretend-I’m-a-local game just as easily — if not quite as fabulously. In fact, from the street, the renovated Greek Revival townhouse gives no indication of being an inn, until you double-check the address, walk in and see a clerk’s desk awaiting amid the beautiful woodwork and the sportsman-themed look of the lobby. Walk back out to stay in a suite rather than in the main house, as I did, and the inn’s identity disappears once again.
The entrance to those suites is a couple of doors down the block and through a little iron gate next to a church, making it so unobtrusive as to feel almost secretive. Inside, bright orange and white walls light up the hallway to the four large suites, which come with kitchenettes, futon couches and private bathrooms — another aspect that distinguishes them from the regular rooms, which share toilets.
I’m drawn more and more to rooms with some type of kitchen facility, mostly because I prefer to caffeinate before I have to socialize. But I also appreciate how much cheaper it is to buy a few days’ worth of coffee, milk, yogurt and granola than to depend on the kindness of strangers in restaurants for my morning sustenance. And I like having a fridge for any restaurant leftovers I may want to snack on, or for any perishable souvenirs I decide I can’t live without. (For the latter, the nearby Chelsea Market is a draw, and the glorious High Line park will help you walk off any calories you can’t wait to consume there.)
Cheap by New York standards, the Chelsea Lodge, which opened in 1999, fans the flames of such budget-mindedness, for sure. But in a few, albeit small, ways, you do get what you pay for. I didn’t expect a luxurious bed or a spa shower in a room this size, especially for $229. But I did find myself wishing for a real shower head instead of that bare spray that stings when you turn up the pressure. And in this otherwise spotless place, a clean sponge would have made cleaning up my kitchen messes a little more pleasant.
Those are nits compared with the more substantive complaint: that in this particular suite, with windows facing the street, my friend and I picked up every snippet of every conversation among every group of people who walked by. It’s not a very busy street, traffic-wise, but it sometimes sounded as if the passersby were going to march right into my bed.
It’s nothing that a pair of earplugs couldn’t solve, but next time I’ll try to get one of the suites in the back, where they share a terrace. But perhaps peace is overrated. If I’m going to insist on acting like a New Yorker, is it fair to complain about the sounds of the city?
318 W. 20th St.
New York, N.Y.
Rooms in the main inn, which include sinks and shower stalls but share a toilet room on each floor, are $124 single occupancy, $134 double. Suites sleep up to four and are $229 single occupancy, plus $15 for each additional guest.