7:16 p.m. Walking south from Astor Place, I pass the Standard East Village ($315/night for a "Courtyard King") and the "essential" Bowery Hotel (where the only available room for the night is a suite for $625). I cross the street towards The Wren, a bar at the corner of Bowery and 3rd Street; a four-item cheese and charcuterie plate is $24 before tax. I'm paying 45 bucks even for my room for the night. I wonder: Is this winning?
7:18 p.m.: I saunter a few doors south and arrive at the hotel to check in, thinking that the entrance is one of two graffiti-covered doors on the west side of the Bowery. It is in fact not graffiti-covered, hooray, but rather a big obvious one in the middle of a big street-facing storefront lined with industrial windows. Okay, its edges are only slightly graffiti-covered.
7:22 p.m. I check in at the front desk. The clerk eyes my New York State license with suspicion. "Do you have any other ID?" she asks. "Just my credit cards and business cards," I reply. She looks at me warily and asks if I live in the city. "I grew up here," I say (which is true). She agrees to let me stay for one night, and I ask delicately what the problem might be. Typically, she explains, management doesn't let area residents stay here out of fear people will use it for long-term stays. They could treat it like an SRO or for something even more unsavory. "It used to be a brothel," she says matter-of-factly.
7:30 p.m.: I head up to inspect my lodging for the evening. While I'm fiddling with the lock, a twenty-something girl unlocks the room to my right, carrying a Whole Foods bag. Smart lady.
7:32 p.m. Give the
room cell number 309 a once-over. One twin bed. One white fitted sheet with a hole in the corner. One white top sheet. One white blanket. One white towel. Except for a few errant hairs, I don't see anything egregious. I mean, some people might consider that egregious, but I've steeled myself for this night. And I scoured the bed for bugs, but any dubious speck turned out to be pieces of lint or dust instead. I breathed a an audible of relief.
7:34 p.m. It's small, but definitely bigger than a capsule hotel. At least I can stand up. There's a closet with no door, but a shelf! Three nails; I hang my coat on one. A little silver-on-black street-art type piece above the bed. Some writing on the wall from past guests: "Tomorrow I will go to Thailand." Lucky.
7:41 p.m.: I meander up and down the hallway, door after door of these tiny rooms. The walls don't extend all the way to the ceiling, and the rooms are covered by rows of metal bars painted white. Some have their fluorescent lights on, some don't. It's all pretty peaceful. Very, very basic, but by no means a nightmare.
7:42 p.m.: I check out the shared bathrooms and showers. They're a bit run-down but serviceable. Then again, I haven't used them yet.
7:50 p.m.: Back in the lobby to pay, I chat up a German duo in town visiting for a week, who insist that it's much snowier and colder back there. She's staying in East Harlem; he's staying here. He found Bowery Whitehouse on the internet, of course, and reserved via Booking.com. He is staying for a week and checking out on Friday. She's carrying a Levi's bag from a trip to Garden State Plaza, where they went today. They think New York is awesome and are venturing down to Chinatown for Vietnamese food. Sweethearts.
8:01 p.m. The lobby is spacious with a beat-up tiled floor and a few cheap metal tables and chairs. There's the requisite rack with brochures for the Museum of Sex and Broadway shows, including (I note with pleasant surprise) Idina Menzel's brand-new musical If/Then.
8:10 p.m. Two middle-aged women enter the lobby, wielding huge tote bags from Miz Mooz, a shoe store on Grand and Broadway. They have also partaken in some retail therapy. They're on the second floor.
8:50 p.m.: The Wi-Fi extends to my cell. Hallelujah.
8:09 p.m.: I have another neighbor! I hear him or her unlock the door and see the florescent light flicker on in the room next door.
8:12 p.m.: I can hear every nose-blog, every zip or unzip of a bag, every creak of a bedspring, every mouthful chewed. Someone, somewhere, is a deep breather. I'm sure my typing is bothering someone. Remember, the walls don't extend up the ceiling. But everyone is respectful and decently quiet. So far. Some more looks at the room and the hallways:
8:19 p.m. Someone talking on the phone in another cell and describing the area says, "I'm a mile, no, less than a mile from Broadway." Try two avenues.
8:28 p.m.: A text from Mom: "I betcha it was a flophouse when I was growing up and the Bowery was where homeless men lived." Then: "We always drove past when we ate in Chinatown and I held my breath."
8:31 p.m. I notice there is no outlet in my cell. Guess my electronic devices and I will be spending some quality time in the lobby later, for charging purposes.
8:40 p.m.: Mom: "did you read trip advisor?" Oh no, she's reading TripAdvisor reviews.
8:53 p.m.: New observation from phone-talking neighbor: "It seems colder than New Jersey." She is describing an apartment-hunt. Ahh.
9:06 p.m. I sent my boyfriend a selfie of myself blogging in the cell. His reply? "Pure sex." Funny, that's exactly what the residents of yesteryear thought.
9:16 p.m. I am not a tourist. I Seamless some dinner.
9:20 p.m. While I'm waiting I do a bit of Googling... and finally let myself read some reviews. New York magazine says, "You've got to be willing to slum it a little to enjoy such low-priced lodging."
9:24 p.m. Oh good, it's listed on some site called The Bedbug Registry. But the most recent comment was posted last month, by a guy who says he spentholy moly75 nights at the Bowery Whitehouse between October 2011 and June 2013: "I have never seen a single bed bug in this time, or any other bug." Whew? The signage around the hotel shows they're trying...
9:29 p.m.: Someone is brushing their teeth. Hygiene is a good thing.
9:33 p.m.: I try to find out more about the history of the address and its past as a den of iniquity. I just come up with an account of a sex-slave house down at 209 Bowery. Great.
9:37 p.m.: Another hotel nearby, Bowery House at No. 220, has a history page on its site:
During the Civil War era, the mansions and shops had given way to low-brow concert halls, brothels, German beer gardens, pawn shops, and flophouses. The Bowery also marked the eastern border of the slum of "Five Points"popularized in the movie Gangs of New York. ... In the 1940s through the 1990s, the Bowery was New York City's "Skid Row," notable for "Bowery Bums"a remarkable feat considering its prime location and beautiful roster of architecture. Ah, just look at B Bar now. B stands for Bums, right?
9:49 p.m.: Big yawn from the cell next door.
10 p.m.: Back in the lobby to receive my food, I meet an effusive lady in from London who is using up her annual leave before the fiscal year ends on March 31. She was last here eight years ago, and explains how she found Bowery Whitehouse: "I just Googled and I picked the first one I found. The room is small, but it's what I need for the week." I reply, "And the price is right!" She's spent her time hanging out in front of the FOX news headquarters on Sixth Avenue, meeting some of the newscasters and angling to catch Bill O'Reilly. She plans to go to a hip-hop club tomorrow night. And to buy warmer clothes because, as she says, "I could be wearing a maxi dress in London."
10:08 p.m.: Two female guests return to pick up their key from behind the desk. They've got a Gap bag and a Whole Foods bag.
10:13 p.m.: The lobby has an old-school cigarette vending machine, a soda vending machine, and a little stand with a coffee machine. Hey, free coffee.
10:19 p.m. Two Argentinian studentsstudying engineering and architecturecome in and chat to the British girl. They've been here since the 19th and are leaving soon.
10:20 p.m.: Girl comes in with American Apparel bag. It all makes sense: save money on lodging; spend it shopping. Time for a falafel break.
10:30 p.m. A man rushes in and relieves the clerk who let me in. The British girl asks him how he stays awake. He says it's not hard, and he just goes home and sleeps for eight hours when his shift ends at 6 a.m. She asks him if guests ever get aggressive. "Every day," he replies.
11:15 p.m.: Guests are arriving back at the ranch, shivering from the springtime cold snap, and returning to their cells. The lobby is nicely heated.
11:20 p.m. I check out the small lounge off the lobby, which has some seating, a small TV, and DVDs you can borrow.
11:58 p.m. A girl from Korea asks to borrow a nickel to buy a Pepsi from the machine. It gives her two. Now that's karma. In exchange, I ask how she found the hotel. By searching for cheap hostels, she replies. I ask if she would change anything, and she says she doesn't think she could. That New York is an expensive city, and this is the best one can do. "You just have to accept it," she said, clutching her charged laptop and key with the big wooden keychain.
12:18 a.m. The night clerk says it's been a hotel for at least seven years. Guests are from all over the world, and ages range from the typical hostel partiers to middle-aged folks to retirees. Right now is before the busy season, which will extend until a bit after New Year's. The hostel is emptier now than it will be next week.
12:22 a.m.: Time to head back to the cell.
12:43 a.m.: I Went To The Bathroom And It Was Fine. I have come prepared, and cover the bed with my own sheet and a blanket pilfered from an airplane. I don an eye mask and earplugs.
6:21 a.m. Wake up with a start. I worry that I am that guest who makes the bed creak with tossing and turning and everyone around me thinks something else is going on.
7:09 a.m. I shower without incident. Wearing flip flops the whole time, of course.
7:54 a.m.: Q (from Mom, of course): "how r u?" A: "Totally fine."
8:08 a.m.: Someone is singing softly on the way to the shower. It's sort of nice.
8:36 a.m.: Colleague via IM: "you made it!"
8:47 a.m.: Two unrelated thoughts: Someone is pouring cereal; I can hear it. Did anyone hear that I farted?
9:21 a.m.: I stuff my sheet and blanket and pajamas into a plastic bag for later sterilization. Good-bye, cell.
9:35 a.m.: Foreigners are struggling to work the coffee machine, as I snap photos of the lobby-slash-lounge in the daytime.
10:12 a.m. Cute lady backpacker with a knit cap checks out. I follow suit. And that was that. It was not bad. Not bad at all.