The Ace Hotel – funky and friendly

Unfortunately as the writer of The Book of Everything I didn’t qualify for company-sponsored accommodation in the Big Apple. Fair enough, my job had been done, so Mevrouw T and I were just there to have fun and bask in some reflected glory as the show went on at the New Victory Theater. The upside was that we had to be inventive about finding affordable and interesting accommodation in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Some hotels were able to offer us a free night, which was much appreciated, others gave me a special deal in return for writing about them (not necessarily nice things, mind you). I did make another rule, though – no generically pleasant hotels. Each one had to have something interesting and unusual about it.

So here’s where we ended up staying…

Marrakech Hotel

Moroccan colour at the Marrakech. Thai food and Starbucks downstairs.

New York’s Entertainment District is busy, crowded and, you guessed it, pricey. There’s a happy alternative a frisbee throw from Central Park. Thanks to an efficient, and now perfectly safe, subway system, it’s only minutes from the main action.

The Marrakech Hotel is on Broadway itself, by the corner of 103rd Street. It’s above a convenient Starbucks, which made it seem less Moroccan. The young staff didn’t seem Moroccan, either, but were friendly and polite as they lugged our luggage upstairs – unfortunately there’s no lift.

The small lobby is decked out in North African style – bright colours and fabrics, tiles and comfortable cushions. It’s a good place to sit, more so because rooms are small and the “Kazbar” is the hotel’s only area with internet access.

The Marrakech was busy without being overcrowded, popular with young Europeans – French, German and Spanish.
The area appeals, too, with jazz clubs and numerous cafes and restaurants that are far cheaper than their counterparts in the Theatre District.

We ate good Thai downstairs in Sookk at a price that was cheap by Sydney standards.

Double rooms from $152. See

Hotel 41

Only at Hotel 41 was breakfast included. And not a bad breakfast either.

If you want to stay in the centre of the action without breaking the bank, you’re unlikely to do better than this basic but comfortable hotel on 41st Street, a few metres from Seventh Avenue, two blocks from Times Square and next door to the Nederlander Theatre.

The lobby features plastic stripes running down the wall and forming leaking pools on the floor – not sloppy workmanship but a design feature.

From our sixth-floor eyrie we could walk onto a terrace and look down on the madding crowd. The bar was undergoing renovation – we’ll see how that works but, from its location alone, it promised to be a pre- or post-show hot spot.

We were also prejudiced in 41’s favour by its complimentary continental breakfast – pastries and croissants, bagels with coffee and orange juice. Breakfast included is a rare feature for New York hotels.
Dorm beds from $US72 ($70), private rooms also available. See

Ace Hotel

Quirky messages are written on Ace Hotel walls.

We gave ourselves a one-night splurge at what could be NYC’s coolest hotel – at night a line of attractive young people was queuing to get in to the bar. We flashed our hotel keycards marked “Everything is going to be all right. Please recycle” and were ushered through.

Even the next morning there was a cafe queue for the excellent coffee. (Why don’t all American baristas do it this well?) We took it with “steel-cut oats” – that is porridge to all you non-trendoids.

This was formerly the venerable 1904 Breslin Hotel, on 29th Street, uptown from the Flatiron District. While some old features have been retained, the Ace has jumped into the 21st century with black-and-white decor and casually dressed staff at reception. “EXCELSIOR – ever upwards” reads the slogan, and the service was attentive.

To say the place has “a lively buzz” is an understatement. The noise in the bar in the evening was deafening, and it was lit principally by guests’ iPads and smartphones. Fortunately, the noise did not reach upstairs to the bedrooms.

It may not be for everyone, but the Ace Hotel was definitely the hippest of the bunch.

Double bunk-bed rooms from $US368 a night. See

Aloft Harlem

Very cool design at the Aloft Harlem.

“You stayed in Harlem?” Our friends were impressed.

Not only did we stay there, we didn’t want to leave. No longer is Harlem a depressed, dangerous part of town. It’s become trendy and multicultural, without losing the vibrant feel of African-American culture. The streets were full of lots of families in their Sunday best, many hopping in and out of expensive cars.

The Aloft Harlem is the chicest building on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, all glass and brick with luminous orange and lime-green trims. Very cool.

“We have free iPads for guest use,” we were informed on check-in.

Basic breakfast buffet and complimentary coffee were available any time but even better food was going on around the corner. We became almost regulars at Manna’s Soul Food, where we loaded plastic containers with salads and spicy chicken or fish and paid for it at $US5.99 a pound ($2.68 a kilogram). We felt like the daring white faces there but it was extremely friendly and good fun.

Just down 125th Street is the legendary Apollo Theatre, which has given a leg-up to young unknowns including Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Michael Jackson. It still has weekly amateur nights, with the slogan “Be good or be gone”.

Double rooms from $US152 a night. See:

Unfortunately time has been too short to road test every hotel in New York (though I’m open to more interesting offers for our next visit!) but I’m also interested to hear from others who’ve found hidden affordable NYC hotel gems.

The writer was the guest of and was assisted by NYC & Company.

First published Sun-Herald, Sydney.

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