By Terry Trucco
At a glance: When you have a winning formula, why stop? That seems the thinking behind Pod 39, a clever budget property that opened in 2012 on East 39th Street and follows the blueprint of Pod 51, the original Pod Hotel on East 51st Street.
Here’s the template. Choose an aging building – in the instance the Allerton, a 1916 brick tower that was once a men’s residential hotel. Create a restaurant and lounge that are big and buzzy. Add a roof bar. And don’t sweat it if rooms are small – clever décor is amazingly forgiving.
Pod 39’s rooms are clever indeed, and unlike Pod 51, each has its own bathroom. But where the hotel scores big is its public spaces. On the ground floor, Salvation Taco, a restaurant and bar that attracts locals as well as hotel guests, melds with the guest lounge – an upbeat playspace with squishy sofas, a ping-pong table, a modest library and communal tables for laptops or snacks. Best detail: the whimsical Chinese art on the walls. A great spot for hanging out, in other words, if your shoe-box size room upstairs feels too snug.
Bonus: the open-air roof bar looks straight onto the Empire State Building, a nice coincidence since Arthur Loomis Harmon is the early 20th-century architect behind Pod 39’s building and the Empire State Building.
Rooms: It’s the Pod, not the Plaza, and rooms typically are a mere 10 by 8 feet. But as in the original Pod, these are clever little cells, the work of designer Vanessa Guildord who created the compact, ship-shape cabins at the Maritime hotel. And unlike the original Pod where half the rooms use shared baths, all Pod 39 rooms have private facilities, as mentioned above.
Rooms are color-coded floor by floor, with white-walled rooms accented in red and honey maple designed to energize, blue and darker maple to sooth or teal and walnut for visual warmth. And though the clever built-in furniture is similar throughout, rooms shapes differ to accommodate single, double, queen and bunk beds.
Every inch is used, from the under-bed storage to the air space in rooms with bunk beds. Expect small luxuries, like dimmers on all the lights and high-definition TVs.
The compact white tile bathrooms feature rain showers and stainless steel fittings.
Food and drink: Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Salvation Taco is a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room that’s buzzy, informal and fun with playful hints of Mexican décor just this side of kitschy. Behind its small-plate offerings are April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, the winning combo behind the Ace hotel’s Breslin Bar and the John Dory. I stopped by for lunch, scored a seat at a tall table in the bar area (it was crowded) and liked the look of what the man, typing on a laptop at the next table, had. So I had what he had, including an iced tea: tomatillo & market veg chopped salad with queso fresco ($11) and Mexican sticky rice tamale with chinese sausage & pibil rubbed pork ($10). Good choices.
There’s also an open-air roof bar with lively warm-weather drinks, less pricey than at many midtown hotels, and, as mentioned above, splendid views of the Empire State Building through early 20th-century brick arches that look medieval.
Amenities: Free WiFi; iPod dock stations; Hi-Def flatpanel TVs.
Surroundings: Midtown’s Murray Hill neighborhood is part residential, part office buildings with smattering of shops, more functional than fashionable. But Grand Central station is a short walk away as are the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, Times Square and Herald Square. Subways and buses are nearby making it easy to reach midtown, the Upper East Side and downtown haunts like the Lower East Side, New York University and the East Village. The area is also filled with restaurants in a range of styles and prices.
Keep in mind: For a so-called budget hotel, rooms get pricey during high season.