By Terry Trucco
At a glance: The Yotel feels like a glimpse of the future from the moment you step into its cavernous white-on-white entry.
You check in using one of the computers lined up against a wall. If you need to check your wheelie, you feed $2 to the yobot, the malleable – and entertaining — robotic arm that grabs and stores bags from its perch behind a window. Talk about automated: the only people you see are fellow guests (a staff member used to stand in the lobby explaining how things worked, but I haven’t seen anyone in a while).
But if this is the future for moderately priced hotels, I like it. The Yotel is fun. Though big and bland, the building, livened with purple accents, still looks and feels new (the hotel opened in 2011). And if the hotel offers little more than the essentials, they’re smart essentials.
The 669 rooms are kitted out cleverly with high-thread-count sheets and monsoon showers. The restaurant sells food to go in addition to stylish small plate offerings to eat at its tables. And instead of room service and minibars, each floor boasts a galley kitchen with a microwave and free soft drinks. Small surprise WiFi is free.
As befits a hotel where the lion’s share of the rooms are 170 square feet, public spaces sprawl. The ground floor is merely a landing pad. The action revs up on the fourth floor, aka FOUR, an enormous bleached expanse that channels the Jetsons and Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK with a dash of contemporary Eurochic. Here you’ll find Green Fig, a sprawling Middle Eastern-inflected restaurant, multiple bars, a co-working lounge and the Motel showpiece, a 7,000-foot terrace that purports to be the biggest outdoor hotel bar in town, a claim we don’t dispute.
One quibble is price — for a hotel that throws its “moderately priced” weight around $339 for a 170 square foot room in high season doesn’t strike me as moderate. Still, you could do lots worse. And when prices drop, Yotel rocks.
Rooms: The standard queen room – or cabin as the hotel aptly calls it — was one of the smallest I’ve come across in a New York hotel – and that’s saying something. (They don’t call this a pod hotel for nothing.) But it was clean, new and smart, assembled with the skill of a master puzzle maker. Large windows infuse the room’s 170 square feet with airiness and light.
You won’t be hanging out – there’s no place to sit but the bed. But if all you need is a place to toss your bag (there’s shelves and under-bed storage), shower (the monsoon shower head is huge) and sleep (the white sheeted queen-size bed morphs from futon to flat-out bed with the push of a button), you could do lots worse.
The room opens directly onto the tiny sleep area, carpeted in house colors gray and purple and lined with blond wood. The TV is mounted on the wall directly across from the bed/futon. Its up/down motion reminded me of a hospital bed – and it juts pretty far into the room when it’s flat. But it was welcoming when I plopped onto it.
Be warned — the peek-a-boo shower affords a full viewer of the showeree from the bed. But a white curtain pulls across it for privacy.
Larger rooms are available including rooms with bunk beds – ideal for traveling families — and even a suite with a round bed and a hot tub on the terrace.
Food and drink: FOUR, aka the fourth floor, offers an enormous informal dining hall and multiple bars as well as an expansive terrace ideal for drinks in good weather. Green Fig Restaurant, a sprawling fusion of Middle Eastern, Southern European and North African cuisines, offers breakfast, lunch, diner and weekend brunch and anchors the floor. Brunch includes a free Mimosa, and the optional 90-minute (they time you) bottomless brunch option channels the popular Eat Yo Brunch all-you-can-eat extravaganza at the Dohyo, the space’s previous occupant. FOUR also boasts multiple bars and the Terrace, the massive outdoor playground serving food and drink.
Amenities: Free WiFi. The gym is small but well equipped. Each floor is equipped with a mini-kitchen galley serving coffees, soft drinks and water and housing a microwave for heating up take-away food. The Yobot stores bags for $2 before and after you check in and out – and is entertaining to watch to boot.
Surroundings: Yotel is too far west by two big blocks to qualify as a bona fide Times Square hotel, but it’s in the vicinity. The hotel’s nearest neighbors are off-Broadway theaters, including the Signature Theater in the base of the Yotel building, and Manhattan Plaza, two towering brick apartment buildings originally designed to house theater people. The far-west location makes it an attractive place to stay if you’re planning to visit the Jacob Javits Convention Center. An uptown bus stops across the street (you need to walk a block for downtown buses). The closest subway stop is two long blocks away as is the Port Authority Bus Station. But as with any building on the outskirts of Times Square, you’re not far from the thick of things – and it’s easy to get uptown and downtown.
Keep in mind: The restaurant and bars are noisy, especially at night. Keep this in mind when choosing your room location if you’re a light sleeper.