Is the Hotel Carter the Dirtiest Hotel in New York?

It’s the Top Ten list hotels dread. When Trip Advisor released its 2011 roster of the nation’s ten dirtiest hotels complete with reader-supplied pictures  — Cockroaches! Black stuff in the showers! Holes on the bathroom floor! – one New York hotel scored a place of dishonor near the top.

It’s a repeater. Time Square’s Hotel Carter, a fixture on Trip Advisor’s anti-hit list since the list began, is Number Four for the second year straight. That’s an improvement; prior to 2010, the hotel took the top spot with amazing consistency.

I’ve heard horror stories about the Carter for years. A stylish friend from California, booked by a clueless travel agent after she requested a “nice, not too expensive Theater District hotel,” spent a night a couple of years ago.

She slept on top of a sheet wrapped in her coat and fled the following morning, relinquishing the rest of her prepaid stay.

Still, not everyone is picky, and the 615-room Carter, a magnet for students, Europeans and tourists on a budget, regularly sells out. It’s undeniably cheap. For years, a sign on the building advertised rates of $99 a night.  Miraculously, prices have come down. The hotel Web site currently lists rates from $75 for a single and  $84 for a double with private baths.

I decided to stop by the Carter and see what it takes to land on Trip Advisor’s most

infamous list.

Off-putting is the word that leaps to mind upon seeing the Carter’s 24-story, tan brick

exterior. Its location is impeccable if you want Times Square, but it’s downhill from there. Situated in the middle of a block near Spiderman’s current home, the hotel announces itself with classic red neon letters that spell out, with a few burnouts, HO E  CA TE. Pungent cooking odors emanate from the black-and-white tile Lucky Star deli next to the front door.

In years past, you could waltz in through the Carter’s wide glass doors. You can still enter the shabby marble vestibule, a metal chairlift for the disabled anchored to a wall (the hotel got wrist-slapped for being wheelchair inaccessible a while back).  But a porter, aka guard, in an ill-fitting black uniform asks to see your key before letting you pass.

I managed to get past him only to be stopped at the front desk. Saying I was meeting friends, the attendant smiled, and I plopped into a large brown leatherish sofa by a glass-topped wood coffee table with part of a leg snapped off.  Another uniformed porter paced back and forth between the pay-as-you-go computers and the racks of tourist brochures.

I didn’t notice guards when I wandered into the lobby a few years back. Was their arrival in response to the young woman a cleaning lady found strangled under a king-size bed in 2007?

The lobby, which could have been transported intact from a Soviet-era hotel in Moscow, won’t be appearing in Architectural Digest, yet it looked somewhat better than the last time I visited. The wildly patterned rug, while no beauty, looked new as did the hulking sofa. A lone flatpanel TV tuned to CNN had replaced the walls of old tube TVs that once made the lobby resemble an outpost of Best Buy, ca 1990.

Still, the overall effect was weird. Big mirrors framed with Christmas lights hug the ceiling. A large, lidless garbage can stands near the elevator.

Behind the check-in desk, battered safe deposit boxes blanket the wall next to a line-up of old-fashioned slots for keys and mail straight out of an old film noir movie.  And yet, next to the check-in desk stands a black lacquer Asian screen, an isolated effort at  beautification.

But the scrutiny felt stifling. When two strapping men speaking Russian checked in, the porter put their backpacks onto rack and escorted them to the elevator, even though they looked perfectly capable of carrying their own bags.

History can enhance a hotel but not when nearly everything seems unchanged since the day the place opened. The Carter started life as the Hotel Dixie in 1930, the same year as the Waldorf-Astoria. Rooms cost $2.50, and a bus depot was in the basement. In 1977, Tran Truong, a Vietnamese businessman, purchased the hotel. His intent was to create a clean, safe budget property for travelers, he told The New York Times.

Despite Trip Advisor’s deadly verdict, reader comments are by no means universally damning. “Ruuuuuuun unless you like cockroaches and hookers,” declared a reviewer from Hamilton, Canada. But a reviewer in Jerusalem wrote, “If you’re on a tight budget, traveling most of your day, want a central location near the subway in the heart of Times Square, be ready to compromise. It’s not so bad.”

I’m not so sure. If you’re looking for budget digs in New York, try the Pod.




13 replies
  1. Sylvia
    Sylvia says:

    Geez, I heard about the poor woman who was found dead there, but not that the culprit was one of the hotel staff. . . The Carter should bill itself as an adventure vacation. It’s not frightening; it’s an experience.

  2. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Sylvia wait – was the woman FOUND by the cleaning person or STRANGLED by the cleaning person? There’s a difference. And the answer is – “found.”

    On the flipside, if you happen to actually BE a cleaning person, you can get sexually assaulted by an international diplomat in one of the most expensive, luxurious hotels in NYC.

    Never been to the Carter, but that one incident seems a tad bit unfair to pin to this hotel for eternity. I mean, are people avoiding Soho House because there was a recent, gruesome murder there? Doubt it.

    Rats? Cockroaches? Yeah, those are very good reasons to avoid this place, even at $75 a night.

  3. Lou Bloom
    Lou Bloom says:

    Okay, you can find a Motel 6 in Newark or Darien for similar prices, but with less wildlife. No plans for a future stay at the Carter. In fact, I am thinking a doorway near a stem vent is a better choice.

  4. Vivian
    Vivian says:

    My stay at the Hotel Carter was AWFUL! When I entered the lobby, I thought ” oh this hotel is fine”, but when I got up to my room it was a dump! My cell phone had no reception whatsoever. The TV was old and didn’t work well. There was what looked like urine on my mattress, and the black mold issue. I was creeped out and bored.

    • Terry
      Terry says:

      Thanks for the update, and the warning. It’s a shame the Carter is what it is given it’s superb location. I was creeped out just hanging out in the lobby. Hope you have better luck with your hotel next time you come to New York (the Carter, fortunately, is pretty unique).

  5. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I am from Montreal,Canada. I have stayed at the Carter Hotel at four separate occasions. During all four stays (I suppose we were one of the lucky ones, my travelling companions and I had the “luxury” of having decently clean rooms. The room seemed to be cleaned everyday by the cleaning staff. At all times I travelled with two other friends and stayed in a room with two double beds. Very clean..very brightly lit rooms. The bathroom was clean and bright and spotless. Never seen a cockroach, bedbug nor rat. It was very quiet….The front desk had strict rules about who should wonder in from the streets that were not guests at the hotel (and their is a sign in the lobby stipulating this).
    However, when asking for new towels nobody was sent upstairs…we were told to go to front desk and get them ourselves. My only one and bad experience was watching T.V. during my last stay there, smoke was coming out of the wall outlet that the T.V. was plugged into. We called front desk who took this matter seriously and quickly sent someone to take care of the problem. Also. they are very good in handling your personal valuables in their safety deposit box. During all my stays we had never had any of our belongings stolen, and not been broken into. Also, they have a little snack bar store downstairs, grabbed a very good sandwhich made to order, beverages, very convenient cause they seem to be opened till the early hrs.of the morning when you feel like kicking back in your hotel room and are getting the munchies. Usually this hotel also has a doorman most of the time on duty, for security reasons.
    What needs to be improved…Definitely the doors need
    a face lift, and give a very bad inpression(they look like jail bars). The carpets look retro (old disco), the lobby looks decent…and clean.
    This hotel is a landmark, if they can really make a point of cleaning it up completely….although I myself had the privelage of having stayed in very decent rooms! It was also very quiet..and we slept soundly. The ventilation was very good, the view from the window was lovely, you can see part of the river.
    The location is fantastic…the price is very reasonable!!!
    This hotel is really worth saving…it really is in need of a facelift however…I think it would make it more welcoming…and for all the bad press it has received; I hope that they CLEAN up their act!!!
    This hotel is a landmark as far as I am concerned; worth saving really!!!

    • Terry Trucco
      Terry Trucco says:

      Thanks so much, Rachel, for writing in and sharing your observations about your stay at the Carter. It sounds like things are improving a bit under the interim management. The hotel’s location is as good as it gets if you want Times Square, and if they could bring the quality of the hotel up to scratch without raising prices too much, it would truly be a find.

  6. Elisa
    Elisa says:

    I have previously stayed here at two separate occasions. When I travel as long as I have a decent place to lay my head and it offers cleanliness, safety, great price and location; then that is when you stay at the hotel. The staff seemed to be always available and going about their duties. Lots of tourists keep checking in. I did not encounter what seemed to be any shady people…Elevators were filled with the coming and going of rather “down to earth” respectable people. The rooms were quite nice and brightly lit, room and bathrooms seemed to have gotten scrubbed down daily. My only one and bad experience is that I had a hard time trying to open my door to get back inside my hotel room due to the jammed lock….

  7. Mirick
    Mirick says:

    I’m sure those two positive comments posted within minutes of each other are completely legitimate and not at all the product of Hotel Carter affiliated persons.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.