On Sunday the Titanic Memorial Cruise left Southampton, England for New York City tracing the path of the doomed luxury liner that sank on April 14, 1912. The 1,309 passengers, ranging from relatives of survivors to Titanic groupies, paid from $4,445 to $9,320 for the 12-might cruise.
It’s a lot cheaper to check into The Jane hotel where rooms start at $99 a night. And the Titanic connection runs deep.
When the Carpathia dropped off Titanic’s 705 survivors at Pier 54 near West 13th Street, crew members were brought to the nearby American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailor’s Home, a sturdy, six-story red brick building overlooking the Hudson on Jane Street. They’d have no trouble recognizing the building today in its current guise as The Jane.
The Jane is that increasingly rare New York commodity – an old building that’s been restored
just enough that it’s not too creaky, but not so much that it loses it character – or rough edges. There’s no elevator. And though they’ve been spiffed up, 137 of the rooms retain their original dimensions, a little over 7 by 7 feet, with windows not much bigger than portholes and shared bathrooms down the hall.
Designed in 1907-08 by William Alciphron Boring, best known as the architect of the Ellis Island Immigration Station, the building owes its sparsely touched bones to the fact that it was never The Plaza.
Accommodations in the Sailor’s Home, situated opposite the Cunard Line pier, mirrored those on board a ship. Officers merited cushy digs similar to those in a hotel. But the majority of the 156 rooms were those monkish cells for seamen, strung along two narrow corridors like berths in a ship and priced at 25 cents a night.
Amenities included an auditorium that sat 400, an observatory atop the octagonal tower — and a chapel where the sailors found “a bright, airy, comfortable place to sit without being annoyed by the fumes of liquor or soul-rasping profanity,” according to the society’s 1911 report quoted in The New York Times.
The Titanic tragedy propelled the home into high gear. It was the site of a memorial service shortly after the sinking. It also housed the crew who were required to remain for the inquest even though their pay was stopped the day the ship sank. People dropped off gifts of clothes and money at the home for the impoverished seamen.
In 1944 the building was sold to the YMCA, and by the 1950s it was known as the Jane
West hotel. That was a high water mark, of sorts. As the Riverview, the hotel spiraled into a last resort for the down and out, including drug addicts.
But the building received landmark status in 2003. And in 2008 Sean McPherson and Eric Goode, developers of stylish hotels like the Bowery and the nautically themed Maritime, transformed the building into the cleverest pod hotel in town.
Eager to see what the Jane was up to as the Anniversary approached – we’d heard the Ballroom was serving special Titanic drinks including a bourbon-infused Molly Brown – we stopped by.
The wood-paneled lobby oozes atmosphere – the marble fountain doesn’t look a day under 105 – but with no place to sit, it’s a designated pass-through. No matter. Café Gitane, an upbeat, agreeably priced Mediterranean bistro, beckons on your left. On your right, a long hall leads to the Ballroom bar and lounge formerly occupied by the auditorium.
The Ballroom almost fools you into thinking Boring dreamed it up. Artfully worn oriental rugs carpet the floor. The velvet slipper chairs and leather sofas could hail from a London men’s club – or Teddy Roosevelt’s White House – and the fireplace resides in a magnificent wood carved mantel. Everything has a deliberate patina of age, including the disco ball in the center of the beamed ceiling.
Sinking into a velvet sofa we asked about the Titanic drinks. The server, looking puzzled, said they sounded like a great idea but no, she hadn’t heard about them. We made do with a delectably tart Hemingway daiquiri (rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, cherry liquor) while our companion ordered a beer.
The final item on the drinks menu is a room for the night for $99. We asked to see one. “Show
all three styles,” said the desk agent handing a big brass key to the porter, uniformed like the Philip Morris bellhop.
Walking up three flights we reached a narrow, wood-paneled hallway. Room One looked like a high-style take on a classic ship’s cabin or Pullman berth with a single bed perched atop built-in drawers and canopied by a luggage shelf. A flatpanel TV and a window, sheathed by wood Venetian blinds, faced the bed. A handsome wood-framed mirror blanketed the wall opposite the bed. Ship shape, in other words, though the fabric at the head of the bed was worn.
Room Two featured bunk beds in an identical space and left us feeling claustrophobic. Not so Room Three. With a king-size iron bed, an oriental carpet, exquisite metal-topped side chairs and a marble bathroom it served up time travel – and a hint of history — in all the right ways. The sailors never had it this good.
The Jane, 113 Jane Street; 212 924-6700.