By Terry Trucco
At a glance: The Beacon isn’t glamorous or edgy, and don’t expect a lot of frills. But as moderately priced neighborhood hotels go, it’s got comfort nailed.
I like the homey feel of this 1929 Upper West Side hotel, which seems almost like an apartment building where you can try on a different life. Pick the right room and you can imagine yourself as a Broadway dancer (Steps, the renowned dance studio is across the street), a writer (the neighborhood is packed with them) or just a classic Upper West Sider.
Rooms, large by any standard, come with kitchenettes and were renovated top to toe – including the new granite-lined bathrooms – in 2008. Suites are the equivalent of one-bedroom apartments, making this a great place for families (easy proximity to the American Museum of Natural History is a perk).
And if the light-filled lobby with picture windows overlooking Broadway – and the Fairway Supermarket across the street – is more functional than fanciful, there’s usually plenty of room on an upholstered sofa or slipper chair to sip a coffee (Starbucks is a block away) and watch a passing parade that includes tourists, business people, families, artists and the occasional local, often with a bag of groceries, chatting with a friend.
Cool detail: The Tony Awards, Broadway’s Oscars, often take place next door at the Beacon Theater.
Rooms: Spacious. There are a handful of queens (which I haven’t seen), but most rooms have king-size beds or two doubles and room to spare. The refurbishment left appealing period details in place, like the beamed ceilings, but replaced the grotty stuff (kitchen appliances and bathrooms are all new). And rarely have I seen more hotel closet space than in the one-bedroom suite.
Rooms boast mint-green walls, towering rectangular headboards, comfy club chairs, ample desks with swivel chairs, flatpanel TVs and, in a nod to room size, a storage bench at the foot of the bed. The look is updated traditional, freshly minted. Kitchenettes, businesslike pullmans with simple white appliances, are plenty big to put together breakfast or a simple meal (Fairway and Citarella, two superb food stores, beckon from across the street). And sofas in the suites convert to beds.
Food and drink: Beacon Bar, a small, stylish street-level watering hole, opened in spring 2013, offering drinks and light bites — and providing yet another locale for après performance drinks at the Beacon Theater next door.
Additionally, the area is packed with restaurants in a variety of styles and prices. Viand, a moderately priced 24-hour diner next door, is great for a quick grilled cheese sandwich, coffee or the turkey club touted in Zagats. Fairway, the super-duper supermarket across the street, operates a bustling second-floor restaurant ideal for breakfast, sandwiches or a salad. Red Farm, an uptown outpost of a wildly popular locavore Chinese restaurant, is up the street.
Amenities: No gym, but guests can visit the enormous Equinox fitness center, a huge full-service gym nearby, for $20 a day. Rooms have iPod docking stations, Gilchrest & Soames toiletries, free WiFi.
Surroundings: The cream of the Upper West Side, ideal if you prefer a genuine neighborhood to midtown bustle or downtown hipness. The Beacon Theater, a newly spruced up Vaudeville palace that hosts pop performers, aging rock bands, jazz groups and Cirque de Soleil, is next door. Lincoln Center is an easy 10-block walk, and the American Museum of Natural History and New-York Historical Society are several blocks away. Midtown, Times Square and the Theater District, Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue shopping and the Museum of Modern Art are a short hop on a subway or bus (the subway station is a three block walk; the bus stop is steps away). And Columbia University is a straight shot uptown on the #1 train.
Back story: The Beacon has been a hotel ever since it opened in that red-letter year, 1929. With kitchenettes in every room, it specialized in long stays, and its fortunes rose and fell with those of the city. In recent years it has been a clean, dependable, low-frills place for locals to put up relatives in town for weddings and bar mitzvahs, for long-stay visitors (those kitchenettes, again) and guests who want a hotel with a congenial, neighborhood vibe. The 2008 renovation bumped up the comfort and style level a few notches, and later tweaks have ramped up the glamour quoting a bit, but the Beacon remains a low-key, homey, unpretentious place.
Keep in mind: No room service.