Have you ever stayed at a mid-range hotel thinking it’s good for only a night?
In NYC the Hotel Pennsylvania is one of those properties that many of us stayed at a decade or so ago. My first entree to Manhattan hotels occurred at this storied spot. Flashback to the ’80s during the time of shoulder pads, big hair, and two local musical vixens coming on the scene – Madonna and Cyndi Lauper – for me it was all about the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” phase in my late teens. A high school trip, my first time away from the folks got me to see it, the City That Never Sleeps.
The midtown Hotel Penn was it too, my intro to New York hospitality where I stayed for multiple nights.
Now the landmark property is really it. After a multi-million dollar restoration the “World’s Most Popular Hotel” (the company has registered this moniker) has revived the interiors, refreshed the common areas, and is in the midst of rethinking the whole F&B thing but shhhh on that for now.
It was a cold, deep freeze in January, which in my books is a great time to visit NYC that brought me here. Why? You avoid the crowds, have faster me-time at the city’s best attractions and get to indulge in the off-season specials like Two for One Tickets during Broadway Week, indulge during Restaurant Week and yes, there’s even a third, NYC Must-See Week.
In a lead-up to Valentine’s Day as you’re scouring hotel booking websites for the ultimate canoodle stay-over for that extra special someone in your life, it’s time to give Manhattan a rethink.
The cosmo island capitalizes on romance like no one else can.
Hotel Pennsylvania created in 1919 has been in the hospitality business for over a century. The original owner E.M. Statler, the guy who coined the slogan “the customer is always right” among other popular slogans wanted to give the then New Age traveler an experience when they stayed at the world’s largest hotel. Back then, the Hotel Penn had over 2,000 rooms. Each room had its own private bath. That was a statement on its own!
Today, this historic hotel gives you access to the best of the best. Located in the heart of city, steps from the biggest landmarks ever made – that’s old and new – guests staying here get easy public transport, access to good food, and the finest romantic spots famous here.
The 1705-room property, an independently owned hotel brand, personifies classic New York. There’s a no nonsense, yet friendly hospitality vibe as soon as you swing through the revolving doors. The vast lobby could get you lost but thankfully the long check-in counter and bell captain desk are so huge you can’t miss it.
It also reckons to be the world’s first modern hotel. The hotel when it opened on January 25, 1919 delighted an A-list of Who’s Who. The newest inventions like refrigerators, manglers for squeezing water from linen, copper fire extinguishers, pneumatic tubes (for room service orders), were part of the attraction. The other: the train hotel, it’s a spitball throw from Penn Station.
Now why should you stay:
Location, Location, Location
The renovated property is situated at the front door to two huge crowd pleasers: Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. Up the street on 42nd street, the glittering lights of Times Square grab your attention while on 34th street a block away the needle thin glorious skyscraper known as The Empire State Building is showing off its classic lines. Location is the number one reason for repeat guests — walkable to everything.
Walk or take transit to see the country’s newest, largest private real estate development ever made (it outdoes the Rockefeller Center which was huge when it was completed in the Great Depression days). The Hudson Yards has the Vessel, plus a version of Fifth Avenue shops enclosed in a ‘mall’ but don’t call it that though, it sounds too suburbia..
Hotel Pennsylvania Highlights
Get ready for subliminally sublime views of the Empire State Building. You know how certain new riverboats have hailed ‘river view rooms with a view,’ the Hotel Penn has this bragging right with certain rooms. Be sure to request an Empire State Building room view.
For the history hounds, head to the 12th floor to see Hotel Penn’s best kept secret. Push your nose against the enclosed glassed-in intact Pantry Room. The entire showroom conveys original objects used during the hotel’s early days. See the pneumatic tube, the precursor to today’s texting (it was a message tube), switchboard and an original vinyl record “The Best of Glenn Miller” from big band swing musical legend Glenn Miller. His toe-tapper Pennsylvania 6-5000 was created for this hotel which reportedly claims to have the oldest continuing in-use telephone number in NYC. Call the hotel’s phone number 212-736-5000 to hear it 🙂
This pet-friendly property serves a wide variety of guests from families to couples to the corporate and aviation set like air crew. My stay on the 16th floor of the newly renovated Penn Plaza Collection Room had a comfy king-sized bed, a spacious closet, ample room space which runs at a premium in Manhattan, plus enough windows to see the iconic Empire State Building as well as views of the iconic Macy’s department store next door.
Newly renovated Penn Plaza Collection Suites have even more space plus additional rooms for entertainment, relaxing or for folks traveling with friends or more family members. This separate seating area will offer the added privacy. Choose from 1, 2 to 3-bedroom suites (1650 sq. ft). The latter has 2 king and 2 double beds. The clock radio acts as a phone charger! It’s the 21st century 🙂
For even more space head to the 17th floor, the Executive Suites. Only 55 rooms occupy this floor so imagine the Gotham size footprint. Designed by Statler as a place where to commute was easy and sleepovers were affordable with all your luxuries, these renovated suites are sure to satisfy.
All renovated rooms (at the time of this review some floors were under renovation) have retained the charm of the bathroom. Each room has retained the original toiletry plumbing pieces. A substantial reglazed cast iron bathtub (400-500 pounds each) plus the original subway tiles have been resealed while the original room doors possess a vintage brass plaque showcasing their authenticity.
These doors are the precursor to the term valet. In the old days, hotel staff used to drop off pressed garments, polished shoes, and most likely other guest requests through a door known as “The Servidoor.” The innovative design developed in 1917 reflected the hotel owner’s E.M. Statler’s passion for superlative service.
All rooms have irons, ironing boards, a safe, and depending on the room type the $20 facilities fee may be waived you get free high-speed Wi-Fi, two welcome drink vouchers at your choice of Stout or Feile which are two bars across the street, access to a lap pool at the nearby New York Sports Club and a complimentary continental breakfast at the nearby Cafe R.
The free breakfast is a good kick start to the day. The location means you get an early start to take a big bite out of the Big Apple.
Invest in the CityPASS New York, avoid the line-ups and hit five iconic attractions. With the pass you get to see the Empire State Building twice in one day (its same day use only), salivate at the entire collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, look down on the city streets from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or hang out at the Guggenheim. For ferry crossings, there’s the ferry access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise. We loved the Statue of Liberty experience because you get to see the new museum behind the statue. There’s also the American Museum of Natural History which celebrates 150 years.
Sadly, the hotel skimps on the dining scene. But on the upside, its a good excuse to enjoy the hundreds of restos and take advantage of the discounted prix-fixed menus during Restaurant Week (lunch and dinner).
If vintage is the new black, the Hotel Penn has this in spades – a retro chic classic hotel that is timeless. In this world of monolithic corporatism, its refreshing to see the magnificent Grande Dame maintain an independent hotel status with its forever “affordable luxury” stamp of approval still in tact.
You can make your booking at the Hotel Pennsylvania website or an online booking site such as Expedia or Hotels.com. Room rates are seasonal. For a standard room double occupancy, the low season rates start from $88.
Photography by Stephen Smith + supplied.
NYC and Company and Hotel Pennsylvania hosted Hotel-Scoop Reviewer Ilona Kauremszky’s stay and did not approve editorial.