A renovated NYC boutique hostel, from $24 per person per night

Is a hostel still a hostel if you get a private bathroom and a room that looks like this?

The recently renovated Broadway Hotel & Hostel on the Upper West Side is blurring the line between backpacker digs and, well, boutique hotels. Billing itself as New York’s first boutique hostel, the property is promoting dorm-style rooms that start at $24 per person per night, while a private space like the one to the right will run at least $119 for two people.

The dorm-style rooms have been switched to a more spacious setup that features one bunk bed for two people, as opposed to squishing four people into the space. Booking the dorm-style room category means you’ll have to share bathrooms, though there’s a sink in your room. (How very European.) Like other hostels, a solo traveler can be paired with a roommate of the same gender if you ask.

To upgrade the hostel experience, consider booking one of the private rooms that has a bathroom en suite (which I consider a luxury by hostel standards). Even for April travel dates, I still found plenty of availability for the private rooms; prices will vary if the bed type is a double (from $89), a queen (from $109), or two twins (from $119). The beds are each covered in a crisp white down duvet, and the private rooms come with amenities like flatscreen TVs and iPod docking stations.

Linens and towels with daily housekeeping service are included in all rates. There is no curfew or lockout. Common spaces include a lobby with free Wi-Fi and a fireplace. There’s also a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

As someone who has let visitors crash on my couch so they can save a little dough, I suddenly feel like my New York apartment and hospitality skills are very inferior. But I should note that recent TripAdvisor reviews are mixed, so as always, practice due diligence in researching beforehand. For example, payment for the dorm-style rooms is cash-only, so make sure you have enough funds to cover your stay.

Update: A Broadway Hotel & Hostel spokesperson informs that they’ve just updated their website; major credit cards are accepted. However, the balance of your stay is due up front, so make sure you’re prepared to pay with either cash or by credit card.%Gallery-73514%

Before you go, be sure to check out Episode 5 of Travel Talk TV, which features a Santa Cruz beach adventure; explains why Scottish money is no good; and shows how to cook brats the German way!

Hidden Gem: New York’s temporary art gallery

I can’t tell you how long the art gallery at 25 Central Park West will be there: even the organizers don’t know. But, it’s worth checking the group’s website if you plan to pass through Manhattan in the next month (or longer, we hope) to make sure the project is still going on. There’s always something amazing happening at this vacant retail space.

I found the 25PW gallery by accident. I was walking down Central Park West last November. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw people inside an empty commercial spot at the corner of Central Park West and W 62nd Street. They were carrying hammers and paintings. So, I checked the door, which wasn’t locked, went inside and met Bess Greenberg, one of the founders of 25CPW, a non-profit that runs all the action inside this art gallery.


According to Greenberg, 25CPW will be able to keep the space until a tenant comes along and is willing to meet the manager’s asking price (which hasn’t happened yet). In the three months that 25CPW has occupied the space, it has hosted art exhibitions, musical performances and an auction to benefit charitable organizations focused on Afghanistan. A recent show featuring works by the guards at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art attracted the most attention, though every event I’ve attended at 25CPW has been packed.

The fact that there’s now a cool art scene on the Upper West Side alone is worth a visit – this kind of thinking usually happens in other neighborhoods. So, the curiosity factor alone should be enough to put this stop on your itinerary. But, that’s the least of the many reasons to pay a visit to 25CPW. The best is whatever event is being featured on a particular day. They’ve all been fantastic.


Daily Pampering: The quintessential Upper West Side brunch

I try to get to Compass by 11:30, when the restaurant opens. Brunch on the Upper West Side can get crowded quickly, and I enjoy that brief moment when the meal is its most peaceful. This Manhattan neighborhood is popular among brunchers and offers no shortage of choices. Yet, the most interesting by far can be found at Compass, on W. 70th Street, just west of Amsterdam Avenue. Be sure to make a reservation, because you won’t be the only person in the neighborhood to have this idea.

The brunch menu is not expensive: you’ll enjoy an incredible meal for $28. So, why feature it in the Daily Pampering column, which is committed to the decadent? Well, you don’t have to spend a fortune to live the life luxurious, and any local or visitor to Manhattan would be nuts not to sit for a meal here.

The Compass brunch menu is short on choice but not on variety. The first course to be presented to you includes salmon, bread, pastry and sausage. Bite-sized portions of all are presented for the table, obviating the need for difficult decisions. The flavors are incredibly well balanced, and the presentation is meticulous. Dessert is served the same way – small portions of everything. You won’t need to worry about leaving the table with the concern that you missed something delightful.You do have to select an entrée, and it’s a painful experience. You may be able to narrow it down to three or so that turn you on, but finding your way to one is brutal. If you live in the city, you can just go back a few times. I don’t envy tourists, however who don’t have easy access to this restaurant. On my most recent visit (last weekend), I ate the Lobster BLT, the first time I’ve tried it, and I’m glad I did. There are no good choices on the menu – they’re all beyond that.

The service at Compass is flawless. The staff is quiet, efficient and attentive. Dishes are brought at ideal temperatures, and water and coffee flow before you need to ask. I’d suggest a waiter, but that’s unnecessary – they are all fantastic.

You need a dose of pampering? Head out to Compass for a meal. This is among the most enjoyable culinary experiences in Manhattan, the price is downright shocking. Compass has a full menu for dinner, as well, which is not to be missed.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Travel Advice: Five ways to cope with bad restaurant service

Nothing can stain a perfectly planned trip like poor restaurant service. In the hotels, this usually isn’t a problem, as the wait staff is governed by the same fanatical commitment to keeping guests happy as everyone else on the property. But, nobody wants to eat every meal on site, so you’re bound to venture out for most of your lunches and dinners. This is where you’ll wind up rolling the dice. Restaurant service varies. You can do plenty of research and get recommendations, but from time to time, you’ll either make a guess or find out that your friend’s experience was an aberration.

When you get an awful waiter, abysmal food or terrible seating, don’t forget that you have rights. I’m fresh off an awful experience with Citrus, a restaurant in my neighborhood on Manhattan‘s Upper West Side, and while “negotiating” for my food, it occurred to me that most people willingly cede control of the situation to the restaurants that have wronged them. If we work together, this ends now.

Here are five ways to address terrible restaurant service from the start and get the most value for your dining dollars.

1. Don’t ask the waitress twice
If you encounter a problem with your food or drinks — from taking too long to get them to receiving the wrong order — always start with your server. If you don’t see the person walk by within five minutes of identifying the problem, hunt him or her down: doing so sends a message. Make it clear that you will not tolerate substandard service. If the problem isn’t resolved quickly, don’t bother asking the server again … it won’t get you anywhere. Escalate it to a manager.

2. Serve yourself
Part of the point of going to a restaurant is having someone else do all the work for you. But, if the staff isn’t delivering, sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands. Drink order taking forever? Go up to the bar yourself and ask what’s taking so long. Offer to help … you’re not trying to criticize; you’re in the solutions business! Usually, this less-than-subtle behavior can serve as a wakeup call to people who’ve been sleeping on the job.

3. Become the manager’s new buddy
Experiencing continued bad service? Demonstrate to the manager that you will make it your mission to waste his time until his team finally gets its act together. When you don’t get the right food or get served in a timely manner for each course, let the manager know. Getting up to go the bathroom? Find the manager on your way back and give him an unsolicited status report.

4. Don’t settle for discounts
I’ve had problems with Citrus in the past, and on one occasion, the manager offered to knock 10 percent off my next purchase. Idiotic. After the delivery order was screwed up three times (same order, same night), I went to the restaurant to see for myself the stupidity that could yield such results. He immediately proffered the 10 percent off a future purchase. He expected a future purchase from me following a terrible experience and made clear that the current situation was meaningless to him. Learn from this: any offer that is not immediate and substantial is an insult.

5. Recognize the power of the tip

One restaurant forgot to deliver a drink to me. When the waiter realized the mistake, he not only brought the drink, but knocked that one and the previous one off my bill. This is how you turn a service error into a 30 percent tip. I believe in rewarding service, and the standard 15 percent is a starting point, not a destination. Likewise, a staff that underperforms should be compensated appropriately. Don’t be afraid to go under 10 percent — or all the way to zero. On a few occasions, I’ve actually told the manager that the restaurant owed me money following the meal.

Unlike the service on planes, where you are a captive consumer, restaurants don’t have any control. You can leave at any time. And, there are plenty of choices available to you. In major cities, in fact, you can leave one restaurant and enter another within minutes. If you do this, have a frank conversation with the manager: “Look, we just had awful service at [name the restaurant] just down the block. I know you’re crowded, but we’re hungry and, unsurprisingly, not in the best of moods. I’m not looking for anything out of this except to let you know that I’m probably not going to be as fair as I could be … and to tell you that you have a chance to be the one factor that makes my evening amazing.”



Three great hotel deals in NYC this winter

It’s getting cold in New York City and as the temps drop so do prices for the city’s hotels. Across Manhattan, you’ll find deep discounts and deals, plus added perks and freebies. Here are three fantastic hotel finds for winter.

The Upper West Side’s Moroccan-themed Marrakech Hotel is offering rates starting at $99 per night, which is 20% off the normal rate. Guests will also receive two complimentary tickets to the Top of the Rock. The deal is valid January 4 to February 28 with a two-night stay. To book online, use the Deal1.

Three GEM Hotels locations (SoHo, Chelsea and Midtown West) are offering a rate of $129 per night in January and February. Blackout dates are January 22 to 25, January 30 to February 5 and February 13 to 14.

Rates at The Portland Square Hotel, in Times Square, are just $129 per night for a queen guestroom. That’s a savings of 20% off the regular rate. Guests will also receive two tickets to the Discovery Channel’s Titanic Exhibition. As with the Marrakech Hotel deal, the rate at The Portland Square Hotel is valid January 4 to February 28 with a two-night stay and the promo code Deal1.