The pod people are coming. And they have their own hotels.
When he first introduced the property in the cutthroat hotel-scape of New York five years ago, Richard Born of BD Hotels went against convention — hard. While other debuting spaces one-upped each other with ever more rarified levels of luxury and exclusivity, the Pod 51, at 230 East 51 Street in Manhattan’s Midtown East section, shot for the modest-of-means hipster crowd. The rooms were small. The showers were communal. The starting price was $119 a night.
The success was immediate.
And, riding the wave of that success, this month witnesses the Pod becoming a chain. Using Pod power to reincarnate the old Allerton House at 145 East 39 Street as the new Pod 39, says Born: “This is a rare instance where a hotel genre has developed organically. When we opened the first Pod, we found it attracted a very particular kind of person: Individuals who thrive on travel and are looking for a hotel that enhances their exploration of a place. For them, the communal experience in the hotel’s public space is vital, being plugged-in is essential, and terrific style at an affordable price is expected.”
Translated, Pod people reveled themselves to be all about form and function, but frills? Not so much. And at either property, stepping into your room, whether it be the Single Pod, Double Pod, Queen Pod, Bunk Pod — it’s just what you think it is — or one of the Odd Pods (a townhouse studio-type space or a room with two double beds, depending on which hotel), is to step into an environment as efficient as your college dorm room but without the cut-rate color scheme and unflattering fluorescent lighting.
To some, to have the moniker “pod” brings to mind those vaguely unsettling honeycomb hotels in Japan, but with the Pod 39, Born and his team created an environment as welcoming as it is efficient. Of the 366 rooms, there are 57 singles, 83 bunks, 88 doubles, 137 queen-sized, and one double bunk, and the starting price remains a ridiculously-cheap-for-New-York $119 a night. Into each room designer Vanessa Guildford integrated bedside media hubs with a full range of ports allowing guests to connect to the room, view personal photos, videos and entertainment on wall-mounted flat-screen TVs. WiFi is free. But while the tech is 2012, the design, like that of the Pod 51, is decidedly a pared-down mid-century mod: the light fixtures are a classic design from Leucos, the calendar wall clocks are inspired by the concourse displays and next train indicators. (Unlike its predecessor, and in a possible relief to the modest among us, the Pod 39 features private bathrooms in every room.)
While Pod 39 stays close the DNA of Pod 51, the 17-floor Allerton House, built in 1918 and whose brochure described it as having “quiet, refined, club-like homes that provided socially respectable, economical housing for hard-working, refined, ambitious young men and women,” provided Born with more funky finishes than those at the original space. The vast ground-floor lobby is reconfigured to create distinct public spaces while promoting a natural flow from one to another. After passing through a vibrant red-tiled vestibule, guests enter a high space with a “window box” reception desk, a coffee bar, and a Pod-particular feature: A “screening wall” where guest photos and videos are projected around the clock. The original Gentlemen’s Sitting Room upholds its illustrious heritage by remaining proudly all-purpose: Part restaurant-lounge, part library, part workspace and part communal center of the Pod 39 social experience as a whole. The terra cotta floors and enormous east fireplace remain intact; the ceiling soars.
The rooftop setting is styled into the ultimate under-the-stars shmoozing zone. In keeping with the building’s ornate Romanesque architecture, the two-story “cloister” is framed with brick arches and terra cotta columns. New York icons rise in in every direction: East to the river, south to the lower-Manhattan skyline, southwest to the nearby Empire State building, and north to the even closer Chrysler building.
“The Pod is like no other hotel brand I know,” says Born. “From the moment we opened five years ago, we attracted a self-selecting community of individuals who really relish travel and the social experience around it. We have always looked to them to determine how to evolve. With Pod 39, we’re building upon all of that knowledge. It’s been an exciting process because it feels like we’re capturing the essence of travel, which is discovery.”