Personal experience: I lived in the worst hotel in New York for $95 a night
When it comes to hotels, New York City has options for everyone, from cozy boutique hotels to world-famous brands. And there are plenty of budget-friendly options that appeal to backpackers and no-frills travelers alike. While it's nice to save on accommodation, cheap hotels aren't always the same. Saving on the price per night can mean sacrificing amenities like a private bathroom, free breakfast, room service, and more. Laura Casado in her column for Insider shared her experience of staying in the worst hotel in New York. The following is a first-person retelling of her column.
I wondered what it would be like to stay in one of the cheapest hotels in the city - the Bowery Grand Hotel. Room rates for January 2023 here start at $53 per night.
One of the cheapest hotels in the city - Bowery Grand Hotel - also has the lowest rating.
Bowery Grand Hotel is a budget hotel located at the intersection of Bowery Street and Broome Street in lower Manhattan. Three different neighborhoods meet here: Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and Little Italy.
Since there is no one site that definitively ranks all hotels in New York, I based my research on reviews on Google. The Bowery Grand Hotel had 2,3 out of 5 stars awarded by 530 reviewers. And this is the lowest rating among New York hotels with at least 120 reviews.
The hotel has air conditioning - a plus if you stay in the summer. It has 30 rooms located on four floors, according to Expedia. There are dormitory rooms for men, private rooms with a double bed and private rooms with a single bed. None of the rooms have private bathrooms. Instead, there are shared bathrooms.
I didn't know what to expect from my stay and was a bit wary after reading some of the reviews online. One of the authors, who stayed at the hotel in November 2022, described the hotel as “an absolute dump” with “filthy bathrooms with no toilet paper.” Other reviewers said they saw a "colony of flies" in the bathroom and described the rooms as "like a cage".
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After reading these reviews, I was worried about how clean the accommodation would be. I've stayed in hostels in the past and I'm fine with no frills accommodation. But I'm not ready to live in a room that is dirty or unhygienic. However, I wanted to experience this hotel.
I booked a single room with shared bathroom through Expedia. It cost $80 + $15 tax, for a total booking cost of $95.
It seemed to me that this cost was low compared to many other hotels in New York. Especially when you consider that prices are usually high in December, as there are a lot of tourists at this time.
When I arrived at the hotel address, it took me a while to find the entrance as scaffolding blocked my view of the sign
I took the J train from Brooklyn to the Bowery Street station and walked two blocks south to the address of the hotel.
Standing across the street from the Bowery Grand, I saw the sign and banner of the hotel on the second floor. But on the ground floor of the building there is a lighting shop. And at first I could not figure out where to look for the entrance to the hotel.
Then I noticed a paper sign saying "Private Property, No Trespassing" on a metal door to the left of the lighting store. It had “Grand Hotel” written on it, which made me think that this door must be the entrance.
As I walked up the stairs, I still wasn't sure I was in the right place because I didn't see any signs anywhere. The house had two flights of stairs, and I did not notice an elevator, nor the possibility of going up in a wheelchair. On the steps and landings, I saw dirt, stains on the floor and walls.
When I got to the top of the stairs, the lobby was on the right.
The lobby of the Bowery Grand Hotel was a single room with a reception desk partly hidden behind a glass wall.
I looked around and was surprised that there was no seating, decor, or furniture in the lobby. Usually everywhere there is a lobby with a waiting area, even in budget hostels where I have stayed in the past.
I told the clerk behind the counter my name and he checked my reservation. The clerk said that there was a $20 charge for the room key and that this deposit would be returned when I left the room before 11 o'clock the next morning. I paid $20 in cash, the hotel clerk printed out the check and handed over the room key. It was a physical key on a small key fob.
He also gave me a roll of toilet paper to use in the shared bathrooms and put the username and password of the free Wi-Fi network on the receipt.
Considering the Bowery Grand's budget prices, I thought there might be a meeting place or a common living room, as I've seen in other budget hotels and hostels, but I didn't notice anything like that. Since I didn't see any other guests or places to relax and socialize, I went straight to my room.
My room was on the same floor as the lobby, on the left and down a narrow hallway. The corridor was without any paintings and with minimal lighting.
The door to my room was not locked, the room was much smaller than I expected
From the reviews and photos on the Internet about the Bowery Grand, I realized that the rooms are modest and without frills. But the pictures I saw didn't prepare me for how small the single room turned out to be.
The windowless room was rectangular in shape and contained only three pieces of furniture, including the bed. It was about the size of Harry Potter's closet under the stairs, but less comfortable. In addition to a small single bed, there was a white plastic trash can with a bag and a white side table.
The room was minimally decorated with a metal frame bed, white sheets, an extra blanket and hand towel.
I didn't plan on unpacking my small bag as I was only staying for one night. But I think that with a longer stay, I would not have enough space to store things.
The bed already had a white bottom sheet and pillowcase, but no top sheet. The mattress was soft and the metal frame of the bed creaked slightly as I sat up. I felt a little uneasy when I noticed that the sheets looked worn and soiled. And the white hand towel also looked old and washed out.
I put down my bag and connected to the Wi-Fi on my phone. The connection was reliable and fast - I played Spotify and YouTube without any lag or hiccups.
I read on the Expedia website that the hotel has air conditioning. My room had a fan that hung from the ceiling near the door.
A plastic toothbrush, toothpaste and a small bar of soap were waiting for me in the room.
Later, after visiting the shared bathrooms in the hallway, I realized that this soap was meant to be used as personal hand soap. I thought it was a good gesture to get these items from the hotel for free. Most hotels usually also provided free mini shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion, but not toothbrush and toothpaste.
I wanted to check out the shared bathroom, so I left the room and closed the door behind me. I followed the signs leading down the hallway away from the lobby. And turned into a new corridor with several shared bathrooms.
There were four bathrooms in total. The first one was marked as "non-working", so I entered the second door. There was a toilet, sink and shower inside.
I knew that a shared bathroom in one of New York's cheapest hotels would likely be empty and uncomfortable. But I was disappointed to see that the bathroom looked like it hadn't been cleaned for a long time. There was a paint bucket on the floor that was used as a trash can, and there was no mirror over the sink.
I brought toilet paper with me which was given to me by the hotel clerk as there were no extra rolls in the bathroom. There was also no hand soap, hand dryer or towels to dry. So I used the soap from my room and let my hands air dry after using the hand sanitizer I brought with me.
At least the water from the sink was under good pressure and was hot. And I didn't have to queue to use the bathroom.
When I opened the shower door, I saw that the floor was dirty. The shower door had no handle, instead a rope was threaded through the hole in the missing handle. Like the rest of the bathroom, the inside of the shower was dirty. There were stains and dirt on the walls, and mold on the grout along the edge of the floor.
I decided to skip my usual evening shower routine.
I left the hotel to explore the area and found plenty of restaurants within a few blocks.
While Wi-Fi worked well on my phone, the connection was not as good on my laptop. So I went looking for a cafe with Wi-Fi to use my laptop before settling in for the night.
Walking the streets around the hotel, I noticed that they were filled with restaurants, cafes and bakeries. There were several Chinese, Thai and Taiwanese restaurants, as well as Chinese bakeries. I also passed a fish market and two grocery stores. All of these establishments were within walking distance of the Bowery Grand Hotel, so I thought they would be convenient if hotel guests wanted to grab a bite to eat nearby.
Just a few blocks from the hotel, I found a cafe called Granddaddy, which served coffee and pastries, and sat down at the table to get some work done. After that, I quickly walked to the McNally Jackson bookstore to browse through the books, and then returned to the hotel around eight o'clock in the evening.
When I got back to the hotel, the receptionist stopped me and offered me a whole roll of toilet paper. It was generous of the employee to give me a whole roll of toilet paper.
I went to another shared bathroom on the same floor and found it had a mirror over the sink. However, this bathroom didn't look any cleaner than the first one.
I quickly brushed my teeth and washed my hands with soap. Since I wear contact lenses, it was inconvenient for me to remove my lenses in the bathroom. So I went back to my room to use hand sanitizer before removing my contact lenses and makeup. I hoped I wouldn't need to use the bathroom at night.
Back in my room, I was listening to music on my phone, but there was nothing to do but go to bed.
I was surprised that the room was not very noisy. Especially since the hotel is in a relatively busy area and the walls in the room seemed thin. I heard one person coughing in a room down the hall, and a running washing machine on the floor above. But I didn't hear any traffic or outside noise, probably because the room was in the middle of a building with no window.
A hotel employee later told me over the phone that some of the street-facing rooms used to have windows. But now there are no such rooms, and none of the rooms have windows. The employee did not specify what the street-facing rooms are currently being used for.
My room was at a comfortable temperature, not too hot and not too cold. I did not see a radiator or temperature control device, so I assumed that the whole building had a central heating system, which was regulated by the hotel management.
But it was hard to relax because I didn't feel comfortable in the tiny room. Luckily, I was tired after a long day at work and eventually fell asleep.
The next morning I checked out of the hotel at 8:30 am and got my $20 cash deposit back.
I slept through the night but woke up feeling a little sleepy and not as well rested as I usually feel at home. I quickly went to the bathroom and got dressed.
The check out time was 11 am, but I left around 8:30 am to get to work in time.
In the end, my stay at the Bowery Grand was pretty much what I expected, and I understood why other guests gave it a low rating on Google.
Overall, I think the only positives of the Bowery Grand Hotel are its price and location.