Hi. I’m JD’s brother, Karl, and I’m here to tell you about something I did so you don’t have to. In fact, you probably never even thought about doing it. To me, that’s part of the appeal.
I spent the night in in all five New York boroughs so you don’t have to.
My original goal was to spend the night in the 50 most populous counties in the United States. That journey ended with a night spent in Contra Costa County, Calif., but the route had to go through the Big Apple, and suburban New York and New Jersey counties.
People tend to have opinions, both good and bad, about New York. Ask someone about a trip to Dayton or Des Moines and they probably won’t have much to say. But visitors always have something to say about New York.
Manhattan is full of great hotels, and there are quite a few in Queens around Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. In recent years, even inexpensive Manhattan hotel tariffs have ballooned to more than $300, in turn creating new hotels in the outer boroughs at lower prices.
But a few years back this wasn’t the case. It took a little creativity and a disregard for safety to spend the night in certain places.
I didn’t want to stay at the Heroin Hotel or somewhere likely to be in the crossfire of gang warfare. I imagined being questioned by police in the hospital after being struck by a bullet, trying to explain my wish to spend the night in the 50 most populous counties in the United States.
If you’re booking a hotel online, especially if you’re seeking budget accommodations in New York, read the guest comments.
“The room was so small it was like a little box,” one description read. Or, “Small, unsafe, rude staff.” Or how about, “Mice ate my M&Ms.” One offered, “The hotel is horrible, the location is all right.” Or simply, “Don’t go here.”
My overnight in Queens on a business trip was not memorable. It was a place called the Hotel Adria in distant Bayside. I do remember driving all the way into Manhattan on Northern Boulevard.
Staten Island’s Cosmopolitan Motel on Hylan Boulevard was a little dicier. There seemed to be a lot of teenagers partying in many of the rooms, and they were high on something. And not a mellow high. The front door lock didn’t look very solid. Determined to stay, I dragged one of the flat, shapeless mattresses up against the door, to at least delay a forced entry.
It’s easy to spend the night in Manhattan, and the first time I did it was in the Edison Hotel, an old-style New York hotel just a couple of blocks from Times Square.
(For the record, Staten Island’s Richmond County (pop. 475,000) is the only New York borough that is not in the top 50.)
Brooklyn, which would rank as one of the largest cities in the U.S. if separate from New York, now boasts a Marriott in its downtown, along with smaller motels and bed and breakfasts in Park Slope. A few years back, though, choices were limited.
The Golden Gate Motor Inn charged a princely $100 for a spare, dirty room that was surrounded by noisy (and probably dangerous) neighbors. “If you want to spend the night in this borough, you’re going to have to pay for it,” seemed to be the attitude.
With Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn checked off my list, that left only the Bronx. Ogden Nash once said, “The Bronx, no thonx.” Obviously he was not interested in spending the night in the 50 largest counties.
There were a fair number of motels, but most of them were in bad areas and were probably used for activities other than sleeping. I decided to check out the Van Cortlandt Motor Inn, on Broadway in Riverdale, one of the borough’s better neighborhoods.
A man who looked like Joey Buttafuoco, with a wad of bills enclosed in a big hammy fist, was waiting to check in.
“I wanna a room fuh three howas,” he announced in a raspy New York accent.
I gave a nod to Joey, resisting the urge to mention the Long Island Lolita. I checked in and went to my room. No prostitutes, no drug dealers, no syringes in the bathtub. So far, so good.
Any unpleasant odors were masked by the strong smell of fresh paint. Maybe they repainted the room after each guest.
Having checked out the room, I left to spend the day in Manhattan, coming back to Riverdale in the evening. There was a neighborhood bar nearby, and I had a few beers and watched a Yankees game on TV.
I wondered if any other traveler ever had this itinerary: A day in Manhattan, a night in the Bronx, and then on to the Meadowlands the next day to see a Jets game.
After an uneventful night I left the next morning for New Jersey, my Bronx box checked off. I ordered fresh paint for the room.
I didn’t inquire as to whether Mr. Buttafouco had successfully completed his business at the hotel.
My awesome brother Karl is the editor-in-chief of trade publication FDM Magazine. In addition to New York, he has traveled to Germany, Thailand, Singapore, Ireland, and Scotland. So far, no mice have eaten his M&Ms.