I’ll say upfront (and to appease the guilt of my betrayal) that I’m a devoted fan of one NYC hotel in particular, the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tribeca. However, when planning my most recent trip, I found that rates were higher than usual and rooms were scarce. All was not lost though thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, which I had watched again in earnest to ensure my itinerary’s gaps were properly filled with haunts ordained by the King of Kitchen (and Travel) Confidences. While Tony himself did not stay at The Jane during his NYC Layover, he gave it a brief nod saying “If you’re not a big pimpin’ oligarch and looking for more affordable accommodations, the recently restored Jane Hotel in the West Village might be more in your zone.” I love Tony for many reasons but mostly I do for his rock star way with words. And it was enough for me to reconsider staying in the quirky old Georgian lady in a quiet-ish corner of the West Village.
Reconsider. That means I had considered her before. And it wasn’t just my loyalty to the aforementioned Cosmopolitan that gave me pause. If I’m honest, it was more because of the Standard Cabins which are only 50 square feet and even more intimidating, the shared coed bathrooms on each end of the hallway. I kept having visions of some lecherous Russian wrestler stuffing me into a drain pipe when no one was looking. Yikes. The good news was I still had options because the hotel also offers Captain’s Cabins at 250 square feet including a private loo. But then my very pragmatic SixthSense shopper mentality set in and I realized that the additional cost (2 ½ times!) for the Captain’s Cabin would easily pay for the sweet little DvF number that had been on my shopping list long before I was choosing a place to stay. Decision (and reservation) made. A girl has priorities. Besides, don’t I pride myself for seeking out the unusual, storied places to visit? And this is certainly one of them.
The Jane, built at the turn of the last century, was originally known as the American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailor’s Home & Institute and besides its train compartment sized bunks still used today, it also offered a chapel, music hall, bowling alley and a beacon on top, the latter of which was unfortunately removed some years ago. How clever to build an affordable, familiar home away from home for sailors who needed room and board in between excursions and adventures. A mission, that I guess you can say, remains unchanged. The best nugget though was learning the place was used to house RMS Titanic survivors during the inquest into the wreck, something that further drew me like a Greek siren to the murky waters below. Who knew, maybe I’d be staying in the same room used by the Unsinkable Molly Brown!
Anyway, at the end of my first long day in the city, after arduous airport trekking, work meetings, a visit to 30 Rock and Jimmy Fallon, followed by a fabulous dinner at Rayuela, I held my breath and climbed the entry stairs at 113 Jane Street. It sits facing the West Side Highway and I instantly wondered if my room would face that way with sweeping views of the Hudson River and a soundtrack of maniacal screaming taxis, or if it would face inward – usually not pretty but almost guaranteed quiet.
I was greeted instantly by a warm, friendly hotel porter and concierge that whisked me across the tiny lobby to the equally friendly front desk staff. Mind you, all were male (in matching organ grinder capuchin suits) and in fact, I now realize I don’t remember seeing any female staff all weekend. All of it, the rich wood paneling and hidden wood paneled doors, the charmingly worn, upholstered Victorian settees, the taxidermy animals vaguely lit by brass light fixtures and chandeliers and partially obscured by large tropical ferns, transported me to other landmarks of the same era. Think Biltmore Estate, the Hotel Chelsea, or old, vaudeville theatres like the Keith Albee, all of which have a creepy feel-good, dark, Victorian vampire mysterious coolness about them. It was enough that I couldn’t wait to see more.
With my strange brass key ring I headed up to my room on the 3rdfloor and, as I’ve not frequently lodged in old train or ship quarters, it took me a moment to figure out how the floor plan worked. Lots of doors with porthole windows, some leading to stairs, some leading to the elevator, some leading to other porthole windowed doors, and when lucky, leading down a hallway that might include your room number. The hallways behind the doors, although spare, mimicked the feel of the lobby with red walls, heavy wood trim and brass fixtures, Oriental runners, and most noticeably the echo of quiet not usually found in most public areas of NYC. I passed (and peeked) into the restrooms which appeared clean and nicely appointed with quality fixtures and private shower and toilet stalls. Eventually, I circled around to what would be my room, #315, which is important because it’s far enough above the rumored noisy ballroom bar and did not face what I’m sure is a very loud highway and so is worth remembering for future requests.
Upon opening the door to the undeniably small room, I plugged in the key ring’s matching brass power stick in order to turn on the lights, fan and anything else that would need a jolt of power to function. And although small, it was clean, tidy and offered a fun bottle of water, flat-screen TV, cozy robe and enough space to store my bags and clothes for the weekend. Like the robe, the room was cozy but I decided it was certainly enough given the few hours I’d really spend there – which obviously is the same justification used by many a traveler when faced with actual train and ship compartments.
Once unpacked, I then felt compelled to explore further knowing that it was early enough that a line had not yet formed for the famously recent famous Ballroom Bar but late enough to read its storied vibe. And I wanted a cocktail. The scene and the drink, I promise you, did not disappoint.
Once I secured my brown sugar infused Mojito, I placed myself among the crowd, upon yet another ragged settee, and this is what surrounded me: barely there sepia lighting, massive windows with Gothic velvet drapery, a gargantuan old disco ball, some chatty Brits, a LOT of larger than life exotic taxidermy, huge oil paintings of various characters, and a dreamy fire in a large fireplace beneath a large mirror which was beneath a large shelf holding a (large) stuffed, white ram. The music was en pointe, coincidentally including some Garbage who were actually playing live at that moment a few blocks up at Terminal 5. I voyeuristically grooved along until this spectacular feast finally pushed me over the proverbial edge and when I arrived at what my husband affectionately calls “too much day”. So, like all girls who have a day of museums, subways and shopping ahead, I forced myself to call it a night.
Turning in (aka removing makeup and brushing teeth) meant finally experiencing the coed bathrooms and I can say that my first visit to the lav was fairly representative of all my Jane Hotel bathroom excursions. I never had to wait for a sink, or for a toilet or shower closet, and there was never more than one other person present. My only mistake was forgetting my towel with my first shower and only remembering it once that shower was complete. But unlike forgetting a towel at home, there can be no mad, naked dash to the closest towel rack and you aren’t likely to ask the Russian wrestler in the next stall to retrieve one for you.
For me, this was a minor inconvenience of which overall there were very few. The Jane Hotel has much to offer between its charms, proximity to the coolest parts of NYC and reasonable cost. If, like me, you usually have a shopping list to break the bank, I definitely recommend adding this to your Big Apple dossier.