It’s a well-worn trope that New Yorkers, despite living in a city with 1200 neighborhoods, spend most of their time in exactly two: the home one and the work one. Ask any Upper West Sider where Bath Beach is, and be prepared for a stare as blank as a catatonic. (It’s in South Brooklyn.)
Yet venturing even a few miles from one’s home/work base can seem like an exotic journey if done right. After all, the travel zeitgeist is so much about going somewhere new and living like a local. But since we didn’t have time for ice fishing in Finland, we opted for a staycation in a neighborhood we haven’t spent all that much time in.
Since our home/work ‘hoods are Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, with the exception of that annual doctor visit, we rarely venture above 14th Street. Murray Hill may as well be Mumbai. Yet that’s where we found ourselves recently for a stay at the ever smart Pod 39 Hotel. There are a number of Pods around town and their chief selling point is good design at exceedingly approachable rates.
When it comes to style, it helps that this Pod occupies the former Allerton House Hotel, which was given Landmark distinction in 2007. The century old red brick building, which boasts terra-cotta detailing and wrought-iron light fixtures, opened in 1918 as economical housing for ‘hard working, refined, ambitious young men,’ and 40 years later the Salvation Army took it over, converting it into residences for women. The genders were finally allowed to co-mingle at 145 E. 39th Street, when the Pod people (sorry, pun intended) stepped in.
We were actually quite surprised with our room, which despite its obvious economy of scale, seemed spacious and chic. The fact that the view out the windows was of a brick walled interior space that led up to a small square of skyscraper dotted sky only accentuated the historic NYC vibe. Modern life was waiting just downstairs, however, as the lobby and adjacent restaurant, the recently opened Empellon Al Pastor, teemed with youthful energy in the evening. Groups were split between those downing tacos and margaritas, and those patient enough to wait in the long line for the rooftop bound elevator.
We settled in with a trio of new friends in a private room off the main dining area, where we watched the scene from a distance while savoring a tasty sampling of fish tempura and sweet potato tacos, broiled oysters, and lobster rangoon, all washed down with spicy cucumber margaritas. Everything was absolutely sublime (as it is in Empellon’s East Village location). Afterwards we joined the throngs at the Pod 39 Rooftop, the setting of which, with its century-old archways and columns, and 360-degree view of midtown, is really something spectacular.
Being a rooftop bar in a hip hotel, however, meant that it was packed to capacity, so we headed out for a brief walk around the comely, inviting neighborhood, stopping for a bottle of wine for the room. The knowledge that we were only a mile or two from home didn’t displace the feeling of otherness we had at being happily out of our element. Back at the Pod we did something we rarely do in Brooklyn, watched the local news on the wall mounted flat screen – because that’s what you do when you’re “out of town.”
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast in the lobby’s Playroom Lounge before heading out to join the stream of workers making their way to the office. It may have been our imaginations, but we sensed a slight inkling of newfound ambition, and refinery, in ourselves – perhaps thanks to the ghosts of the ambitious young men who once occupied the Allerton…and certainly to the rejuvenating properties of a night in a strange but stylish bed.