Were it a first-class suite on an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, you would be ecstatic. A private berth on a Amtrak train chugging up the coast? Few better.
Enjoying the Jane Hotel in Manhattan's West Village completely depends on your point of view. If even a mini suite at Le Parker Meridien feels claustrophobic, the Jane would feel as dreadful as solitary confinement. But if you can expand your travel horizons and appreciate the trade-off--a 50-square-foot room with a shared bath but only $99 a night in a great neighborhood--the Jane can leave you feeling as if you've found a minor New York miracle.
More luxury hostel than soulless pod hotel, the Jane's rooms are designed to feel like cabins on a turn-of-the-century locomotive or ocean liner, which summons the building's history. The six-story structure was built in 1908 by William Boring, the co-architect of the prize-winning Immigrant Station at Ellis Island. In 1912, the Jane (then known as the American Seaman's Friends Society and Sailors' Home and Institute) housed the surviving crew of the Titanic.
There's some art in the building's bones. The ballroom of the 200-room hotel, known before its almost completed renovation as the Waterfront Hotel, was also the home of a music club and the Jane Street Theater, where the cult off-Broadway musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was born.
Even the lobby comes off as a bit theatrical--the staff wears outfits that bring to mind "Barton Fink," and the hotel's elevator has an operator around the clock. The narrow hallways, with thick carpeting and vintage sconces, feel more like something from a ship than any land-based accommodation.
There's no denying the rooms are small, but the space is tastefully decorated and well-planned, full of storage nooks and crannies, snug without feeling cramped. A long, firm twin bed sits about three feet up from the floor, opposite a large mirror that gives the illusion of more square feet. With shelves above the bed and drawers underneath and a dozen or so hooks around the room for clothes, there's plenty of storage.
The bed faces a 23-inch plasma television, and rooms have a fan, air conditioning and free wireless Internet service. As there's no desk, you must either stand and work with your computer perched on a window sill, or actually use your laptop in your lap and type in bed. Because the head of the beds are right next to the door, light sleepers could be bothered by hallway noise.
Cabins include bathrobes, towels and slippers, all for the short trip to the communal baths. The facilities are sparkling porcelain and tile, but it's still a bit strange to be brushing your teeth next to a stranger and not be camping. The Jane is scheduled to open a mix of larger rooms, some with private baths and king beds, in early 2009.
Because it's a residential neighborhood far from an accessible thoroughfare (Jane Street doesn't go through to the nearby West Side Highway), there's very little street noise. But that isolation cuts both ways: my cab driver could barely find the place when I was checking in, and to get to the airport the next morning, I had to arrange (through the very helpful front desk) for car service, which made the trip cost an extra $15.
Yet the Jane is a convenient location for people who like downtown Manhattan, with Chelsea and the Meatpacking District nearby; rather than be filled with kids, most of the hotel's guests that I saw were in their 40s and 50s. During my visit I walked 10 minutes to the Atlantic Theater on West 20th street to see the new play "Farragut North" and had a delightful bowl of bacon, tomato, shallot and rosemary pasta and glass of Barbera ($36) at the crowded neighborhood trattoria Dell'Anima (a nearby deli also delivers to the hotel in lieu of room service).
When I returned to my room, it was just as small as when I left. But I kept thinking about being on that plane to Australia, and it suddenly felt much bigger.
IF YOU GO:
The Jane Hotel: 113 Jane Street, New York, NY 10014. 212-924-6700. www.thejanenyc.com. Singles: $99.
Dell'Anima: 38 8th Avenue, New York, NY, 10014. 212-366-6633. www.dellanima.com.