a bed with a telephone on the side table

If you wanna get to the drama, just skip down to “feeling hot-hot-hot”.

I’ll get the pleasantries out of the way first, because there are few. I feel for hotels, not just in New York City, but all around the world. It’s been a brutal year and many remain closed, until travel rebounds in more meaningful numbers.

My heart goes out to every hotel which has reopened, and is trying to come back into these challenging times, stronger than before. Unfortunately, my first NYC stay, since the city largely reopened, wasn’t strong – it was just hot.

With that out of the way, let me be the first to say that the main issue shouldn’t even have been notable, but how it was handled, was. It was a bizarre crash course in how not to operate.

While on an extended trip to New York, my family and I ventured into the city to catch up with some friends on the Upper West Side. With dinner and friends digs both in the 70’s, we decided to pass on the usual enticements of chain hotels for something more boutique, based on convenience.

We landed at the ArtHouse Hotel, which looks good from far, but unfortunately, was far from good. Trying to put more cash into the hotels pocket, I booked direct, even though online travel agencies would’ve saved me a few bucks.

I was really trying to be nice here. I really was.

Anyway. The lobby is cute and hopes for the room were adequately set for quirky, basic and “fine” for a nights stay. This is a four star hotel, not five star, and I know New York hotels to almost assuredly be underwhelming.

Sadly, what appeared online as quirky, felt more like a hotel which ran out of money after splurging on the lobby, and pieced the rest together by hand. Still, I was ready to glance past that all, since we were really only using the room for a place to crash, after a day in the park. It’s what you do in New York.

Feeling Hot: The Unfortunate Kind

Upon arrival in the room, it felt a bit warm. I promptly turned the AC down to 70F, and heard a sound kick on, which by all indications was airflow. I mean, we all know what that sounds like, right? Air started flowing.

Not long after, we darted out to do what most people in New York come to do: enjoy the city. Not sit in a hotel room, particularly one which was arguably the result of a love affair between Ikea, a rundown primary school and an art gallery. Actually, that sounds a bit more appealing than it was.

a bed with a telephone and a pink nightstand

The Room Was Hot-Hot-Hot!

Even at around 830 PM, the temperature in New York was still oppressive. It was above 85F (28C) and the humidity was redlining. With our 1 year old in tow, we walked the lively UWS streets back to the hotel.

Let me just briefly say what a sincere joy it is to see people enjoying life again in this irreplaceable city. Welcome back, New York. I love you.

After passing through the attractive lobby and onto the tight, airless elevator, we reached the 12th floor, ready to tuck our little one in for a quiet and uneventful night’s sleep. Sadly, we ended up in an hour plus ordeal, instead, with sweat to prove it!

The room was over 80 degrees and humid. Like, truly miserable humidity.

By the time the maintenance guy, who was lovely, finally got there, it made it down to 79 and humid. I know this, because the room thermostat stated so. Hardly ideal sleeping, when you’re paying over $300 for a Manhattan hotel, with central AC as a feature.

Perhaps it’s best to segment the shambles here, to establish a chain of events.

  • I called down to reception. I told them AC is not working. They told me the whole building is out, which I knew wasn’t true because I felt it working as the elevator opened on some floors.
  • I went downstairs to say this isn’t acceptable, and that we’d like to be moved to a hotel with working air conditioning. Before I could speak, the front desk manager said she’d just called up to my room, to say it’s working now. Ok, then!
  • I go back upstairs to wife and child, to find absolutely nothing has changed.
  • The AC is not working. I then call, happy to leave the possibility that for the first time in my life, I don’t remotely know how to work the simple air conditioning unit, and ask if a maintenance person may help.
  • Maintenance guy comes up, tries to reset, says wait 10 minutes. Still bust.

This is where I lost my $h!t.

a room with a bed and a tv

The guy was lovely, he was really trying and the system was clearly giving them problems. If not for him, this write up would have more teeth than it does.

He opened his phone, where I saw a picture of an AC “cheat sheet”, with the numbers for at least 20 rooms, where the AC was not working. This is a small, boutique hotel, so that was a significant figure.

He cross referenced his list against ours, and said this one “should” be working, while clearly acknowledging that it was in fact, not. We waited out the time, the air continued to blow out hot, and he finally said we would need to switch rooms.

Wait for it…

So the lovely gent calls down to reception, to the same person who made a lasting impression on me this evening, for all the most unfortunate reasons. He tells her the AC is not working and that we’d like to move rooms. SHE TELLS HIM IT IS WORKING.

Better yet, she says “why do they want to move rooms, we don’t allow that”. She was actively questioning his call, and whether we should be allowed to move. My ears were perked like a deer hearing the faint sound of a hunters steps!

The front desk manager, from the lobby, is telling the maintenance and engineering guy in our room, who is using a infrared heat gun to test the system, that it is working, when he says it’s 100% not. Eventually, he pushed back on her assertion, explained how the system works and said she’ll call us in 5 minutes, with our new room info.

Fast forward 20 minutes, with us sitting in a room which felt like Florida, now beyond 30 minute past our daughters bed time. Who calls who? You guessed it. I call down to the front desk, where the lady promptly says “please hold!”, and I wait another 10 mins on hold!

Now 30 minutes into what was supposed to be a 5 minute wait for a new room, I’m connected to the person who sadly, seemed to be the only front desk person on duty that evening. No apology, just a “hi, I’ll have a room shortly”. There were plenty free.

Some 45 minutes later from the arrival of maintenance, well over an hour after we got into the room, a security guard came up to give us new keys. We had to switch floors, which meant packing bags after 9PM; while our incredibly sweet little girl, Olive, began to meltdown with tiredness.

We got into a new room, which looked perhaps 3/4 cleaned, but called it a night. But wait, our adventure wasn’t over.

a group of tall buildings

During my previous call, I said I couldn’t believe there was no apology or attempt to state that this isn’t what a guest should expect, to which I received a “I’m sorry for the inconvenience”. That was really it. Just a begrudging regurgitation of the words I had just fed as an example.

During the calls, I repeatedly told the person on duty that our daughter was way past her bedtime. I can deal with hassle, but anyone with young children knows that every minute counts.

Yet after it all, she chose to call again. The timing was uncanny.

20 minutes after we were in our new room, well over an hour past our daughters bedtime, just as we finally got her calm and to sleep, she called.

She was finally “doing her job”, and wanted to ask if the new room was ok, and said she would drop the “resort fee”. Yes, the hotel without a pool, golf course or any real fitness center was going to drop the “resort fee”. Gee, thanks.

Resort fees are the ultimate con in hotels, which allow hotels to make rates look more attractive than they are, since resort fees are not optional, even if you don’t use the wifi, which we did not.

Of course, the call woke her up.

In my opinion, things go wrong all the time – it’s expected – but it’s all about how it’s handled. Proactive. Service. Recovery.

Things happen. Old buildings, such as this one, clearly weren’t built with the latest in electric kit and wifi maximization and my expectations, after decades as a frequent traveler were set accordingly.

I wasn’t expecting much, but I was expecting a cool place to spend the night.

I’ve had probably a handful of air conditioning issues in my 100’s of hotel stays in recent years, and in each case people have just been proactively apologetic. Nothing fancy is needed. Really, I’ve never felt like I needed any special recognition, because the problem has always immediately been addressed with empathy.

This was the first time I’ve had someone question me, then question the maintenance person who just assessed the room, then begrudgingly change our room, then call to wake us up, after a long ordeal.

I chose the wrong hotel.

Before booking, I was split between going with a brand recognized for service, just below the park, or going for location-location-location. I wish I’d gone for the former.

I love a boutique hotel when they work harder to win guests than big chains, but when they fail to provide even the basics in training, empathy or clear conflict resolution that a fast food chain might, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

It was too hot in New York City that day, and that sadly extended to my hotel room.

To date, I haven’t received any communication from the hotel, but I will definitely check to see if I got charged a resort fee. No notes under the door from a duty manager with a “sorry”, nor a token for a coffee in the morning. I don’t know how hotels will recover if everyone’s first experience back is like this one…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Yep. As a born-and-raised NJ person, who attended conservatory in Manhattan, I learned early on that “location” is for walking and shopping, not for sleeping. The hotel is located in a nice enough neighborhood (I lived at 81st and Columbus for some time, right next to a Pizzeria Uno as I recall). Unfortunately, a nice neighborhood gives a hotel even less incentive than normal to excel, since where ya gonna go? Plus, as a boutique, the place you stayed is answerable to literally no one. Obviously, I exaggerate but not a whole lot.

  2. Before COVID I always crashed on a friend’s couch (that I didn’t even fit on!) to save on lodging costs in the city. His windows were drafty and it was miserable in winter…

    I did Hyatt Places on my two visits this year, and while cookie cutter, they did the job just fine. Including my visit during this heat wave that you’ve mentioned.

    I would say that you’ll struggle to find a chain hotel above 59th street tho, so for location you made what seemed like the right call at the time, in my opinion

  3. NYC boutique hotels are the ultimate con.
    Going with the chain properties is the only hope to receive what you pay for.

  4. Thanks for the heads-up, I’ll boycott that place. I learned a few years ago, after living in hotels for 8 years before China-Virus came along, to only stay in chains. I use Hilton first, then if not available or too expensive, I go for Marriott followed by IHG. At least with the chains you mostly know what you are going to get and because they answer to corporate HQ in some faraway location so they have to respond and address issues, especially if you have status with them. Thanks for the story.

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