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At new NYC hotel, a robot handles the luggage



A luggage storage robot, the first of several high-tech, sleek amenities guests encounter at the Yotel, a new hotel in New York City, that aims to provide a trendy stay, at an affordable price (AP Photo).

NEW YORK — Forget the bellhop. Meet the luggage robot.

It’s the first of several high-tech, sleek amenities guests encounter at the Yotel, a new hotel that aims to provide a trendy stay at an affordable price.

Purple lighting, throbbing music in the elevators and futon-like sofas that transform to lie-flat beds at the touch of a button help set the mood.

Or maybe they just distract you from the tiny size of the rooms. At 170 square feet (15.8 square meters), perhaps “room” is too generous of a term. Yotel prefers to call them cabins.

Aircraft designers were hired to make the rooms feel larger than they are. The tiny desk doubles as a nightstand. An overhead shower fixture delivers water like rain, perhaps to make the stall (no tub) seem more spacious. Of course there’s no room for a fridge or minibar.

But guests aren’t expected to hang out in their rooms. Yotel’s massive fourth-floor lobby includes four bars, a 7,000-square-foot (650-square-meter)outdoor terrace and a restaurant inspired by a sumo wrestling ring

Yotel CEO Gerard Greene — who dresses more like a nightclub promoter than hotelier — is seeking guests that are “young at heart” and considers his property to be the “iPod of the hotel industry.”

Some of the design elements are jarring, even to the man behind them.

Pointing to a mustard-colored pullout sofa in one of the larger rooms, Greene said, “I think I must have been jet-lagged — jet-lagged or hung-over — when I chose that color.”

Yotel opened its first hotels in 2007 at two of London’s airports followed the next year by one at Amsterdam’s airport. The chain aims to combine the efficiency of airplane space with the concept of tiny Japanese capsule hotels. The New York hotel is the first non-airport location and the first Yotel outside of Europe. At 669 rooms, it is also the largest hotel to open in New York since 2002, according to the city’s tourism authority.

Everything here is self-serve.

The 20-foot(6-meter)-tall robotic arm at the entrance automatically stores bags in lockers for guests who want to wonder around the city after the 11 a.m. check-out time (and no, you don’t have to tip the robot). At check-in, airport-like kiosks spit out room key cards and an invoice. Don’t worry: humans are standing by to assist the technologically challenged.

Worried about oversleeping? Pick up the phone, press a few buttons and listen to a computer voice prompt you to “press 1 to accept wake-up call.” Instead of room service, prepared food is available from the concierge desk, dubbed Mission Control, which also sells hotel souvenirs like metallic Yotel water bottles.

But the real heart of the hotel is the action-packed terrace, already fast on its way to become one of this summer’s hottest outdoor bars. The varied tapas-style menu of small plates is tasty but the tab can quickly add up. It would be a shame for a meal and drinks there to cost more than the room upstairs. That said, the beef sliders ($9) and crunchy shrimp dish ($8) should not be missed. The Spicy Pepino Margarita was also well worth the $13 price tag.

My room went for an introductory rate of $149, or $179.47 with tax. After August, Yotel is looking to offer rooms with a base rate in the $200 to $250 range. More expensive suites have hot tubs and rotating beds straight out of an Austin Powers movie. They go for $1,000 or more a night.

The Yotel throws in free Wi-Fi, domestic phone calls, morning yoga and muffins and coffee for breakfast. For the really budget-conscious, each floor has a communal kitchen area with a sink and microwave.

New York has the highest average room rate in the country: $236 a night in April, according to research firm STR. The next closes city was Miami, $65 a night cheaper on average.

On the same night that I slept at the Yotel, across town the Pod Hotel was offering a room with a double bed and private bathroom for $229. (Yotel’s private shower is only separated from the bed by a glass wall and curtain.) The La Quinta Manhattan and Ramada Eastside both had rooms with a queen bed for $194.99 plus tax. And a private room at the Times Square Hostel with a shared bathroom was $55 per person, based on two people.

The Four Seasons wanted $795 a night.

The Yotel is part of a new development that includes luxury apartments, theaters and stores on 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. The area is quickly gentrifying but is not exactly tourist central, even though it is just two long avenues away from Times Square.

The low-rise buildings in the surrounding neighborhood lead to some spectacular views, especially on the higher floors. Unfortunately my room — cabin 1605 — overlooked the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. But it did provide me with a sliver of the nearby Hudson River and, in the distance, I could also see the growing new World Trade Center tower. Other rooms have better views of the river or the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Inside the tiny room were two drawers that could fit about three shirts each, six hangers, a shelf, a safe, hair dryer and flat-screen TV with a plug to connect an iPod. Multi-use hand soap also does triple duty as shampoo and body wash. Spacious is never a word you would use to describe the rooms, but neither is claustrophobic.

While small, there are even less-spacious rooms in New York. For instance the trendy Hudson New York hotel’s most petite rooms are 136 square feet (12.6 square meters).

Ultimately, the most pleasant surprise of my stay was a towel-warming rack squeezed in to the bathroom. As I came out of my shower, I suddenly felt like I was staying at the Four Seasons.

Well, just a tiny corner of the Four Seasons.


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