Hip, Affordable Hotels in the Best Cities


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Don't think you can afford a hotel room in New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C. or Chicago?

You can because just about every big American city has at least one gem of a hipster hangout with prices suited to the PBR set.

No, you cannot afford $925 per night, which is the price we found for this weekend at the Plaza on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, or $539 for the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, or $523 at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., or $515 for the Waldorf Astoria Chicago.

But you can afford my personal favorite San Francisco hotel, the Hotel Carlton on Sutter Street, in what is arguably Lower Nob Hill or the Tenderloin neighborhood. This neighborhood also is remarkably near Market Street (the hotel is an easy walk from the BART stop), Union Square, North Beach, pretty much wherever you are going.

A big plus: the Tenderloin also is where Dashiell Hammett lived and wrote The Maltese Falcon. You could call the neighborhood a character in that classic noir novel.

On my last trip to this hotel, part of the stylish and value conscious Joie de Vivre group, I paid $135 per night. Inclusive of free WiFi, a nightly wine hour and decent in-room coffee. That was for a good sized room.

Who stays at the Hotel Carlton? In my informal study, lots of foreign tourists, frugal hipsters and low budget business travelers. It's a mixed crowd; anybody fits in. And at a price that leaves you plenty to enjoy San Francisco.

The Hotel Carlton is not the exception, it's the rule. In whatever big city you find yourself, know there are going to be smart, fun, budget friendly hotel choices but you have to hunt them out. Do that and you'll enjoy a stay that is friendly on the wallet but, in many cases, you will also get a bigger room and sometimes better service than that dished out by the chains.

In Washington, D.C. a personal favorite is the Washington Plaza, a mid-century modern hotel (designed in 1962 by Morris Lapidus, a noted architect) off Thomas Circle - which puts in within a few short blocks of the White House. This is prime District of Columbia - Dupont Circle is maybe a mile away in one direction, the Hill is a couple miles away in the other direction, and cool Adams Morgan is one and half miles away in a third direction.

The location is wonderfully safe, rooms are big, WiFi is free and nights are often as low as $159.

In Chicago, head to the Felix Hotel, LEED silver certified and downtown. It's less than a half mile from Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza temple and even closer to Mr. Beef on Orleans.

On TripAdvisor, reviews rave about the location and praise for the service and atmosphere are high. The one grumble: many reviewers comment that the rooms are small, but if you plan mainly to be out, drinking and eating and looking at Chicago's art scene, the rooms are plenty big enough to sleep in.

Snag a room for as little as $167.50 this weekend.

New York may be the toughest town for frugal hotel stays. It's a place where $400 rooms outnumber ones below $200. But there are options, and maybe the hippest is the Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx.

Friday and Saturday night are yours for as little as $149.

Operated by the Empire Hotel Group - which runs other boutique New York City hotels such as the Lucerne on the Upper West Side ($293 this weekend) -- the Opera House Hotel is on 149th Street in a classic building that once indeed housed an opera. A Beaux Arts facade distinguishes the architecture.

It's a few feet from a subway station where the 2 (7th Ave. Express) and 5 (Lexington Ave. Express) stop. Getting into prime Manhattan is a matter of minutes.

And know this: when conversation in your group turns, as it inevitably does, to "where are you staying," give the others time to mention Marriotts, Hiltons, and the other ho-hum accommodations open to budget Manhattan guests. The show will stop when you finally say, "I am staying in the South Bronx -- in this cool, converted opera house."

That is game, set, match.

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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