Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Quiet, 43-room hotel in the heart of Times Square -- a very rare find.
Surprisingly, Casablanca resisted the urge to design a theme hotel. Callbacks to the 1942 Bogart film are limited to Rick's Café, some bronze cats in the lounge, a mural of the Casablanca cityscape, and free popcorn all day -- you won't find any movie posters or signed headshots on the walls.
If anything, this 43-room boutique hotel is pretty subdued -- much like its popular sister hotels, the Giraffe Hotel, Library Hotel, and Hotel Elysee (all in New York City). You won't hear any techno music or see guests rushing around at all hours. The entrance is simple, small. It'd be easy to miss if there wasn't a doorman standing beside it. The lobby is little more than the 10 feet of space from the front door to the wooden staircase that leads up to Rick's Cafe. Unlike the movie, Rick's isn't a swanky affair -- rather, it's a fine place to relax and have a coffee while reading the paper.
Excellent service -- they'll strive to make you feel at home.
Great service defines this hotel. The staff aims to make Casablanca feel like a home away from home, partly because its amenities can’t compete with the bigger hotels, like the Marriot Marquis. Service requests are handled promptly. And in a rare turn of personalized hospitality, wake-up calls come from a real person, not an automated recording.
When I arrived, the bellman and receptionist seemed happy to receive a new guest. There is no dedicated concierge, but the front desk staff can secure theater tickets, make restaurant recommendations, and help with other guest requests.
Like its sister hotels, the Giraffe Hotel, Library Hotel, and Hotel Elysee, Casablanca hosts a free wine and cheese reception every evening. As the guests settle into the sofas, a staff member circles the room to see if any guests need another drink.
Right in Times Square, for better or worse.
Casablanca’s biggest draw is that it’s at the heart of Times Square, right where the New Year’s Eve ball drops. This means pulsating lights, nonstop street action, Broadway shows, sidewalk caricatures, and relentless crowds. Because it’s so brightly lit and constantly populated, Times Square is a safe area. However, be wary of comedy club promoters (who can be pesky) and persistent street hawkers. If you’re not interested in their offer, make like a local and ignore them.
Self-parking is available on the same block at Meyers Parking. Guests get a reduced rate of $25 per hour. For other parking options, check out Best Parking.
Times Square is a transportation hub, so it’s easy to get to and from the hotel. The best way to get around is by subway since the 42nd Street station connects to almost every train line. Yellow cabs are everywhere, and car service is easily booked through the front desk.
For good dining in this neighborhood, walk west toward 9th and 10th Avenues (about a five-minute walk). As a general rule, the restaurants get better the farther away they are from the nucleus of Times Square. You'll find fewer tourists, more locals, and a more diverse cuisine.
30 to 90 minutes from three airports.
New York City has three nearby airports: JFK, La Guardia, and Newark (in New Jersey). Flying into JFK or LaGuardia is typically easiest and the least time consuming. From JFK, it's a flat-rate $45 (one-hour) taxi to anywhere in Manhattan. From LaGuardia, it's about a $40 (30-minute) metered cab ride to midtown Manhattan. Rides from Newark cost at least $40 (plus tolls) and can take more than 90 minutes. Don't forget to tip your driver 15 to 25 percent.
If you want to save some cash, group shuttles are available at all three airports for about $14 per person. For more information, go to Super Shuttle or New York Airport Service. You can also take public transit from any of the airports for as little as $7 per person, but it can take up to two hours and involves a lot of lugging bags up and down stairs. For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
Small, simple, and old-fashioned. Some rooms are a good bit noisier than others.
The standard room is small (225 square feet) -- only large enough for a full-size bed -- but that’s typical among New York City hotels. Rather than being Moroccan-themed, the motif comes a bit closer to a not-so-fancy guest room in a country home -- a bright-patterned bedspread; wicker furniture; wooden window shutters. Partial renovations in 2008 gave the rooms new mattresses and Egyptian cotton sheets, but the tiny old tube TV remains. Overall, some guests might just find the look a bit dated.
But rooms are, at least, comfortable and clean and have the essentials -- a telephone, a high-speed Internet cable, and a basic mini-bar. Be careful when perusing the contents of the fridge: A charge is automatically placed on the room account if an item is removed.
For temperature control, there is a ceiling fan, an air conditioner, and a radiator enclosed in a wooden frame. There is a temperature dial in the room, but as the technician who turned on the radiator told me, “It means nothing.” To manage the heat in the room, one has to pull out the wooden case covering the radiator and adjust the knob.
Shiny and clean, the bathroom is the newest-looking part of the room. The space was very narrow, and the shower, sink, and toilet all lined up. The sweet-smelling bath products were from Baronessa Cali, and there was a basket full of cotton balls and cotton buds.
Noise wasn’t an issue as my standard room, Room 500, was on the side of the building and above the hotel courtyard. It’s quiet in that area of the building, but the natural light fades away quickly as the day progresses. Street-facing rooms get more natural light, but some guests have mentioned the outside noise as a problem.
There are four other room options: deluxe room with queen-size bed (250 square feet); premium room with king-size bed (275 square feet); premium room with two double beds (275 square feet – good for a family); and mini-suite (375 square feet), which has a king-size bed or two double beds and a pullout sofa bed – even better for a family. The difference in size and features from one room to the next is small, so pick a room according to which side of the hotel you want to face.
No fitness center on-site, but the hotel provides daily passes to the New York Sports Club, located on 41st Street near 8th Avenue. It’s a short walk across Times Square. The gym has modern equipment, exercise classes, a sauna, and a steam room.
There’s a computer station (a single PC) with a printer located on the second floor. High-speed Wi-Fi is free all over the hotel. My connection on the fifth floor was strong, even without using the Internet cable provided inside the room.
There is a meeting room with a 50-inch flat-screen TV. Use of the room is $100 per hour, with a minimum of two hours per use. Hotel guests receive a 20 percent discount.
DVDs are available for guests to borrow for viewing in their room. The most popular title is -- you guessed it --“Casablanca”. The hotel carries multiple copies of this film. Also in its archive are classic movies set in New York like “Annie Hall” and the more recent “Sex and the City”.
A breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, pastries, yogurt and fresh fruit is included in the stay. Free coffee and popcorn are available all day, and the hotel has a daily wine and cheese reception. Room service is available from Tony’s di Napoli, the Italian restaurant next door.
Families come all the time, although there isn't much for kids beyond some DVDs.
It’s not the biggest space for kids to run around, but at least they won’t knock over anything fragile. There aren't any kids’ activities or a recreation room. There is also no baby-sitting service.
The hotel is a safe place for kids to wander around, but make sure they stay within the building. Times Square gets a lot of traffic, and children without chaperones can get confused by the area’s noise and activity.
Very clean and well maintained, with a top-to-bottom renovation in 2008.
The hotel is kept very clean, especially the bathrooms. The handles are gleaming and the tiles seem brand new. The building is clearly old, but the rooms and the hallways are kept clean. Rooms are tidy and neat, and they don’t smell musty, although the matronly décor would have you think so. The hallway carpet could use an update, but based on how clean the hotel is, don’t be concerned about walking around barefoot. All the guest rooms were renovated in 2008.
Free snacks all day long, plus hearty Italian food next door.
Rick’s Café isn’t quite as swinging as its namesake bar in the movie Casablanca, but it’s a cozy gathering place on the second floor and easily the hotel’s best feature. Every day from 5 to 8 p.m., the lounge has a wine and cheese reception for its guests. It’s a very popular affair, particularly because the hotel actually serves a decent selection. I counted seven types of cheese, ranging from a hard cheddar to a blue cheese. Red, white and Prosecco are on offer, and a server is always on hand to refill your glass.
Breakfast is also served at Rick's. The array of fresh fruit, cereal, pastries, and hard-boiled eggs is a pleasant change from other hotels’ continental breakfast, which is often just bread and jam. For drinks, there’s canned V8, Starbucks coffee, milk, and orange juice. Breakfast is served from 7 to 10 a.m.; on weekends, breakfast tends to run almost until noon. The café also serves popcorn all day, and there’s an espresso machine available 24 hours.
For a real meal, though, you have to head over to Tony’s di Napoli next door. Connected to the hotel by a side door, this Italian restaurant is worth a try. Large columns, low lighting, leather booths, and checkered tablecloths make Tony’s a cross between a family place and a corporate dinner venue. Caricatures of famous people hang on the walls, and the menu is displayed on large painted boards around the dining room. Meals are served family-style, so come with company or a huge appetite. An order of pasta, recommended for two people by our waiter, was actually good for four – or maybe two ravenous diners. It’s not the best Italian restaurant in New York City, but the dishes are generous and hearty, especially for the price. (Entrees average about $20.)
Casablanca offers room service from Tony’s. For lone diners, the room service menu features individual-serving entrees.
A homey boutique in the heart of Times Square, the Casablanca is a small treasure among massive hotels. A daily wine and cheese reception and free breakfast in the cozy lounge add to its charm, and the service is among the best in the city. Rooms are nothing special, but overall, the Casablanca is a great value.