Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Hotel Pennsylvania's Web site claims that it is the "World's Most Popular Hotel," but "World's Most Populated" might better describe the high-traffic interior. All the commotion makes sense; sporting 1,700 rooms, the Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest hotel in Manhattan. Guests, pedestrians apparently taking a shortcut, and patrons of the kitschy gift shops pass through the lobby in droves.
The massive lobby has the feel of Penn Station -- a key transit hub in New York that's right across the street. Vendors sell postcards and T-shirts from shops that surround the lobby.
Chandeliers hang from the ceiling above the elevator bank, but the presence of tacky retailers hawking goofy tourist memorabilia -- think "I <3 NY and FDNY T-shirts and tote bags -- significantly detracts from any regal atmosphere the lobby might otherwise cultivate. In the mid-afternoon, chatter from guests and passersby created a continuous wave of background noise that often surpassed the volume of the jazz music in the background.
This area is packed. A host of high-volume destinations like Madison Square Garden and Macy's, coupled with a massive transit hub at Penn Station, means the location is hectic during the day, but empty at night.
For those unfamiliar with Manhattan geography, Seventh Avenue near 34th Street is in the running -- along with St. Mark's, Astor Place, and Canal and Broadway -- for busiest New York intersection short of Times Square. Hotel Pennsylvania, on 33rd and Seventh, sees foot traffic that falls just short of insanity. Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, Liberty, and Rangers, and host to top-selling musical performers, is right across the street. Amtrak, Greyhound Buses, the Long Island Railroad, the PATH Train, and the New Jersey Transit, not to mention the 1, 2, 3 and A, C, E subway lines, all connect at Penn Station. The Herald Square subway station connecting to the B, D, F, M and N, Q, and R lines on Sixth Avenue brings even more traffic. Throw in Macy's, one of the world's largest department stores, one block away, and the result is a surging crowd in constant motion, right at Hotel Pennsylvania's front door.
The high pedestrian volume brings with it a diverse crowd. As I was photographing the exterior of the hotel, several panhandlers approached me to ask for spare change and cigarettes. Many more walked by or lay huddled against the hotel walls. Businessmen talked on cell phones and asked the doorman to flag down cabs for them. A young man was scouting the location for a music video, and the crowd parted around a scattering of tourists who had stopped to photograph Madison Square Garden and the nearby Empire State Building .
With so many people to cater to, the hotel's surrounding area offers an equally broad array of goods and services. The Manhattan Mall on the same block, around the corner from the hotel's front entrance, contains such conventional stores as Aeropostale, Hallmark, and Sunglass Hut. On the street, hotdog vendors abound. A dreadlocked merchant was selling glassware on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street, and one block north, 33rd Street Book and Video Center, a porn shop and home of Peep World, advertised its "new booths" with red neon-lit pride.
In terms of attractions, the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, as well as the theater district, are a 15-minute walk away. A seven-minute ride on the subway will land visitors at the southern edge of Central Park.
Safety-wise, the area is packed during the day, but thins out dramatically late at night, and isn't the best-lit neighborhood. As with almost any neighborhood in New York, I'd advise against strolling around poorly lit areas alone late at night, but the Hotel Pennsylvania's neighborhood isn't particularly violent or dangerous.
30-90 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 (one-hour) $45 flat-rate taxi ride to anywhere in Manhattan. From LaGuardia, it's about a (30-minute) $40 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 15-25 percent.
To save some cash, try the group shuttles that are available at all three airports for about $14/person. For more information on the shuttles, 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 travel can take up to two hours and involve a lot of lugging bags up and down stairs. For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
Outdated and generic, with worn furnishings, tacky bedspreads, and drab coloring -- but at least they're big. The Penn 5000 Suite has better electronics.
The fitness center is spacious and well-maintained with a variety of equipment. Penn 5000 Club members get access to a pleasant, free business center, while others must pay to use a computer or print.
The on-site restaurant and bar, Lindy's, is overpriced, but City Perk is a decent café. Guests should plan to eat elsewhere.
A massive, 1,700-room hotel, the Penn is in a prime location next to Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building. Though there's a decent fitness center on site, the hotel ends up not being a good deal, despite the reasonable rates -- the hectic pace, street traffic (even inside the giant lobby), and worn, dated rooms add up to a poor value.