Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
In operation since 1931, the Franklin Hotel embraces the romance of prewar Gotham, when the city was at the height of its Art Deco glamour and the skyscraper race raged between the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. Current owners The Willow Group (also behind New York's Shoreham and Mansfield) revamped the 50-room hotel when they took over a few years ago. They added luxury upgrades and amenities like Bulgari toiletries and rain-head showers but stayed true to the hotel's original charm by restoring such features as the beautiful brass banisters in the Otis elevator. But the tiny rooms are also a result of honoring the building’s original structure.
The reception area is split into three rooms. Guests first walk into a front desk space about the same size as the foyer of a classic Upper East Side apartment building, with the receptionist sitting behind a dark-wood desk that would hold the downstairs security in nearby apartments. To the left of the desk, a tiny, quaint alcove boasts built-in bookshelves and a retro black rotary phone. To the right, a short hallway leads guests into a sitting room lit by the building’s large front window; a chessboard and free copies of the New York Times and the New York Observer offer options for whiling away a weekend afternoon. At the other end of the hallway, a cozy breakfast room encourages guests to get to know each other while availing themselves of the massive 24-hour espresso and cappuccino machine.
More like a B&B than a hotel, the Franklin lacks a bar but offers a free breakfast and wine-and-cheese reception in the breakfast room. Hotel guests mingle in the morning over fresh French pastries, and in the afternoon over glasses of white wine and Brie brought in from a gourmet cheese purveyor.
Most guests appear to be couples on holiday, in town to take in an exhibit at the Met (seven blocks away) or the rest of what Museum Mile has to offer. The manager mentioned that they cater to a lot of European tourists looking for a well-priced hotel that serves as more of a base from which to explore nearby cultural offerings. Most of their time is spent out and about, taking in the city.
The Old World allure extends into the service, with free shoe shines and personal letters on the pillow. Staff is polite and pleasant.
Service was excellent, excusing some minor blips -- the front desk failed to mention the free shoe shines or passes to the New York Sports Club. By and large, I found that the hotel's Old World allure extends well into the service. The iHome alarm clock radio was tuned to a classical music station when I opened my door. A letter addressed to me from the hotel manager was left on my pillow, inviting me to the complimentary continental breakfast and the afternoon wine-and-cheese reception. Breaking open the sealed envelope and reading the letter typed on hotel stationery made me feel like I was in some other grand era in New York City, when people wrote letters on personal stationery. When people wrote letters, period.
When I called down for ice, it came to my room in less than 10 minutes.
Check-out was seamless. The receptionist asked me if I needed help with my bags, and how I enjoyed my stay.
The Upper East Side is a quieter section of Manhattan, more known for its museums and stately apartment buildings (many former mansions of Manhattan’s rich and famous) than any party-till-dawn nightlife. Evening activities are more centered on restaurant outings and a few drinks at the local pub.
The Franklin is on East 87th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. Lexington and Third are two of the more populated, busier streets on the Upper East Side, with people going in and out of the subway on Lexington pretty frequently and the plethora of restaurants, stores, and bars on both streets bringing in lots of evening foot traffic.
The 4, 5, and 6 subway lines stop at 86th and Lexington, about a block and a half from the hotel. The 4 and 5 are express lines (stopping only at major stations like 59th Street, Grand Central, and 14th Street), and they make it easy to get downtown on the east side fairly quickly. Crosstown and the Upper West Side are easily accessed by hailing a cab on the corner of Lexington or Third. Cabs cost $2.50 plus .$40 for each additional mile; a trip to the Natural History Museum (on the other side of Manhattan, at Central Park West and 79th Street ) is about $5.
The hotel is well-situated for those who want to check out all the museums on the Upper East Side, with Museum Mile Museum Mile about three avenue blocks west, on Fifth Avenue and running from 82nd to 105th Streets. Museum Mile is home to many of the city’s finest cultural institutions, from the design-oriented Cooper-Hewitt Museum to the modern-art focused Whitney and Guggenheim. Those interested in learning more about 20th century German and Austrian design can head to the Neue Galerie, the closest museum to the hotel (four blocks west). Home to more than 2 million works of art -- including the stunning Temple of Dendur -- the Met is about eight blocks away.
Around the corner from the hotel is the Loews Orpheum 7, showing all the latest blockbuster films.
Many of Madison Avenue’s famously upscale shops are located about 2 1/2 blocks west, running from 59th to 71st Streets. Head over for an afternoon of window-shopping at designer boutiques like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, or luxury department store Barneys New York.
A cab ride from any of the three nearby airports will cost at least $40, plus tip. Save money with a group shuttle or public transportation.
New York City has three nearby airports: JFK, LaGuardia, 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 percent to 25 percent.
To save some cash, try the group shuttles that are available at all three airports for about $14 per 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.
Rooms are small, but extremely stylish (like most of the Willow Group's hip boutiques). Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings, the hallway room numbers are spelled out in European mosaic tiles, and the rooms are all decorated withDeborah Turbeville’s black-and-white fashion photography.
TripAdvisor reviewers frequently complain about how tiny some of the rooms are, so I expected to not so much walk into my room as crawl into a hobbit hole and sleep under an oompah loompah-sized blanket. I did find my superior queen to be on the small side, but at least on par with most NYC hotel rooms. I must admit that I couldn’t open the closet door all the way lest it hit the desk, and while I found the skinny alcove that housed the bathroom sink kind of cute, I cannot imagine a larger-sized person negotiating that narrow a space so easily.
Upgrades are well worth it. If booking a stay here, I emphatically suggest reserving one of the two larger rooms (the superior queen and the executive king) and to steer clear of the petite queen. The petite queen's bathroom is not large enough to accommodate the sink, so it’s plunked down in the bedroom itself. Instead of a closet, expect a shallow, full-length cabinet.
Guests often find that the charming decor of the rooms -- the chandeliers, the cool vintage fashion photography, the handsome dark-wood furniture -- somewhat makes up for their size. Katherine and Robert Barendson, a couple I met at the wine-and-cheese reception, admitted that that though they were initially "confused by the lack of closet" in their room, they were "amazed by the cuteness." Visiting from Amsterdam, they were pleased to find the front desk equipped with European adaptor plugs.
The excellent amenities don’t hurt either. A small closet in my room housed an iron, a safe, an umbrella, new slippers, and a microfiber bathrobe. Small poems could be written about how soft and lovely my robe was; too bad there was only one of them in the closet, a little odd for a two-person room.
The bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari toiletries and the bathtubs feature rainfall showerheads. The beds (ranging from queen to king) are covered in pillow-top mattresses and 300-count Egyptian cotton linens.
Each room is equipped with a high-definition Dell flat-screen TV, an iHome alarm clock radio (compatible with the iPod). The TV features basic channels and a few cable options (Bravo, Fox Movie Channel), plus pay-per-view.
A window air-conditioning unit has a temperature-monitoring thermostat and an energy-saving option.
There is no fridge, but the rooms are stocked with a minibar's supply of Gleneagles water, regular and diet Coca-Cola, Louis Jadot wine, snacks, and extra toiletries. The Franklin also offers "private bar bottle service," where they will bring one 350-milliliter bottle of premium liquor (Grey Goose, Tanqueray, Johnny Walker Black, or Bacardi Silver), ice, glasses, and a selection of mixers for $40. That’s a significant markup for a bottle of booze—guests might fare better heading to the Mister Wright Fine Wines and Liquors about three blocks up (Third Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets) where they can get a whole liter of Grey Goose for less, or the Best Cellars around the corner (Lexington between 86th and 87th Streets) for a $12 bottle of wine.
Guests get free Wi-Fi in the room, free breakfasts, free wine and cheese each evening, and free passes to the New York Sports Club. A massive espresso-and-coffee machine is always available in the breakfast room.
There’s free Wi-Fi in all rooms and in the lobby, a pretty notable plus as many pricier hotels still charge for daily Internet use.
A continental breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends. There is also a wine-and-cheese reception every day from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Both are considered complimentary but some TripAdvisor commenters wondered if they were paying for it via the $12 service fee tacked onto their bill. The hotel manager I spoke with said it was a general hotel service fee that many hotels incorporate into the price, “and the guest ends up paying taxes on it. We simply itemize it out for the guest to see.”
A massive industrial espresso and coffee machine in the breakfast room allows caffeine addicts to sip cappuccinos 24 hours a day. I didn't see any coffeemaker in my room, but who needs it when there's that idiot-proof monster downstairs? A push of the button and I had Starbucks-perfect foam.
Admittedly, the 24-hour complimentary business center is more of a business nook. A Vaio computer with free Internet access is set up in one of the shelves, and the other shelf houses old-looking volumes of books. A retro-style rotary dial phone sits atop a tiny table with its own built-in mini bookshelf. The hotel will fax anything for free.
There is no gym, but guests can get complimentary day passes from the front desk to two New York Sports Clubs: one around the block at 86th Street and Third Avenue, and one about four blocks away at 91st Street and Third Avenue. With 55 locations throughout the city, New York Sports Club is a popular gym choice for many New Yorkers. Members find that the huge four-floor location on 86th doesn’t lack for cardio equipment, and some of it even comes with individual TVs and fans attached. It’s also large enough to hold five squash courts but doesn’t have a pool. Franklin guests will need to venture over to the 91st and Third location if they’d like to get some swimming in.
The bathrooms were renovated in 2007, and the tub still shines. But I'd also have to attribute this to a meticulous housecleaning crew. As far as New York hotels go, it is among the cleanest. I could see my reflection in the bathroom tiles. Every fixture gleamed.
The extreme cleanliness extended to the bedroom, where there wasn’t a speck of dust on anything.
The Franklin is not ideal for a family. Tiny rooms offer little space for a rollaway bed, and most of the kid-friendly museums are on the west side.
I did see a family during my stay at the Franklin, enjoying the free morning buffet with their kids. But overall I find this is a hotel more geared toward romantic getaways or cultural excursions. The small rooms with limited closet space do not particularly lend themselves to families.
Furthermore, the elevator’s from 1931; it's not ideal for kids to do that thing where they jump up quickly when the elevator stops to feel the gravitational nuttiness of it all. While I loved the elevator and felt very safe on it, the mere idea frightened me.
The hotel staff does try to do its part to accommodate larger families -- blocking out rooms next to each other and making recommendations on the best room type. Cribs and rollaway beds are available for an additional $50 a night (but I’m unsure of where guests who reserve anything smaller than the executive king would put them). The front desk can also arrange a baby-sitting service.
The hotel is in a safe neighborhood, with Central Park about three and a half blocks to the west. But most of the kid-friendly museums (the Museum of Natural History, Hayden Planetarium, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan) are on the west side of the park, not the east. A few excellent kid-friendly dining options do lie within just a few blocks of the hotel. Families will love the Lexington Candy Shop three blocks down, a diner serving old-fashioned malts and ice cream sodas since 1925. And four blocks away on Second Avenue and 83rd Street is Tony’s Di Napoli,an Italian restaurant known for its huge family-size portions of baked ziti, ravioli, and other red-sauce favorites.
There's no on-site restaurant, but the Franklin does offer free pastries in the morning. Order room service from the so-so Italian restaurant on the corner, or walk to one of the many excellent neighborhood restaurants.
The continental breakfast features minicroissants, crunchy fresh baguettes, and other pastries from well-regarded downtown patisserie shop Ceci-Cela. Jams, butter, cereal, and fresh fruit juices are also served.
The free wine-and-cheese reception goes on from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., but at 6 it looked like I had arrived too late to the party: The cheese offerings were basically reduced to a few slices of goat cheese and the occasional lonely dried apricot. This is apparently not an anomaly, as one TripAdvisor reviewer noted, "What I loved was the continental breakfast and the evening wine and cheese. BUT they ran out of most items nearly every day for both events -- well before the ending times." Get there at 5 and maybe one can enjoy more of the delicious selection the hotel orders in from Artisanal.
There’s room service, sort of, but this is basically just delivery from the corner Italian restaurant, Bella Cucina, a restaurant that Yelp reviewers seem to find pretty average. When I dialed 23 for room service, an employee at the front desk said that I had an old menu and then gave me what appeared to be Bella Cucina's delivery line.
My chicken Caesar salad was tasty and the dressing was real. But the chicken was cold; it took almost an hour for the food to arrive. Other than the fact that the dishes were brought up to my room on a silver platter, I felt like I could have just ordered delivery from an area restaurant and saved myself the 18% service fee and $5 delivery charge.
With such a variety of dining options nearby, I’d be tempted to eat anywhere but my hotel room. For those who feel strongly about their strudel, the Neue Galerie’s elegant Café Sabarsky turns out excellent Viennese pastries and strong lattes to go with them (and diners don’t have to pay the gallery admission price to eat at the café). For French bistro fare like mussels and steak frites, there’s Jacques Brasserie, two blocks down on East 85th Street and Third Avenue. Families looking for full bang for the buck can head to Tony’s Di Napoli, an Italian restaurant with family-size servings of fettuccine Alfredo. And for that classic New York hot dog, look no further than Papaya King around the block.
Small pets (less than 30 pounds) are allowed with no additional charge. However, a refundable deposit is required.
Pets are allowed, as long as they are less than 30 pounds. And here’s a sweet plus: There’s no additional charge for having one, which is pretty rare for an NYC hotel. The guest’s credit card is authorized for an additional $100 upon arrival for any possible damages incurred. At check-out the room is inspected and if there’s no damage, the $100 hold is released.
Central Park is five blocks away and visitors can let their dogs off the leash before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.; there are also 23 dog-friendly areas throughout the park, where pets and their owners gather to meet and greet. Carl Schurz Park is about five blocks away at East 86th Street and East End Avenue; it has two dog runs.
Guests with allergies can rest assured that pets are limited to certain floors.
Located in the quiet, classy Upper East Side -- close to Central Park, but far from NYC's best dining and nightlife -- the 1930s-era Franklin brings old Gotham romance into a modern boutique. Rooms are small but stylish and come with free Wi-Fi and excellent Bulgari toiletries. High-quality free breakfasts make it a great pick outside the tourist zone.