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.
A bustling lobby full of international and domestic travelers -- most waiting to check in -- has a hurried atmosphere.
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. 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, Esubway 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.
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.
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, flat-rate taxi ride to anywhere in Manhattan. From LaGuardia, it's about a 30-minute metered cab ride to Midtown Manhattan. Rides from Newark 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 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.