Review: Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC

This hotel has received the worst reviews that I’ve ever read. Period. They are so terrible as to be comical, and yet, since my mother booked this hotel for our five-night stay in New York City, non-refundable, without checking with me first, it has caused me no small amount of anxiety.

Right across from Penn Station and Madison Gardens. You can see the entrance on the right.

Hotels are so expensive in NYC that when this pop-up ad appeared in her browser, and she saw that the Hotel Pennsylvania was centrally located (it is mentioned in reviews often that reviewers consider the location the only good thing) and the cheapest deal she could find, she booked it.

I’ve shared this hilarity with friends and family members, who have taken to reading the reviews regularly. The amazing thing is that the bad reviews keep coming. This isn’t a one-time thing. They appear every day. My pal, John, sent me this morsel:

First time in NY for business I was so disappointed. It was DISGUSTING !!! Most of their personnel were not pleasant except one guy (who didn’t seem surprised I wanted to be reimbursed)!… My room was a non smoking room but I found cigarette butts next to my bed…. The room was sooo dirty as well as the bathroom (rusty, dirty, moldy, towels with old hairs in…)… I was meant to have a “renovated” room, the photos on the website were nice but apparently a big JOKE. I can’t even believe a hotel like that is even open… the hallways smelt, dirty windows (I could hardly see out my window), thin walls! Met a girl who had a RAT in her room !!! Everyone I spoke to wasn’t pleased… Seriously do not stay at this hotel !!!!

In fact, this is a recurring theme. Not in every review, but say every 15 or 20 or so, someone has had a rat in their room. Or more often they try to check into their room and there are still people in it, or it isn’t made up, or they were unable to resolve a complaint with the staff, or they were really, really disturbed at the dirt or how run-down the place is. I’ve been singing snippets of ‘Hotel California’ in the days leading up to checking in (‘such a lovely place, such a lovely place… you can check-out any time you like but you can never leave’).

So, here’s my review: the hotel is huge. In fact, it’s the fourth largest hotel in New York City with 1,700 rooms. It has a huge lobby, which is clean and shiny, but with so many people in it at all times, it looks like a train station.

There are often lines out the door to check-in, hundreds of people, apparently, who are too tired from travelling to try their luck with the automated check-in machines. I’d heard that the rooms on the upper floors are renovated and marginally better though others have said don’t pay for an upgrade, because it’s not worth it. A friend suggested bribing whoever was at check-in for a better room.

Instead, there was a short line when I checked in (exactly at 3pm, hoping I’d have good luck). I laid out all my charm, and dropped the hint that it was my 82-year-old mom’s first time in NYC and boy, were we excited! The woman at check-in recommended a fifth floor room, which would have bigger beds. I did ask whether the top floors weren’t more comfortable but she said the fifth floor was fine.

Ascending one of the dozen elevators (necessary, with so many people; sometimes there’s a wait to get up and down, and we often needed to wait for an elevator with space), the floors of the hotel are a bit rundown and certainly old style.

In the dim light, I can see what reviewers say about it looking a bit Bates Motel. The effect is added when you find these weird metal shields on each door. What are these?

The area around the bathroom door is damaged and ugly and there is some damage inside the bathroom. I had to wipe off a bit of either mucus or blood from the shower curtain and wall. The shower has had the opposite problem to the other hotels I’ve stayed at in NYC. Instead of there being too little pressure, this one is so strong, I’m surprised to not have to call out search and rescue to find my mother who has been washed away into the Hudson River. But there are no rats in the room.

And there are nasty marks and damage around some of the walls… and there’s a terrible smell in the hallway and in the entrance to the room, perhaps some disinfectant, or something else. But there are no rats in our room.

And the windows are so dirty, it’s hard to tell the weather outside. And I had to clean the window sills before I could put anything on them, because they were dusty and dirty. But there are no rats in our room.

The walls indeed are thin. The neighbours on the first afternoon felt like they were in the room, and then again… at 3am. But miraculously, after that, we didn’t hear the neighbours at all. And there are no rats in our room.

And then, consider: the room is big. The beds are at least double beds, perhaps short queen-sized. Mom’s bed is fine. The mattress on mine is uneven and squeaky. But the TV is big and it’s a perfectly fine place to spend time when not exploring the city, and even though the hotel literature says that you have to pay for wireless, they give you a password, so it’s free!

Also, a rather big surprise. I was expecting the fitness centre to be terrible (just because) and it’s big and functional. You can apparently also use a nearby fitness centre for a nominal cost.

The wonderful thing about having one’s expectations lowered so much is that you’re happy when the worst doesn’t happen. So why so many terrible reviews? I can guess that when people have OK experiences with the hotel, they are less likely to review it. The sheer number of people coming in and out means that there are a lot of people who may give the place a bad review. It’s such an international clientele here, that I wonder whether the Indians and Spanish speakers and Europeans would be less likely to either leave reviews at all or use the same review sites (I’ve been mainly checking Trip Advisor).

In any case, for the price, and because there are no rats (or bedbugs) in the room, I’m happy with our stay here. As reported, the location is perfect. Easy to get trains, to walk everywhere, and to get to Newark Airport since it’s next to Penn Station.

Would I recommend it? Hell no! But hey: There weren’t any rats in the room.

On the other hand, there are rats all over NYC

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6 Responses to Review: Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC

  1. Steven says:

    This hotel is dank. No question. I’m not even sure dank is a strong enough word. Repulsive, even. But you know what? I absolutely love this place. And the only reason why is because I’ve been studing the history of this godforsaken hell hole for nearly a decade now. I volunteer for the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society, which explains why I’m one of the few human beings who could possibly have a reaction to the building that isn’t instant projectile vomit. In the early 2000’s the hotel was threatened with demolition for the construction of an ugly and absurdly tall office building, hence the formation of the (pretty much powerless) Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society. We lost. But the project was put on hold for now.

    This hotel wasn’t always a rat infested, prostitute-filled, fleabag. It was one of, if not the most posh and important hotels in Manhattan. I can’t lecture you on this in detail because this would turn into the equivalent of a doctorate dissertation, but this place used to be stunning. Virtually nothing you saw in the building is even remotely close to how it used to look (except for those creepy guest room doors which are original from the day the building opened [they’re called Servidors, look them up, it’s actually a genius invention and was a luxurious accommodation]). The lobby you walked into used to be two stories high, had a massive stained glass skylight, was flanked with huge white fluted columns and was designed to show the wealth and power of the Pennsylvania Railroad (who built the hotel [which is why it’s across the street from Penn Station, which was originally built in 1910 {you should also check that out. Its demolition in the 60s was considered the greatest architectural loss in American history}]). Back to the hotel, those original columns are hiding under those mirror and marble columns you see today. This is a recurring theme in the building. In the early 1980s the building was raped-I mean “renovated” to become more modern and therefore more profitable. Unfortunately it backfired and turned the building into an outdated, bland bohemoth with little reason to exist. Check out the hotels Wikipedia page for some shots of what the buidling used to look like. If this was 1925 and you told someone you just stayed at Hotel Pennsylvania, you would probably make them take a dump in their pants because you just stayed at one of the most impressive buildings in America. Your comment about this building being huge is funny because the hotel was the largest in the world from 1919-1928

    My only reason for this unnecessary rambling is basically just to bring light to the fact that this hotel was once a stunner, and has quite a lot of historical and engineering feats to its name. New York greed just erased that from the world’s memory. It’s nice to inform people that this place used to matter a lot. Anyway, I’m happy to hear your stay didn’t involve you catching an STD. You’re a brave soul. If for some reason I peaked your interest and you want to know more about Midtown’s Monster, shoot me an email. But definitely check out those old pictures. You’re not going to believe them.

    • andyq says:

      Steven! I don’t think the rambling was unnecessary; I think it was wonderful. So interesting to hear about the history of this amazing building and see the photos on the Wikipedia page. It did look pretty magnificent. Thanks for writing and sharing your knowledge.

  2. Todd says:

    The metal shields on the door used to open. They were for suits. A businessman would put his suit in the door and then a valet would come with a key during the night, take the suit and press it, and replace it before the morning. You also used to be able to arrive by train, have your baggage directly transferred from the train to your hotel, and vice versa on leaving. Your bags would go directly from your train compartment to your hotel room and then back when you left. No shleping bags around. Those were the days.

  3. Ken Attenhofer says:

    I stayed at the hotel in the early 60’s and the rooms weren’t that much better than now. When you went to the downstairs restaurant, they forced everyone to wear a tie. Loaned us a couple of dingy ties to get in. When you got to your floor, your door key was kept in a closet with an attendant sitting there to give it to you! AC was a rattling device under the window. The same ac units seem to still be there. Most of the windows opened into an air shaft, no way to see anything but the brick wall. How this hotel hasn’t burned down from all the loose electrical outlets, I don’t know. I would love to see the basement. Probably have electrical’s labeled Edison CO! I check the reviews every couple of years to see what people are saying!

  4. Keith Rainbow says:

    A grand entrance with its pillars and flags made you feel importance upon arrival. Countless stories were surely told during its century old reign. Great location for those attending an event at MSG.
    I had a comfortable stay in 2018 and it was also light on my pocket. After reading many reviews that included warnings of huge rats on premises, I cautiously booked a room.
    Thus the first night not totally shocked, out of the corner of my eye, I caught one of the infamous bastards scurry along the baseboard. So the next day thinking that I could fix this annoyance I purchased a rat trap and some cheese. That night I set the boobytrap with visions of helping rid my room of any intruders. The next morning to my surprise I was shocked to see my efforts had been thwarted as the cheese was gone and the trap had not been tripped. Those sneaky buggers had made a fool of me.
    I am sure that although I was a guest, these hairy creatures remained unruly residents.

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