Micro-hotels: Small on size, big on innovation

By Dean McCoubrey

I love the way travel continues to re-invent itself. New trends include green travel, grassroots experiential holidays, and volunteer travel, to name a few. Even in the last half-decade alone many tourists have rejected hotels in favour of Airbnb, and dropped shuttles and tour operators in favour of Uber. Pure disruption.

But this one I didn’t expect. Space has always been a premium – in our homes, our hotel rooms, and even in our offices. But as property prices have spiked, and business and leisure travellers have been forced to adapt, square metrage is not the luxury it used to be, at least in some circles.

Space can be traded for WiFi, hipster-cool interiors, or the proximity to attractions and entertainment, given the fact we spend so much of our time in meetings or “seizing the day.”

On my recent trip to New York, I decided to jump ship from the luxury 5-star suites to test the rising trend of micro-hotels that are popping up in major cities around the world. Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris, Brussels all now host brands like Citizen M, Arlo Hotels, Freehand, and The Pod – the common denominator among them being a decision to go small on room size, but big on cool.

At The Arlo Soho in New York, the entrance is unpretentious, masking the moments of brilliance inside. As you enter, a surprisingly unfussy reception sits on one side, frenetic with millennial energy, tapping keyboards and shelves lined with Arlo “merch”, and a mini-deli and colourful candy store grab your attention on the other. Quite an intro.

Down the corridor, you pass the dimly lit bar with laptops ajar beaming blue light onto intense faces and peaked caps, as an array of artists, developers, musicians and entrepreneurs find themselves lost in collaboration or unlimited free WiFi. An eye-popping courtyard garden with glasshouses to brainstorm alongside co-creators, lies adjacent to the lounge-TV-presenting room, CNN news on loop in the background.

The restaurant, also opening out to the year-round courtyard full of blossom, is a classic upmarket diner. Serving throughout the day, options include a great American (but also healthy) buffet breakfast, through to lunch and dinner items like grilled chicken wings or Mezze platter, followed by double cheeseburger or sea bass, with a quinoa salad. I loved the meatless meatballs.

The room is indeed rather small, as promised. But the intelligence of its spatial design finds the bed nestled, neatly and cosily, in an oak-panelled cube, a TV hovering over the foot, and a view over Hudson Street – sufficient perks to ensure I didn’t really need to be anywhere else.

The overall buzz of Arlo’s common areas acts as the backdrop to work, or socialise, or live the millennial dream, even if you’re a mid-lifer like me. A simple glass cube for the shower toilet was fine – that really isn’t a focus of mine – but if you love a bath, The Arlo isn’t for you.

I had a packed work itinerary for my 72 hours in New York, but I do suggest the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of The Rockefeller for a celebratory drink, a late show at the Comedy Cellar (117 MacDougal Street), and a helicopter flip (www.flynyon.com) to feel the power of one of the world’s most enthralling cities. But ironically, the greatest highlight was an escape into the sanctuary of The Langham Hotel’s Chuan Body & Soul Spa (400 Fifth Avenue). In Chinese, ‘Chuan’ means flowing water which is seen to be the source of life in Chinese culture; a key to keeping mind, body and soul in balance, signifying the beginning of a wellness journey.

New York can be all-consuming from the endless phone calls, the swarm of pedestrians, the painful nag of slow traffic in a yellow cab, and meetings that demand your full attention, but as I passed through the Chuan Spa’s ‘Moon Gate’ I vanished into the serenity of the space and all fell gloriously silent. The pace and attention of the host and masseuse, Daniel and Olivia, shone like a beacon in a frenetic metropolis, and the 60-minute soothing Harmony treatment literally drew me back down to my own rhythm and set me on my feet again, for another day. This is an experience I recommend for either a business or leisure trip, arguably a necessity to meet the demands of Manhattan.

And on that final note of restoration, at 240 USD to 550 USD the Arlo Soho, Nomad or Hudson Hotels, sit in the mid-price range but offer a stunning base wrapped neatly in a hipster bundle to use as a springboard to venture into the city. A place to feel young if you’re older, or show your versatility if you’re an up-and-coming, a flexible workspace to do business, a compact pod to rest your head – before you catapult yourself back into The Big Apple to take a healthy bite out of everything it has on offer.

Arlo Greenhouse Workspace

Arlo Studio