A cheap way to stay in the BIG APPLE
New York City — There is a revolution in the land, and it finally has come to New York, where it was needed most. The Hiltons, Sheratons, Hyatts, and other giants have not felt the rumbling yet, indeed they may never feel it, but the bed and breakfast wave is bound to benefit the rest of us.
While B&B, as its founders, the British, call it, was inching across the US, spreading through the Bay Area, and even leaping the Pacific to Hawaii, it wasn't until July 1980 that it took any kind of hold in Gotham. That was when two enterprising Manhattan women, Mary McAulay and Frances Dworan, decided something had to be done about the crush of tourists and lack of reasonably priced lodging in New York.
Their B&B service, Urban Ventures (322 Central Park West, N.Y. 10025,  662-1234), now has 80 apartments, town houses, lofts, and sundry other city spaces that rent for as low as $25 and seldom for more than $40 double. Most are in Manhattan, a few are in Brooklyn, and all are as diverse as the denizens who have landed in this city. If there is a disproportionate share of B&B dwellings on the Upper West Side, it is because Mary McAulay and Frances Dworan live in and have influence in this polyglot district.
"I think half of our 80 places are on the West Side," said Mrs. McAulay the other morning. And why not? We advertised in city and national magazines, but it's in this neighborhood that I'm known. I'm president of the 92nd Street Block Association and I'm active in local politics.Some of our guests look askance, I guess you'd call it, at staying around here, they think it's too far from midtown, too unknown, but in the end they thank us for showing them a new part of town, for showing them Zabar's." Zabar's is an exotic foods store on Broadway that vies with the American Museum of Natural History for the most popular landmark on the Upper West Side.
Mrs. McAulay said the 80 who have signed up as B&B hosts are generally of three types: "Older people with big apartments who can't afford to move out but need help with the rent money, young people in the arts -- singers, dancers, writers, etc., -- who need a little cash to get them through to the next job, and once-married women who may have a child around on weekends but who have an extra bedroom or two to fill."
Though some of the B&B are well removed from midtown, in colorful neighborhoods and in dwellings many suburbanites have never dreamed of occupying , Mary McAulay is quick to say that guests are better off than they would be in established hotels. "I think apartments are safer than hotels," she said. "People who live here know they must have the very best security. Another advantage is that two of the areas where we have a lot of B&B places, the Village and Upper West Side, have almost no hotels. This way, parents can stay in the neighborhood with their daughters, and as you know the West Side and Village have a heavy concentration of daughters."
Sons and daughters both, I reminded her. One block from my own Upper West Side apartment, it turned out, lives one of the B&B hosts who belongs to the young-people-in-the- arts-who-need-cash category. It is a five- flight walkup that rents for $26 a night. The tenant-host (who requested anonymity) is a free-lance editor of encyclopedias and dictionaries who works in the back room during the day and then goes to another apartment in the neighborhood to sleep. So a guest, after 5 p.m. and until 9 the next morning, has the place to himself.
His B&B dwellers tend to be away during the day seeing the city, but the editor rather looks forward to their company when they drop in. "You're really isolated as a free- lance editor -- sometimes I miss the office contacts," he said. "And I like to know what travelers are up to. I've been one myself." The bedroom was simple and unadorned, by design. "I guess you could say it's bare," said the editor, "but when I traveled in Europe I didn't particularly appreciate seeing family pictures or knicknacks on the wall. That's one thing you can say for metals -- they make themselves empty so you can fill up the place with your own imagination in a few hours."
Patricia Sheridan, another B&B free-lancer, rents part of her loft in the area called Tribeca (for Triangle Below Canal Street), a new Bohemia just west of Soho. She is trying to succeed as a pop singer, which may mean you will come home in the afternoon and hear her belting out a little Piaf. "I had a mother and daughter visiting from Long Island, and they came back in the middle of a rehearsal, sat down with some tea and took it all in," said Ms. Sheridan who always has security and companionship in the form of her two Dalmations, Micah and Mocha. She charges $25, but adds $2.50 for a continental breakfast. B&B, then, is a slight misnomer under the Urban Ventures aegis. Breakfast may be just a beverage, or nothing at all.
At Jason Ricter's roomy West Side apartment, a breakfast of toast or rolls, coffee or tea is provided in the $35 double rate. Mr. Ricter has taken time off from his job as a display designer for the B. Altman & Co. department store to write a musical. "I have six rooms, and my guests are free to wander. They can use the dining room, living room, the fridge. It's all rather homey. And if you want to jog, the Central Park Reservoir is practically out the door."
He may not sound like a man in the vanguard of a revolution, but so he is. And the movement has only begun.