Visitors to New York City often lament a fate as predictable as the lights on Broadway: Reasonably priced hotels offer drab accommodations, while hotels at the higher end of the scale provide bedroom suites for an astronomical price. Tourists and businessmen return home talking not about the glamour of the city but how much they paid for their hotel. Little known to many disgruntled visitors is an extensive bed-and-breakfast system in New York City. It specializes in everything from business accommodations conveniently situated near Wall Street to tourist lodgings in the offbeat and historic neighborhoods of SoHo and Brooklyn Heights. Whole apartments are available in elegant brownstones on Manhattan's Upper East Side, near Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile, home to the Metropolitan, Frick, and Guggenheim Museums.
``There are two major reasons why people choose to go to a bed and breakfast in New York,'' says Dee Staff-Nielson, founder of the three-year-old City Lights, Bed and Breakfast Ltd.
``They are really tired of the impersonality of hotels, and the cost is less.''
Matching quality with quality, Ms. Staff-Nielson estimates that an unhosted apartment costs 50 percent less than a hotel suite. In a bed-and-breakfast situation, hosts provide a continental breakfast and often interact with the guests. Unhosted apartments leave visitors on their own.
Standards for these lodgings are high, and Staff-Nielson outlines strict criteria for the city dwellers who open their homes to guests. Cleanliness is a given, but aesthetic considerations and the host's personality also play major roles. Most hosts are professionals - judges, actors, psychologists, even a former consul general.
``We're dealing with the upper socioeconomic strata of New York, who enjoy hosting,'' says Staff-Nielson.
One apartment offered through City Lights and Breakfast is described as follows:
``Delightfully `Villagy' both inside and out, this charming accommodation on a quaint street in Greenwich Village is hosted by a well-traveled writer. It is suitable for a couple, but the entire apartment is also available for three persons - double bed in bedroom, sofa-bed in living room. The house is on a romantic inner courtyard bordering on one of New York's most beautiful restaurants.''
``We're not placing people in spaces. We're placing them in a home, and it has to feel like a home,'' says Staff-Nielson.
``Even if it is unhosted, it can't just be a room with furniture,'' she adds. Staff-Nielson has accommodated guests from across the nation as well as from Moscow, Algiers, London, and Copenhagen.
The five-year-old Hosts and Guests places its emphasis on New York's business world. Founder David Gottlieb spent 20 years in the antiquarian book business. It was during that time that he came up with the idea for a bed and breakfast in New York City. ``I was plainly appalled at the hotel prices here in New York. When in Europe, I had always stayed in bed-and-breakfast,'' he explains.
Hosts and Guests caters to academics, professionals, and business people - those who travel to the city frequently for work-related purposes. The majority of Mr. Gottlieb's accommodations are located conveniently in Midtown or the financial district, prime residential areas and buildings with 24-hour doormen. Prices begin at $50 a night for a single with a shared bath and $65 for a double with a private bath. One apartment offered by Gottlieb is a hosted double in an elegant town house on the Upper East Side. A living room opens into a garden, and a library is available to guests.
Gottlieb started a second bed-and-breakfast system six months ago called Performing Arts Bed and Breakfast, which is based on the Lincoln Center complex. He offers single night accommodations (most B&B's require at least two nights) for people attending opera and ballet performances at Lincoln Center, often arriving from New York's outer suburbs and boroughs. ``I've attended performances there for years, and I noticed that people would leave early so they wouldn't get home so late,'' he says.
Variety in price and accommodations is offered by Urban Ventures, at age 8, the oldest bed-and-breakfast in the city. Many of its 600 rooms and apartments are unhosted, ranging from economic walk-ups to penthouses.
``People who go to bed-and-breakfasts are very certain of themselves,'' says Alex Cincolla, a staff member of Urban Ventures. ``They don't have to go home and say they stayed at the Plaza. They are quite independent in moving around New York.''
This organization emphasizes the diversity of the Big Apple, with apartments and rooms available in Brooklyn's historic Park Slope near the Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Museum, and in Queens close to the World's Fair site in Flushing Park. As diverse as the geography is the price range, with budget accommodations beginning at $34 a night for a single with a shared bath. Doubles with a private bath begin at $55.
The bed-and-breakfast option offers an alternative for travelers seeking quality at a price as well as a more intimate look at the big city. As Staff-Nielson points out, ``People may be suspicious of New York City, but by following a long European tradition, we do something predicated on trust, and it works beautifully.''
Names and addresses of B&B's mentioned above:
City Lights, Bed and Breakfast Ltd., PO Box 20355, Cherokee Station, New York, NY 10028, (212) 737-7049.
Hosts and Guests/Performing Arts Bed and Breakfast, PO Box 6798, New York, NY 10150, (212) 874-4308.
Urban Ventures Inc., PO Box 426, New York, NY 10024, (212) 594-5650.