What Is a Pod Hotel and What Is It Doing in Brooklyn?The micro-room hotel will bring affordable lodging to Williamsburg–as well as some baggage
The opening of a Pod Hotel means a little more than just seeing another boutique hotel open in Brooklyn. Known for their sleek and affordable micro-rooms, as well as their often party-hearty clientele, such hotels landed first in touristy areas in Manhattan, which now has two Pod Hotels as well as two Citizen M hostelries. The hotels are designed for guests who want to spend most of their time in the neighborhood, not in the room, and for the first time, that neighborhood is in Brooklyn.
The arrival of Pod BK at 247 Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg, which is scheduled to open next week, affirms that Brooklyn has become a travel destination of its own, not just a side trip from Manhattan. But it also can be seen as a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view. While the additional tourism is helpful for the neighborhood economy, some residents of Williamsburg don’t want to deal with what the residents of the Lower East Side are enduring with the trendy Public Hotel and its sometimes rowdy and raunchy guests. Concerned that tourists and partygoers will pour into the streets and use outdoor areas to cut loose, local residents are bracing for what a determined bar crowd can do when it doesn’t have to worry about getting home.
The Pod BK will join a growing array of hotel choices in the neighborhood that include the original pioneer, Wythe Hotel, as well as newcomers like the high-rise William Vale and the industrial-style Williamsburg Hotel. The company is hoping to tap a market segment they feel is underserved in the hipster haven, catering to a younger, less-affluent crowd with room prices in the $120 to $200-plus range.
Each room in a Pod Hotel consists of a bare-minimum setup of a queen bed (or bunkbeds), a small desk or night stand, and a bathroom. The experience is completed by a small piece of art on the wall and basic towels, hangers and other essentials. The small footprint of each room, ranging from 100 sq. ft. to 150 sq. ft., allows the hotel to pack 250 of them into the Brooklyn building. While the rooms are small, part of the formula is having lively common areas, which in the case of Pod BK will include a Salvation Taco restaurant and a rooftop bar with capacity for nearly 400 people, according to Effie Tsavalias, the hotel’s general manager.
The growing Pod chain is run by Manhattan-based BD Hotels, the city’s largest independent hotel owner, which operates more than two dozen properties. BD’s founders, Ira Drukier and Richard Born, are the unconventional moguls behind such boutique hotels as the Mercer, the Bowery, and the Greenwich. With the Pod line, the business proposition is that “an enormous amount of people staying in this price point want to have a cleverly designed space that uses high-end materials and makes them feel current and smart; it’s not a small room that’s cheap,” Born told the trade publication Hospitality Design earlier this year.
Part of what makes micro-room hotels affordable is their efficient modular-construction method. Most of these modular rooms (including the Pod brand) are made by Polcom Group, a Polish company that builds the rooms from start to finish. Everything is standardized: the furniture, plumbing, and even decor. After a design is agreed upon, the entire room is put together in Poland and then shipped to its destination, where plumbing and electrical wiring are connected. This video shows how the rooms are then put together on site.
Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer for properties and development management at Cornell University, says the concept is a marriage of the “capsule hotels” that proliferated in Japan a few years ago and old-fashioned, low-cost hotels. “Modular construction allows for more speed and lower costs,” according to Robson. One could make an argument that the construction process is more sustainable, she says, since on-site trucks and other construction equipment needed for a traditional build aren’t necessary when the rooms of the building come fully formed. The pre-fabricated construction also cuts down on complicating factors like labor shortages and bad weather, said Arjun Singh, professor of international lodging and real estate at Michigan State University.
So far, micro-room hotels make up only about one-half of 1% of the overall lodging industry, said Robson. Most of the demand will be among young travelers heading to cities where space is at a premium, as well as near airports and in college towns.
Most of the concern among neighbors of the Pod BK, which they voiced at a meeting this spring of Community Board One, is focused on the rooftop bar. The residents worry about noise coming from the rooftop, the behavior of patrons on nearby streets, and the fact that the hotel is located in a residential enclave. Denny Tompkins, a resident of Williamsburg, said that the inclusion of an open-air rooftop bar showed a “total disregard” for the residents and that they were essentially “fighting for our homes,” said the minutes of the meeting. Tom Hameline, another resident, pointed to complaints that another Pod Hotel, Pod 39 in Murray Hill, had received about bar patrons who smoke, spit, and sometimes relieve themselves outside. Pod 39 received a $6,000 civil penalty last year from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Tsavalias said that they are aware of the concerns of the neighborhood but that she wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the developers about what they’ll do to alleviate those concerns. The p.r. firm for Pod Hotels, NJFPR, stated over email that the ownership would not be commenting on those issues.
Despite such concerns, BD Hotels has shown an ability to adapt to varying neighborhoods. Said Born in the trade-publication earlier this year: “The one comment we get from every hotel is, ‘You have the nicest people working there.’ That really sets the tone. I have this saying, ‘I’d rather you be nice and goofy than professional and cold.'”