Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated March 25, 2012.
Hostelling International New York is surely the worst name for a hotel that I have ever encountered. You’d think they’d be able to come up with a name that’s a little catchier. But no, so Hostelling International New York it is.
The good news is that the name is the worst thing about this place, which is actually quite wonderful. It’s part of Hostelling International, a non-profit organization, which aims to provide cheap lodgings for travellers. I’ve stayed at hostels all over the world, and HI-NY is by far my favorite. I have a soft spot for it because I’ve been staying there for well over 20 years. I was one of their first guests when it opened way back in 1990. Back then, the building was still under renovation and everything smelled of fresh paint. It hadn’t even fully opened to the public yet and there were only a few travellers staying there with me at the time.
The building itself is worth noting. The original red brick building is from the 1880s, an extension was added in 1907/08.
According to the hostel’s website, it was originally built by the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females. “This association wanted to help widows of both the Revolutionary War and the war of 1812. They built this building as a residency for these widows.” It’s huge; the hostel has 672 beds.
The hostel has changed considerably over the years. It used to have only a small kitchen with a few banged-up pots, but now it’s fully equipped (and clean!): there are several stoves and ovens and microwaves; coffee-machines, dishwashers; pots and pans, dishes and cutlery and everything else you might (or might not) need to prepare yourself a meal.
As most travellers who stay at hostels are strapped for cash and can’t afford to eat out every day, the kitchen at HI-NY is one of its best features. As a vegan, I appreciated it even more. I wasn’t able to find a restaurant in the area, which serves vegan breakfasts, so I bought coffee and soy milk, some fruit, oatmeal, and vegan yoghurts at the supermarket around the corner and was able to prepare myself a nice breakfast every morning.
I ate in the small fifties-inspired dining room adjacent to the kitchen, where there’s also free WiFi (and electrical plugs for laptops).
I love the outdoor courtyard. It’s very peaceful and quiet there. The building’s brick walls block out all the traffic from Amsterdam Avenue.
The hostel has a computer room, free WiFi, a theatre room, lounge, laundry room, rental lockers, and more. It’s very popular, so travellers are only allowed to stay there for two weeks each year. You also have to be a member of Hostelling International (or pay an additional $3.00 per night), but you can buy a membership card at the registration desk. Beds are $29.00 – $52.00 depending on the season and dorm rooms. Private rooms and family rooms are also available. As it’s a non-profit, no tax is added to the room rates. I always book a bed in a mid-sized dorm room, as this is the easiest way to meet lots of people. You can reach the hostel by taking the number 1 train to 103rd Street (it’s one block over on Amsterdam Avenue).
If you’ve never stayed at a hostel and are unsure if this is for you, here’s some additional information you might find helpful: don’t worry if you’re older. These days, everyone stays at hostels. I’m 44 years old, and I wasn’t the oldest one there by far. If you have little experience of travelling by yourself, hostels are good places to meet people. The staff organizes a number of events each week and you can simply join in. But you do need a relaxed attitude towards travelling, when you stay at a hostel: there are only communal bathrooms (with fierce competition for the shower stalls in the mornings) and people come and go at all times. Somebody is bound to turn on the lights in your dorm room and chat with another traveller when all you want to do is sleep.
As a vegan, I really only have one complaint: there’s a small café at the hostel, which doesn’t cater to vegans. You can’t get soy milk with your coffee and the only truly vegan food on offer is fruit. The vending machines at the hostel are useless, too. No vegan food except crisps. So make sure to stock up at Gristede’s, a small supermarket on Broadway and 103rd street; there’s also a Starbucks at that same corner (they have soy milk for your coffee, and their oatmeal and some of the bagels are vegan, too).
Address: 891 Amsterdam Avenue (at 103rd Street), 10025 NYC