It's no secret that hotels in New York City are expensive, but when I started looking in the Spring for a place to stay for this year's Gourmet Institute in October, I was shocked by what I found. Even modest boutique hotels were charging $400. per night and the budget accommodations in the City either required sharing a bathroom or a long commute to the Mid-town area. If it had been inexpensive enough, I would have considered it (the commute, not the bathroom sharing) but I just couldn't find anything that made sense. Ultimately I settled for the conference hotel, reasoning that although it was expensive at $349. per night, it would at least be convenient.
When I arrived though, the Millennium Broadway was overbooked, with nothing left but (very stinky) smoking rooms. They told me the only other option was another hotel a block away, which had rooms available for $400. - meaning I'd have to pay the difference, and I'd have to move the next day. I had spent six hours on a plane and two and a half hours getting to the City from the airport, (NEVER AGAIN SUPER SHUTTLE!) so I really wasn't in the mood for a hassle.
Still, I recognized it was pointless to argue and I remembered seeing a very cool little boutique hotel next door on my last trip - so I decided to run over there to see if THEY had anything available. They didn't - but they pointed me across the street to the Room Mate Grace Hotel.
When I walked in, I immediately knew I'd be happy here. the place just had sort of a hip but comfortable vibe and the staff was incredibly friendly. They didn't have a room that night either - but they offered me a rate of $300. night for the rest of my trip - which I booked. I spent that first night at the Hotel Mela (which was also quite nice, by the way - and matched the $349 rate of the Millennium unprompted) and moved over here on Friday.
It turns out Room Mate is a Spanish company with only two hotels in the U.S. - one in Miami and this one here. They cater to a young-ish European clientele - the only English I have heard is heavily accented. It doesn't feel snooty though, and I've had no "hipper than thou" attitude thrown my way. The hotel was actually built by Andre Balazs as a hip budget option called the QT, and taken over by Room Mate sometime within the past year I believe.
The $300. per night rate included continental breakfast, round the clock coffee, wi-fi and local calls. They have a small swimming pool that is visible at eye level from the lobby, a unisex shower, sauna and steamroom, a bar, and an exercise facility (though it's a little weak.) The rooms feature a comfortable platform bed with feather pillows and cotton sheets, a long counter, closet and sink - and at the end there's a toilet and shower with a large mirrored door that rolls back and forth to conceal one or the other - whichever you happen to be using. There is a clear glass refrigerator in the room, and the front desk is set up as as a store, so you can essentially stock your own minibar.
It's utilitarian, friendly and chic - and incredibly convenient to the Times Square/Midtown area. I'd especially recommend it for a single traveler - but it's also fine for a couple who doesn't mind sharing a small space. (Then again I am in their smallest room - some of their other options may be more spacious.)
The Night Hotel across the street was the original hotel I considered:
It's more expensive and a little more aggressively hip - though the desk clerk who sent me to the Grace was quite friendly and helpful.
Room Mate Grace Hotel
125 W. 45th Street
New York, New York
Some other "budget" options to explore that appear to have at least a modicum of style (book early - they go fast!):
East Village Bed and Coffee
Rooms to Let Guesthouse
The Gershwin Hotel
Second Home on Second Avenue
The Washington Square Hotel
If I had a little more money to spend (around $400. per night) I'd also consider The Maritime Hotel.