Monday, October 03, 2005

Pickwick Arms

One reason I chose to stay at the Pickwick Arms Hotel in New York City was the name. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed anyplace called an arms, a usage that it isn’t described in any of the three American, one British or one Australian dictionaries on my shelf that I consulted. But the Word Detective ( has this to say, for what it’s worth: “The practice of dubbing hotels or other buildings The Whatever Arms dates back to old English inns, which were frequently named after the local Duke or Earl and often displayed the nobleman's heraldic insignia, or coat of arms, above their door.”

Mostly, though, I picked the hotel for location and price, as with all real estate transactions. On 51st between 2nd and 3rd avenues, it was mere blocks from the conference hotel, the much more expensive InterContinental. Though it was of no use to me, the location is also fairly near the United Nations. I spied a couple of diplomatic plates on cars parked on the street, and a few doors west of the Pickwick is the Ukraine’s permanent mission to the UN. Almost directly across the street from the hotel is the Sutton Place Synagogue, which is also the “Jewish Center for the United Nations,” according to a sign under the name. Sadly, this synagogue was the only building on the block protected by concrete barricades, the sort you also see in front of federal properties.

The Pickwick has a nicely appointed lobby, with the look of fairly recent renovation. Some nice seating areas, a bit of fresh paint, a few items of decoration. The elevator, halls and other common areas don’t quite have the same sheen, but are presentable. By the time you get to your room, however, the polish is long gone. No décor in the rooms, not even the nondescript kind you get at a Red Roof Inn or its ilk. The wallpaper had peeled just enough in places to be noticeable.

My room was clean enough, but otherwise spartan. Bed, sink, desk, table, chair, lamp, phone, heater/AC, television, all positioned so there was just enough room to move around, but no more.

I stashed my bags on the top level of the bed, because it was a bunk bed. This kind of bed made two-person accommodation possible in this little room. I can’t say how long it’s been since I slept in a bunk bed, but it might have been when I was in Central Europe in the mid-90s. Still, this cast-iron bunk bed was amazing sturdy. Nothing like stubbing your toe on such a bed to appreciate its mass.

My favorite item in the room, though, was the Zenith TV. Perched on a cockeyed stand, listing slightly one way, ugly faux brown wood-paneled, well-worn control buttons, blurry color reception, probably vintage 1980 at the latest. But a working Zenith: “The quality goes in before the name succumbs to global competition.”

It’s an international hotel, the Pickwick Arms. Languages other than English were common on the elevator. And I found a Turkish newspaper in the closet: Dünden bugüne Tercüman, if I’m reading that right, or maybe just Tercüman, dated 2 Eylül 2005. The headline of the day (exactly as written): “Meslek liseliye ADiL FORMÜL.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.


At 4:15 PM, Blogger Geof Huth said...


For reasons you'll find out within a month, I've been amassing data on most of my nights away from home in the last year and a half: Ten states, a quantity of cities I don't want to count, and four different hotels and six different rooms in NYC alone. (These numbers don't count nights away from home, just places.) But I've never stayed at the Pickwick, tho your description makes it sound like the much- and justly-maligned Hotel Pennsylvania, which I was forced by circumstance to stay in one night this year.

I have, however, been in an Arms before. The Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, New York, a very pleasant place to stay, and I highly recommend it. They claim to have been around at least since Revolutionary times and to have had George Washington as a guest--so, tho I might not have slept in the room where Washington slept, I at least have slept in a building it is claimed he once slept in.


At 4:58 PM, Blogger Dees Stribling said...

In 2000 I stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania, whose heyday was at least 60 years before that. If I had to choose between it and the Pickwick, I'd pick the Pickwick. Cheaper, decent location and a touch better rooms.


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