- A new addition to Manhattan’s Flatiron District, the Freehand New York is perfect for budget-conscious travelers who want convenience and personality from their accommodations.
- The building itself isn’t new — it was once a hotel beloved by writers, as well as a dorm for art students. Rooms and public spaces are filled with original, commissioned artwork to honor this creative spirit.
- Nightly rates start under $200 and range from cozy, budget-conscious rooms with bunk beds, to spacious plush suites. I spent a night in a Corner King room.
More than a city for food lovers, media moguls, and finance titans, New York is an irresistible draw for creative souls young, old, and free-spirited. It’s this energy that fills the Flatiron District’s Freehand New York, a hotel that opened in 2018 and has quickly become known as a cool and affordable place to stay.
The Freehand New York, which also operates hip outposts in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles, was once a student dorm for the School of Visual Arts, and before that, the George Washington Hotel, first built in 1928. Poet W.H. Auden, novelist Christopher Isherwood, and artist Keith Haring all counted themselves guests or residents.
This enviable connection gives the Freehand New York creative clout right away, though it doesn’t rely on its past to stand out among visitors to New York City.
Rather, you’ll love it for art-filled accommodations steeped in character and personality — at highly reasonable prices. There are six room types, including cheaper bunk bed options, as well as various suites. My Corner King room was comped for review purposes, but research shows this type of room typically books for $280 per night, while bunk bed and queen rooms go for $200 on average, if you book ahead of time.
- The first impression
- The room
- On-site amenities
- What’s nearby
- What others say
- What you need to know
- The bottom line
Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the Freehand New York.
Walking into The Freehand for the first time can be a bit jolting, especially if you arrive in the middle of a bright afternoon as I did. As my eyes adjusted to the warm, dim lighting and dark green-splashed walls, I noticed the lobby was approachable and inviting, with wooden architecture, cozy sitting areas, and abundant art. The Freehand commissioned students and alumni from Bard College to create original artwork, murals, and sculptures for public spaces, corridors, and all 395 guest rooms,
There are two options for check-in: talk to a live person behind a desk, or use one of three digital kiosks. It wasn’t busy when I arrived, so I checked in with a concierge. He was friendly and pointed out key features such as Wi-Fi and hours for on-site amenities. When I checked out the next day, I tried the digital kiosk (partly because I didn’t feel like interacting with a human early in the morning) and that process was equally quick and smooth. Having two ways to check in and out is smart for peak lobby hours.
Waiting for the elevator felt like a fun time warp. Instead of typical large, sharp, and industrial elevators, I rode up to my room in a narrow car that could have been mistaken for handsome painted doors from the outside.
After unwrapping my key card from a whimsically illustrated map of the hotel, I stepped into my 12th floor Corner King room.
It’s worth noting that this room type is quite different from simpler, and cheaper, bunk bed offerings. Those aptly named “Bunk” or “Three’s Company” rooms more closely resemble an upscale hostel and are best suited for guests looking to save money over spreading out in a luxe room. However, all rooms have a private bathroom, AC, and TV.
My room housed a small desk and window-side sitting area in addition to the bed. While I sat to finish a story assignment, I was briefly whisked back to my college dorm days writing under an overhead light. This was, perhaps, not an unintentional effect considering the hotel’s past.
I liked the variety of custom light fixtures, as well as small but thoughtful touches of functional decor. There were stacks of magazines and books, hallway coat hooks, built-in USB ports, a hanging basket filled with postcards and apples, and classic Bluetooth Tivoli radio. These details, along with framed prints and a large wall painting, made the room feel anything but stale.
While the bed was quite comfy, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep. I’m not a light sleeper, but the intermittent noise of cars and sirens was enough to wake me up a few times. However, I can imagine the noise is much worse in other parts of the city, and dealing with some traffic is inevitable anywhere in Manhattan. If you’re sensitive to noise, ask for a room with a quiet location ahead of your arrival.
The bathroom was small. The shower had good water pressure, however I had a problem with the curtain design. There was a sizable gap between the bottom of the curtain and the edge of the shower, which meant a lot of water splashed out. For a room that otherwise took care of practical features, this felt like a misstep that shouldn’t have been overlooked.
Overall, my stay was comfortable, and I liked that the room was neat and tidy. The space was perfect to rest and regroup, not necessarily to linger for too long.
Save time to wander through on-site offerings such as the Studio, which is an ideal place to hit pause in the afternoon. Filled with natural light, there are plenty of tables to set up a laptop, or grab a drink (there’s both a bar and espresso corner). I saw people holding work meetings, typing intently, and chatting with friends. If you need to return an email, come here instead of holing up in your room.
The hotel’s two bars, George Washington Bar and Broken Shaker, offer two different atmospheres — the former for a moody, sophisticated, and intimate experience, and the latter for a fun, laid-back rooftop party regardless of the season. The Broken Shaker is especially popular with city residents, but as a hotel guest, you’ll enjoy a separate entrance to skip long lines.
Make a reservation at Simon & The Whale, the hotel restaurant located next to the lobby. The neighborhood favorite has a seafood-leaning menu in an energetic, unpretentious atmosphere.
Other notable on-site features include the large fitness center with treadmills and a handful of free weights and machines. There’s also a nostalgic game room, which has a few arcade and board games.
The Freehand is located just blocks from Madison Square Park. Enjoy a burger from the original Shake Shack while admiring a close-up view of the Flatiron Building. It’s also surrounded by diverse, delicious restaurant and food options such as Gramercy Tavern, Eataly, Barn Joo, Thai Villa, Daily Provisions, and Breads Bakery.
The prime Flatiron location is the perfect launchpad, near major subway lines, and is far less hectic than Midtown, yet livelier than parts of lower Manhattan.
The Freehand has a 4/5 rating from 400+ reviews on TripAdvisor. Since it’s fairly new, I’m not surprised it ranks in the middle of 508 hotels, but those who have stayed here before also rave about the friendly staff, clean room, great location, and “cool” factor. It has similarly favorable reviews on Booking.com, with an 8.7/10 rating.
Who stays here: Budget-conscious families, couples, and small groups of friends. I didn’t see many business types.
We like: The neat, comfortable room and easy access to top-notch food (Simon & The Whale) and drink (Broken Shaker).
We love (don’t miss this feature!): The art, particularly in the Studio area. Take time to explore the mezzanine level and appreciate the fact that you’re practically living in a gallery.
We think you should know: Consult the lobby bulletin board to discover fun and noteworthy events in the area. That calendar, along with the helpful and resourceful concierges, can help you find under-the-tourist-radar places and activities.
We’d do this differently next time: Check out one of the bunk bed rooms to see how the living experience would differ.
The Freehand is accessible in all definitions of the word, but especially geographically, financially, and creatively. It’s cool and artistic without being pretentious, and one of the best hotels in New York for budget-conscious visitors. The Freehand New York has all the practicality and soul of a hostel, without sacrificing any comfort.
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