Cozy Options To Big Apple

You're headed to New York on a business trip. A couple of meetings, a nice dinner, maybe catch a Broadway show or a Knicks game. But you're less than thrilled by the prospect of look-alike rooms, bellhops with outstretched palms, and hotel eateries that want your wallet for a cup of coffee.

If you don't mind being slightly off the beaten asphalt, there's a cozy alternative in bed-and-breakfasts, New York-style. The Big Apple doesn't have quaint Victorian farmhouses with rooms to let. But increasingly, city dwellers with space to spare are renting out bedrooms, whole floors, lofts, and entire apartments or townhouses to visitors. The accommodations are often situated in popular, upscale neighborhoods, from Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side.

While prices vary, B&Bs cost far less than hotels. Double rooms go for $60 to $100 a night, compared with $125 to $300 at a midtown luxury hotel. B&Bs also offer special rates for lengthy stays.

In a hosted facility, the owner lives on the premises and rents out a room and bath or several rooms. The host may be an older person whose children have moved out or someone looking to bring in extra income. Guests may be served breakfast or may at least have access to kitchen facilities.

DO NOT DISTURB. One nicety of such places is that you stay with a native who can give tips on transportation, entertainment, and restaurants. The arrangement can be especially comforting to out-of-towners who feel utterly at sea in New York. "I offer my wisdom--what's hot on Broadway, where the best exhibits are," says Ruth Johnson, a retired writer who rents out what was once a children's room in a Greenwich Village brownstone.

Unhosted B&Bs, as the name suggests, are apartments whose owners are off traveling or living in a second home, and they're a great idea if you want absolute privacy or prefer to cook your own meals. Many come with a well-stocked kitchen and offer private laundry facilities.

A sprinkling of B&Bs fall in between the hosted and unhosted categories. Inn New York City (212 580-1900), a restored 19th century brownstone near Lincoln Center, doesn't have a live-in proprietor but does have a manager there during business hours.

Accommodations run the gamut. City Lights, a listings service, includes on its roster a $6,000-a-month, three-story, Greenwich Village brownstone with five fireplaces, a grand piano, and a 17th century Japanese silk screen. A single floor goes for $100 a night. Inn New York City offers a "spa" suite equipped with Jacuzzi and sauna for $225 a night.

While B&Bs boast charms such as private gardens or impressive libraries, they may also have limitations you wouldn't find at a hotel. Some owners ask guests not to smoke; others don't accept children. A number of apartments are in buildings without elevators. And you can't expect the level of service found in most hotels. To get maid service during a multiday stay, for example, you must generally pay extra to hire outside help.

You may also show up at a place only to find it's not as luxurious or well-maintained as you'd like. To avoid disappointment, ask for photos of the accommodations before you mail your deposit.

Many B&B owners do not rent their places directly but list them with agents, who handle matters from collecting fees to providing keys. About 10 agencies handle roughly 1,000 spaces in Manhattan. Among the biggest are Urban Ventures (212 594-5650), City Lights (212 737-7049), and At Home In New York (212 956-3125). With a pad in Manhattan and a handful of subway tokens, you can almost call yourself a New Yorker.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.