This bragging right is one of the amenities that the Bowery House, a boutique hostel that aims to re-create the flophouse experience, offers “individuals on a budget . . . looking to enjoy the authentic nature and living history of 220 Bowery.” For about fifty dollars a night (off-season), visitors can stay in an approximately five-by-six-foot ceiling-less wooden cabin and experience a sanitized version (complete with heated bathroom floors, monogrammed robes, and custom bath products) of what was, in the last century, a seedy, crowded, noisy, and often dangerous living space.
Conspicuously not mentioned among the amenities are the four original tenants still residing on the second floor, grandfathered in when the former lodging house was purchased by developers in 2011, and living proof of the many ironies of New York’s gentrifying skid row. They share bathrooms, common spaces, and hallways with the hotel’s guests, who pay many times more for the flophouse aesthetic that constitutes these men’s actual lives. While the third-floor lounge features leather Chesterfield couches and an expansive wood table, the second-floor space is decidedly less hip. Since the cabins are tiny, the men, who were once known as “Bowery bums,” use it as a living room, and guests tiptoe past, trying not to gape at the display of “living history.”
Laid atop the Ralph Lauren towel on each bed is a pair of complimentary foam ear plugs—and for good reason. Besides the original tenants, the feature that provides the closest approximation of the flophouse experience is undoubtedly the ceiling-less rooms. The sounds coming through the latticework (which has replaced the chicken wire) are probably not so different than they might have been a hundred years ago, albeit with a few modern twists.