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5 nights in N.Y.; 5 different hotels

I did it for you.

To find out as much as I could about Big Apple hotels, I stayed in a different one every night during a recent visit to Manhattan.I booked three of the five hotels through hotel discounters - the subject of a previous column - to compare consolidator prices with rates quoted by the hotels.

Except for Sunday night, I booked the rooms before I left Salt Lake City.

If I had had more time, I would have compared consolidator rates with what I could have gotten through a travel agency.

January and February are typically slow months, so rates may be lower than what you'd pay at other times of the year.

Many of the hotels in New York City are aging doyens dating back to the first half of the century. Countless face lifts have kept them looking lovely, even ravishing, The Plaza being a case in point. But in some cases guest rooms may be smaller than you're accustomed to. Lobbies and restaurants, however, reflect the elegance of a bygone era.

Other hotels, such as the Marriott Marquis and the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, both in the heart of the theater district, are relatively new.

Here's a description of where I stayed and what I paid.

Rates don't include room taxes, city taxes and the $2 per night occupancy tax. These add a noticeable amount to your bill. For example, they bump a $149 rate up to $170 and a $99 rate up to $115.

- Wednesday: The Roosevelt, Madison Avenue at 45th Street; $119.95 a night. Booked through Hotel Reservation Network. The best rate available by calling the hotel directly was $169 plus tax. Named for President Theodore Roosevelt, the hotel opened in 1924. Recently remodeled, it has beautiful public rooms and comfortable guest rooms furnished in traditional style.

My room was small - not too much wider than the bed was long, with a view of the office building across the street. The bathroom, also small, had everything it needed except a shelf big enough for toiletries.

It's within walking distance of Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue and, if you brought comfortable shoes, Times Square.

- Thursday: The Plaza, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South; special rate of $199 a night for a small but exquisitely furnished room without a view. Booked through Express Reservations. The rack rate for a similar room is $275-$350. Rack rates for a room with a view of Central Park, which I didn't even consider, range from $525 to $625. Whatever the price of your room, a copy of The New York Times is pushed under your door every morning. And, unlike every other hotel I stayed in, the maid does not knock at your door early in the morning to see if you've checked out.

The elegant French Renaissance-style hotel was built in 1907. Some of New York's elite lived here, including the Harrimans and the Vanderbilts. The place continues to attract a fashionable clientele. The dress code seems to be fur coat optional. Music from a solo violin wafts through the air of the Palm Court Restaurant during tea time when tableside chairs are laden with shopping bags.

You might feel underdressed, even when the temperature outside hovers at 40 degrees, if you aren't wearing a fur.

From The Plaza you can walk to Rockefeller Plaza and the shopping triumverate of Berg-dorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's. It is across the street from Central Park and, for people with stamina and sensible shoes, within walking distance of Lincoln Center.

- Friday: Loews New York, Lexington Avenue at East 51st Street; $139 a night plus $5 booking fee; booked through Accommodations Express. I had a business-class room (floor 14 or above), which was quoted for $209 a night when I called the hotel directly. The room was noticeably larger than my room at the Roosevelt and, through a maze of high-rise apartment buildings and offices, it had a view of the illuminated Chrysler Building.

Loews is down the street from Grand Central Terminal and within walking distance of Madison and Fifth avenues.

- Saturday: Ramada Milford Plaza, Eighth Avenue and West 45th Street; $99 a night. Booked directly through the hotel.

When choosing a hotel, you should look at three factors: location, location and location. Another consideration is price, price and price.

The Milford Plaza gets kudos for its location in the heart of the Broadway theater district. It's next door to the Plymouth Theatre where "Jekyll & Hyde The Musical" is playing. The Minskoff Theatre, which features "The Scarlet Pimpernel," is up the street. The TKTS half-price ticket booth at 7th Avenue and West 47th Street is a five-minute walk away.

The hotel is in the same neighborhood as the much higher priced Marriott Marquis and Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza.

At $99 a night, it's in the bargain basement of NYC hotels.

But the hotel proves that location and price aren't everything. I gave it a "D" for ambience.

The bed in the room where I stayed took up most of the space. The room had a musty smell and the carpet near the walls wouldn't have passed the "white glove" test.

Call me a princess, but I didn't mind moving on to look for a hotel that had another basic requirement: charm, charm, charm.

- Sunday: I had not made reservations for Sunday night so Sunday morning I called hotels near the theater district.

The best rate at the Marriott Marquis was $210. The Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza was charging $189.95. The Novotel would give me a room for $189.

I settled on the Algonquin, on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues for $149. The lobby and restaurants are under renovation, but the wood-paneled library and lounge on the second floor are comfortable places to thumb through The Times or ensconce yourself on a leather couch to watch TV.

Until the renovation is finished, a complimentary full American breakfast is included in the rate.

The hotel is within walking distance of the Broadway theater district, Fifth Avenue shopping and Rockefeller Center.

The Algonquin opened in 1902 and became a favorite of writers and actors. H.L. Mencken, Eu-dora Welty, Gertrude Stein, Erica Jong, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and John Barrymore stayed there. Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood, who worked down the street at Vanity Fair, regularly lunched at the hotel.

The hotel treated the young writers to free celery and popovers and gave them their own table and waiter. It became known as the Algonquin Round Table. Other writers who participated in the lively luncheon discussions included Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman and Peggy Wood.

Fast forward to 1998. My room had a bay window overlooking 44th Street. The staff was friendly as well as helpful. When I called the day after I checked out to see whether I had left a book in my room, the head housekeeper said she would mail it to me.

Now I ask you, what other hotel would have that much respect for a book?

The small hotel gave the Big Apple a homey feeling.

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